What You Always Wondered About Fasting

Get biblical answers to the most common questions about the forgotten spiritual practice of fasting.

What is fasting?  

Fasting is the choice to abstain from food for a set period of time in order to seek God. Biblical fasting does not include denying oneself of other activities or items besides food. Some Christians today mention fasting from electronics or sexual relations, but the Bible does not refer to those refusals as fasts. Self-denial may be in order for Christians as the fruit of self-control. But in order to reap the spiritual fruits of fasting, believers who are healthy should refrain from food. Biblical fasting could possibly include abstinence from certain foods rather than all foods (Daniel 10:2-3, 12).


Are Christians supposed to fast?

Jesus put fasting on the same level as praying and financial giving in Matthew 6:1-24. Most Christians today understand the importance of personal prayer and giving tithes and offerings to the Lord. But many American believers have forgotten the need to fast. Fasting was common for the first Christians, just as Jesus taught them it should be (Luke 5:33-39; Acts 13:1-3; 14:23). It was the common practice of the first century church to fast Wednesdays and Fridays until 3 p.m.  Fasting was also typical for Christians through the centuries. John Wesley would not ordain a man to the ministry if he did not fast twice per week. Fasting is also common in many parts of the worldwide Church today.

Why does the Lord ask us to fast?

It may seem strange that God tells us to refuse to eat in order to seek Him. Some people may feel that God is unloving to demand that we fast on occasion. But God is good, so there must be good reasons for us to fast periodically. To name a couple, fasting fosters humility (Deuteronomy 8:3; Ezra 8:21) and hunger for God (Luke 5:33-35). It has more effectiveness in the spiritual realms than we realize (Daniel 10:12-14).

Is it safe to fast?

If you’re in good health, you should have no problem fasting. If you have not fasted before, it is advisable to start with small periods of fasting. Start by skipping one meal or just having juice for a day. If you’re unsure about your medical fitness, check with your doctor before you begin fasting. If you are unable to go without food because of your physical condition, seek God about another way that you can humble yourself before Him and seek His presence wholeheartedly.  If you have a history of eating disorders then strong caution is advised.  We would encourage you not to fast unless your doctor approves and you have friends and family to support you through it.  

How long should I fast?

The typical way of fasting in the Bible was to go without food during daytime hours. On occasion, individuals in the Bible fasted around the clock, “day and night” (Matthew 4:2; Esther 4:16). The length and type of your fast will depend on your sense of God’s leading and your sense of urgency in the situation facing you or those for whom you’re fasting. Christian Union Day and Night promotes forty days of fasting because of the dramatic decline of Christianity in the US in our day and our great desire to see God’s kingdom advance and bring salvation and abundant life to millions.  However, each individual should seek the Lord about how long to fast and the type of fast.  Caution should be exercised when breaking a fast because the stomach shrinks considerably after just a few days of fasting.  Solid food should be re-introduced slowly and in some cases it may take weeks until you eat the same amount of food as before the fast.  Eating too much food when breaking a fast could be very damaging and in some cases even life-threatening.