I had my first of three stays in the Holy Land—four months in Israel—in 1977. With a few extended weekends spent in Haifa, Beersheba, and Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, the majority of the time was spent in Jerusalem. A group of around 30 persons, mostly young Christians, were staying with me. I gained a lot of knowledge about spiritual disciplines during this period. My early years as a new Christian were inspired by the intimate community and strong tie of fellowship I also encountered. Three times a week, we would attend services in the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, which is referred to as the “place of the cock-crow” in Latin. It is thought that Caiaphas, the High Priest at the time of Jesus, lived in the church building. In those meetings, God would be present, and we frequently witnessed healings.
The Scriptures make frequent mention of fasting. We learn from the Bible that all of God’s people, including kings and prophets, adhered to this idea.
The Importance of Fasting in The Bible
My friends there committed to lengthy fasts, sometimes lasting up to forty days while only consuming water. I was a new Christian at the time, but as I lived in a neighbourhood among other people who fasted frequently, I developed my faith. I realised they expected me to fast because it seemed to be a crucial component of their Christian experience. I made the decision that I needed to practise and learn about this. Even though we all agreed to fast every Monday and Wednesday until sundown, I must admit that while I was apart from the group, I occasionally broke my fast with a bread roll and a banana. Fasting when someone else was counting on me to do so was challenging. I required inspiration to fast. I enjoy food too much, therefore fasting to discipline the body was insufficient for me. I needed a justification for fasting. It aided in my comprehension of what the Bible says regarding fasting. Even though the Western Christian Church does not discuss this subject very often these days, it was a significant aspect of life in the early Church.
Jesus anticipated His Followers Would Fast
Christ mentioned three disciplines. He set the example for all Christians to follow in Matthew’s gospel, chapter six, verses 1–18:
the moral obligation to meet the needs of people who are less fortunate (verses 1-4).
the consistent practise of prayer (verses 5–15).
Fasting is a discipline (verses 16–18).
Jesus said in the second verse, “when you give to the needy,” not “if” you do so. The Lord anticipated that we would help the underprivileged. He used the word “when you pray” rather than “if you pray” in verses five and six. He assumed that we would say a prayer. Again, he said “when you fast,” not “if you fast,” twice in verses 16 and 17. He anticipated that all Christians would follow these rules.
Although the Bible doesn’t give a direct command on this issue, examples of fasting appear in both the Old and the New Testaments. One of the most telling passages in which fasting is mentioned is Matthew 6:16, where Jesus is teaching His disciples basic principles of godly living. When speaking on fasting, He begins with, “When you fast,” not “If you fast.”
Jesus’ words imply that fasting will be a regular practice in His followers’ lives.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, said, “Jesus takes it for granted that His disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian life. Such customs have only one purpose — to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done.”
Fasting prepares you for the works God has ordained for you to do.
Wesley Duewel, a twentieth-century writer, said, “You and I have no more right to omit fasting because we feel no special emotional prompting than we have a right to omit prayer, Bible reading, or assembling with God’s children for lack of some special emotional prompting. Fasting is just as biblical and normal a part of a spiritual walk of obedience with God as are these others.”
People fast for a number of reasons. Following are seven circumstances in the Bible in which believers sought God through this discipline.
- To prepare for ministry. Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness fasting and praying before He began God’s work on this earth. He needed time alone to prepare for what His Father had called Him to do (Matthew 4:1-17; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-14).
- To seek God’s wisdom. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted for the elders of the churches before committing them to the Lord for His service (Acts 14:23).
- To show grief. Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed when he learned Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down, leaving the Israelites vulnerable and disgraced (Nehemiah 1:1-4).
- To seek deliverance or protection. Ezra declared a corporate fast and prayed for a safe journey for the Israelites as they made the nine-hundred- mile trek to Jerusalem from Babylon (Ezra 8:21-23).
- To repent. After Jonah pronounced judgment against the city of Nineveh, the king covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the dust. He then ordered the people to fast and pray. Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.”
- To gain victory. After losing forty thousand men in battle in two days, the Israelites cried out to God for help. Judges 20:26 says all the people went up to Bethel and “sat weeping before the Lord.” They also “fasted that day until evening.” The next day the Lord gave them victory over the Benjamites.
- To worship God. Luke 2 tells the story of an eighty-four-year-old prophetess named Anna. Verse 37 says, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” Anna was devoted to God, and fasting was one expression of her love for Him.
Fasting and the Holy Spirit
Despite biblical examples throughout Scripture, many Christians are slow to fast. I believe there are three main factors that cause believers to be hesitant — fear, ignorance, or rebellion.
