Robert D. Pace

I. Types of Fasts

Fasting can be broadly characterized in three ways:

1. The “restrictive fast” involves fasting desserts, meats, or specific refinements. The Prophet Daniel employed this by refusing to eat the king’s delicacies (Daniel 10:3).

2. The “standard fast” involves abstaining from all food except water (Luke 4:2).

3. The “total abstention fast” involves refusing any intake of food and water (Acts 9:9). (Biblical examples include Moses [40 days] and Jesus [40 days] and Paul [3 days]).

II. Reasons for Fasting

1. Fasting is necessary because Jesus commanded it. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16-18); not “if you fast.”

2. Fasting bridles our fleshly nature (Isaiah 58:6; 1 Corinthians 9:27).

3. Fasting empowers prayer (Matthew 4:4; 17:14-21). David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting and my prayer returned into my bosom” (Psalm 35:13); and Isaiah 58:9 says: “you will call and the Lord will answer.”

4. Fasting aids in breaking the powers of darkness that control our spirit, soul, and body (Isaiah 58:6).

5. Fasting is needed when believers face great peril and divine help is needed (Esther 4:16).

6. Fasting is useful in ascertaining God’s will when making important decisions, especially as it regards the Lord’s work. Acts 13:3 notes the church fasted when they commissioned Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. The Apostles also fasted before they appointed Elders in churches (Acts 14:23).

7. Fasting invites a greater presence of God into our lives. Jeremiah 29:13 says: “You shall seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Isaiah 58:8 promises that we will experience the glory of God.

8. God promises to give attention to the contrite. Proverbs 3:34 says “God gives grace to the humble one.”

III. Expectations of Fasting

There are several normative expectations that accompany Biblical fasting, especially regarding the Standard and Total Abstention fasts:

1. You will experience physical discomfort. Such discomfort comes in the form of hunger, headaches, physical weakness, and irritability. These discomforts come both as a natural result of not eating and as a spiritual battle from Satan.

2. You will experience temptation. Jesus, our Example, was tempted at the conclusion of His fast in Matthew 4. Thus, beware of Satan’s schemes as you close your fasting.

3. You should anticipate God’s blessing. The classic Biblical passage on fasting is Isaiah 58. One key phrase from that passage is: “Is this not the fast I [the Lord] have chosen” (verse 5-6). God (a) ordains the fast, (b) discloses its purpose, and (c) fashions it for His glory. That means one should expect God’s blessing! However, one should never use fasting as a means to “get your way” with God. It will only bring disappointment!

4. God expects you to fast discretely, humbly, and for God’s glory. Christ taught us how to fast in His Sermon on the Mount when He said: “Do not be as the hypocrites when you fast, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Truly I say unto you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash thy face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto you Father which is in secret: and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly” (Matthew 6:16-18).