How do we yield to the Holy Spirit so that we may walk in the intimacy and power that the NT Church walked in? Part of the answer is to embrace the fasted lifestyle. This speaks of walking in the spirit of fasting in food, finances, use of our time, our words, and our energy.
What is Fasting?
Fasting includes the restraining of our natural pleasures or strengths with the purpose of positioning ourselves to receive freely from the Holy Spirit. Many fear fasting. However, the fear of fasting is worse than fasting itself. It is a lie that the demands of our modern pace of life make fasting impractical for today’s Christian.
Fasting is part of the normal Christian life. But it is often thought of as an optional discipline. Jesus said in Matthew 6:17,
“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face…”
The verse implies that fasting occurred in the regular course of a disciple’s life.
In Matthew 6:16 – 18, Jesus also emphasized that the Father will reward fasting. His proclamation makes fasting important. Jesus called us to fast because He knows that its rewards will far outweigh its difficulties. Some of the rewards are external, as our circumstances are touched by God’s power. Some of our rewards are internal, as our hearts encounter Him.
More importantly, we fast both to walk in more of God’s power to change the world and to encounter more of His heart to change our heart! For God will give us grace to fast and if we ask for grace to fast we will receive it. (2 Peter 1:2; 3:18)
Throughout history, men have fasted with a wrong spirit as they sought to earn God’s favor or man’s approval. Some embrace extreme self-debasements to try to prove their dedication to Him or to earn His favor. This is not what God is after. He delights in our pursuit to love Him and to believe His Word. We do not fast to prove anything to God or to deserve His favor.
Seven reasons to Fast in Scripture
There are seven biblical reasons to fast. They are:
We fast to experience the power of God in personal ministry.In Matthew 17:21, when the disciples could not set a demonized boy free, Jesus told them that kind of demon does not go out except by prayer and fasting. The power of John the Baptist’s preaching was connected to his fasted lifestyle (Matt. 11:18).
Many who led the great revivals practiced regular fasting. Examples include John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, and Charles Finney. John Wesley fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays each week. He said,
“The man that never fasts is no more on the way to heaven than the man who never prays.”
John G. Lake sought God with much prayer and fasting. God released powerful miracles through him. In South Africa, within a five-year period, he witnessed 500,000 healings.
We fast for prophetic revelation of the End-Times.Daniel sought God with fasting and prayer and received revelation of Israel’s End-Time destiny (Dan. 9:1 – 3, 20 – 23; 10:1 – 3, 12 – 14). After fasting for 21 days, an angel told him that his prayers were heard because he set his heart to understand (Dan. 10:12). As he sought the Lord, the angel Gabriel gave him “skill to understand” in Daniel 9:20 – 23.
There will be an unprecedented release of prophetic revelation before Jesus returns (Acts 2:17 – 21). Daniel prophesied that in the End-Times God will raise up “people with prophetic understanding” who will teach multitudes (Dan. 11:33 – 35; 12:4, 10). These people will have mature understanding of what He will be doing in those days (Jer. 23:18 – 20). These people will live a fasted lifestyle like Daniel and John the Baptist.
We fast for the fulfillment of God’s promises to our city or nation.The LORD has prophetic plans and promises for each city and nation. God’s prophetic promises are invitations, not guarantees. We must actively seek the LORD for their fulfillment.
Daniel prayed and fasted for the fulfillment of God’s promise to release Israel from captivity to return to their land (Dan. 9:1-3; 10:1 – 4). God answered Nehemiah after he fasted and prayed for God’s promises to his generation (Neh. 1:3 – 11; 9:32 – 38). After Cornelius fasted and prayed, his whole house was saved and a door of grace was opened for the Gentiles to be saved (Acts 10:1 – 4, 30 – 31).
We fast to stop a crisis (i.e. individual or national).Fasting to seek God for mercy during a personal crisis is seen throughout Scripture. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, being distressed by her barrenness, prayed with fasting. God answered her by giving her a son who grew up to become a prophet (1 Sam. 1:7).
