In order to grow in our walk with God we must be intentional. Like anything else, spiritual growth does not happen automatically.
Paul exhorted Timothy: “exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). He compared growing in godliness to physical exercise. Just like athletes must train and exert themselves to improve at their sport, so must Christians be committed to growing in Christ.
One of the spiritual disciplines that helps us to grow in the Lord is fasting. Simply put, fasting is to voluntarily abstain from food for a spiritual purpose. The Bible records people fasting in both the Old and New Testament. Jesus fasted and so did the early church. This is a spiritual exercise that was common to the people of God (and is also common among many other religions).
Jesus said this about fasting:
“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.”
I want to highlight two main points from this verse:
1. Jesus assumed that His followers would fast. He did not say “if you fast” but “when you fast.” Fasting is not something for super-spiritual people, but is something that all believers should practice to one degree or another.
2. When we fast, our motives must be pure. If we fast in an attempt to impress others we have missed the point and will lose out on the purpose and benefits of fasting. We must also be careful not to see fasting as a means of obtaining salvation or earning God’s love.
This is not an exhaustive list, but generally speaking there are three basic types of fasting:
1. The Total Fast- The total fast is abstaining from all food and liquids for a period of time. An example of this is when Esther and many other Jews fasted for three days when they faced the possibility of being destroyed by the evil plot of Haman (see Esther 4:16).
I would recommend not making the total fast a regular practice and only doing it when specifically led by the Holy Spirit. This seems to be primarily for extreme situations.
2. The Normal Fast- The normal fast is abstaining from all food, but drinking fluids. (You can limit it to water only or include juices and other liquids). It is called the normal fast because it is the most standard way to fast.
This is what Jesus did when He fasted for forty days in the wilderness. The text said that He was hungry after His fast but mentions nothing about thirst (see Matthew 4:1-2).
3. The Partial Fast- The partial fast is fasting from specific food items (such as meats) for a period of time. A prime example of this comes from the book of Daniel.
“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 abstained from specific foods for an extended period of time. This is where the term “Daniel Fast” comes from; it consists of only eating fruits and vegetables and is commonly done for 21 days.
It is important to be practical in your exercise of fasting. If you have never fasted before, start small and work towards longer fasts. No one runs a marathon the first time they decide to take up jogging; in the same way take steps in your spiritual growth.
If you have health issues that would limit your ability to fast, don’t ignore this. If you can only fast partially or a meal at a time, then do that.
If you are coming off of a long fast, ease yourself back into regular eating. If not, you might have some stomach problems.
I would encourage you to make fasting a regular part of your walk with God. Find a rhythm that works for you. It might be once a month, once a week, or other variations. Give yourself grace; don’t turn it into legalism. But at the same time, don’t ignore this spiritual discipline that God has given us for our growth.
Be sure to also check out 4 Spiritual Benefits of Fasting.