Fasting is an act of humility in which we give up the delight and nourishment of food to inquire the presence of God upon our lives. Fasting is sacrificial, but it also conveys the sense that we need God more than we need our source of daily sustenance.
The Bible describes three main forms of fasting. The normal fast involves the total abstinence of food. Luke 4:2 reveals that Jesus “ate nothing”; afterwards “He was hungry.” Jesus abstained from food but not from water.
In Acts 9:9 we read of an absolute fast where for three days Paul “did not eat or drink” (HCSB). The abstinence from both food and water seems to have lasted no more than three days (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16).
The partial fast in Dan. 10:3 emphasizes the restriction of diet rather than complete abstinence. The context implies that there were physical benefits resulting from this partial fast. However, this verse indicates that there was a revelation given to Daniel as a result of this time of fasting.1
But, why should we fast? Why is fasting necessary? In this brief article, I’d like to share four reasons for fasting.
We fast to humble ourselves
Prayer in an of itself is humbling, since we admit that we don’t have enough within ourselves to control the affairs of life, so we depend on God. However, fasting and praying emphasizes this even more. Ezra 8:21a says, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God,. In desperate times, God expects that we would call to him in humility.
We fast for protection and provision
In Ezra 8, Ezra goes on to say that he didn’t want to ask for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect them, since they had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” He trusted God, and depended on God for protection and provision against his enemy.
We fast in confession of sin
As Nehemiah prays because of the broken walls (Nehemiah 1:1-11), he confesses the sin of his people as he’s fasting. His weeping and his fasting breaks his heart over the sin of his people.
We fast for success in mission
As Nehemiah prays and fasts, he also requests God’s success for his mission. The great commission is a truly difficult task, however, Jesus promised that he would be with us as we preach the gospel. Praying and fasting demonstrates our dependence on God to grant us success in mission.
Further, we fast in the light of urgent needs, we fast in the face of fear, we fast for the salvation of people, and we fast for the glory of God (Esther 4:12–17).
Fasting shows desperation, but it also demonstrates confidence in the God that can do all things, and the God that we depend on. In fasting we agree with the Psalmist in Psalm 20:7 where he states, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Let us pray, and let us fast as we wait on God to be glorified in our midst.
C. Robert Marsh, “Fasting,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 560.