Fear. They’re afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of feeling hunger pangs. Afraid of starting and not finishing. Afraid of fasting alone. The Enemy has them convinced they could never do it. Instead of looking to the Lord’s strength for help, they become consumed with their own weaknesses and paralyzed by fear.
Ignorance. Many Christians simply have not been taught about the importance of seeking God in this way. Churches often do not encourage fasting, and in many cases never even mention it from the pulpit. For example, I grew up in a Bible-believing church, but I don’t recall hearing a message on fasting until I was an adult.
Rebellion. A large segment of the Christian population is aware of the benefits of fasting, yet they’re unwilling to do it. Their hearts are hardened when it comes to the idea of fasting. When God invites them to draw near, they dig their heels into the ground and refuse to obey.
Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, was a firm believer in the power of prayer and fasting. In his guide Why You Should Fast, he listed the following reasons for seeking God through self-denial.
Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the “first love” for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God.
Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
Fasting will encourage the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.
Many times we don’t fast because we’ve lost our spiritual appetite. John Piper says, “The absence of fasting is the measure of our contentment with the absence of Christ.” Piper adds, “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”
Fasting is a much-needed discipline in the life of a believer.
It truly is the “path of pleasant pain,” as John Piper calls it. As you empty yourself physically and spiritually, you open the door for God to step in and do the miraculous. Your relationship with the Lord is taken to a whole new level. You also become more sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit, which enables you to hear God’s voice more clearly.
Anyone who has done a fast — whether absolute, liquid, or partial — would agree fasting is difficult. Physically, you may suffer from unpleasant side effects, such as headaches, fatigue, and intestinal discomfort, as your body attempts to adjust to the reduced caloric intake. Spiritually, attacks from the Enemy increase in frequency and intensity, resulting in a barrage of frustrations that can seem overwhelming. However, the same people who would be honest about the challenges of fasting would also concur that the sacrifices are well worth the rewards. So don’t resist the suffering that accompanies fasting. Rejoice in it! Fasting is a spiritual exercise which God honors. He promises to heap blessings on people who are hungry for Him (Matthew 5:6).
The practice of fasting is essentially giving up food (or another worldly habit) for a period of time in order to better focus your thoughts and attention on God.
Why is Biblical Fasting Important
Fasting is usually joined by prayer in the Bible accounts of those who fast. In the Old Testament, fasting was common in grieving or repenting of sin. In the New Testament, fasting is recommended as a way to grow closer to God, much like we do in prayer. Similar to God’s instructions on prayer, fasting is to be a personal discipline. Here we have gathered biblical examples of fasting to illustrate its importance and utility in drawing near to God.
Fasting is primarily a spiritual practice to be closer in union with God, a recognition of our dependence on Him. Read the many Bible verses about fasting in this collection of scripture quotes.
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Examples of Fasting in the Bible
Moses in the Book of Exodus
“So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” ~ Exodus 34:28
Daniel in the Book of Daniel
“I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” ~ Daniel 10:3 ESV
David in the Book of 2 Samuel
“And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.” ~ 2 Samuel 1:12 ESV
John the Baptist in the Book of Matthew
“Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Matthew 3:4 ESV
Jesus Christ in the Book of Luke
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.” ~ Luke 4:1-4 ESV
The Early Church in the Book of Acts
“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” ~ Acts 13:1-3 ESV
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How to Fast According to Scripture
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” ~ Matthew 6:16-18
“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisee fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” ~ Matthew 9:14-17
Meg Bucher gives a summary for fasting saying, “Fasting is a form of worship, an acknowledgment that we need God more than food. Fasting is not the same as a diet; nor is losing weight the goal of a fast. Gratitude for the food God provides gives worship to God! In all we do, the aim is to keep God on the throne of our hearts, the center of our lives, and the top of our minds.”
Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels
fasting in the bible, fasting scriptures
Bible Verses on the Importance of Fasting
Return to the Lord
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” ~ Joel 2:12-13
“When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.” ~ Psalm 69:10
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” ~ Isaiah 58:6
“Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” ~ 1 Corinthians 7:5
“But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” ~ Matthew 4:4
“So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” ~ Ezra 8:23
Photo by Hebert Santos from Pexels
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Bible Verses about Fasting: Live by Faith
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” ~ Romans 1:17
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ Galatians 2:20
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. ~ Hebrews 11:1
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. ~ Hebrews 11:6
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ~ Romans 10:17
For we walk by faith, not by sight. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. ~ 1 John 5:4