What the Bible Says about Fasting
Keys to the Kingdom: What the Bible Says about Fasting
The “key” of fasting to receive God’s authority in His kingdom, will be covered in this teaching. The Lord said He would give us the “keys to the kingdom.” What did He mean by that statement? Keys to the kingdom are actually keys of authority. Matthew 16:19: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven…”
Keys of Authority
When Jesus becomes our Lord, we are automatically transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:12-13 says, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear son.” Now that we have a new king and live in a new kingdom, we must understand “kingdom principles” if we are to be victorious Christians. We cannot overcome until we have the keys that unlock the kingdom of heaven. The Lord never meant for us to wait until we die to experience heaven but purposed for us to bring heaven to the earth through the power of His Spirit. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). We are unable to receive God’s healing, provision and blessing if we do not know the keys the Lord has given us to accomplish kingdom living. Keys represent authority in the Kingdom of God, and authority is gained by using them. Fasting is only one of the keys to the kingdom; others are prayer, praise, worship, intercession and travail (a prayer burden from the Lord).
The key of fasting has nearly been lost to the modern church. It is also one that some say was only for early day Christians. Looking closely at the Word of God, we find that the Lord never did away with the principle of fasting, but it has been man who has attempted to make it obsolete. Fasting is still a valid key that can be used today to bring us into kingdom living. What is fasting? It is another means by which we can suffer for the Lord, through the voluntary abstinence from eating. Biblical fasting is done to bring spiritual results and is not simply for physical purposes. Doctors today are discovering the physical benefits of this practice and have found that abstaining from food (not water) for several days has a wonderful cleansing effect upon the body. Many impurities are burned up within the body as it is denied food, thus clearing the mind, and cleansing and healing the body. Even nature shows us that fasting is good medicine as we automatically lose our appetites when sickness strikes. Many people in the world are practicing fasting and finding it not only healthful, but even a wonderful way to lose weight quickly. However, even though we may enjoy these benefits while fasting, the Christian primarily fasts for spiritual purposes and not for health reasons. Obeying spiritual principles can produce positive physical results, but they are added blessings. Even people that are underweight who fast for spiritual purposes have been known to gain weight after completing their fasts.
The Lord tells us in Matthew 6:16-18 that when we fast, we are to do it unto the Lord. He doesn’t say if we fast.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” We can see that our motives in fasting must be pure. We are not to do it in order to broadcast it, but we are to do it as quietly and simply as possible so as not to attract attention to ourselves. We are to appear to others as though we are not fasting. There are exceptions, such as when we are fasting as a group for a specific thing. Then it must be announced so that others can take part. We find this in Joel 1:14, “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord. Matthew 6:16-18
The main thing the Lord desires is that it be done unto Him and not as a show unto men. Our heart attitude must be right to produce spiritual results.
Jesus Fasted Forty Days and Forty Nights
Jesus, by fasting, set an example that we might follow in His steps. Matthew 4:1-4: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
This Scripture suggests to us that the Lord drank water but did not eat food, for it says that after forty days he was hungry, but mentions nothing about him being thirsty. The normal fast is without food, drinking water only.
There are also absolute fasts recorded in the Bible. Upon Saul’s conversion in Acts 9:9, he immediately went on an absolute fast for three days, having neither food nor water. (“And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.”) The body can go for a number of days without food, but cannot go for long periods without water. Therefore, the Bible does not record any absolute fasts that go beyond three days, except the account of Moses spending forty days and nights on top of Mount Sinai (Horeb) without food or water. This was a supernatural encounter with God and he was sustained during that time, because otherwise he would have died, as the human body cannot go without water that long.
And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shown while he talked with him. Exodus 34:28-29
We can see that because Moses was in the literal presence of the Lord, it was that presence that sustained him so he neither needed food nor water. This, of course, is an exceptional fast.
The Lord did not set up any specific duration that we are to fast, but from His teachings, we see that he did expect us to fast. Luke 5:34-35: “And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.”
Spiritual Cleansing & Spiritual Eyes Opened
Fasting can be done for one meal, one day, one month or for however long God leads. It depends on how the Holy Spirit speaks to us. Shorter fasts are easier to endure until we have built up our “spiritual muscles”. A helpful book we recommend is Arthur Wallis’, God’s Chosen Fast. It is a spiritual and practical guide to fasting. A three day fast is most beneficial as a spiritual cleansing. An example of this is Paul’s being thrust into his fast upon conversion. After the three days of cleansing, he received the Holy Spirit and his eyesight when Ananias laid hands on him (Acts 9:17-18). We also can be spiritually cleansed by fasting so that we receive more of the Lord’s Spirit and have our spiritual eyes opened to new dimensions. A three day fast is also especially helpful in breaking any addictive habits.
