As we prepare for our upcoming winter revival, we have encouraged our members to spend much time in prayer. We’ve set up cottage prayer meetings all over the east valley of Phoenix. We’ve printed out prayer reminders. We take extra time in our services and classes to plead with God to allow His Spirit to fall fresh upon us. But what about fasting? Should we fast for revival? Is this a practice, a discipline every 21st century Christian should accomplish?
Fasting is more than just missing meals. It is more than giving up fleshly appetites. The Bible does have much to say about fasting but is it for today? Let’s take a stroll through the Scriptures and learn lessons from people who fasted.
The Approval of Fasting
This may not necessarily be the way we want to begin but it would be good to get this fact out of the way. Though fasting is a valuable and important facet of the Christian life, it is not a guarantee of obtaining our requests from God. It is not the proverbial “rub” on the genie’s bottle. God says in Jeremiah 14:12, “When they fast, I will not hear their cry…” Even David, the man after God’s own heart, fasted for the Lord to spare his child in 2 Samuel 12. And yet God still took David’s son.
Here’s the point, God will not be manipulated to do things for us, even if it means fasting. His will is His will and it must be accomplished. Furthermore, the sacrifice that comes with fasting does not negate the necessity of obedience. Remember what Samuel told Saul? To obey is better than to sacrifice.
The Aim of Fasting
Why fast then if nothing is a guarantee? Examine with me the different reasons people fasted in the Bible.
The Selection of Servants Acts 13:3, 14:23
Interceding for Other Believers Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:8-9, 12-20, 23-27; Ezra 10:6; Daniel 9:3-4; Joel 2:12-14, 17-18; Jonah 3:5-10
An Act of Humbling and Chastening Oneself 1 King 21:27-29; Psalm 35:13; Psalm 69:10
Seeking God’s Will and Way Judges 20:26-28; 2 Chronicles 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23
Repenting From and Confessing Sin 1 Samuel 7:6; 1 Kings 21:27-29; Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 1:4-7, 9:1-3; Jeremiah 36:6-10; Daniel 9:3-5, 20; Jonah 3:5-10
Asking God to Stay His Hand of Judgment and Preparing to Hear God’s Word Deuteronomy 9:18, 25; Isaiah 58:1-9
Spiritual Deliverance Isaiah 58:6; Mark 9:29; Matthew 17:21
Overcoming Fear 2 Chronicles 20:3
Mourning Someone’s Death 2 Samuel 1:12, 3:35
Seeking Someone Else’s Safety Daniel 6:18
When Faced with Personal Death Threats Esther 4:3, 9:1-3
Seeking Personal Protection Ezra 8:21-23
Asking God To Meet Needs 2 Corinthians 11:27
Fasting has always been purposeful as you study the Scriptures.
The Association of Fasting
Now that we know why we should fast, is it something we should do alone or with someone else? The Bible says both! We can fast as individuals as well as with others. Nehemiah led the children of Israel and they “were assembled with fasting.” (Nehemiah 9:1-3). Other examples of groups fasting together are found in 1 Samuel 7:5-6; 2 Chronicles 20:34; Ezra 8:21-23; Joel 2:15-16; Jonah 3:5-10; Acts 27:33-37. The reason for the fast will sometimes determine whether one or many will enter into a season of fasting.
The Amount of Fasting
How long should one fast? Though the Bible gives examples that answer this question, the simplest answer I can give is when you’ve heard an answer from the Lord, which is either yes, no, or not now. Hannah (1 Samuel 1:6-8, 17-18) and Paul (Acts 9:9, 17-19) fasted for something specific and God granted their desire. However David fasted, too, in 2 Samuel 12:15-23 and God still took his son. In all these cases, the fast ended when the answer came.
Scriptures show that a fast can last for a night (Daniel 6:18), a day (1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12, 3:35; Judges 20:26) three days and three nights (Esther 4:16, Acts 9:9, 17-19), seven days (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 12:16-23), fourteen days (Acts 27:33-34), twenty-one days (Daniel 10:3-13), and forty days (Exodus 23:18, 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2, Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2)
The Attitude of Fasting
A person is not more spiritual than the other simply because they fast. Certainly Jesus points this out when talking about the Pharisees for they would “disfigure their faces” so that people knew they were fasting. (Matthew 6:16). Fasting is not a public spectacle. It is not something to brag about. Remember, one of the aims of fasting is to humble ourselves before God. Therefore, one of the most important attitudes of fasting is humility. We don’t flamboyantly fast before others as the Pharisee did in Luke 18:9-14. As a matter of fact, Jesus teaches that it should be done in secret in Matthew 6:17-18. Don’t make people feel sorry for you because you’ve gone days without food and water.
Fasting also brings about a dependent attitude. When the body is weak and we are keenly aware that God alone is our strength, we begin to realize that we need Him, both now and for that which we seek. Because of our utter dependence upon the Lord, we cannot help but pray and read His Word. Fasting is wasted when we don’t pray and read our Bibles, too.
The Bible clearly states in Isaiah 58, Zechariah 7:5-6, Matthew 6:16-18, and Luke 18:9-14 that fasting for the right motive- that is to glorify God- is the only way to please Him. When we fast, we must have an attitude and a heart that sincerely seeks the Lord. Joel proclaims that God doesn’t want us to simply rend our garments but He also wants us to rend our hearts.
As we end, the question remains, is fasting for the 21st century Christian? Is it a New Testament command? In Matthew 9:14, as well as Mark 2:18 and Luke 5:33, we see John the Baptist’s disciples coming to Jesus asking why his disciples aren’t fasting. It seems that at this time of Jesus’ ministry, fasting was not required.
But it’s evident that as Jesus returns to Heaven to prepare a home for His bride, fasting becomes necessary as stated in Matthew 9:15. In Matthew 6 when Jesus teaches about the Pharisees who publicly fasts, He tells His disciples that “when (not if) ye fast” (indicating that this will happen) do not be like the hypocrites.
Therefore, between the reasons and Jesus’ teachings on fasting, the answer is clear- fasting is for the 21st century Christian! Imagine the glory that will go to God and the blessings He craves to pour upon His people if we would exercise the scriptural discipline of fasting in our lives today.
Finally, is revival possible? It is certainly scriptural. But nowhere in the Bible will you find revival happening without fasting. If God will revive us again, then I would seriously urge you to consider fasting for it.