Fasting as a Means of Spiritual Growth

Fasting, frequently misunderstood, is a spiritual discipline which should not be ignored. God expects Christians to fast for spiritual benefit.

Fasting as a Means of Spiritual Growth
Photo by Tim Wildsmith / Unsplash

Fasting is one of the more misunderstood spiritual disciplines. Even so, this spiritual discipline should not be ignored.

In this article, fasting will be defined as the abstinence of food for spiritual purposes. Some may view fasting more broadly as abstaining from something enjoyable other than food. The rest of this discussion takes the narrower view, focusing only on the abstinence of food.

God Expects Fasting

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught on giving (6:2-3) and praying (6:5-7) fully expecting that Christians will give and pray. Likewise, Jesus taught on fasting, fully expecting his children will fast.

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16–18 ESV)

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 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 9:14–15 ESV)

Types of Fasting

  • Normal fast: abstinence of food but not water. (Luke 4:2)
  • Partial fast: limitation of diet, but not abstention from all food. (Daniel 1:12; Matthew 3:4)
  • Absolute fast: abstinence of food and liquid including water. (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9)
  • Supernatural fast: God’s miraculous provision and supernatural intervention. (Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8)
  • Private fast: fasting in a way not to be noticed by others. (Matthew 6:16-18)
  • Corporate fast: group of individuals fasting corporately. (Nehemiah 9:1; Esther 4:16; Joel 2:15-16; Acts 13:2)
  • Regular fast: fasting at regular intervals (Leviticus 16:29-31; Zechariah 8:19; Luke 18:12)
  • Occasional fast: fasting on special occasions as needs arise. (Matthew 9:15)

Length of Fasting

  • Partial day or one day: Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35; Nehemiah 9:1; Jeremiah 36:6; Daniel 6:18-24
  • Three days: Esther 6:14; Acts 9:9
  • Seven days: 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 12:16-23)
  • Fourteen days: Acts 27:33-34
  • Twenty–one days: Daniel 10:3-13
  • Forty days: Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2
  • Unspecified length: Matthew 9:14; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2; 14:23

10 Purposes of Fasting

1. To Strengthen Prayer

  • Example of Ezra (Ezra 8:23), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4), Daniel (Daniel 9:3), Joel (Joel 2:12), and church in Antioch (Acts 13:3).

2. To Seek Guidance

  • Example of eleven tribes of Israel (Judges 20:26-28), Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23).

3. To Express Grief

  • Example of Israel (Judges 20:26), Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:34), men of Jabesh Gilead (1 Samuel 31:13), David and his men (2 Samuel 1:11-12)

4. To Seek Deliverance or Protection

  • Example of nation of Judah (2 Chronicles 20:3-4), Ezra and the returning exiles (Ezra 8:21-23), Esther and Israelites (Esther 4:16), and David (Psalm 109:24)

5. To Repent

  • Example of the people of Israel (1 Samuel 7:6; Joel 2:12) and the people of Ninevah (Jonah 3:5-8)

6. To Humble Oneself Before God

  • Example of Ahab (1 Kings 21:27-29) and David (Psalm 35:13),

7. To Express Concern for God’s Work

  • Example of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:3-4) and Daniel (Daniel 9:3)

8. To Minister to Others

  • God’s teaching about fasting through Isaiah (Isaiah 58)

9. To Overcome Temptation

  • Example of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)

10. To Express Love and Worship to God

  • Example of Anna (Luke 2:37)

Further Study