These then are two reasons for fasting: We receive spiritual cleansing and our spiritual eyes are opened, and we also obtain victory over the devil. When Jesus encountered Satan, He was able to overcome Him because His fasting had given Him spiritual strength. Isaiah 58:6 also gives us light on this purpose of fasting: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” Many people believe that fasting is to move the hand of God, when in actuality it is to make Satan turn loose of the things he is holding.
Breaking Strongholds & Building Faith
Fasting looses the bands of wickedness. When Jesus discussed the keys to the kingdom, He told us to bind and loose. When we fast, we loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, set the oppressed free, and break every yoke of the enemy. Fasting is an important key to getting the victory over hard situations that do not seem to respond to normal prayer.
Fasting builds our faith. In fact, this is what Jesus meant when he spoke to the disciples in Matthew 17:21 in answer to why they were not able to cast a demon out of a child. He said, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” He was telling them if they wanted their faith to be at such a level as to be able to cast out demons, then they must fast and pray for their faith to increase.
Fasting also makes it easier for us to hear the voice of the Lord. We find an account of this in Acts 13:2-3: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”
While fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them and gave them direction. We too can be directed by the Lord if we seek Him through prayer and fasting.
Fasting and mourning are closely associated in the Bible. Two examples of this are found in Ezra and Nehemiah.
Ezra 10:6: “Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib: and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away.”
Nehemiah 1:4: “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.”
From these Scriptures, we see that fasting and travail (a prayer burden from the Lord that brings crying and tears) were combined. Both of these men were fasting for the repentance of God’s people. How we need this same kind of intercession today. Here were men so burdened for the sins of their people that they fasted, travailed and prayed.
Ministering Unto the Lord
Today, God is looking for people who are willing to take the same kind of burdens in the Spirit. After being filled with the Holy Spirit, so many are eager to do something for the Lord; however, due to a lack of proper teaching, they end up doing works in the flesh instead of works in the Spirit. Works that we do in our own strength profit nothing, but works that are inspired by the Spirit are profitable and bring results. Prayer is work in the Spirit. That is why it is not easy to pray. Travail and fasting are works in the Spirit. Witnessing under God’s leadership is a spiritual work. God is looking for laborers who are ready to go to work for Him. (Matthew 9:37-38: “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.”) The Lord is looking for workers, people who will labor to produce eternal results. Laboring in the Spirit brings many into the kingdom of God and causes much growth in the church.
Fasting is also one of these labors. It is a form of afflicting our soul. (Isaiah 58:3: “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?…”) By afflicting our soul, we say to our flesh, “Flesh, you are demanding to eat, but Christ is stronger than the desires of my soul. My spirit shall rule my soul, and my soul shall not have dominion over me.” Numerous individuals today are in bondage to their appetites because they have never denied themselves anything. The Lord wants us to be ruled by the Spirit, not by the flesh. Fasting brings the flesh unto subjection of the Spirit. (Matthew 4:4: “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”)
Fasting is also a way we can minister unto the Lord. We read in Acts 13:2 that they ministered unto the Lord and fasted. It is a way we can offer the time we generally spend in eating as unto the Lord in prayer. As we spend this time with Him, it causes things to happen in the Spirit. We do not understand this principle any more than other mysteries in the Bible, but we find that by applying it we get results. There are many things I don’t understand with my natural mind, but I receive them by faith because the Word of God says they are true. If God’s Word says it, that settles it. I don’t even understand why Jesus had to die on a cross to save us from our sins. However, because I believed that He did and received His forgiveness in my heart, I was “born again.” Likewise, I do not understand all the principles of fasting, but I do know they work.
We have discussed the absolute and the normal fasts, but we need to also mention the partial fast. This is a fast where we restrict our intake of food, but do not totally abstain. We have a record of this in Daniel 10:2-3: “In those days I, Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled”. Daniel went on a three-week partial fast, restricting his diet of all pleasant food, meat and wine. It was during this time that he had a visitation from an angel. Fasting always suppresses the flesh and heightens our spiritual sensitivity. Generally speaking, we hear the Lord’s voice more easily while fasting.
We all can benefit by giving up our pleasant bread for a season. The Lord blesses us for whatever sacrifices we make for Him. Our country is suffering under a spirit of gluttony and it would be a great blessing for the United States to have a time of national fasting unto God. We sit down and eat many times when we are not even hungry, simply because it is a habit. We should not eat out of habit or tradition, but rather that we might glorify Christ in our bodies. (1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”)
Fasting sometimes comes spontaneously. Often if people are grieving they lose their appetites and unconsciously fast. That is why mourning and fasting are mentioned together in the Bible. Another type of spontaneous fasting occurs when we are so busy seeking God about a situation or a spiritual goal that we simply forget to eat. (We are moving too fast to take time to eat because we are concentrating on the things of the Spirit. We are moving in the spirit in a “fast” way. The fasting acts as spiritual dynamite to speed things up in the Spirit that would normally take a longer time to come to pass.) Some Christians are forced to fast due to a lack of food in their part of the world. They can dedicate this time to God and He will bless it as He would a voluntary fast.
