Fasting for Beginners

It’s the start of our mid-year prayer and fasting today. Most Victory people are already used to this so they could just get into fasting mode without much introduction. For those who are still warming up to the curious idea of going hungry in the next three days, this blog is for you.

What is fasting?

Donald Whitney, in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, defines fasting as a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.

Don’t miss the keywords in his definition. It’s voluntary. Fasting should not be coerced. Just because your mother is fasting doesn’t mean that the entire family should go hungry. Don’t jump into the fasting bandwagon because everybody in your circle of church friends is doing it. Do it because you have set it in your heart to seek God for the whole duration of the fast.

It’s abstinence from food—not TV, not internet, not hobbies, but food. It is true that there’s a broader definition of fasting in which a person abstains or denies himself the enjoyment of something other than food so that he can focus his time on spiritual pursuits. That’s alright. But the Bible technically uses the word ‘fasting’ to refer only to abstinence from food. Let’s stick to it as beginners.

It’s for spiritual purposes. Sorry, it’s not for crash dieting. If you do lose a few pounds as a result of the fast, consider that as a happy side effect of communing with God, not the goal of fasting.

There are at least four kinds of fast you can see in the Bible.

Normal fast is abstaining from all food but not from water. Jesus did it. In Matthew 4:2, after fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. The Bible didn’t say he was thirsty. A cross reference with Luke 4:2 shows “he ate nothing during those days.” Again, no mention of him not drinking water. Small cues like that say a lot in biblical interpretation.

Partial fast is a limitation of the diet, but not the abstinence from all food. Daniel 1:12 tells us how he and his three friends had only vegetables to eat and water to drink. Historically, Christians do this by eating only a small portion of food than the usual serving. This is good. Those who cannot do a normal fast can still fast.

Absolute fast is the most difficult. It is the avoidance of all food and liquid, even water. Ezra 10:6 shows us how Ezra didn’t eat or drink as he mourned the faithlessness of the exiles. Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, didn’t eat or drink for three days (Acts 9:9).

Supernatural fast is the most rare. Only two were recorded in the Bible: Moses in Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 9:9) and Elijah in Mount Horeb, which is the same site as Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:8). A supernatural fast requires supernatural intervention in the bodily processes and should not be done apart from the Lord’s specific calling and miraculous provision.

Some fasts are private. This is what Jesus talked about in Matthew 6:16-18 when he said that we should not fast to be noticed by others. Other fasts are congregational. This is what we are doing as a church in Victory. We call all Victory people to join in, with one small caveat for now: we follow the IATF safety protocols for our own safety and the safety of our loved ones.

If you are new to this, we encourage you to join us. Download the fasting devotional, use your meal time for extended Bible reading and prayer, and enjoy. Happy fasting, everyone!

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Published by

Jojo Agot

Pastor at Victory. Teacher and writer at Every Nation Leadership Institute (ENLI). MA in Theology and Mission at Every Nation Seminary.