Do you know why YOU need to fast — and fast often? Why does God enjoin fasting on His people? How should you fast — and what are the pitfalls you should avoid? Your salvation may depend on the answers!
TO MANY people in the world, "fast" is merely the opposite of "slow"! They do not know what it MEANS to voluntarily "fast" or "go without food or water" for a certain length of time. Such an idea would sound absurd — incredible like the foolish, wild-eyed ravings of a fanatic! If you told a worldly acquaintance you were going to fast — go without food or drink for a few days — that person would think you'd "gone off your rocker!" "Why, don't be crazy," he would likely exclaim. "You'll STARVE to death!" Which goes to show how IGNORANT this world IS, of the way of God and the plain teachings of the Bible!
God's Command — Fast!
On one day in the year, God absolutely commands His people to FAST. We read, "Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls... And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be CUT OFF from among his people... It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and YE SHALL AFFLICT YOUR SOULS: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath" (Lev. 23:27-32). Notice! God's people were commanded by a "Thus saith the Lord" to "afflict your souls" one day of the year — the DAY OF ATONEMENT! What does it mean to "afflict the soul"? David knew. He declared, "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled [afflicted marginal reading] my soul with FASTING" (Ps. 35:13). He also declared, "When I wept, and CHASTENED MY SOUL WITH FASTING, that was to my reproach [from the world)" (Ps. 69:10). To "afflict one's soul" was to FAST — to abstain from all food or drink. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, knew the Day of Atonement was a day of fasting — he called it "the fast" (Acts 27:9). Anyone who did not FAST upon this solemn day was "CUT OFF" from among the congregation. But this is not the ONLY command God gives His people to fast! We read in the New Testament, that Jesus Christ went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and nights (Matt. 4:1-4). He fasted to draw close to God the Father and receive SPIRITUAL STRENGTH from Him. He fasted so that He would be able to withstand Satan the devil when he came around, tempting Him. The Apostle Paul shows that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). If He fasted when He trod the dusty roads of Palestine, then, He will be fasting TODAY, in you, if He lives in you! Since Jesus fasted, 1900 years ago, and since Christians are those who follow Jesus' example, they will fast TODAY! (I Pet. 2:21). He that says he abides in Christ, "... ought himself also so to walk, EVEN AS HE WALKED" (I John 2:6). Therefore, he ought to
Christ Taught Fasting
What did Jesus Christ say about fasting? Did He say it was important? Or did He pass it off as meaningless, insignificant? Notice! The first mention of fasting in the New Testament, other than the actual example set by Jesus Christ, is found in the "sermon on the mount." Jesus TAUGHT His disciples, "Moreover, WHEN YE FAST, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which SEETH in secret, shall reward thee openly" (Matt. 6:16-18). Jesus TAUGHT His disciples to FAST. He gave them clear-cut, concise instructions as to HOW to fast. He did not say, "If, sometime, you think you want to fast" — He stated, "WHEN YOU FAST"! He knew His true followers would be fasting! Yet, the disciples of John didn't see Jesus' disciples fasting. They wondered why. They asked Him, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" Jesus replied, "Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the DAYS WILL COME, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and THEN SHALL THEY FAST" (Matt. 9:14-15).
Example of the Early Church
The early New Testament Church of God was a fating church. And it was filled with spiritual POWER! "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, AND FASTED, the Holy Ghost [Spirit] said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had FASTED AND PRAYED, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:1-3). Notice also Acts 14:23. "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed WITH FASTING, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." In his instructions to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul also showed that God's people would be a fasting people. He instructed husbands and wives, "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may GIVE YOURSELVES to fasting and prayer: and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency" (I Cor. 7:5). As the Moffatt translation explains, Paul was instructing husbands and wives not to withhold sexual intercourse from each other, except it be with consent, in order to devote themselves to prayer and fasting. Paul himself set an example in spiritual fasting. In recounting his harrowing exploits as a minister of God, he related, "In weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, IN FASTINGS OFTEN, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (II Cor. 11:27-28). But why? Why should a Christian FAST? Why did Christ fast? Why did the Apostle Paul fast? Why should YOU fast?
