When we first learned about fasting in college, it was easy to think that fasting was for super Christians. We assumed that such a discipline was for monks, or for people who were either in the Bible or wrote the Bible. But we were normal people with normal jobs and normal lives. Was fasting for us?
In the last twenty years, God taught us that he provides fasting for people just like us. Fasting is not for the very moral or the very strong — fasting is for the weak and the needy. The following are four needy groups of people that fasting is for.
1. Fasting is for people with needs.
Our family loves food! Food offers comfort, strength, and pleasure. At the end of a bad day, a full meal promises to make us feel better. So, going without food often seems like a huge sacrifice. But maybe it’s precisely because food is so connected to our health and emotions that God offers us fasting as a gift — to show us how much better he is at meeting our needs.
“Fasting is not for the very moral or the very strong — fasting is for the weak and the needy.”
Consider Esther. When Esther decided to approach King Xerxes and attempt to save God’s people, she first asked the Jews to fast for three days. She and her maids did likewise (Esther 4:16). She needed the king’s favor and could do nothing in her own strength to garner it before approaching him, so she fasted. And God provided Esther with such favor that she could request up to half the kingdom.
When David sinned with Bathsheba and God said that their child would die, David immediately began fasting (2 Samuel 11–12). The child still died — which serves as an important reminder that fasting is not a “magic bullet.” But David’s instinct was to fast when in need, just like Moses (Deuteronomy 9–10), Elijah (1 Kings 19), Ezra (Ezra 8), and others in the Bible.
When we talk to people with great needs, or when great needs arise in our lives, our thoughts should turn to fasting because God provides through this discipline. It is no sacrifice to go without food as a way to ask God for help. God gifts us with fasting and enables us to co-labor with Christ for God’s glory because God is glorified as he meets our needs through fasting.
2. Fasting is for people struggling with unbelief.
We all experience times of questioning whether God will take care of us or whether we “believe enough.” Trying to stir up more belief can be frustrating and unfruitful, but fasting helps us walk out faith regardless of our feelings.
“It is no sacrifice to go without food as a way to ask God for help.”
Hebrews reminds us that “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Without a God who answers prayer, fasting makes no sense at all. Sometimes while fasting we think, “This is ridiculous! How could not eating make any difference at all?” And the answer is that fasting makes a difference because God exists and rewards those who diligently seek him.
So, regardless of what we feel, we fast to say: We trust you, God, and believe you will answer our prayers during this fast because you established this discipline for your people. The act of fasting is an act of faith.
3. Fasting is for people who need a breakthrough.
When Daniel sought an interpretation for a vision, he prayed and fasted for three weeks. He then was visited by a heavenly being who said, “from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:12–13).
The angel was sent as soon as Daniel began praying, but it took him three weeks to arrive. As John Piper explained in a sermon on this passage, “It’s no accident that the messenger said that his struggle with the Prince of Persia lasted exactly the same amount of time that Daniel’s fasting and prayer did: 21 days. The reason for this is that the warfare in the spirit realm was being fought in a real sense by Daniel in the prayer realm.”
Fasting is for people who need spiritual breakthrough or deliverance.
4. Fasting is for people that need consistency in their relationship with Jesus.
Fasting is for people that need to seek God more consistently. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When we hear that verse, we think about fasting. When we fast, we set apart the three mealtimes to pray. But throughout the day, when we are hungry, we say, “God, I want to eat, but more I want you to move.” When we feel weak, we say, “God, I am weak, but I trust that you are strong.”
“Fasting is for people who need spiritual breakthrough or deliverance.”
When fasting, we are constantly aware of our hunger, and we can turn that awareness into awareness of our desperate need for God. And because we live in a world that eats three times a day, giving up food for prayer provides automatic consistency in one’s prayer life.
Is fasting for you?
It’s a myth that fasting is for the strong. Fasting is not for “super Christians.” If you have needs, struggle with unbelief, need a breakthrough, or need a more consistent walk with Jesus, God gives you the powerful gift of fasting.