Not too long ago, I revealed to a close friend of mine that I do not subject myself to unnecessary fasts. She, being a born-again believer as well, looked at me in horror. It’s not that I am opposed to fasting. I just believe that the Holy Spirit should be the one to lead me to fast, whether for a few hours, a day or even longer. I’ve heard numerous explanations from other believers as to why they decided to fast.
One believer said he feels good after fasting and that power is ‘released’ when he undertakes extended fasts. (However, from what I have read, one receives power when one is baptized with the Holy Spirit and that power is the Holy Spirit). Another said it was to move God on her behalf, yet another said, she needed a breakthrough to acquire some things that she needed. One even said, she believes her numerous fasts has opened the doorway for her blessings. All of the preceding is quite disturbing to me as their reasons seem to be a form of Old Testament/Covenant legality steeped in tradition. In other words, they seem to believe their works, in this case, their numerous fastings, move God on their behalf. It is a dangerous mindset to have. There is a thin line between embarking on a fast to be freed of distractions and embarking on a fast as a means of moving God on one’s behalf.
Incidentally, I take umbrage to the term ‘move God on my behalf.’ Is the believer saying if he/she did not engage in numerous acts of fasting, God would not acknowledge his/her requests? Saints, as long as it is within His will, He will deliver regardless of what you do.
Remember, we are called to live by faith, not to live by fasting.
I therefore, decided to further analyze the word fasting and explore the conditions under which fasting occurred in the Old Testament/Covenant and in the New Testament/Covenant. Interestingly, the word fasting in Hebrew tsûwm (tsoom) means, to cover over the mouth. Which means, nothing gets past the mouth. No food, water, fruit juice, fruit, soup, crackers or dried bread. Absolutely nothing is ingested.
However, depending on the context in which it is used, fasting has other meanings. The Greek word for fasting, nëstĕia (nace-ti-ah) means abstinence from a lack of food. As was the case with Paul in his letter to the Corinthians about his many sufferings for Christ. “…In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…” (2 Cor. Ch. 11 v 27). It was also associated with mourning and humbling oneself or as the bible further states, afflicting the soul. Now, the term ‘afflict the soul,’ means to deprive oneself of all the comforts and distractions of life. Hence, the wearing of sackcloth and the ‘bathing’ in ashes during such fasts which was sometimes accompanied by prayers of repentance and supplication.
The first fast recorded in the bible was when Moses was called by Almighty God to ascend Mount Sinai to receive instruction/the law from Him. Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up (Ex. Chap. 19 v 20). Moses was on that mountain for forty days and forty nights. There is no record of him ever being instructed to walk with water and pack a lunch. He just went when he was called. How could he have survived forty days and nights without food or water? Moses was ‘kept’ by the Holy Spirit of Almighty God.
In the New Testament/Covenant, the only other person to accomplish such a feat was our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry (Matt. Chap. 4 vv 1-2). I remember one time I was telling my older nephew about Jesus fasting for forty days and forty nights. His response was quite clever and amusing. He said, “Wow! He must have lost a lot of weight.” After laughing at his witty outburst, I explained to him, when one is led by the Holy Spirit to engage in such lengthy fasts, one will neither feel hungry, weak nor lose weight for one is kept full, strong and healthy by the Holy Spirit.
Within the Full Gospel Pentecostal community fasting has become a mere trend, a ritual of sorts. Mainly for individual gain. However, a careful analysis of fasting in the Old Testament/Covenant has revealed that fasting was mainly done with one common purpose in mind. One such example occurred in 2 Chronicles Chap. 20 when Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, in response to impending war against him, “Set himself to seek the LORD and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So, Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD” (vv 3-4).
Another example occurred in the book of Ezra where he said, “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions” (Chap. 8 v 21). Note, the preceding scriptures do not say, Jehovah God called upon them to pray and fast for deliverance from their enemies. They did so of their own free will collectively, having one mind and one purpose and so Almighty God acknowledged their prayer for deliverance and victory over their enemies for His Glory and for their edification. The fact that they chose to place their trust in Him and no other god pleased Him. Their act of fasting was secondary.
In the Old/Testament Covenant, Jehovah God Almighty, commanded the Israelites to fast/afflict their souls on one particular day and that was on the Day of Atonement, chronicled in Leviticus Chapter 16, which occurred once a year. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man…”
“In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who sojourns among you.
“For on that day the priest will make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sin before the LORD.
“It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls…
“This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.”
Just as in the previous blog, I mentioned that tithing was required by Almighty God only once a year; fasting was required only on the Day of Atonement which was observed once a year. Today, the Day of Atonement is referred to, in Hebrew, as Yom Kippur.