What Fasting Is
Fasting is, undoubtedly, a "painful" experience. It requires self-discipline and will-power — in other words, character — to prod yourself to FAST. It is not easy. It is totally contrary to human nature! Yet, the Bible shows that fasting is VERY IMPORTANT in God's sight! It is not merely painful abstinence in order to please a harsh, unyielding, monster god who relishes seeing people suffer! Fasting — doing without any food or water (Jonah 3:7) — teaches a VITAL, priceless spiritual lesson! It not only teaches — it drives home the tremendous lesson God is teaching! It makes you FEEL it — in your head, your stomach which seems to stretch against your backbone, your arms, your legs — YOUR WHOLE BEING! If you have ever fasted for a day or more, you have noticed how WEAK your body becomes. The strength seems to drain away, out of your body. The energy and forcefulness evaporates into nothingness. Yet, after many of the poisons leave your system, your mind becomes clear and sharp. Your whole body cries out for food water — something to eat or drink! You HUNGER! You experience a deep thirst! But in the meantime, you learn a vital lesson. What is this great lesson? David expressed it when he said, "I HUMBLED my soul with fasting."
When you fast, you learn how weak, insignificant, useless — utterly worthless — you, yourself, are. You learn how LITTLE and weak you are of your OWN strength. Your pride is toppled, your vanity is burst, your self-esteem is shattered. The facade is stripped away — and YOU are laid bare! Exposed! Just you. It is a humbling experience. You learn humility. You learn that you are merely a very physical human being. You are not nearly so "impressive" as you thought you were! In fact, you are just a big windbag, a hulk of cringing human flesh — of your own self. Without fasting, you may mentally admit that you are not much. But you don't really comprehend it — you don't FEEL it! You don't SEE how really weak and insignificant you ARE, until you begin to do without food or drink for a period of time. Then the lesson is driven home — right into the pit of your stomach! Not only do you learn how weak and worthless YOU are, when you fast — but you are made aware of the greatness of God. You learn how much you NEED HIM — YOU begin to see how greatly you must rely upon Him, and receive of HIS strength. You realize you have no strength of your own, but GOD is the source of ALL POWER, all might — the source of the miracle-working POWER of His Holy Spirit! His Spirit is the SPIRIT OF POWER and strength (Eph. 6:10; II Tim. 1:6-7). Being human, as long as you feel strong and sufficient of yourself, you will by nature trust in yourself. God is not so important to you. But when you FAST, God becomes VERY important! You begin to feel in your innermost being how much you NEED and DEPEND UPON God. Fasting brings you to grips with REALITY. You see — and feel — yourself as you REALLY ARE. You are brought face to face with your dependence in everything upon your Heavenly Father!
Fasting Brings You Closer to God!
Notice a few examples from God's Word. Ahab was certainly one of the most wicked men who have ever lived. The Bible records of him, "But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up" (I Kings 21:25). Because of his wickedness, Elijah the Prophet was sent to warn him of the punishment God was going to bring upon his house (Verses 17-24). When Ahab heard these words, he was frightened — terrified. "And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, AND FASTED, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly [displaying regret even in his gait)" (Verse 27). God saw Ahab's repentant actions, his regret, and his fasting. God said to Elijah, "Seest thou how Ahab HUMBLETH himself before me? because he HUMBLETH himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house" (Verse 29). Because Ahab sincerely humbled himself and fasted before God, the punishment God inspired was postponed until after Ahab's death!
