What is Fasting?


What is fasting, and how is it related to prayer? Is there any biblical evidence that fasting is for today? Does Jesus want us to fast?

The purpose of fasting is to bring the body into subjection to the Spirit. Fasting is “abstaining from food for measured periods of time in order to heighten my hunger for the things of God.” – James MacDonald

The Jews were required to fast on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). Everyone went without eating. Men, women, and children—every single person fasted before the Lord in humiliation. God commanded His people to fast—ALL of them.

Feasts were also commanded by the Lord, so there is nothing wrong with food in and of itself. God created food for the sustenance of our bodies, and He expects us to take care of our bodies. It’s only when we want more of God—or we have bondage to sin that we can’t get rid of—or we need wisdom—that we can set aside time to fast.

Christ expects that all true believers will fast, saying, “WHEN (not if) you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites” (Matthew 6:16).

When Jesus was with the Pharisees, they asked why His disciples were feasting while John the Baptist’s disciples fasted. “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.’” Matthew 9:15 ESV

Ezra fasted with 4,000 people to solve a problem. He needed to travel from Babylon down to Jerusalem with no bodyguards because he had told the king that God would protect them. But robbers would always attack travelers along that road. Ezra was scared into fasting for God’s supernatural protection because it would be a miracle if they arrived down in Jerusalem with all the gold vessels and treasures that they were carrying back to the Temple from the days of King Nebuchadnezzar. God heard their prayers and protected them during their travels.

Esther and the entire Jewish nation fasted before the Lord when the Jews were going to be massacred by Haman and his henchmen. God supernaturally intervened and Haman was hung on his own gallows, and all the enemies of the Jews were destroyed, while the Jews were kept alive and protected by God.

By the way, fasting is nearly always accompanied by tears. This is because you are so empty and dependent on the Lord that you are desperate. The reason that drove you to fast is the reason you are weeping. Fast with repentance as well as sincerity (Joel 2:12-14).

The best thing about fasting is that you get to know God Himself—you draw close to His heart and learn to align your will to God’s will. Ask God to reveal sin in your life as your first fast because we have so much sin that we are not even aware of. Without holiness we cannot walk closely with Him, so purge your life from all sin. Then you will draw much closer to God and discover His will.

When I fast, the fact that my stomach is hurting causes me to have much more intense prayer times. I seek God with all my heart. When my stomach is full and I pray with all my heart—that prayer is less intense than when I pray and my belly is empty. There is a yearning of the body… a weakness that is put under the authority of Christ. The emptying of ourselves causes a deeper passion, a deeper seeking after the Lord that is much harder to achieve without fasting.

I agree with John Piper that “the absence of our fasting is the measure of our contentment with our absence of Christ.” The normal life of a Christ-follower includes fasting. That is because all true Christ-followers are wholehearted.

This is the first post in the “Hunger for God” Fasting Series. (One will be posted each Friday):

To keep up with my prayer posts, follow my Prayer Page, where you will find exclusive prayer videos to help you hunger for God and establish a true prayer life!

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18 Responses to “What is Fasting?”

  1. Catherine says:

    Thank you for posting this. This is a subject that I’ve never really understood or heard much teaching on.

    • Susan says:

      I know; me neither! I had never heard a sermon on fasting in any of the churches I ever attended. It was only as I pursued God in prayer that He showed me Scripture and revealed His heart to me. The deeper we go with God, the more we understand Him.

  2. Heather Hart says:

    I was just reading about fasting this morning in Isaiah (chapter 58). I made a note in my Bible that fasting is about humility, not about earning favor or being righteous. Too often I hear fasting attributed to wanting God to hear a specific prayer request, but that’s not it at all. We can’t fast for anything other than our Savior. It should be done out of a heart of love for Him, not out of the desires of our hearts.

    • Susan says:

      In Scripture, people fasted for a specific purpose. Ezra, for example, fasted for physical protection from God for a journey. Esther fasted so that her Jewish nation would not be killed. We should always seek God above all, but we are allowed to have a purpose for our fasting if we are crying out to God for a spiritual breakthrough of some sort in our lives or in the lives of the people around us.

  3. Melissa says:

    Fasting is an area that I don’t have experience in but it is an area that I would like to learn more about. Thank you for the introduction and I look forward to checking out all of the other posts on the topic.

  4. Julie says:

    I’ve never really fasted…as I’ve been pregnant or nursing the last 16 years. I’m really intrigued and excited to read your series!

    • Susan says:

      I would not recommend fasting if you are pregnant or nursing, since it would affect the baby. Some people will fast from some activity that takes up a lot of their time, and instead, spend an extended time with the Lord. That might work for you.

  5. Alice Mills says:

    Fasting is a way to break serious spiritual bondage. It is sad we don’t make more use of it.

  6. Kristi says:

    I’ve gotten interested in fasting lately and am struck by your statement: It’s not if but when.

  7. JJ says:

    Great insight. For me I used to have an eating disorder so fasting wasn’t an option. I love God and seek him deeply but couldn’t let the disease at all creep back. But that was over 10 years ago so this is really good food for thought. Maybe I am ready for fasting.

    • Susan says:

      Setting aside time to seek the Lord is different than having a body image problem. If you are underweight, I would recommend fasting from the computer and all entertainment for a day, and spend the day seeking the Lord.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for this, I needed to read more on fasting and how it works.

  9. Yaa Attobrah says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is clearly an area I need to delve more deeply into. I fast occassionally but find it is getting harder for me now to focus on it. There is a lot I still need to learn. If you have been programmed a particular way, it becomes so hard to unlearn. Fasting was filled with strictures and condemnation sometimes, so yeah lots to unlearn.

    • Susan says:

      I had to unlearn a lot, too, since I was taught that fasting wasn’t for today. But for all the reasons listed above (and throughout this fasting series), I have come to realize that Jesus expected us to fast.

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