Many of us deeply desire to see the power and glory that was visible in the early church being manifested in our churches today. What did they do differently to what we do today? The Bible gives us a number of ‘keys’ that contribute to the making the Kingdom of God more visible. One of these keys is fasting.
In the time of the early church it was the custom amongst both the Jews that believed that Jesus was the Messiah and Jews that didn’t, to fast regularly. There were scriptural fasts – such as on the Day of Atonement, but also voluntary fasts. Most Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, the market days, when the Torah was read out aloud in public. In the time of the early church, gentile believers adopted the same practices when they became Christians, and continued to do so for several hundred years, until it was forbidden to fast on these days.
What is fasting?
Both the Hebrew and Greek words for fasting mean simply to refrain from everything that goes in your mouth. So fasting meant refraining from food or drink. The purpose of fasting was to seek fellowship with God. It is therefore very different to trying to lose weight. The time you save by not having to acquire, prepare and eat food is meant to be spent in prayer. If you stop watching television or reading the newspaper during the period of fasting you can make even more time available for prayer. However just not watching television for a period is not, as some people think, a fast.
Is fasting still valid for us?
Jesus assumed that people fasted regularly, and even gave them instructions on how to go about it “… moreover when you fast…” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Many Christians though are still not sure whether or not fasting is valid for New Testament believers.
A lot of people in the Old Testament fasted – Moses, Elijah, Ezra, Nehemiah, David, Daniel, Esther. The Lord Jesus – our greatest example, also fasted (Matthew 4:2).
The only exception we read about were the twelve disciples, who did not fast during Jesus’ ministry on earth. However Jesus assumed that after He went up to heaven, they would fast again (see Luke 5:34-35). In the book of Acts and in the letters in the New Testament we see that the early believers fasted regularly. It was normal to fast and pray before taking an important step. The church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabus on their way with fasting and prayer (Acts 13:2-3). When elders were appointed they prayed and fasted (Acts 14:23) before taking up their duties. Paul even names fasting as one of the things by which you can recognize ministers of God (2Corinthians 6:5).
Many influential men that were powerfully used by God fasted regularly, such as Wesley, Finney, Booth and Spurgeon.
The goal of fasting
Fasting is not meant to be a way of punishing yourself or trying to make reparation for something. One of the goals of fasting is to teach your spirit to rule over your body (your hunger and weakness) and your soul (your thoughts and emotions). Fasting teaches obedience and discipline. Making a decision is not so difficult, but sticking to your decision when the going gets tough is sometimes very difficult. Fasting helps us to practice this. It is nearly always an uncomfortable physical experience and our bodies generally object to the process. The Bible even calls it ‘afflicting your soul’ (Leviticus 23:27). Your body will certainly rebel and in the beginning you often feel unpleasantly weak and hungry and even miserable. However after two or three days, the hunger pangs simply go away and your body begins to feel better.
Through fasting regularly we learn to take spiritual authority over our body. Normally our body dictates when we eat and how much, so it is very good to let your body know regularly who is really in control.
Regular fasting helps us to practice walking according the Spirit and not according to our physical senses and our flesh (Romans 8:13, 1Corinthians 9:27).
Sometimes fasting is used as a sort of hunger-strike to try and get Gods attention, or to force Him to respond to a particular prayer. This is not a Biblical basis for fasting but can be found in some forms of pagan idol worship. The God of the Bible loves us and longs to bless us and give us every good thing. He paid an enormous price so that we could enter His Kingdom where we have access to every good thing that He has already prepared for us. That is why the Bible promises that we will receive everything we need if we will just seek Gods Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).
We don’t have to fast and pray for things that according to Gods word, already belong to us; things like food and shelter and the things we need to live.
One consequence of this way of thinking is the lie that we can only receive something from God through our own efforts.
Fasting is not a sort of sacrifice that we offer in the hope that God will give us something in return. But fasting is meant to direct our attention completely toward God, so that we become a bit less sensitive to the demands of our own body and feelings, and a lot more sensitive to Gods voice and the leading of His Spirit. God has so much He wants to share with us and bless us with once He has our attention.
Fasting is also not a method of warfare. Many people suddenly spend more time praying because of a crisis or a period of great need. The same thing happens with fasting. The normal lifestyle of a ‘minister of God’ includes regular fasting, which means that when a crisis happens, or the battle gets heated, we are prepared and ready. In Matthew 17:21 when Jesus talked about a “kind that does not go out except by prayer and fasting”, what he meant was that we should have a lifestyle of prayer and fasting (this is much clearer in the Greek text than in most translations).
There is a lot of resistance to fasting because of ignorance: fasting is bad for your health, and is extreme and fanatic. Scientific research however has shown that when done in a responsible way, fasting has a positive effect not only on your soul and spirit but also on your body.
It has been found that regular fasting reduces the risk of cancer and diabetes and even extends your lifespan. It is wise when you start, to begin with sort periods from one to three days. There are also various forms of fasting. In cases of pregnancy, diabetes or someone who is receiving medical treatment it’s also strongly advisable to consult a doctor before you begin as fasting can have an effect on an unborn child and on the working of some medications.
It is also advisable to gradually decrease your food intake for several days before starting a fast. To suddenly stop drinking coffee will often give you headaches, unless you reduce your intake gradually. After a fast it also advisable to start eating again slowly and carefully.
During fasting your body breaks down fat cells which release the toxins and poisons that are often stored there. This can result in feelings of extreme tiredness, headaches and weakness which can last several days, and but will eventually disappear. It is also normal to feel quite emotional during a fast.
It is important during fasting to drink enough, either water or weak herbal tea is recommended.
When fasting, don’t be legalistic but find a form of fasting that is most appropriate for you. Keep a logbook while you fast and write down what you experience both physically and spiritually.
If your fast involves missing one or two meals a day, don’t miss breakfast as it will result in very low blood sugar levels which will make it difficult for you to function during the day.
Fasting is a wonderful tool for those who long for more spiritual growth. As our relationship with God deepens His Kingdom will become more visible in every aspect of our lives. No one who invests in their relationship with Christ will ever be the same again and they will infect others with a desire find out what or who has touched them and changed them so deeply.
Scriptures for further study: Isaiah 58, Zachariah 7:5,6, Matthew 6.
 Council of Carthage 436AD
 See Deuteronomy 9:9, Ezra 8:21, Nehemiah 9:1, 1Kings 19:8, Esther 4:16, Psalm 35:13, Daniel 9:3)
– “Every Other Day Fasting May Reduce Cancer Risk”. WorldHealth.net. 2005-03-23.
http://www.worldhealth.net/news/every_other_day_fasting_may_reduce_cance. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
– Woods, Michael (April 29, 2003). “Mice live longer fasting; How about humans?”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
– “On-off fasting helps obese adults shed pounds”. Reuters. November 12, 2009.
– USA (2002-10-18). “Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake”. Pubmedcentral.nih.gov.
http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=156352. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
– “Study: Fasting improves health as much as cutting calories”. USA Today. April 28, 2003.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-04-28-fasting_x.htm. Retrieved May 2, 2010.