Purpose of this Session
Various lengths of fast are spoken of in Scripture, but the real determiner of the effectiveness of your fasting will not be the number of days or weeks, instead it will be your heart attitude that draws God’s blessing and power into your situation.
Examples of fasting length in Scripture include:
i. One day (from sunrise to sunset) Judg 20:26; 1Sam 14:24; 2Sam 1:12;3:35
ii. One night Daniel 6:18
iii. 3 days and nights Esther 4:16
iv. 7 days 1Sam 31:13; 1Chr10:12; 2Sam 12:16-18
v. 21 days Dan 10:3
vi. 40 days and nights Moses Ex 34:28; Elijah 1King 19:8;
Jesus Luke 4; Matt 4
vii. Continually (as a lifestyle) Luke 2:37
The duration of a fast and the type of fast is determined by the person entering into the fast. On a practical level, particularly if you a new to fasting, realistic goals should be set, and then developed as the body and spirit grow used to the discipline. A three day full fast (drinking only liquids) is realistic for almost anyone (although a doctor should be consulted prior to the fast if there are medical reasons why this may present problems).
The attitude of the heart during a fast
A very important element of any fast is the attitude of heart. God responds to the genuine, sincere, and humble heart of the faster, not a proud and religious show-off, full of pretence. The Scriptures tackle this point head on, both in the Old and the New Testaments.
Jesus made it very clear that fasting alone does not impress God. He reviled the idea of fasting with a proud religious attitude (Matthew 6:16; Luke 18:9-14). Paul, who advocated bringing under the flesh and not living according to the dictates of the stomach or appetites), also pointed out that aestheticism (strict and harsh discipline of the body, self-abasement) is not from the Spirit of God (Col 2:18,23).
Isaiah in the Old Testament castigates hypocritical fasting in Isaiah 58, lamenting the hardened hearts of those accusing God of inaction. Jeremiah similarly endorses God’s refusal to heed a people full of religious ritual but in their heart far from God (Jeremiah 14:12).
Some of the attitudes criticised in such records are:
i. Hypocrisy (Matt 6:16)
ii. Self-abasement and external show of humility to appear spiritual before men (Matt 6:16; Joel 2:13)
iii. Desire for the praises of men rather than the commendation of God (Matt 6:16)
iv. Religious pride, believing God is impressed or indebted to us because we fast (Luke 18:12)
v. Continuing in selfish, secular lifestyles despite claiming to fast and repent, no real self-humbling (Isaiah 58:3)
vi. Failing to turn from evil attitudes of greed, selfishness, pride and oppression (Isaiah 58:4)
vii. Attitudes of legalism (the yoke), criticism (pointing the finger) and insincerity (speaking vanity) (Isaiah 58:9-10)
The act of fasting is indeed a humbling of the heart, and a form of mourning over our sins and the sins of the nations. If the attitude of the heart is right, fasting promises many rewards.
The attitude of the heart that pleases the Lord in fasting:
i. Unpretentious, private, secret devotion to God (Matthew 6:18)
ii. Faith that God will reward (Matthew 6:16)
iii. Humility and repentance (Joel 2:12-13; Dan 9:3-5)
iv. Worshipful, ministering to the Lord (Acts 13:2; Luke 2:37)
v. In agreement with God and with others (Isa 58:9-10)
vi. Generous and open to practically help others; not ‘super-spiritual’ (Isa 58: 7)
vii. Prayerful (Isaiah 58:9; Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 9:3; Acts 10:30)
viii. Set apart from other affections and appetites (1Cor 7:5)