Purpose of this Session
To look at the benefits of fasting both spiritually and practically.
During His time on earth Jesus taught His disciples the principles of the Kingdom of God. In the sermon on the mount a triplet of principles is presented; “when ye pray…”, “when ye give…” and “when ye fast…”
Jesus did not say if you fast, but when. He placed fasting alongside prayer and giving as a normal and expected part of Christian lifestyle.
The specific verses we refer to concerning fasting are found in Matthew 6:16-18. Take 2 minutes right now to look them up and note down what you find out.
For the purposes of this session we define fasting as follows:
Fasting is the practice of voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.
(Fasting may also include abstaining from such normal activities as sleep, recreation, and other special enjoyments, but abstinence from food is what is generally referred to in the Bible)
When we add fasting to prayer our effectiveness in the spiritual realm is intensified. The implication from the teachings of Jesus recorded in Scripture even suggest that there are certain victories that simply cannot be won without engaging in the spiritual discipline of fasting:
“However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.””(Mat 17:21)
Jesus Teaching and Example Concerning Fasting
On several occasions throughout Scripture we witness Jesus teaching about fasting. We have already considered His reference in the sermon on the mount.
He speaks of fasting again in Mark 2:18-20. Fasting was a regular practice among the Jews at this time, and also for the disciples of John. When Jesus is questioned why His disciples are not fasting in like manner He replies that the day will come when His disciples will fast, “and then shall they [the disciples of Jesus] fast in those days.” Those days that Jesus refers to are the days in which we now live, anticipating His return.
Jesus own life was also marked with periods of fasting. The most notable season of fasting was His forty day abstinence from food recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. It is also worth recognising that Jesus went out to the wilderness at the beginning of His fast, “full of the Spirit” (Luke 4:1), but “returned in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Mahesh Chavda speaks of similar experiences of enduement of supernatural power as a result of fasting in His excellent book, “The Hidden Power of Prayer and Fasting”.
This fast was the final phase in Christ’s preparation for His public ministry. Fasting also plays a part in the preparation of His disciples for effective fulfilment of God’s call upon their lives.
Fasting was the regular practice of the early church
The Scriptures also record that Jesus’ example was followed fervently by the early church. Individually the disciples (meaning “disciplined ones”) fasted as part of their devoted lifestyle. Paul, for example, speaks of proving his ministry as an Apostle through many “fastings” among other things (2 Cor 6:3-10). He reiterates in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 that the lifestyle of a true minister of Christ will include “fastings often”.
Collective fasting was also a part of early church culture. It was part of their corporate ministry to God. Luke records in Acts how the church fasted, ministering unto God, and received direction from the Holy Spirit. They then fasted again in response to God’s directions (Acts 13:1-3). We see a similar practice in Acts 14:21-23 when Barnabas and Paul confirm the churches in the faith and ordain elders.
Clearly the practice of fasting, both personally and corporately was not strange to the early church, and nor should it be to the church of Jesus Christ today.