6) To humble oneself. When accompanied by the right motives, fasting can be a physical expression of one’s humility before God. We see such humility in 1 Kings 21:27-29 when Ahab, one of the most wicked kings in Jewish history, actually humbled himself before God through fasting. When the words of the prophet Elijah brought conviction to Ahab’s heart, the Bible tells us that Ahab “tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly.”
7) To express concern for the work of God. In Nehemiah 1:3-4, we read where Nehemiah became burdened about his countrymen in Jerusalem. Though many Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, the city walls were still in ruins. Because the city had no defense against her enemies, Nehemiah recognized how serious the situation was and began to fast and pray. We see a similar burden upon Daniel’s heart in Daniel 9:3 when he too cared for the return of the Jews from exile in the restoration of Jerusalem. “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”
8) To minister to the needs of others. In Isaiah 58, we read where God’s people had been fasting but with no outward blessing to show for it. God chastised His people for compartmentalizing fasting without considering the needs of others around them. In vv. 3-4, Isaiah writes, “behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” Later in the chapter, God tells them to fast by loosing the bonds of wickedness and undoing the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke. Aside from making sure our fasting is done with right motives, one application is to take the money we would normally spend on food and give it to the poor or missions or some other ministry.
9) To overcome temptation. In Matthew 4, we read about the lengthy fast Jesus undertook as he engaged Satan in the wilderness. In the spiritual strength of that 40-day fast, Jesus was preparing to overcome a direct onslaught from Hell. Though nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to fast 40 days, we do find in this example a model for overcoming temptation. When we know we are going to be tempted in very serious ways and need extra spiritual strength, God is gracious to provide that strength through fasting.
10) To express love for God. Though much has been said about fasting in times of trouble or grief, the Bible does affirm a type of fasting that centers on our affections for God. We see this truth embodied in Luke 2 as 84-year-old Anna presents herself before God’s presence on a consistent basis with prayer and fasting. Anna’s place in Scripture has more to do with the birth of Jesus than fasting but it still reveals how a heart can grow in its passion for God through fasting. As Donald Whitney writes, fasting is “a way of demonstrating to yourself that you love God more than food, that seeking Him is more important to you than eating, that Jesus-the bread of heaven-is more satisfying to you than earthly bread.”
How to Begin a Fast: There are several things to keep in mind when beginning a fast. The first rule of thumb is don’t fast if you are sick, traveling or under unusual stress. If you have known health issues (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.) or are pregnant, always consult your doctor before beginning a fast and only under a physician’s strict supervision.
Secondly, because a fast depletes our energy reserves, it will be important to fast when you know you can reduce normal activities. If your job requires great amounts of energy, try to plan a fast when not working or shorten the fast to accommodate your work routine.
Thirdly, if you have never fasted or have not fasted in a long while, start with a partial fast of limited foods rather than no food at all. An initial partial fast should not go beyond 24 hours and not more than one day a week according to Marjorie Thompson in her book Soul Feast. Limiting your intake of food to fresh fruit juices is a very helpful way to engage in a partial fast. A partial fast could begin from after supper one day to supper time the following day; this way only two meals are missed-breakfast and lunch. Some might prefer to fast from lunch to lunch on the same concept.
Fourthly, after giving your body several weeks (4-5) to adjust to the partial fast, then move on to the normal fast of going without any food for the same 24-hour period. Be sure to drink lots of water, but only water. After several months of conducting a normal 24-hour fast, you could move to a 36 hour fast. This means missing all three meals in a given day. Two common mistakes made by many is to try to “stock up” on calories ahead of the 36-hour fast and then eat a big meal following the fast. Only eat normal portions before a fast. Afterwards, break the fast with non-fatty foods such as fruits and vegetables. Gorging ourselves on a cheeseburger and milkshake after a three-day fast will certainly create stomach issues! Longer fast should be broken even more gradually. Fasting beyond 36 hours should be done with great care and discernment.
Finally, as with any good work in the Christian life, we do not fast in order to earn God’s love and forgiveness. Fasting, like all the spiritual disciplines, is not done in order to become accepted by God but because we are already accepted by God. Our new birth in Christ has granted us His divine nature, which makes it possible for us to practice these things for our good and God’s glory.