Another example is that of King Jehoshaphat. A huge heathen host menacingly approached Jerusalem to do battle. What was Jehoshaphat's reaction? Did he trust in his own military might, as the United States would do, today, if attacked? "And Jehoshaphat feared, and SET HIMSELF TO SEEK THE LORD, and proclaimed a FAST throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the LORD: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD" (II Chron. 20:1-4). Jehoshaphat did not know what to do. He took his problem to God WITH PRAYER AND FASTING. All Judah sought God, and fasted. The King prayed, "O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: BUT OUR EYES ARE UPON THEE" (Verse 12). God answered through His Prophet, "Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; FOR THE BATTLE IS NOT YOURS, BUT GOD'S... Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, AND SEE THE SALVATION OF THE LORD WITH YOU, 0 Judah and Jerusalem..." (Verses 15-17). God supernaturally intervened and wrought a great miracle that day. He saved Jehoshaphat and the people who sought Him and fasted! He supernaturally interposed Himself on their behalf. The foreign armies fell upon each other and destroyed themselves! How about YOU? When YOU are faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, what do YOU do with it? Do you attempt to fight it upon your own tiny strength? Or do you seek God by prayer and fasting? Do you FAST, and commit your problems into God's powerful hands? God is no respecter of persons. He will intervene for YOU as much as for King Jehoshaphat of Judah. If you humble yourself by prayer and fasting, you also will see your problems "fall upon each other" and destroy themselves! But you need to seek God by FASTING! You need to fast AND PRAY!
Some More Examples
Ezra, another man of God, knew the value of FASTING. When he and many of the children of Judah were about to return from Babylon, he realized that many perils lay in his path. He was frightened lest enemies fall upon his defenseless group, slay them, and scatter them to the winds. He declared, "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we FASTED and besought our God for this; and he was INTREATED OF US" (EZ. 8:21-23). God heard them and delivered them. He saw how sincere they were — He saw their "fruits" by their PRAYER and FASTING — and He safeguarded them and protected them! This example is in God's Word for YOUR benefit (Rom. 15:4.)! Are you following it? Daniel was another who knew the value of fasting. He declared, "And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by PRAYER AND SUPPLICATIONS, WITH FASTING, and sackcloth, and ashes" (Dan. 9:3). He acknowledged the sin, the wickedness, the evil committed by Judah. He confessed his sins and the sins of the people, and claimed God's mercies and forgivenesses (Verse 9). When his fervent prayer was ended, the archangel Gabriel came to him and explained when transgression and sin would be finished, when everlasting righteousness would be ushered in (Verse 24). Later, Daniel was told, "O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee... Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to CHASTEN THYSELF before thy God, they words were heard..." (Dan. 10:11-12). Daniel FASTED and prayed. He was "greatly beloved." From the time he began chastening himself by fasting and seeking God, his prayers were HEARD! Are YOU following his example? Perhaps this is why YOUR prayers, or many of them, seem to bounce off the ceiling and are not heard!
The Purpose of Fasting
As Christians, we need to fast. There is no excuse for being derelict in this duty and failing to obey God. God's servants have always been FASTING servants! Fasting has often changed their lives. It has literally CHANGED EVENTS! Many times God has miraculously INTERVENED because His people fasted! They humbled themselves, abased themselves — admitted that they were insufficient of themselves. They EXTOLLED God's greatness, His divine might and power, and DEPENDED UPON HIM. They admitted their carnality, their wickedness and guiltiness — they fasted and REPENTED of their sins! As a result, God heard them and SUPERNATURALLY DELIVERED THEM! What about YOU? If you have not been fasting, no wonder your life lacks spiritual impact. No wonder you have been bogging down in countless problems, trials, difficulties, frustrations! If you have not been drawing CLOSE TO GOD by afflicting yourself and FASTING, as Jesus Christ COMMANDS you to do, is it any wonder you have not been growing spiritually, overcoming yourself, conquering your human nature, learning to submit to the WILL OF GOD, or been receiving of the POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT to zealously serve God? Is it any wonder, then, why YOU have been a spiritual weakling rather than a spiritual MIGHTY MAN OF VALOR? Now you have been exhorted — admonished — and warned. You have only yourself to blame if you fail to obey God! God exhorts YOU, in His Word, "Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with FASTING, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of GREAT KINDNESS, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and LEAVE A BLESSING behind him...?" (Joel 2:12-14).
