FAQ on Christian Fasting

I wrote this FAQ on Christian Fasting several years ago. I decided to post it on my blog now because it is related to my article on Lent.

The Christian Church has a rich history of fasting. Moses, Elijah, Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel and Paul, fasted at crucial points. Jesus both taught and modeled fasting. Godly men and women throughout the centuries have used fasting as a means to draw near to God.

Why Fast?

Christian fasting is more than just skipping a few meals. It is giving up eating for a period of time to focus more completely on God. There are a number of possible reasons for fasting:

  • To humble yourself before God in confession and repentance (Jonah 3:5, 10; Neh. 1:4-7)
  • For spiritual renewal
  • To seek guidance about a major decision (Judges 20:26-28; Acts 13:1-3)
  • To focus on prayer for a particular need (Ezra 8:21)
  • To develop discipline and learn to deny physical cravings (1 Cor. 9:27)
  • When engaged in spiritual warfare

What Christian fasting is not
Not a way to “pay” for your sins or “earn” God’s love
Not a way to “force” God to do something
Not a way to show off or prove your spirituality
Not a way to lose weight or improve your health

How to Fast

When you fast

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Be prepared to be a little more tired or feel cold
  • On a longer fast you might need more rest than usual
  • If you normally consume caffeine you will probably have a headache
  • Those who have health problems that may be affected by fasting should check with their doctor first before fasting more than one day

What to do when you fast

  • Dedicate the time/money you would normally spend on eating to God
  • Set aside extra time for prayer and meditation (otherwise you are just skipping meals)

Types of fasts

  • Partial fast: give up some, but not all foods (e.g. give up meat, sweets, etc.)
  • Complete fast: give up all food, and take only water and juice
  • Non-food fasts: give up TV, computer games, etc.

How to end a fast

Generally, you should take the same amount of time as you spend fasting to ease back into regular eating. This is especially important for fasts longer than 1-2 days. (See web link below for further information.)

Biblical examples and commands concerning fasting

Judges 20:26–Israel fasted for victory in war.
1 Sam. 1:6-7–Hannah fasted for a son
1 Sam. 7:6–Israel fasted in repentance
1 Sam. 31:13–Men of Jabeshgilead fasted in mourning for Saul
2 Sam. 1:12–David and his men fasted in mourning for Saul, Jonathan, and the fallen of Israel
2 Sam. 12–David fasted for mercy upon his child
1 Kings 21:27–Ahab fasted for mercy
2 Chron. 20:3–Jehoshaphat and Israel fasted for help and protection
Ezra 8:21-23–Ezra and the people fasted for help and protection
Nehemiah 1:4–Nehemiah fasted in mourning and for help upon Jerusalem
Nehemiah 9:1,2–Israel fasting in mourning and repentance
Esther 4:16–Esther and friends fasted for victory
Esther 9:3–Fasting is mentioned as having had a role in the victory
Psalm 35:13,14–Fasting in prayer and mourning
Psalm 69: 10,11–Fasting in prayer and mourning
Isaiah 58:6-8–The fast which pleases God
Jeremiah 36:9–Israel fasted for mercy
Joel 1:14; 2:12,15–God commanded fasting and repentance
Jonah 3:5–The Ninevites fasted in repentance for mercy
Daniel 9:3–Daniel fasted for wisdom
Matthew 4:2–Jesus fasted when tempted in the wilderness
Matthew 6:17-18–Jesus promised that the Father would bless fasting
Matthew 9:14-15–Jesus said his disciples would fast
Luke 2:37–Fasting was part of Anna’s service to God
Acts 13:2–Fasting was part of the ministry of the workers at Antioch
Acts 13:3–Ordination was accompanied by fasting
Acts 14:23–Ordination was accompanied by fasting

A much more detailed discussion can be found at:
Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer

4 Responses to FAQ on Christian Fasting

  • Raylene says:

    I am interested in knowing if you have any information on the Daniels fast consisting of fruits and vegtables.

  • PK says:

    If you are referring to the fast in Dan. 9:3, it might have been a bread and water fast, or a water only fast. The verse does not mention fruits or vegetables. In chapter 1 it is recorded that Daniel ate only vegetables and water, but it is not called a fast. Rather, Daniel refused to defile himself by eating the meat provided by the king, presumably because it included forbidden meats (e.g. pork) or was not killed properly according to OT law.

  • Rip says:

    Can you tell me the basis used by some churches to allow kids to “give up thei lenten fasts” on Sundays during lent?

  • PK says:

    When fasting during Lent, Sundays are usually considered feast days on which we do not fast. On Sundays we continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, even during Lent.

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis