The ancient practice of fasting has become popular again among many health and wellness leaders. Does the biblical practice of fasting continue to serve a role for believers today? Should Christians fast?
First, to be clear, fasting is abstaining from food for a period of time. Both Old Testament believers and early Christians practiced fasting to focus on God. Jesus personally fasted 40 days before beginning His ministry (Matthew 4:1-10). Though some speak of a “Daniel fast” (usually referring to a vegetarian diet) or fasting from certain items or practices, fasting generally refers to not eating.
Second, fasting is not commanded, but has certainly been practiced in positive ways by Christians. In Romans 14, Paul addresses the issue of which foods a believer can eat, concluding each person is free to choose. This would also include the decision regarding whether to fast or go without food. Fasting is not commanded, but was commonly practiced in the early church.
Third, biblical fasting is a practice used to focus on God. Yes, fasting can also be used as part of a weight loss plan, but that is not its purpose in Scripture. For example, in Acts 13:1-3 early church leaders worshiped and fasted to seek God’s purpose for future ministry. God used this time to call Paul and Barnabas as missionaries to new areas.
Fourth, there is a clear difference between traditional fasting and some of the supernatural fasts of the Bible. In the Old Testament Moses appears to spend two 40-day periods without food or water on Mount Sinai with God. This is not humanly possible, but clearly showed God worked in supernatural ways during this time.
The only other people in the Bible to fast for 40 days included Elijah and Jesus. In Elijah’s case, supernatural encounters were involved. The case of Jesus is also unique, as He is both the Son of God and included angels attending Him (Mark 1:13). Though a small number of people have completed a 40-day fast in modern times, this is often with the assistance of medicine and/or vitamins. Further, some have encountered serious health problems in attempts at long-term fasting that are not recommended.
Some people struggle with the idea of going without food to focus on God. They wonder how a person can focus at all when they are hungry. However, denial of self is a common biblical concept. When we deny ourselves in a certain area, we are forced to deal with our dependence upon God and how often we seek dependence on other things.
From a practical standpoint, most people can endure a 24-hour period abstaining from food without health problems. However, it is always advised to consult with your doctor before fasting. Certain conditions prohibit fasting and should not cause guilt to someone for the inability to practice fasting.
Our goals in fasting should include a close relationship with God and a greater desire to show His love to others. Fasting in community with other believers for a meal or a day can also increase the power of prayer and worship.
While we are not commanded to fast, it can certainly serve as a beneficial practice. When we seek God with pure motives, deny ourselves, and focus on prayer to the Lord, He may bring powerful times of personal refreshing as well as answers to prayer that are well worth the commitment.
Dillon Burroughs serves as senior writer at The John Ankerberg Show and has written nearly 40 books on issues of faith and culture. He is also an associate editor for The Apologetics Bible for Students and has contributed to many works on apologetics and Christian worldview. Dillon is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a PhD in Leadership from Piedmont International University. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Deborah, and their three children.
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