BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:16-18 New King James Version).
In Matthew 6, Jesus dealt with these three main things: “When you give” (verse 1-4), “When you pray” (verses 5-14) and “When you fast” (verses 16-18).
My focus is on the last one – when you fast. Fasting is recorded in both the Old and New Testaments in the Bible. In the Old Testament, it is sometimes associated with mourning. Basically, there are two kinds of fast: Godly and satanic/occultic.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline. It’s mainly abstinence from food for spiritual reasons, though abstinence could be extended to other things that could hinder one from intimate walk with God. Usually, fasting goes with prayer, so we talk of fasting and prayer.
Fasting is not unique to Christianity. Many religions observe fasting. Today, some fast to Satan for evil causes, like the forty Jews, who got together and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. They even told the leading priests and other leaders (Acts 23:12, 14). Was their fasting to God? But they failed. No occultic fast will work against you in Jesus’ name.
There are variants of fast depending on the number of days, time of the day of breaking the fast, what to eat and not eat to break the fast or during the fast, etc.
For instance, Moses fasted and was with the LORD forty days and forty nights. That was when he went up to the mountain to receive from the LORD the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 9:9-10; Exodus 34:27-28).
He repeated the fast for forty days and forty nights to receive the Ten Commandments again because he broke the first tablets in annoyance at the sin of idolatry by the Israelites upon his return from the mountain. Deut 9:18 says, “And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger” (New King James Version). Moses didn’t eat bread or drink water for forty days and forty nights while he was in the presence of the LORD. It was a total fast.
After Elijah, who was fleeing from Jezebel, was fed by an angel of the LORD twice, he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb or Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:8). That means Elijah also fasted for forty days and forty nights.
Daniel’s fast was obviously a partial fast for his three weeks of mourning. He said, “I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled” (Daniel 10:3 New King James Version).
David fasted, pleading with God to save the life of the child, which was the product of his adultery with Bathsheba. 2 Sam 12:17 tells us that David abstained from food; there was no mention of abstaining from drinking water. He may have fasted for seven days because the child died after seven days (verse 18).
Anna’s and Cornelius’ fasts
Luke 2:37 records that 84-year old prophetess, Anna, engaged in fastings and prayers, day and night. The Bible does not give us details of her fastings. The same thing applies to Cornelius. He fasted and prayed, but the Bible does not state the kind of fasting he did (Acts 10:30).
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2-3). Jesus ate nothing; therefore, He was hungry. There was no mention of Jesus being thirsty; Satan didn’t tempt Him with water. He tempted him with food, which suggests that Jesus may have abstained from food only.
Paul’s and Barnabas’ fast
Paul and Barnabas together fasted. Acts 14:23 says that they appointed elders in the churches of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, and prayed with fasting. Also in 2 Corinthians 6:5, Paul said he showed that he was a true minister of Christ in fastings or going without food, among other things. In 2 Corinthians 11:27, Paul also talks of being in fastings often.
Personal fast and corporate fast
Fasting can be personal or corporate. All the cases I’ve mentioned were personal. But in Judges 20:26, it was corporate. All the children of Israel fasted. 1 Samuel 7:6 also records a corporate fast by the Israelites under Samuel.
In 2 Chronicles 20:3, it was another corporate fast. Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. The Jews in Babylon, during the days of Esther, had a corporate fast (Esther 4:3, 16). Also, in the days of Nehemiah, all Israelites fasted in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 9:1).
In 1 Samuel 31:11-13, the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead fasted seven days for Saul after burying him and his sons. David and all the men with him also fasted until evening for Saul and Jonathan, his son, the people of LORD and the house of Israel (2 Samuel 1:11-12).
According to the disciples of John the Baptist, they and the Pharisees fasted often (Matthew 9:14). We don’t have the details of their fast, but we know that the Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). Those in the ship with Paul had fasted for fourteen days because of the danger facing them on the sea and Paul urged them to eat (Acts 27:33).
Fasting is not easy on the human body
Fasting is not easy on the human body. In fact, at the start, the body may react against it because it is being denied what it is used to. However, it will adjust with time if you don’t compromise. In Psalm 109:24, David said, “My knees are weak from fasting, and I am skin and bones” (New Living Translation).
Fasting requires discipline, wisdom and the grace of God. You don’t need to harm or kill yourself because you’re fasting. Don’t engage in a fast that could cause you health problem. If you have a peculiar health challenge, seek the counsel of health professionals and your pastor on what type of fast would be suitable for you.
It is also very important to drink much water when fasting, especially prolonged fasting. There have been reports of many injuring themselves and some have died prematurely while engaging in prolonged fasting without wisdom. Your body needs water more than it needs food. You can go more days without food than without water. Drinking water doesn’t break a Christian fast. Fast wisely.
Fasting doesn’t always produce the desired results
Some people erroneously think that with their fasting, they can make God answer them or do anything, including what He doesn’t want to do. This is not true.
