Moses was in the presence of God on Mount Sinai for forty days and during that period he neither ate nor drank anything. During this time he was blessed with the Ten Commandments, written by God on stone tablets to enable him to guide his people in God’s ways and to live a life in close fellowship with Him. The Holy Spirit led the Son of God into the wilderness for forty days without food or drink, to be tested by the devil when He was in the lowest position of His physical strength. What is the link of fasting with getting close to God?
What is fasting? Moses was the first person to have fasted in the Scripture and ‘for forty days he did neither eat bread, nor drink water’ (Exodus 34:28). Fasting preceded a major victory, a miracle or answer to prayer and Moses fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments to lead his people into a close relationship with YHWH, their covenant keeping God. The command of the LORD God is ‘Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and mourning’ (Joel 2:12). Fasting is an expression of humility and hunger for God and the time saved from eating and other activities is used for developing a close relationship with God. That time is used to get close to God through worship, Scripture reading and prayer.
The full fast is from sunset to next day sunset or when the stars appear in the sky. On the other hand a half day fast is from sunrise to stars in the sky and it is about ‘neither eating anything nor drinking’ not even water. The time of fasting is about repentance of our negative behavior and focus on our relationship with God by taking account of the past and resolving to move on a positive path. Prophet Jonah was sent by God to Nineveh with a warning and all the people, ‘not one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks’ did eat or drink anything at all (Jonah 3:7-10). And ‘God saw their works’ and not their sackcloth and fasting but their repentance and change in attitude and actions. When the disciples sought to know from the Lord the reason for their failure to cast out the evil spirit, they were told about lack of faith and that ‘this type goes out with prayer and fasting’ (Matthew 17:20-21). Fasting is also connected to faith and changed actions.
Man is a spiritual being living in a physical body in a material world and the two are closely linked. Living in the physical realm affects our spiritual growth and vice versa to achieve our purpose of life. After the fall the material or physical life directly affects the spiritual whereas earlier it was the other way round. Lord Jesus confirms His relationship with the believers, ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life’ (John 10:27-28). He leads us into the promised life of abundance (John 10:10), He is my strength and my shield (Psalm 28:7) and takes on Himself the arrows of the enemy that are heading towards me while I rest in areas free from any turmoil. Lord Jesus’ command to those who fast is to ‘anoint your head with oil’ (Matthew 6:17) and not make a show of it.
By all this we understand that fasting is about personal relationship with God and not about anyone else; secondly it is about devoting more time in fellowship with God and finally about bringing the body under control of the soul and through that of the spirit, what was intended by God ‘in the beginning’.
Advantages of fasting – Through fasting then a believer firstly develops spiritual strength by bringing order in life, secondly strengthening self for resisting temptation, from excessive eating to control of other fleshly desires. Thirdly, it is about making our spirits as masters of the body; fourth, it is about showing humility and surrendering self to the will and control of the LORD God and finally strengthening our relationship with other living beings.
What are the various types of fasting? There are seven types of fasts and these are: First, Partial fast, when the fasting may be from sunrise to 4 PM or so. This could be complete fast of not eating and drinking anything or Daniel fast of foregoing only particular items like meat etc and being a vegetarian.
Second, Daniel Fasting, ‘At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; nor did I anoint myself at all, till the whole three weeks were fulfilled’ (Daniel 10:2-3). In this type of fast, one can eat fruits, nuts; vegetables and drink water, to flush out toxins from the body but you cannot eat meats, cakes and pastries, bread and fried food etc. Its purpose is to cleanse your body while praying and meditating on the Scripture.
Third, Complete fasting – In this only water is taken and no solid food is consumed, while some people do take juice and this fast is to bring humility in a person.
Four, Absolute fast, it is based on Apostle Paul and Esther’s fast where nothing is eaten and not even water is taken. After his encounter with Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, ‘For three days he (Saul) was blind, and did not eat or drink anything’ (Acts 9:9). Lord Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness before His temptation by the devil (Matthew 4:1-2). This fast is for an intense prayer and meditation time and all the time is given for fellowship with God. Moses fasted like this before receiving the Ten Commandments from the LORD.
Five, sexual fasting, Apostle Paul suggested this for a husband and wife to ‘deprive each other by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer’ (1 Corinthians 7:5-6). Then they are to come together again to avoid being tempted by the devil. Moses also commanded the Israelites to cleanse their bodies, ‘and do not go near a woman’ to come into the presence of God (Exodus 19:14). It is about controlling one’s desires.
Six, Corporate fasting – This is done in a group, the whole church, Bible Study group or the whole family. The congregation at Antioch fasted and the Holy Spirit sought separation of Saul (Apostle Paul) and Barnabas ‘for the work to which I have called them’ (Acts 13:2-3). This is powerful, for the Lord has assured us ‘Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them’ and it is for seeking Divine help for the community or for any specific cause.
Seven, Soul fasting is done to bring into alignment something in your life that is out of balance. It could be going without TV, internet, phone or other means of contacting people. The aim of fasting is clearly to get close to God, ‘O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness’ (Isaiah 25:1).
