In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of prayer, giving to the needy, and fasting. The Great Teacher assumed that we practice each of these important spiritual disciplines. Jesus said, “whenever you pray...” (Matthew 6:5). He didn’t say, “if you pray” or “thou shalt pray” but “when you pray.” Similarly, He didn’t say, “if you fast” or “thou shalt fast” but “whenever you fast...”(Matthew 6:16). Jesus assumed that His disciples were periodically fasting.
Fasting is not uncommon in the Bible. For example, Jesus fasted when He “left the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days” (Luke 4:1–2). Moses also fasted for forty days when he “went up the mountain to receive the stone tablets” (Deuteronomy 9:9). These two fasted as they spent time in the glorious presence of God.
The Assyrian people fasted as an act of repentance. Remember? Jonah, after the big-fish-debacle, finally arrived in the capital city with God’s ominous warning; “In forty days Nineveh will be demolished! Then the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least” (Jonah 3:4-5). Fasting was an outward demonstration of a repentant heart.
Through the Prophet Joel, God called His rebellious people to “announce a sacred fast; proclaim a solemn assembly! Gather the elders and all the residents of the land at the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:14).
King David fasted for seven days, begging God concerning the infant son of Bathsheba. After the baby died, David explained to his servants; “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let him live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22–23). David fasted as he sought the Lord’s favor.
As an exile in Persia, Nehemiah received a report about the deplorable conditions in Jerusalem. “The remnant in (Jerusalem), who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned.When (he) heard these words, (he) sat down and wept. (He) mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of the heavens” (Nehemiah 1:3-4). Much like David, Nehemiah fasted as he sought God’s grace and guidance.
After being blinded by the glorious presence of God while on the road to Damascus, Saul went to the home of Judas on Straight Steet. There, Saul sought the Lord. “He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink” (Acts 9:9) until Ananias arrived with the message of hope and salvation.
In Antioch, the church worshipped, prayed and fasted as they sought the Lord’s guidance. “As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off” (Acts 13:2–3).
Ponder this: Are we practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting, or have we neglected a key that might unlock God’s powerful mercies and a culture-changing revival in our land?