In Isaiah 58:3-11, the LORD actually rejected the fasting of the Israelites because, while fasting, they were still engaging in things that God forbade. They couldn’t be displeasing God while fasting, and think that this would make God look away from their sins.
God said the following are more important to Him than their fast: freeing those wrongly imprisoned, stopping the oppression of those who work for them, treating them fairly and giving them what they earn, sharing their food with the hungry, welcoming poor wanderers into their homes, giving clothes to those who need them, and not hiding from relatives who need their help (Isaiah 58:6-7).
Also in Zechariah 7:5, the LORD asked if during those seventy years of exile it was it really for Him that the Israelites, including their priests, fasted and mourned in the summer and at the festival in early autumn. The LORD said executing true justice, showing mercy and compassion, refraining from oppressing the widow, the fatherless, the alien or the poor and avoiding evil plans were more important than fasting (verses 9-10). It is not all fast that attracts the LORD’s favour. The LORD told Jeremiah that when the people of Judah fasted, He would not hear their cry (Jeremiah 14:12).
From the Bible, it is very clear that fasting and prayer is very effective, but the result is not automatic. Testimonies on its effectiveness abound in the Bible, in post-Bible church history, and even today. Fasting is not starvation or dieting; neither is it a hunger strike! Therefore, it is important to pray while fasting. God responds to the sacrifice of His children.
Don’t abuse fasting
Fasting and prayer must not be abused. Don’t neglect other important provisions in God’s Word and think you can use fasting and prayer to bribe God or have your way.
Fasting and prayer is a holy exercise; don’t abuse it like Jezebel did in her desperation to get Naboth killed and transfer his vineyard to her husband, Ahab. “So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and other leaders of the city where Naboth lived. In her letters she commanded: “Call the citizens together for fasting and prayer and give Naboth a place of honor. Find two scoundrels who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death” (1 Kings 21:8-10 New Living Translation).
Unfortunately, the elders and nobles of Naboth’s city organized a phony fasting and prayer, raised a false accuser against Naboth and got him killed. How dare Jezebel and these elders and nobles use something holy to accomplish an unholy cause! The Bible tells us to distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean (Lev 10:10). In Ezek 22:26, God accused Israel: “Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” (New King James Version). Fasting and prayer is sacred; don’t abuse it.
When you should fast
1.When you want to worship the LORD. Fasting and prayer is a form of worship to the LORD (Luke 2:37; John 4:33-34, 13:3).
2. When you need spiritual empowerment and renewal. Fasting can deepen your fellowship with God. (Matthew 4:1-17; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-14; Matthew 5:6; Joel 2:15, 28, 29). At the end of Jesus’ forty days and forty nights of fasting, Luke 4:14 says He returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.
3. When you need to humble yourself (mourn) and repent of your sins and avert God’s judgment (Jonah 3; Psalm 35:13, 69:10, Daniel 9:2-19, 20 (especially verses 2-3); 1 Samuel 7:5-6, 2 Chronicles 7:4; Joel 1:14-15).
4. When you want to conduct deliverance for the demon-possessed. This is sometimes needed (Matthew 17:21). Fasting breaks the band and yoke of oppression and addictions, and set the captives free.
5. When you desire to enhance your spiritual sensitivity and ability to receive and understand divine revelations (Daniel 10:1-3; Exodus 34:27-28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18; 1 Kings 19:8).
6. When you need Heaven’s intervention for victory, deliverance and answer to prayers (Joel 2:15, 20-22; Judges 20:26-48; Esther 4:15-17).
7. When you desire supernatural provision, restoration and breakthrough (Joel 2:15-19; Isaiah 58:12).
8. When you want to fight for the life of your loved ones including your children, and stop Satan from perverting their destinies (1 Samuel 1:8-11; 2 Samuel 12:16-17).
9. When you want to start a new faith-project or spiritual assignment. Before Jesus started his pubic ministry, He fasted forty days and forty nights. That was immediately after His baptism in River Jordan (Matthew 4:1-2; Mark 1:10-12; Luke 4:1-2).
10. When you are determined to serve the LORD and would not be a slave to the flesh (sin). Fasting helps you to put your body under (1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 6:7-9). Paul said he fasted often (2 Corinthians 11:27). As I pointed out earlier, one of the things he said he commended himself as a minister of God in was in fastings (2 Corinthians 6:4-6).
11. When you need the LORD’s guidance in taking a major decision or determining divine direction (Acts 13:2-4; Isaiah 58:11a, 55:9; Ezra 8:21-23).
12. When you are desperate for healing and good health. Medicine has discovered that fasting cleanses the body of toxins responsible for many sicknesses, thereby bringing about healing and good health. Daniel and his colleagues, for their spiritual health, refused to eat the king’s food (Daniel 1:8). Eventually, they were adjudged ten times better than their colleagues (verse 20).
Conclusion: Fasting and prayer has awesome benefits. Give yourself to it. But don’t fast to gain public attention or approval, as the hypocrites do (Matthew 6:16-18). Let your fasting and prayer be Bible-compliant.
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible believing and Bible teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The LORD be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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