How Not to Fast!
One caution needs to be made plain, so that when you fast, it will not be IN VAIN. God warned ancient Israel, "Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?" (Zech. 7:5-6). Fasting for VANITY is useless! Fasting — yet not having your heart set on returning to God and drawing near to Him — is futile. Fasting in order to drive a "bargain" with God — fasting in order to try to bend God to YOUR way of thinking, in order to get your own way or your own will about some matter is an ABOMINATION! Such a fast will do you no good whatsoever! Hypocritical fasting — fasting to be seen of men — is loathsome in God's sight. God will turn away from fasting in such a self-righteous attitude. It is NOT well pleasing to Him! God commands His ministers to cry aloud, warning His people of their sins. Speaking of His people, God says, "Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in APPROACHING to God" (Isa. 58:2). But, with many, it is a hypocritical parade — a self-righteous display — a "holier than thou" approach. It is not sincere REPENTANCE from the heart, a sincere CHASTENING of the self! Such people exclaim, "Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?" (Isa. 58:3). God replies, "Behold, in the day of your fast YE FIND PLEASURE, and exact all your labours [griefs, or things wherewith ye grieve others]." God continues, "Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the FIST OF WICKEDNESS: ye shall NOT fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high" (Verse 4). Such a fast is futile — VAIN! God declares, "Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?" Fasting for penance — merely as an act of contrition and suffering to get God to notice you — is loathsome to God. Such insincere and self-righteous fasting is nothing more than ghastly, gruesome VANITY! God explains, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? "Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry [do your part in God's Work so the gospel can go forth to hungering souls around the world!], and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Verses 5-7). This is the kind of fast God desires a sincere, humble, self-searching fast, striving to root out sin and wrongdoing and drawing close to God. God declares that IF WE FAST with the RIGHT ATTITUDE, "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the GLORY OF THE LORD shall be thy rereward [rear-guard or protection]." "THEN SHALT THOU CALL, AND THE LORD SHALL ANSWER: thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day: And the LORD shall GUIDE THEE CONTINUALLY, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not" (Verses 8-11). That kind of fasting is worthwhile! It is WELL — PLEASING to God!
How Long? And When?
How long should you fast? Generally speaking, fasting for spiritual benefit may be from one to three days. lf the problem is serious, or the need urgent, it would not be wrong to fast longer. But in the case of longer fasts, great care needs to be maintained! The Bible does not set any time limits to fasting. The self-righteous Pharisees fasted two days in the week, one day at a time. Of course, the day of Atonement is a DAY-LONG fast, from sunset to sunset. David fasted for seven days when his child by Bathsheba was sick unto death (II Sam. 12:16-18), doing without any nourishment of any kind until the child died. But this was a very SERIOUS MATTER. David had committed an enormous sin in God's sight! He knew he had to TOTALLY repent, have his heart cleaned up, and get right with GOD (Ps. 51:1-19). Moses, Elijah, and Christ Himself are the only three examples in the Bible where a servant of God fasted for forty days. They had very special missions to perform! Such fasting most definitely is NOT recommended for you! Generally, one to three days fasting is enough, for spiritual reasons But, then, WHEN should you fast? A one-day fast may be taken any time during the week. If your work is arduous and you feel fasting would unnecessarily hinder you, perhaps Sunday would be a good time. Often, it is more convenient to fast over the week-end, if you contemplate a three-day fast. Many of God's ministers have said a fast from Friday thru Sunday is a good time, since it does not generally interfere greatly with your work. And, also, on the week-end you will have more time to study the Bible, draw close to God, and PRAY. Thus, this would be a particularly recommended time. One caution needs to be observed. Since the Sabbath is a holy day of God, a FEAST Day, it is not generally advisable to spend the Sabbath fasting. On rare occasion it would be permissible, especially if the spiritual problem is URGENT. However, since the Sabbath IS a Feast, fasting should NOT be a constant routine during that time. If you think you may desire to fast for longer than three days, it would be good to seek wise counsel prior to attempting such a lengthy fast. A minister would be able to consult with you and advise you properly. For further information on HOW to fast, and fasting for physical reasons of health, be sure to read Mr. Armstrong's article "Fasting for Health." It will explain these principles to you.
