Biblical Fasting: Tips For A Spiritual Fast


Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible. It involves voluntarily abstaining from food and drink for a period of time, as an act of devotion to God. Fasting is often accompanied by prayer and repentance as a way to focus the mind on God and humble oneself before Him.

In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore what the Bible teaches about fasting by looking at key passages in both the Old and New Testaments. We will examine the purposes, types, and guidelines for fasting, as well as common questions surrounding this spiritual practice. Our goal is to gain a balanced, biblical understanding of fasting that enables us to apply it appropriately and effectively in our lives today.

Key Takeaways

  • Fasting in the Bible served several spiritual purposes like repentance, mourning, seeking God’s guidance, and expressing devotion.
  • Major fasts in the Old Testament include the Day of Atonement, mourning fasts, and fasts of repentance.
  • Jesus fasted at the beginning of His ministry and taught that fasting should be done with the right heart motive.
  • Biblical fasting involves abstaining from food but not from water. It was typically a daytime fast.
  • Fasting requires self-control, humility, and intentionality if it is to be effective spiritually.
  • The Bible gives instructions and cautions for fasting but does not command mandatory fasts.
  • Fasting is associated with intense prayer and a deep reliance on God.
Biblical Fasting: Tips For A Spiritual Fast

Purposes of Fasting in the Bible

Fasting served several important purposes in the Bible. Here are some of the primary reasons people fasted based on Scripture:


Fasting was often connected with repentance and confession of sin. When God’s people strayed from Him, fasting was a means to demonstrate remorse and a change of heart. For example, God called for a fast in Joel 2:12 when He said, “Yet even now…return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

Seeking God’s Guidance and Protection

Fasting was a way to set aside regular activities and focus intently on God during critical times when divine guidance or intervention was needed. The book of Esther describes when Queen Esther, her servants, and the Jewish people fasted for three days before she went before the king to save the Jews from destruction (Esther 4:16).


There are numerous instances in the Bible when fasting accompanied grieving after the death of a loved one or in response to national tragedies. Fasting expresses inner sorrow through denying oneself the comfort of food. For example, when King David’s baby was sick, he fasted and wept until the child died (2 Samuel 12:16).

Repentance and mourning for sin

Often fasting, weeping, and mourning went together as a means to grieve over personal and corporate sin. Ezra showed this when he tore his garments, pulled hair from his head and beard, and sat appalled over the unfaithfulness of exiled Israelites (Ezra 9:3-4).

Preparation for spiritual warfare

Before times of spiritual confrontation or warfare, fasting helped bolster faith and dependence on God. Jesus fasted 40 days before His temptation in the wilderness to prepare for spiritual battle (Matthew 4:1-2).

Expressing devotion to God

Fasting was a way to express love, devotion, and undivided attention to God. The prophetess Anna “worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” at the temple as an act of devotion to the Lord (Luke 2:36-37).

Part of a consecration ritual

In the Old Testament, fasting was often required as part of the rituals when priests or prophets were consecrated to office. It showed humility, cleansing, and preparation to serve God (Leviticus 8:33-35).

So in summary, the purposes of fasting according to Scripture include repentance, seeking God’s guidance, mourning, expressing grief over sin, preparing for spiritual battle, expressing devotion to God, and consecrating oneself to divine service. These show fasting is a valuable spiritual discipline.

Major Fasts in the Old Testament

Several major fasts are mentioned in the Old Testament. Here are some of the most significant ones:

Day of Atonement

This fast was required yearly on the Day of Atonement as the people’s sins were atoned for and they were reconciled to God (Leviticus 23:26-32). This was a Sabbath of complete rest with a strict fast.

National fasts in times of crisis

There were occasional national fasts proclaimed in the Old Testament in times of crisis or impending war. Jehoshaphat called for such a fast in 2 Chronicles 20:3 when a great multitude was coming against Judah.

Mourning fasts

After the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, the people held a fasting vigil and wept for them (1 Samuel 31:13). Other leaders like David also called for official times of mourning with fasting when a tragedy occurred.

Fast of repentance

After the exile, Ezra led a fast of repentance for the sins of the people that led to God’s judgment (Ezra 8:21-23). This was accompanied by confession, worship, and renewed covenant commitment.

Personal fasts

Individuals like David, Elijah, Hannah, Daniel, and Nehemiah practiced personal fasts as well, sometimes in dire circumstances. These show fasting can be an intimate expression of devotion between God and an individual.

So in the Old Testament, fasting was particularly associated with mourning, repentance, and seeking God urgently in times of crisis or before major spiritual events. While not commanded continually, it was a key part of Israel’s spiritual heritage.

Jesus’ Teaching on Fasting

What was Jesus’ approach to fasting? He provided significant insight and warnings about proper motivations for fasting.

Jesus expected His followers to fast

In giving instructions about not showboating spiritual practices, Jesus said “when you fast…” not “if you fast” (Matthew 6:16-18). He assumed fasting would be part of their spiritual discipline.

Fasting should be motivated by a desire to please God

Jesus highlighted the problem of religious hypocrisy surrounding fasting in His day. He cautioned against trying to impress others while masking inner unrighteousness. Instead, we should fast to please God alone.