Does fasting move the hand of God? No. If we believe that God withholds from us and we have to fight to get Him to bless us, then we have a wrong conception of the Lord. Isaiah 58:6 indicates that fasting is not to move the hand of the Lord, but it is to make Satan turn loose of what he is holding back that rightfully belongs to us. Jesus died so we could have the blessings. They belong to us as His children. However, we must press in and demand the enemy to release some things. This is our right as sons of God. Sometimes Satan still controls much territory in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. He has many in bondage. Fasting is a key that breaks loose the bands of wickedness. As we fast and pray, Satan must let our children who are bound by spirits of rebellion and drugs go free. He must take his hands off our loved ones, our friends and family. Some people are so bound that only fasting can loose them from the wicked chains of darkness.
Being Lead By the Holy Spirit
We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as to when fasting is needed. Sometimes it is not necessary because the problem has already been “prayed through.” We need simply to rest in the Lord until His time for our answer to arrive. If we fast at those times, we will just be going hungry. We need also to seek the Lord as to whether He would have us go on a partial fast, normal fast or total fast. If we will ask, He will let us know. He will confirm His will to us. If we cannot hear His voice too clearly, He will send somebody to speak His counsel to us. We must trust Him.
We need also to check our motives when we fast. If they are selfish, our fast will not be accepted by the Lord. We see this in Jeremiah 14:10 and 12, “Thus saith the Lord unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the Lord doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.” We cannot fast and have evil, unrepented sin or selfishness in our lives and expect God to answer our prayers. Many times we don’t even recognize selfish prayers. When we pray for our loved ones to be saved or delivered, and our motive is to only bring relief to ourselves instead of being concerned that they receive the peace and joy of Jesus, we are wrong. Let us examine our hearts when we seek God for anything.
Isaiah 58 is the great fasting chapter. Here we read how this key can break the bonds of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens and bring healing. It frees the oppressed and the depressed. It breaks every yoke. Some people are yoked to bad habits in this world, and fasting can break those yokes so they can be free to enter into the kingdom of God. A three-day fast will break most addictions.
Isaiah 58:7 also says, “Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?” Fasting makes it possible for us not only to give “spiritual bread” to those that are hungry, but also releases our finances so that we can give “natural bread” to the poor and needy. The Lord wants us to have an abundance so we can be a blessing to others. He will bring the poor to our houses to be fed. He wants us to be able to minister to others. He will give us a ministry and cause people to be drawn to our doorstep by the Holy Spirit for counsel and prayer.
Verse 7 continues, “when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him.” We are to cover others’ sin through fasting and prayers of mercy. We are to ask God to forgive them and give them another chance. If we were stripped naked right now and our lives were bared before the world, every one of us would be ashamed and embarrassed about our past sins. None of us could stand. All of us would fall down naked, exposed and humiliated. However, we do not have to suffer this because Jesus paid the price for our sins and washed those things away. Praise God! They are not there anymore; God does not remember them, and neither should we. (Hebrews 10:17: “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”) We need to pray for others to be released from the burden of sin that is upon their lives.
Verse 7 also says, “…and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” One trick of the enemy is to get us so busy ministering to others that we fail to minister to our own flesh. We must also ask the Lord to do a work of cleansing in our lives, and also make sure that we take time to let the Lord minister to us through His word, and in time spent alone with Him. Also, we are not to neglect our own flesh and blood. We must not get so busy with others’ needs that we do not minister to our own families. We are to fast for them, pray for them and spend time with them.
In verse 8 we see the fruits of fasting, “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.” Healing will come forth quickly through fasting. If we have a besetting sin that we cannot get the victory over, fasting will strengthen us spiritually and deliver us from that bondage so that our righteousness can go before us. What a beautiful promise that the glory of the Lord shall be our reward! We receive a reward during the time of fasting, but it does not stop there. We also will be rewarded by seeing things come forth in the future as answers to our prayers.
Verse 9 says, “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity.” By this we see there are conditions to our fast. We cannot point our fingers at others in condemnation if we expect our prayers to be answered. We must come humbly before the Lord if we desire to see our prayers answered.