On many occasions, God reversed Israel’s desperate situation after they turned to Him in corporate prayer and fasting. Joel prophesied that God would judge Israel using locusts, and then later by an invasion by the Babylonian army (Joel 1:2 – 18; 2:1 – 9). On both occasions, Joel called Israel to turn to God in prayer and fasting (Joel 1:13 – 14; 2:12 – 15). When there is no human remedy for a nation, we must call a fast.
Jonah warned the wicked city of Nineveh that God was going to destroy them. When Nineveh repented with fasting, the Lord showed mercy and spared the city (Jon. 3:3 – 9).
We fast for protection.Before Ezra led a group of Jews from Babylon back to Israel to help rebuild their nation, he fasted and prayed to God for protection on the journey because it was so dangerous (Ezra 8:21 – 23). Travel was dangerous in the ancient world because bands of thieves often attacked groups to take money and supplies.
Esther called the Jews in Persia to fast for three days after Haman set into motion a plan to kill all the Jews (Esther 3:13; 4:7). Esther first needed protection because she was going to approach King Ahasuerus (i.e. Xerxes) without a royal summons (the penalty was death). Many cried out in prayer and fasting (Esther 4:3, 16; 5:1 – 6). The LORD spared Esther’s life and then reversed the situation among the Jews concerning Haman’s evil plans (Esther 9:1).
We fast for direction.Throughout the NT, the church fasted for supernatural direction. We fast for direction for our personal life, family, ministry or our assignment in the marketplace, etc.
Paul and others fasted and prayed for direction for their ministry (Acts 13:1 -2) and before selecting and commissioning elders of the new Churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.
We fast to grow in intimacy with Jesus, which we refer to as the Bridegroom fast (Matt. 9:14 – 15).Being the Bride of Christ speaks of the position of privilege to experience God’s desire. As sons of God, we are in the position to experience the power of God’s throne. As the Bride of Christ, we are in the position to experience the desires of God’s heart.
Understanding the Bridegroom Fast (Matt. 9:14 – 15)
Jesus spoke of the Apostles fasting out of the desire to encounter Him in Matthew 9:14 – 15,
“Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the Bridegroom mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the Bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”
We call this the Bridegroom fast. It is motivated by desiring Jesus rather than by a desire for more power in ministry or to be delivered from a personal crisis, etc. This is a new paradigm of fasting.
For the disciples enjoyed Jesus’ presence, feeling loved by Him and rejoicing in their relationship with Him. Jesus told them that the joy they experienced in His nearness would manifest as mourning or longing when He was taken from them by His death. Yes, when the joy of His immediate presence had been taken from them, they would be heartsick. Then they would fast!
The disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus with a sincere question. They were confused and troubled by the lack of fasting among Jesus’ disciples, because John taught his disciples to fast often. Jesus answered with a question,
“Can the friends of the Bridegroom mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them?”
Jesus was referring to His death on the cross when He said that the days were coming when He, as the Bridegroom God, would be taken from them. Then His disciples would fast with the same consistency and intensity that John’s disciples did. Their fasting would flow out of desire to encounter the Bridegroom God.
This is fasting for great intimacy with God and for spiritual renewal. We do not fast to motivate God to pay attention to us, but rather to receive the affection that He already has for us – it is not to move His heart, but to move our own. The Bridegroom fast causes our spiritual dullness to be diminished.
Jesus established the New Covenant by His death and resurrection, in which the Spirit would dwell in each believer. Then fasting would take on a whole new dimension because the depths of God would be revealed to His disciples by the indwelling Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10; Heb. 10:19 – 22).
Fasting that is centered on hunger and desire
A mourning heart is fiercely discontented and desperately hungry for God – this is the Bridegroom fast. We refuse to accept the current state of our spiritual barrenness and dullness. The Bridegroom fast is primarily centered on desire – both understanding God’s desire for us and awakening our own desire back toward Him. God imparts new desires to us. Once we taste the nearness of God’s presence, we cannot live without more of Him.
Fasting sets our hearts to be expanded as we encounter Jesus as our Bridegroom God. Our spiritual capacity to receive from God increases. Fasting before our Bridegroom God is a catalyst to speed up the depth and the measure in which we receive from the Lord. We receive greater measures of revelation at an accelerated pace, and with a deeper impact upon our hearts.