Fasting must be accompanied by right heart motivations

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus linked fasting to heart motives like mourning, humility, purity, and compassion – not to be done for outward piety alone (Matthew 5-7). External fasting is of no value unless joined with inward seeking of God.

Fasting involves self-denial and sacrifice

Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness demonstrated that fasting requires denying normal comforts and appetites to focus on God and His will (Luke 4:1-4). It trains our flesh to submit to the Spirit.

Fasting should be discreet – between the person and God

Jesus taught that fasting should be a private expression between the believer and God, not shown off to create public admiration (Matthew 6:16-18).

So Jesus upheld fasting as a valued spiritual practice for His followers if done with the right motives and attitude of the heart. It should bea private expression of devotion to God.

How to Fast Biblically

How did people fast in the Bible? Here are some guidelines that emerge:

Abstaining from food…not water

While abstaining from all food, people typically continued drinking water during their fasts. For example, after going without food for 40 days, Jesus was hungry but there is no mention of thirst (Matthew 4:2).

Abstaining from what is pleasant

Daniel’s fast involved giving up tasty foods like meat and wine as he limited himself to plain vegetables, water, and simple grains (Daniel 10:2-3). Fasting requires sacrificing normal pleasures and comforts.

Skipping just one meal

Fasts could be part-day or partial fasts. For example, in Judges 20 the Israelites fasted until evening but ate after sundown. So fasts did not have to extend 24 hours.

Individual or corporate fasts

Fasts were observed by individuals, families, or called for corporately across the nation. Josiah called for a national fast of repentance in 2 Chronicles 34. Esther fasted individually at first but then called a corporate 3-day fast.

Accompanied by confession and worship

Fasting included elements of worship like sacrifice, praise, reading Scripture, and prayer. It was not just “going without food” but active realignment with God. Ezra led a corporate fast that included “weeping and casting himself down before the house of God” (Ezra 10:1).

Wearing sackcloth and ashes

Donning sackcloth made of goat hair and ashes was often associated with Old Testament fasting as an outward sign of grief for sin and seeking God’s mercy. However, Jesus cautioned against making a show of the sackcloth (Matthew 6:16-18).

Daytime fasts

Most fasts we read about in Scripture involve abstaining from food during daylight hours but eating after sundown. For example, King Saul instructed a fast “until evening” (1 Samuel 14:24). This allowed people to maintain their strength and work.

So in summary, biblical fasting generally involved abstaining from all food but continuing to drink water. It included elements of worship and repentance. And it was typically a daytime fast followed by eating a evening meal.

Benefits and Cautions Regarding Fasting

What are some benefits and cautions about fasting based on insights from Scripture?


  • Deepens dependence on God
  • Allows for undivided focus on God
  • Promotes humility, awareness of weakness
  • Encourages repentance
  • Expresses devotion and reverence for God
  • Releases God’s power through subduing the flesh


  • Fasting can become a legalistic requirement if not voluntary
  • It can breed spiritual pride without love for others
  • It becomes ineffective if done with wrong motives
  • It is unhealthy if maintained too long without proper nutrients
  • Scripture warns against overemphasis on outward form without repentant hearts

In summary, fasting clearly has spiritual benefits in Scripture when done properly. But people are warned against turning it into a legalistic requirement or using it to establish self-righteousness. Scripture ultimately cares most about the state of people’s hearts.

Common Questions About Fasting

Here are concise biblical answers to some common questions people have regarding fasting:

Should Christians fast today?

Yes, Jesus expected it would be part of our spiritual practices, but gave warnings about motivations and attitude.

How often should I fast?

No specific frequency is given, but weekly 24-hour fasts were common. Individuals can fast more often as led by the Spirit.

How long should I fast?

Most fasts in Scripture lasted a portion or all of a day until evening. Moses and Elijah fasted 40 days, but this is exceptional.

Should fasting be required by my church?

No, Scripture does not prescribe commanded fasting but voluntary fasting with joy, not legalistic requirement.

Can I fast if I have health issues?

Those with health concerns should consult a doctor before extended fasting and adapt to what their body can handle.

Should pregnant or nursing mothers fast?

They should not do extensive or long fasts that would compromise health, but can participate in partial fasts.

Can children fast?

Older children can be introduced to age-appropriate short fasts with parental guidance, but forcing fasting could be unhealthy.

So in summary, fasting is recommended but not rigidly commanded for believers. Those with health concerns should proceed cautiously. The focus should remain on cultivating an attitude of devotion to God.


In conclusion, fasting is repeatedly presented in Scripture as a beneficial spiritual discipline when practiced biblically with the right heart motives. It powerfully expresses devotion, humility, purification, and reliance on God. Jesus did not question whether His followers would fast but stressed fasting is most meaningful when approached as a private spiritual devotion to God, not to prove our own piety.

While the Bible does not impose mandated fasts, it presents many examples of individuals, leaders, and entire nations fasting voluntarily when faced with desperate circumstances, grievous sin, or urgent needs for God’s intervention. Esther 4:16 summarizes the spirit of fasting well: “Fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

As we fast biblically, let us do so with expectant faith and undivided focus on God, longing to align ourselves more closely with Him.

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