A Brief Overview of Biblical Fasting
Prepared by Donna Castle – March 2009
Fasting is a Scriptural discipline referring to
abstaining from food for spiritual purposes for a
predetermined length of time. The type
and length of fast should be consistent with your
purpose for fasting.
Matthew 6:16-18 reads: "Whenever you
fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do,
for they neglect their appearance so that they will be
noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to
you, they will have their reward in full. But you, when
you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that
your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your
Father who is in secret and your Father who sees what is
done in secret will reward you." By the words "whenever
you fast" in this quote, there is an assumption that
believers will fast. As Christians we are not required
to fast but allowed to fast (The Beginner's Guide
to Fasting, pg. 11).
fasting, your heart attitude is what is important.
"Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-
initiated and God-ordained" (Celebration
of Discipline, pg. 48). "Fasting can bring
breakthroughs in the spiritual
realm that could never be had in any
other way" (Celebration of Discipline, pg. 52).
See also Matthew 17:21.
Andrew Womack writes of fasting: "Fasting
was always used as a means of seeking God to the
exclusion of all else. Fasting casts out unbelief. The
real virtue of a fast is in humbling ourselves through
Fasting is primarily a private matter
between you and God. If you decide to fast with a
friend, you have
someone with whom you can pray, share any
doubts or struggles and be accountable. There are times
of corporate or public fasts and national fasts (Joel
2:15, 2 Chron. 20:1-4).
Prayer, worship and reading the Bible usually accompany
fasting (Daniel 9:3, 20; Nehemiah 9:1-3, Luke 2:37).
How and when you incorporate these into
your fast will depend on such things as your schedule,
responsibilities, etc. You can use your
hunger pangs as a call to pray for the reason you are
fasting. During a fast you will likely encounter
spiritual resistance or spiritual warfare. Remember that
Satan does not want you to get closer to God, to know
Him better, to be in His presence; all of which are
benefits of fasting. Be sure you put on your spiritual
armor as described in Ephesians 6.
Who should not fast:
Diabetics, expectant mothers, heart patients; anyone
with a specific medical reason not to fast. If you are
to take food with medications, do not stop that when
fasting. If you have blood sugar issues, discuss fasting
with your doctor. If you have any questions, discuss
fasting with your doctor prior to the fast.
Reasons to fast:
Determine the reason you are fasting
before you begin your fast. Following are some of the
reasons listed in the Bible:
To solve a problem (Ezra 8:21-23)
For divine intervention in a situation
Intercession for the people of God
To humble yourself (Ps. 35:13)
To seek the Lord on a matter or decision
(Ezra 8:21-23, Judges 20:26-28)
In repentance and confession of sin (Ezra
10:6, Nehemiah 9:1-3)
Spiritual deliverance (Isaiah 58:6,
Matthew 17: 21)
Types of Fasts:
Following are descriptions of various
types of fasts. Pray about how you are to fast. God will
give you clear direction then fast with a clear
conscience. "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever
you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians
10:31). Rely on God's grace to help you fulfill your
commitment to fast. You fast to please God, not yourself
• Normal fast: abstaining from all
food, solid or liquid, but not from water (Luke 4: 2)
• Partial fast:
abstaining from selected items in your diet or selected
meals. A Daniel fast is a type of partial
fast. "Please test your servants
for 10 days and let us be given some vegetables to eat
and water to drink."
(Daniel 1:12) "I did not eat any
tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth" (Daniel
10:3). There are
numerous lists of foods "allowed" during
a Daniel fast.
• Absolute fast:
abstaining from both food and water (Esther 4:16, Acts
9:9). Going without water can have
serious physical consequences.
"This (absolute fast) is the exception
and should never be engaged in
unless one has a very clear command
from God, and then for not more than three days."
Celebration of Discipline,
pg. 43). Arthur Wallis repeats this same warning (God's
Chosen Fast, pg. 17).
• Supernatural fast:
Moses was miraculously able to survive not eating or
drinking for 40 days (Deut. 9:9,18;
• John Wesley fast:
eating only whole grain bread and water for ten days
Length of fast:
Determine the length of your fast before
(Lev. 16:29; Judges 20:26; I Samuel 7:6; II Samuel 1:12,
Three days (Esther 4:16)
Seven days (I Samuel 31:13)
Twenty-one days (Daniel 10:3-13)
Forty days (Exodus 34:28; I Kings 19:8;
How to fast:
If you have never fasted, it is recommended that you
begin with a one day fast. You could go from
lunch to lunch, skipping two meals, or go
from sundown to sundown, skipping three meals. You might
drink fresh fruit juices during your fast, unless you
are doing a normal fast. The key is to pray about how to
fast and to be obedient to the Lord's leading. If the
Lord leads you to go on a longer fast, please study the
topic and learn how to prepare for a fast and how to
break a fast. If you regularly drink coffee or tea, you
may experience a headache when you go without. If you
undertake a long fast, you will want to slowly wean
yourself from caffeine-laden drinks prior to the fast.
Questions to ask yourself as you
prepare a fast of God's choosing:
Am I confident that this
desire to fast is God-given? Would God have me undertake
a normal or a partial fast?
Are my motives right? Is
there any hidden desire to impress others?
What are my spiritual
objectives in this fast?
Do my objectives tend to be
self-centered? Is my desire for personal blessing
balanced by genuine concern for others?
Am I determined above all
else to minister to the Lord in this fast?
Source: God's Chosen Fast by
Arthur Wallis, pgs. 85-86
How to listen to God as you seek Him
during your fast
Get ready. Have your Bible,
notebook or journal, pen, etc. with you as you enter
your time with the Lord.
Get quiet. Be prepared to
listen rather than to do all the talking. Know that He
does want to speak to you.
Get focused. Do whatever it
takes to give God your full attention.
Get rid of distractions.
Put aside the pressures of life.
Get still. This does not
necessarily mean being physically still. You might walk
around the room or rock. Quiet
your spirit so that you can hear God.
Source: The Beginner's Guide to
Fasting by Elmer Towns, pgs. 114-115
The Beginner's Guide to Fasting
by Elmer Towns
Celebration of Discipline
by Richard Foster
Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough
by Elmer Towns
God's Chosen Fast
by Arthur Wallis
Knowing God Through Fasting
by Elmer Towns
There are numerous articles on fasting on
the Internet. As always, read these with caution and
always let the Bible be your guide.