Thanks to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, many people are stuck at home in quarantine. I know that many of us are getting a little bored by now. The weather hasn’t been very nice for going outside and there is only so much house cleaning you can do before boredom strikes you. Let me encourage you to do as I often encourage the inmates at the jail, to use this time in captivity to focus upon God and His Word; to use the time, you have now – in abundance – to focus on prayer and Bible study. And let me encourage you to do it with prayer and fasting!
Fasting is a great spiritual discipline that is not bound upon us as Christians, but it was certainly encouraged by the Lord and by the apostles. There is no command given anywhere, that I know of, in the New Testament, whereby Christians are commanded to fast.
The History of Prayer and Fasting in the Bible
Even under the Law of Moses, there was only one day where fasting was a command to God’s people and that was to take place on the Day of Atonement, wherein they were commanded, “ye shall afflict your souls…” (Leviticus 16:29). This was the only day of fasting commanded, yet the Jews are often found fasting on certain occasions in the Old Testament.
There was a certain time in Jeremiah 36:9, where Josiah commanded a fast during the ninth month of the fifth year of his reign in preparation for hearing the Word of the Lord proclaimed by Jeremiah. In Nehemiah 9:1, at the assembly in which the returning Jews confessed their national sins, “the children of Israel were assembled with fasting…”
The Jews of the captivity fasted and wept when they heard the news about the decree of King Ahasuerus regarding the order to exterminate the Jews, (Esther 4:1-3). In the Book of Psalms David, speaks of humbling his soul with fasting, (Psalms 35:3), chastening his soul with fasting (Psalms 69:10), and his knees being weak through fasting (Psalms 109:24).
Even though there was only one day a year that there was to be a day of fasting by the commandment of the Lord, the Jews often fasted as a form of spiritual discipline.
In the Gospel accounts, the Pharisees and even the disciples of John were noted for their often fasting. In Matthew 9:14 the question was asked by John’s disciples, “…Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not…?” Also see what the Pharisee said in Luke 18:12, “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess…”
In Luke 2:36-38, we are introduced to a widow named Anna who, “served God with fastings and prayers night and day…” Each of these passages shows that fasting was a very common practice in the First Century.
Jesus and His disciples fasted. Jesus fasted in the wilderness at the beginning of His public ministry, (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus referred to some devils His apostles failed to cast out as only going out “by prayer and fasting…” (Matthew 17:21).
The early Christians fasted. In the book of Acts, we are told that Paul fasted for three days after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:9). The members of the church at Syrian Antioch fasted and prayed before sending Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, (Acts 13:1-3).
Also, we see where Paul and Barnabas fasted in Acts 14:23 when they ordained elders in the churches. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapters 6 and 11 of his common practice in reference to fasting. Not only did the Jews and disciples of Jesus fast, but also some of the gentiles, who feared God, fasted. For example, Cornelius was fasting when the angel appeared to him and had him send for Peter, (Acts 10:30).
Neither Jesus, nor His disciples commanded fasting, but they made it clear that they assumed Christians would fast. Jesus took it for granted that His people would engage in the spiritual discipline of fasting. Read what He says in Matthew 6:16, “Moreover when ye fast…” and note that He did not say, “If ye fast…” It was stated as a given that His disciples would fast.
In answer to the question posed by John’s disciples in Matthew 9:14, Jesus answered, “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…” (Matthew 9:15). Once again, do you see how Jesus said His disciples would fast?
What is Fasting?
Fasting is, as we saw in the Psalms of David, a way of disciplining ourselves and a way of expressing humility. When one is fasting, as a Christian discipline, they are better able to concentrate upon the Word of God and in prayer.
Fasting does not necessarily mean that one does not eat or drink at all. One can fast intermittently, for instance, by refusing to eat during daylight hours or by limiting meals to one meal per day, or even going on a bread and water diet for a couple of days.
It helps you to focus upon God and His Word, or upon your prayers to Him, when you temporarily turn your attention away from the needs or wants of the body in order to concentrate on spiritual matters. Paul encouraged married couples to be celibate for brief periods of time so, “…that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
Fasting is something, that if we do it, we ought to do it as a private devotion to God and His Word. Jesus condemned the hypocritical way in which the Pharisees fasted in Matthew 6:16-18, as being done to receive the “reward” of the glory of men, but He encouraged His disciples to fast privately and told them that God would “reward” them spiritually.
I encourage each one of us to privately set aside a period of time, or a day, in which we fast and meditate upon God’s word and focus our minds upon God and lift prayers up to Him on behalf of the Lords’ church in this present time of distress. Let us pray for the Lord’s church with all of our might. She needs now more than ever!
By Jack W. McNiel