Bible Terms

Bible Term: Fasting

Fasting is intentionally going without something in order to better connect with God, such as to focus on prayer or to seek his leading when making a decision.

Typically, fasting is going without food for a period of time. The length of time could be for one meal up to several days. But don’t attempt a prolonged fast without first receiving instruction on how to appropriately do so.

Sometimes people will fast from certain foods or categories of food. Other types of fasts are more general, such as abstaining from a certain activity or pursuit.

The important thing in any fast is to do it for the right reasons. Fasting for the wrong purpose will accomplish little. Isaiah talked about fasting with the proper attitude and motives (Isaiah 58:3-14).

Fasting is one of several spiritual disciplines that are found in the Bible.


Two Kinds of Fasts

A curious phrase pops up in the book of Joel: holy fast.

A fast is going without something, such as food, to draw closer to God. By implication it should be a holy act, so why does the prophet Joel make a point of specifying a holy fast?

I wonder if it might be because the people lost sight of why they were fasting. Perhaps they were going through the motions and forgot the God focus of their fast.

When done for the right reasons, a fast is a physical denial that elevates our spiritual awareness. When done for the wrong reasons, a fast is a physical denial that just makes us feel deprived, forgoing any spiritual benefit. I guess that would make it an unholy fast, secular and meaningless.

If you practice the discipline of fasting, may it be for the right reasons. If you’ve not experienced a fast, I encourage you to consider it.

Either way, may you fast well, may it be a holy fast.

[Joel 1:14 and Joel 2:15]

The 2014 Bible reading plans are now available:


Fasting for the Right Reasons

Although many people ignore its practice, fasting is demonstrated in the Bible and is an encouraged practice.  (See the blog entry, “When You Fast…“.)

However, fasting rightly requires fasting for the right reasons.  Here are some of them:

Wrong reasons for fasting includes to earn God’s attention or favor, out of a sense of duty and obligation, or to gain the respect of others.


When You Fast…

In the Bible, Jesus tells his followers to fast.  It is not optional.  He doesn’t say, “If you fast…,” but rather, “When you fast…” [Matthew 6:16-17]  Jesus’ teaching applies to us too.

Fasting is intentionally going without something in order to better connect with God, such as to focus on prayer or seek his leading in making a decision.  Typically, fasting is specifically going without food for a period on time.  The length of time could be for a few hours, up to several days.

It is important to remember that the focus of fasting isn’t about suffering, but about seeking.

When we fast, we become understandably hungry for food, reminding us of the importance of being hungry for God.  Imagine craving time and intimacy with God as much as we crave eating — three or more times a day!

[See “Fasting for the Right Reasons.”]


When You Give, Pray, and Fast

In the book of Matthew, chapter 6, there is a word that is interestingly repeated by Jesus.  It is the word when:

“When you give to the needy…” [Matthew 6:2]
“When you pray…” [Matthew 6:5 and 7]
“When you fast…” [Matthew 6:16]

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say if you give, if you pray, or if you fast.

It seems that Jesus is telling us that giving, praying, and fasting aren’t options, but expectations.