Since I graduated and became aware of increasingly mainstream health trends, fasting has gained serious traction. Starting with the 5:2 Diet, intermediate fasting is used by some groups as a standard part of their programmes. I even tried intermediate fasting for several months, which worked as weight maintenance until emotions interfered.
Being the nerdy Christian obsessed with food that I am, I started to look at whether or not fasting for health overlapped with biblical fasting. So I’ve looked up 10 verses about fasting. From motives through to examples, fasting was a biblical practice before it was ever a health trend. That doesn’t mean the Bible ignored its health benefits either.
These 10 verses will show how fasting was originally intended to be a spiritual discipline instead. So if you’ve ever consisted fasting and didn’t know where to start, keep reading.
- Isaiah 58 v6-7: Fasting is one way to break bonds of all kinds that hold us. Isaiah talks about fasting as a way to break the bonds of wickedness. Part of breaking these bonds is having the opportunity to share with others and to help them. Loosing our own bonds often gives us the opportunity to help those less well off than ourselves.
- Matthew 6 v16-18: These verses are all about humility. When we fast, we are not to do so in order to receive attention from those around us. Instead we are to keep fasting as a practice between us and God. A personal experience built around an intimate relationship with our Father.
- Acts 13 v2-3: Prayer and fasting often went together in the Bible. The example here of the Early Church shows how fasting freed up time for worship and pray. Though eating and drinking is essential to life, going without allows us to spend more time with God.
- Matthew 5 v6: Fasting obviously makes us hungry. The whole point is not to eat, after all. The Beatitudes tell us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be blessed. While fasting physically is not the same as hungering for righteousness, it can allow us to spend more time to understand what hungering for righteousness actually means.
- Matthew 4 v1-4: Here we see Jesus fasting as part of preparing himself to be tempted. Though this opens Jesus up to various temptations, verse 1 implies this fasting was spiritual motivated. Spending 40 days fasting allowed Jesus to move closer to God so that when temptation happened, He was prepared for it.
- Jonah 3 v4-5: When Jonah told the people of Nineveh they needed to repent, they responded by fasting. We can do the same. It provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what we have done and to seek forgiveness if it is needed. We may not all be in the same boat as Nineveh but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.
- Psalm 35 v13: Along with preparing ourselves, fasting can give us the opportunity to lift others in prayer. The psalmist shows how deep his anguish for even his enemies that he fasted and prayed for them. This isn’t just about starving yourself out of grief but purposeful fasting to spend more time in prayer.
- 2 Samuel 1 v12: Fasting for people goes beyond the praying for those who are sick. In this passage, we see David fasting to mourn for Saul and Jonathan as a sign of respect. While this may seem counter-intuitive to us, it provides with a chance to reflect on life and the good of those who have passed on.
- Daniel 1 v8-16: This passage refers to partial fasting rather than total fasting, Daniel and his free friends effectively go vegan so that they don’t eat food sacrificed to other gods. This is the only Bible reference where we see the benefits of fasting in a physically. Yet Daniel’s motivation is to honour his God. Thus, Biblical fasting is always aimed at honouring or connecting with God.
- Psalm 69 v10: However, we must not forget that fasting marks us out from other people. Just as going to church on a Sunday or reading the Bible can bring contempt from other people, so can fasting. The psalmist has experienced this contempt yet chooses to continue focusing on God. May he be an example for us should we choose to fast as Christians.
As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been reminded that my Muslim friends are currently going through Ramadan. While we, as Christians, are not called to fast annually for a month, the idea of fasting to grow closer to God is one we can pursue. However, this doesn’t have to be about food and drink. If you have an addiction to social media, Netflix, alcohol, sex, relationships, or anything else, removing it is one way to grow closer to God. Fasting is a challenge to break away from the things that hold us to this world and keep us from God.
In July, I will be spending a week away from the internet. For me this is an annual detox and fast from social media, which often runs my life. It allows me a chance to breathe, focus on what is happening around me, connect with people around me, and to lean into God (probably helped by doing this at a Christian conference). I don’t emerge as a new person but I do emerge with a new energy and often new ideas about who I am and my relationship to social media.
What about you? Is there something that you could fast from? Whatever the reason you have for fasting, use it as an opportunity to grow closer to a God who loves you and longs for you to know him personally.