Spiritual growth through fasting – A believer’s actions are influenced by the indwelling Holy Spirit and ‘God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ (1 Corinthians 14:33). David, while defining his relationship with God, affirms the place of abundance that he is led into where there is stillness in the waters (Psalm 23:2). Physical body is now the doorway into the spiritual while from inside the Holy Spirit leads and guides. Fasting is separation from the routine of daily life and with no food in the body; the internal organs also attain a sense of tranquility, stillness and orderliness. In that silence of internal organs the spiritual hunger for higher and divine things is awakened.
Repentance leads us to focus on shedding what is undesirable and focusing on the spiritual needs of heavenly manna. It is then that we open the door to our heart to welcome Lord Jesus for He is ever ready to come in and disburse the bounties of spiritual food to those who seek that (Revelation 3:20). Through fasting we bring ourselves before the Altar of God as an offering, by controlling our desires and with emptiness within to get filled with the fullness of His blessings and grace. During the Old Testament times one could take his offerings before God through the High Priest but now each believer is a priest with Lord Jesus as our High Priest in heaven (1 Peter 2:9). Each prayer in itself now is a sacrificial offering before God and our Savior Lord is seated at the right hand of God the Father, a seat of honor and authority, and intercedes for us by placing our requests and supplications before Him to counter the lies of the devil who accuses us before God (Romans 8:34).
Righteousness is of two types, one is Corum deo, righteousness before God through faith in the sacrificial redemption by the Son of God. The second type of righteousness is Corum mundo, which is righteousness in the eyes of the world and is achieved through good and charitable deeds. Our Savior’s righteousness is attributed to us and our bodies become the temple of God for His Holy Spirit dwells in us. Through this, holiness of the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle was given to each believer and the dependence on a High Priest for offering prayers before God was removed and we can individually and collectively come before God to worship and fellowship with Him. Our atonement is also individual though we are asked to ‘confess your sins to one another and pray for one another’ (James 5:16).
During the Old Testament times it was about rights as a child of God and the role of the High Priest has later been attributed to the State to do all for its citizens, what he did. A new born believer is however, responsible to maintain his close relationship with God through daily prayers and Scripture reading and meditation. Fasting is bringing body, soul and the spirit in alignment with the Holy Spirit through inner silence and peace. It is not about emptying the mind of all thoughts for such emptiness is likely to be occupied by evil spirits (Matthew 12:45). Christian meditation is to be aware of the thoughts and desires and bring it all before God’s throne of grace and mercy for leading us in and to holiness. The days of fasting free us from the daily chores of preparing food and other chores and instead we focus on the Word of God and listening to the ‘still small voice of God’ during that calmness of our whole being.
Many complain of no results from fasting but denial of food to the body does nothing to bring any results and God does not get impressed by the length of time of the fast but it is all about the attitude. One who looks for and finds bodily pleasures, exploits his laborers, causes strife and debate and strikes others with the fist of wickedness, the voice of such persons will not be ‘heard on high’ or by God (Isaiah 58:3-4).
What does God like in a fast? Fasting is about your relationship with God and it is less about fasting but more about your attitude and your heart. It is to remove the bonds of wickedness; to undo the heavy burdens; to let the oppressed go free; to break every yoke; share your bread with the hungry; encourage the poor and those who are cast out; clothe the naked and do not hide yourself from your relatives/neighbors in time of their need (Isaiah 58:6-8). The Moabites, the Ammonites and others with them came to battle against Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and he declared a ‘fast throughout all Judah’ and ‘set himself to seek the Lord’ (2 Chronicles 20:1- 25). On receiving a word from the LORD through Jahaziel, ‘Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground’ and all worshipped the LORD. On reaching the area where the enemy gathered, they found dead bodies, none had escaped for the LORD God had caused the Ammonites and the Moabites to fight against and kill the people of Mount Seir and then each other.The people of Judah were there for ‘three days gathering the spoil because there was so much’, more than they could carry.
What fast is suitable for a believer? For a start a Daniel fast or corporate fast with others may be useful to get together with others ‘encouraging each other and praying and worshipping together’. Fasting is not to prove your spirituality to others but to submit to God by denying our body food and water to discipline it and bring it under control of the soul and the spirit. John Piper the famous preacher and teacher says, ‘Christian fasting at its root is the hunger of a homesickness from God’. Fasting and complaining about hunger or social media, or proclaiming to all on social media about your fast giving regular details is a fast for them and not for God.
Fasting is to seek wisdom, understanding and revelation from God, prepare for ministry, repentance, seeking deliverance and protection, humble oneself and worship God. Prepare beforehand and if needed get a medical examination done. During fasting focus on God and not on what you are missing and keep on rebuking such thoughts, pray and worship and discipline your mind. Do not judge and condemn others who do not fast for it is about your relationship with God and do not boast about your fasting. It is not about looking good before others but before God and you are bringing your sacrificial offering before God in heaven.
Our desires and body try to control our lives and our relationship with God. But we were created to be dependent on God for everything and through fasting we attempt to bring our body, soul and our whole being under His sovereign control. Whatever be the type of fast, the aim is only one and then God also reaches out to touch and bless His children, for He definitely loves each one of us immensely.