Most other fasts occurred by the Israelites themselves, who just decided to fast before engaging in war or in commemoration of a victory. They were not instructed by the Spirit of God. This occurred on several occasions especially when they were held captive in Babylon.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the ever-popular ‘Daniel fast’ often conducted by many Pentecostal church gatherings. It may shock you to learn that there is no such thing. The scripture many allude to for the implementation of this ‘fast’ is Daniel Chap. 10 vv 1-3. Daniel had three apocalyptic visions and a dream while in Babylonian and Media-Persian captivity. In the first and third years of Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar) king of Babylon, Daniel had “a dream and visions of his head while on his bed” and also while he was wide awake “in Shushan, the citadel…by the River Ulai” (Dan. Chaps. 7&8). The final vision was recorded in chapter 10 during the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia.
The first two visions were immediately interpreted by the angel Gabriel (see Chaps. 7 & 8). However, the interpretation for the final vision (see Chap. 10) was delayed by three weeks and three days because the angel Gabriel was withstood/opposed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia for twenty-one days and appeared to Daniel on the twenty-fourth day during his final recorded vision (see Chap. 10 v 4). Or else, he (Gabriel) would have given Daniel the answer he sook on the same day.
So, Daniel was grieved in his spirit and did not have an appetite to eat any pleasant food (meat and wine) for the duration of the spiritual warfare in which Gabriel was engaged of which he (Daniel) was not aware.
Daniel did not set out to fast for twenty-one days. He was deeply concerned and I imagine, extremely anxious to have the vision explained to him. I wonder, what is your appetite like when you are deeply concerned and extremely anxious about a matter? However, if indeed it was a fast, he would have said so as he did in Chap. 9 vv 1-3, “In the first year of Darius…I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.”
Furthermore, if twenty-one days of fasting was necessary, the angel Gabriel would not have said to Daniel, “…From the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.”
Please note the last sentence; I have come because of your words. Not, I have come because of your actions.
In Chap. 9 v 18, Daniel, in his prayer of repentance and supplication for forgiveness for all of Israel including himself, made a most profound statement. He prayed, “…For we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies.” I encourage you to deeply meditate on the preceding.
As previously mentioned, the fast that Almighty God had chosen was to be observed once a year on the Day of Atonement. It was also required to be a Sabbath rest to them. The Israelites kept the fast but as a mere formality as they continued to work and to do whatever pleased them. Jehovah God said, “In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your labourers.” Jehovah God mocked, “Why have we fasted, they say, and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?” Is. Ch 58 v 3.
Jehovah God gave the most surprising definition of what fasting meant to Him. He said, 6“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Observation of The Day of Atonement was supposed evoke within the observers, genuine remorse, repentance and a change in attitude among themselves.
At the beginning of Christ’s ministry, he set out to address some issues pertaining to the law that were pertinent to the spiritual well-being of those who decided to follow Him. One of which was the way in which they fasted.
He said, 16“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.
17But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18so 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” (Matt. Chap. 6 vv 16-18).
Now fasting is supposed to always be accompanied by prayer. Hence, Christ dealt with the manner in which they prayed before he addressed the manner in which they fasted. He said in verse 5, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door pray to your Father who is in the secret place and your Father who sees in secret will reward your openly.
7 But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him…”
This blog, however, is not about prayer (maybe, the next one). I just wanted to let you see the similarities between praying and fasting that God expects when we are led to fast.
We are told by Christ, to be discreet about it all and to be in seclusion. That however, is not the case nowadays. People who engage in fasting without being led by the Holy Spirit often complain about hunger, they go to work, chat on their cell phones and watch television. Some even engage in intimacy. Even Paul cautioned married people about being intimate when fasting.
Where is the discretion and seclusion in their method?
There is an instance in the New Testament/Covenant where the disciples were attempting to cast out a demon out of a young man and they were not being successful. Jesus told them they could not do it because of their unbelief. He also said, “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt. Ch. 17 vv 19-21). Clearly, the preceding is pertaining to spiritual warfare.
How can one know the kind that goes out except by prayer and fasting? Again, one has to be led by the Holy Spirit.
While it has been well documented in scripture that the act of fasting has mainly been a united effort with a specific goal and for the purpose of God’s glory, the church today continues to make it about individual desires and achievements.
Well, Paul in his letter to the Philippians, made our endeavours for asking for things quite simple. He said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Chap. 4 v 6). Absolutely no mention of fasting for twenty-one days or any number of days for that matter. As mentioned before, Christ informed the people that the Father knows the things you have need of before you even ask Him.
However, it is important to note that between the asking and the actual receiving, there will be a period of waiting where trials may emerge. This requires faith and patience. During this time, faith will be tested and so, James encourages us to, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Chap. 1 vv 2-4).
By Gail Reid