The theme of this study is “How to Fast Successfully.” This subject does not readily lend itself to a sermon, but rather to some practical teaching on various aspects of fasting. Many people ask: “How do I fast? How long do I fast? How often should I fast? How should I break my fast?” The purpose of this study is to answer these questions and to clear up some misconceptions about fasting. I think it is good, to begin with, a definition of fasting. The definition I have used several times is: Fasting is abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Normally, fasting is not abstaining from fluids, but only from solid food.
Fasting might be partial, i.e. abstinence from certain kinds of food, or total, i.e. abstinence from all food as well as from washing, anointing, sleeping. It might be of shorter or longer duration, e.g. for one day, from sunrise to sunset (Jdg 20:26; 1 Sam 14:24; 2 Sam 1:12; 3:35). In 1 Sam 31:13 allusion is made to a seven days’ fast, while Daniel abstained from “pleasant bread,” flesh, wine, and anointing for three weeks (Dan 10:3). Moses (Ex 34:28) and Elijah (1 Ki 19:8) fasted for 40 days. It is probable that these last three references presuppose a totally different conception of the significance of fasting. It is obvious that dreams made a deep impression on primitive man. They were communications from the departed members of the family. At a later stage, they were looked upon as revelations from God. During sleep, there is total abstinence from food. It was easy to draw the inference that fasting might fit the person to receive these communications from the world of spirits ( Dan 10:2). The close connection between fasting and insight–intellectual and spiritual–between simple living and high thinking is universally recognized.
Although there were occasions in the Bible when people did fast without food or without water for as long as forty days, for this study we will consider fasting as abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Many of the people who have asked, “How do I fast?” have been Christians and members of churches for many years. Yet, apparently, no one has ever taught them about fasting, even though the Bible has much to say about the subject. Since most of these people know something about prayer, it may be good to begin by pointing out a parallel between fasting and praying.
It is a matter of common observation and experience that great distress causes loss of appetite and therefore occasions abstinence from food. Hannah, who was greatly distressed on account of her childlessness, “wept, and did not eat” (1 Sam 1:7). Violent anger produces the same effect (1 Sam 20:34 ). According to 1 Ki 21:4, Ahab, “heavy and displeased” on account of Naboth’s refusal to part with his estate, sulked and “would eat no bread.” Fasting, originally the natural expression of grief, became the customary mode of proving to others the inner emotion of sorrow. David demonstrated his grief at Abner’s death (2 Sam 3:35) by fasting, just as the Psalmist indicated his sympathy with his adversaries’ sorry plight in the same way ( Ps 35:13). In such passages as Ezr 10:6; Est 4:3, it is not clear whether fasting is used in its religious significance or simply as a natural expression of sorrow (compare also Lk 5:33 and see below). This view explains the association of fasting with the mourning customs of antiquity (compare 1 Sam 31:13; 2 Sam 1:12). As fasting was a perfectly natural and human expression and evidence of the subject’s grief, it readily claimed a place among those religious customs whose main object was the pacification of the anger of God, or the excitement of His compassion. Any and every act that would manifest the distressful state of the suppliant would appeal to the Deity and move Him to pity. The interesting incident recorded in 2 Sam 12:16-23 suggests the twofold significance of fasting as a religious act or a mode of appealing to the Deity and as a funeral custom. David defends his fasting before and not after the child’s death on the ground that while the child was alive David’s prayer might be answered. His fasting was intended to make his petition effectual (compare also 1 Ki 21:27; Ezr 8:21; Est 4:16). Occasionally fasting was proclaimed on a national scale, e.g. in case of war (Jdg 20:26; 2 Ch 20:3) or of pestilence ( Joel 1:13 f). Fasting having thus become a recognized mode of seeking Divine favor and protection, it was natural that it should be associated with confession of sin, as indisputable evidence of penitence or sorrow for sin
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, when Jesus spoke first about praying and then about fasting, He used similar language in talking about both topics. The main difference is that when He talked about praying, He included a pattern of prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer. But I think there is a basic parallel between fasting and praying, and I’ll point out two aspects of it. We all know we can pray as individuals, and most of us are also familiar with praying in groups. Group praying we usually referred to as a prayer meeting. Individual praying is what we do when we’re by ourselves. I believe there is the same distinction in fasting: there is group fasting, where people fast together; and there is individual fasting, where a person fasts on his own. We are also familiar with two kinds of prayer: regular prayer at a set time each day, and special times of prayer when the Holy Spirit leads us to take extra time beyond our usual pattern of prayer for a special need. The same, I believe, is true of fasting. I think fasting should be a regular practice in the life of every disciplined Christian. But beyond those regular times of fasting, there are times when the Holy Spirit leads us to give additional emphasis to fasting.
So we see that there is a parallel between praying and fasting. Just as there is individual prayer and collective prayer, so there is also individual fasting and collective fasting. Just as there are normal patterns of prayer and there are times of special prayer, so there should be normal patterns of fasting in the life of every Christian and there should be special times of fasting as the Holy Spirit leads. “EXPERIENCING GOD’S POWER” a book aspect is written by DEREK PRINCE