Fast for Spiritual Power
When did you last fast? Was it on the Day of Atonement? Do YOU only fast "once a year" — the day God commands it? If so, you are only kidding yourself — you are not fooling God. He knows how spiritually WEAK you are! And He knows what you probably don't realize — that if you don't repent, and GROW, you will not make it into God's Kingdom! It IS that serious! The longer you go without fasting, the further you drift away from a close contact with God. The more blind you become to His reality — His presence — His great POWER! The weaker you become spiritually! You need to FAST! You need to draw close to God and seek His face in fasting and prayer! If you fast and draw close to God, depending on Him and acknowledging your NEED for Him, He will turn to you and strengthen you, and fill you with His Holy Spirit! He will give you the SPIRIT OF POWER, LOVE AND A SOUND MIND (II Tim. 1:7). He will give you the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, humility, faith, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). God will INSPIRE you with His Holy Spirit. Even while you are doing without physical food, you will be receiving SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT. Jesus said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow RIVERS OF LIVING WATER. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive...)" (John 7:37-39). "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are LIFE" (John 6:63). By fasting, you recharge your spiritual batteries. You receive spiritual power! At one point during His ministry, a man came to Jesus' disciples and asked them to cast a demon out of his son. They could not do it. But when Jesus Himself appeared on the scene, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying, "Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him" (Mark 9:25). The evil spirit left him. Later, the disciples wondered why they had not been able to cast this wicked spirit out. Jesus replied to them, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by PRAYER AND FASTING" (Verse 29). Because Jesus was close to the Father in prayer and fasting, He received spiritual POWER to cast out this particularly obstinate and rebellious foul spirit! Yet, Jesus Himself said, "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30). But He added, "...the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (John 14:10). Jesus received power from God the Father to do mighty works, miracles, and accomplish the Work of God! He fasted and prayed. You ALSO can receive that spiritual power and strength. By drawing close to God in prayer and fasting, you can receive new vigor, enthusiasm, spiritual steadfastness and staying power! Fasting can CHANGE your approach to God, broaden your horizons, fill you with greater FAITH. Fasting will not only cause you to feel more thankful for the blessings of God — the little things like food and drink — but it can change your entire approach and OUTLOOK! It can literally alter and change your whole life! When you draw close to God in fasting, the tenacious grip of the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life will lose its strength. You will leave the well-worn rut in which you have been constantly plodding along! Your attention will not be centered, focused on SELF. Do you want God to intervene on YOUR behalf? Do you want to receive MORE of the Holy Spirit? Do you desire to have close, intimate contact with your Heavenly Father, who bestows every good and perfect gift? Do you desire to have greater spiritual POWER AND IMPACT in your personal life? Do you want to be FILLED with the Spirit of God — the Spirit of love, POWER, and sound-mindedness? Do you desire to WALK WITH GOD?
Then follow the examples set for you in God's Word! Seek God by chastening and humbling yourself before Him in prayer and fasting! Remember the examples of Moses, David, Jehoshaphat and ancient Judah, Ezra and Daniel. Remember the New Testament examples of Christ and Paul! Remember the very words of Jesus Christ, speaking of His followers: "Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and THEN SHALL THEY FAST in those days" (Mark 2:19-20). If you will obey Christ, and seek God by fasting often, your life will be CHANGED! You will be blessed beyond your ability to comprehend! You will be blessed with spiritual strength, closeness to God, and dynamic spiritual power!