“I denied myself by fasting for them” Psalm 35:13
Scripture does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of Christians. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus all our attention on God can be considered a fast. Fasting should be limited to a set time. Fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, but to redirect attention to God. The purpose of a biblical fast is to gain deeper fellowship with God. Anyone can fast, but some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example). Everyone can temporarily give up something in order to draw closer to God.
By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
Fasting is not a magic wand or get-out-of-jail-free card with God. For example: 2 Sam 12:13-23. To quote David, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
Here is another powerful example of fasting: Esther 4:15-16. Esther was actually risking her life as she relied on God, willing to die if that was to be the outcome. Fasting also played an integral role in King Jehoshaphat’s decision to find God’s will for the defense of his kingdom: 2 Chron. 20:1-5.
In Acts 13:2-3, we see that fasting and worshiping the Lord and prayer are combined to seek God’s direction: “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.”
When combined with prayer and worship, fasting brings change in our hearts. God is not obligated to give us something because we fasted. Instead, He is delighted that we were willing to focus on Him in this way. God’s love compels us to seek Him at every turn, not just when we are in need or wish a life-change. If I determine to seek God by fasting and prayer, I will change and God will be pleased.