The remainder of Isaiah 58 explains that the Lord will cause us to be lights to others, and that we shall not walk in darkness but have the Lord continually guiding us. He says we shall be taken care of in drought. No matter what is happening in the land, we shall have plenty. Waste places shall be rebuilt, and the Lord will restore and repair the damage that has been done to our lives. We shall ride upon the high places of the earth and shall inherit God’s blessings. Fasting brings restoration not only in our individual lives but in the life of the church also.
To sum up the different kinds of fasts:
Normal Fast – No food, water only.
Absolute Fast – Absolutely no food or water (Caution: Should not be undertaken over 3 days and only then if you have a clear directive from the Lord and are in good health).
Partial Fast – Abstinence from certain kinds of foods (i.e.: No meat or sweets, soup only, fruit and vegetables only, etc. In Daniel 10:3, Daniel ate no pleasant bread).
Juice Fast – Fruit and vegetable juices only.
Corporate Fast – A church or group of people who feel God has called them to fast together for a certain period of time.
Chain Fast – A church or group of people who commit to fasting for a long period of time and each individual commits to fast for a day or longer and signs up for so many days so that the entire period is covered for the designated fasting period. (Our church did this for an entire year at one time.)
Jewish Fasting Period – The Jewish fast began at 6:00 P.M. in the evening and ended the next day at 6:00 P.M. (Some people follow this time period to begin and end fasts.)
Fasting Plus Prayer — Remember, fasting should be combined with prayer. God called us to fast and pray, not fast and preach, nor fast and work. God did not call us to fast and do hard physical work. Although some work and certain responsibilities cannot be avoided while fasting, accounts in the Bible reveal that they arranged times to fast and pray when they did not have to work so they could make seeking God the focal point during the fast, especially when the fasts exceeded 3 days. Giving up our free weekends and vacations to fast, is one way we can sacrifice to the Lord.
Fasting and Abstinence — Although the word “fast” is used as abstaining from food in the Bible and does not refer to giving up other things, during a fast one can practice abstinence from other pleasures as well, such as entertainment, TV, hobbies and sex, as spoken about in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.
If you are considering an extended fast, you should seek competent medical supervision of someone familiar with fasting. This is especially needed if you are taking any medications. (This article is informational and spiritually directive and is not intended to take the place of medical advice). We would also recommend you reading these books for detailed information on fasting: God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis or The Coming Revival by Dr. Bill Bright.
Restoration of the Church
We are living in the time of restoration of the church now. God has begun a work of restoration in us. The power of the Holy Spirit is being restored to the church. God is healing His people and giving back to them the things Satan has robbed. The Lord is restoring truth to the church again, so she can rise from obscurity and be seen in love and power, even as she was in New Testament days.
The world is looking for a church that has the power to heal and bless, a church that walks in victory. The world wants to see a church that is not hypocritical, a church that is holy and full of love. We are the individual members of that church if we are born again. The work must begin in us personally before it can manifest itself corporately. The Lord is returning for a bride without spot or blemish. God is preparing her. We must have the keys to the kingdom so that we can come to that place in God where the world can tell the difference between “us” and “them.”
Fasting is a wonderful tool given to help bring us to that place. God’s ultimate desire is that we live “fasted” lives, thus reducing the need for periodic fasting. However, until we come to the place where the kingdom of God means more to us than food, we need to set our wills to fast in order to bring our bodies under subjection to the Spirit of the Lord.
Paul was an overcomer and says in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” For us to overcome we must do likewise. To grow in God we must follow the methods He mapped out in His Word. The Lord is encouraging us to walk in His footsteps so that we might attain the same victory that Paul did. It is not impossible; we just have not understood God’s ultimate purpose for our lives; we have lived far below the level God intended. Even though we will walk through some hard places in this life, we will be able to say it was worth it all when we come into the same perfection that Paul did.
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.2 Corinthians 11:27
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. Philippians 3:8
The keys of prayer, praise, worship, intercession, travail and fasting will bring us to the same place that Paul attained through Jesus. We can have a similar anointing in our lives, and be used as Paul was to achieve God’s victories in the name of Jesus. We can enter into the Lord’s authority so that the demons and devils obey us. We can expose Satan’s devices and learn the ways by which we overcome him. These important keys will unlock many from the chains of darkness. Let us use all the keys to the kingdom so that the kingdom of God might be formed in us.
“Father, You know each one that is reading this today, and I ask You to reach out and meet their needs. Lord, minister to their need now through the power of the Holy Spirit. If there are those who have not been filled with Your Spirit, I pray that You would fill them now to overflowing. Lord, to those who need You as Savior, touch them and come into their hearts; may they be born again and placed into Your kingdom. For those who need healing in their bodies, touch them with Your creative power. Father, deliver and set free those who are suffering from depression and are bound by the things of this world. Bless Your people, Lord, as they seek Your will and way for their lives. Give them Your strength to use the keys of the kingdom to overcome the enemy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”