How do Christians fast?

When do Christians fast? Are there set times? Did Isa fast? Did he tell his followers to fast?
At the time of Isa, many religious Jews fasted regularly, sometimes up to twice a week. But Isa gave a serious warning about fasting:
When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father [God], who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Isa himself fasted for forty days and nights in the desert before beginning his public ministry of preaching, teaching and healing.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ (Matthew 4:1-4)
This was a miraculous fast, which no human being could undertake. However, Christians today do fast and they are free to choose the length and time of their fasting. When they fast on their own, they should be careful to keep it private, as Isa taught. Sometimes a group of Christians will fast together.

Benefits of fasting

Christians fast to:

  • make more time to be aware of God, to seek him, to enter into his presence and to be free from distractions;
  • show our dependence on him;
  • seek his guidance and strength;
  • and ask for his blessing.

Some churches have set aside special times for fasting – for example before Easter. Some have also defined fasting as abstaining from certain foods but not from others. However, we do not find these set times or particular foods in the Injil. They are a matter of church tradition and not essential to the Christian faith.

Fasting in the Injil

Here are two examples of fasting from the Injil. The first is from the church at Antioch in Turkey. This church came into existence about ten years after Isa’s resurrection from the dead.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)
We see here that fasting was part of their worship of the Lord. The Lord spoke to them in a special way during this time of worship and fasting. He called them to send out Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to spread the message of the gospel in new places. The church obeyed and sent them out, after a further time of fasting. They surely used this time to ask for God’s special help, protection and blessing for Paul and Barnabas.
Paul and Barnabas’ journey was successful. They visited many places and preached about Jesus. Many people believed. These new believers needed leaders, so Paul and Barnabas chose those who were suited to be elders and then appointed them.
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:23)
To be an elder was a heavy responsibility. Paul and Barnabas knew that these new groups of followers of Isa would soon face persecution. Therefore, they did not simply pray for these new elders. They fasted as well, in order to give as much time and earnestness as they could to their prayers.

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