The idea that fasting changes us internally is a new idea to some. Fasting results in tenderizing our hearts. When this occurs, we make different choices, which lead to different outcomes in the places we go and the people we meet. When our values are different, it affects who we marry, how we raise children, how we spend our money, and what focus we have in ministry.
Our desire for God is His gift to us, both the sweet and painful sides of our desire. Our craving for Jesus causes joy and pain in our hearts. We are exhilarated and wounded in our love for Him. The painful longing has a divine purpose: spiritual hunger is a divine agent that leads us to greater love. It results in making room for love and purity to have their full way in our hearts.
Five Rewards of the Bridegroom Fast
Fasting restrains our physical pleasure, but it enhances our spiritual pleasure. Our greatest pleasure comes by feasting on the Person of Jesus. Fasting is an exchange where we abstain from certain things to “feast” on God’s word and prayer, whereby we experience more of His grace.
God rewards those who hunger for righteousness (Matt. 6:17) and there are five rewards of the Bridegroom Fast:
Fasting leads to tenderizing our hearts so that we feel God’s presence more.
Fasting leads to changing our desires and enlarging our desire for righteousness (Heb. 1:9).
Fasting leads to increasing our understanding of the Word and receiving prophetic dreams.
Fasting leads to making our body healthier and changing what we desire to eat and drink.
Fasting leads to strengthening our sense of identity as sons of God before the Father and as a bride before the Son. Our identity is rooted in the knowledge of God’s affection for us.
Embracing Voluntary Weakness
Fasting embraces voluntary weakness in order to experience more of God’s power and presence. It is a paradox that we become weak in the natural in order to receive more strength from the Spirit. Jesus revealed to Paul that the release of God’s power in his life was connected to his willingness to embrace weakness. This revelation is foundational to understanding fasting.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
This kind of weakness is not moral weakness, but voluntary weakness as a godly choice. This weakness includes prayer, fasting, giving, blessing our enemies, and enduring persecution. The “strength made perfect” refers to Paul experiencing more of God’s power. Many desire to walk in “perfected power,” but do not want to embrace the necessary weakness. The most challenging issue in fasting is the physical weakness it produces. We become physically weak and cannot function in the way we usually do (Ps. 109:24).
Five different types of food fasts
The regular fast is going without food and drinking only water.
The liquid fast is going without solid food and drinking only light liquids (like fruit juices).
The partial fast, or Daniel fast, abstains from tasty foods and consists of eating only vegetables or nuts, etc.
The “Benedict Fast” established by Saint Benedict (525 AD), consists of only one meal a day.
The absolute fast or “Esther Fast”, abstains from food and water (Esther 4:16). Exercise caution!
Fasting is a gift that we should embrace as part of our lifestyle. It is not meant to be used as a “shot in the arm” several times a year, but is designed to be a consistent part of our lives. All people who are healthy should fast at least one day a week.
Those with a forerunner messenger calling should seek to live a fasted lifestyle. For the Early Church fasted twice a week (i.e. Wednesdays and Fridays) and fasting was a regular part of Paul’s life (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27; Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17 – 18).
Fasting is always voluntary. Though leaders may invite others to join in corporate fasting with a specific goal in mind and for a specific time, it can never be forced or mandated.
It is also a false notion that fasting is radical Christianity, and thus is optional to Christianity. Fasting is basic to the Christian life. We are called to fast regularly.
Points to Note:
There are obvious exceptions to fasting. People who are pregnant or have health problems should consult their doctors before fasting.
The level at which a person engages in fasting from food should be determined according to age and with regard to any physical limitations. Those with a known or suspected physical disability or illness, or with any history of an eating disorder should never fast except in consultation with, and under the supervision of, a qualified physician.
Minors are discouraged from fasting food and should never engage in even a partial fast without express parental consent and oversight. Minors who desire to fast are encouraged to consider non-food abstentions, such as TV programmes, movies, internet surfing, video games and other forms of entertainment. The Bible never speaks of or calls children to engage in fasting.
Participation in regular fasting as a lifestyle necessitates a healthy lifestyle on non-food fasting days and should include exercise and a proper diet. A “fasted lifestyle” is a disciplined lifestyle, in which we steward our bodies and time with wisdom and diligence.