I encourage you to check out the insights of Dr. Bill Bright, Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, regarding fasting. His Seven Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer and his Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer are both excellent resources written from a solid, biblical and evangelical perspective.
Following are a few rough notes from my own files regarding Scriptural principles of prayer and fasting.
NOTES ON FASTING
When coupled with prayer, fasting becomes God’s great “accelerator” in Kingdom advance. Things happen when we fast and pray with a pure heart, that do not happen when we pray only.
“"Say to all your people and your priests, ‘During those seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and at the festival in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting?” (Zec 7:5 NLT)
“‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have done much penance, and you don’t even notice it!’ "I will tell you why! It’s because you are living for yourselves even while you are fasting. You keep right on oppressing your workers.” (Isa 58:3 NLT)
"14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, 15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. 18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. 19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:14-21, KJV)There are two basic, Scriptural motivations for fasting. (These can occur simultaneously):
1. Fasts of contrition and repentance (in the Old Testament, often accompanied by sackcloth and ashes, etc. 2 Sam. 12:16; Neh. 9:1; etc.)
"16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground." (2 Samuel 12:16, NIV)
" On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God." (Nehemiah 9:1-3, NIV)
" 2 It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the Lord. 3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only. 5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel was leader of Israel at Mizpah." (1 Samuel 7:2-6, NIV)
"17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’ ” 20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!” “I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. 21 ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.’ 23 “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’ 24 “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.” 25 (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.) 27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.” " (1 Kings 21:17-29, NIV)2. Fasts of separation unto the Lord in order to encounter Him in fresh way (brings more revelation, power, victory, for the consecration of spiritual leaders, etc.)
" In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes … 18 Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” 20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision:" (Daniel 9:1-3, 18-23, NIV)Both of these kinds of fasting are important for spiritual breakthrough.
THERE ARE SEVERAL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FASTING AND PERIODS OF TIME FOR FASTING (morning ‘till evening, three days, seven days, 21 days, forty days)
1. Absolute, total fast (neither bread nor water)
This is very, very rare (Moses, for example, did it when he spent forty days in God’s manifest presence on the mountain during the giving of the Law of the Covenant and was sustained supernaturally during that time.
Interestingly, there is no evidence that Moses planned this particular kind of fast out in advance. It is just something that happened, almost as a by-product of his encounter with God. It could be argued that Moses did not know when he went up on the mountain how long he would be there or that he would fast. He simply entered into God’s awesome presence on the mountain where there was neither food nor water and did not come out until God was done talking to him…!
“Moses was up on the mountain with the LORD forty days and forty nights. In all that time he neither ate nor drank. At that time he wrote the terms of the covenant—the Ten Commandments—on the stone tablets.” (Ex 34:28 NLT)
“So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days. And all that time he went without food and water.” (Ac 9:9 NLT)
2. Fasting all food (but not water or other liquids)
This appears to me to be the most common type of fasting in the Scripture.
This appears to be the kind of fast that Jesus did in the desert during forty days. Doctor Luke says, “He ate nothing…”
“1 ¶ Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit to go out into the wilderness, 2 where the Devil tempted him for forty days. He ate nothing all that time and was very hungry.” (Lu 4:1-2 NLT)3. Fasting until evening
“Then all the Israelites went up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the LORD and fasted until evening. They also brought burnt offerings and peace offerings to the LORD.” (Jud 20:26 NLT)4. Fasting certain kinds of foods.
“1 ¶ In the third year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar) had another vision. It concerned events certain to happen in the future—times of war and great hardship—and Daniel understood what the vision meant. 2 When this vision came to me, I, Daniel, had been in mourning for three weeks. 3 All that time I had eaten no rich food or meat, had drunk no wine, and had used no fragrant oils.” (Da 10:1-3 NLT)
“1 ¶ During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it with his armies. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah. When Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon, he took with him some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God and placed them in the treasure-house of his god in the land of Babylonia. 3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, who was in charge of the palace officials, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 "Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men," he said. "Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good sense, and have the poise needed to serve in the royal palace. Teach these young men the language and literature of the Babylonians." 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of the best food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for a three-year period, and then some of them would be made his advisers in the royal court. 6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief official renamed them with these Babylonian names: Daniel was called Belteshazzar. Hananiah was called Shadrach. Mishael was called Meshach. Azariah was called Abednego. 8 ¶ But Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief official for permission to eat other things instead. 9 Now God had given the chief official great respect for Daniel. 10 But he was alarmed by Daniel’s suggestion. "My lord the king has ordered that you eat this food and wine," he said. "If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded for neglecting my duties." 11 Daniel talked it over with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief official to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 12 "Test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water," Daniel said. 13 "At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king’s rich food. Then you can decide whether or not to let us continue eating our diet." 14 So the attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. 16 So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the rich foods and wines. 17 ¶ God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of the time. And God gave Daniel special ability in understanding the meanings of visions and dreams.” (Da 1:1-17 NLT)5. Fasting from certain human practices
Paul’s statement concerning a married couple abstaining from sexual relations for a time in order to seek the Lord. He clearly states that this should only be done if both partners desire it and only for a brief period of time, so as not to be a license to sexual sin.
This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misused passages in Scripture, and should never be used as an excuse in a marriage for one partner to deprive the other of the intimacy, pleasure, and physical release that God has intended sex to be for married couples.
“1 ¶ Now about the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to live a celibate life. 2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. 3 The husband should not deprive his wife of sexual intimacy, which is her right as a married woman, nor should the wife deprive her husband. 4 The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband also gives authority over his body to his wife. 5 So do not deprive each other of sexual relations. The only exception to this rule would be the agreement of both husband and wife to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time, so they can give themselves more completely to prayer. Afterward they should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt them because of their lack of self-control. 6 This is only my suggestion. It’s not meant to be an absolute rule. 7 I wish everyone could get along without marrying, just as I do. But we are not all the same. God gives some the gift of marriage, and to others he gives the gift of singleness. 8 Now I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. 9 But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.” (1Co 7:1-9 NLT)This principle of fasting from certain pleasurable practices can bring great spiritual benefit when applied to other time-consuming things such as television, sports, etc.
WHAT ARE THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS TO FASTING?
1. When I fast, I align myself with God’s Kingdom
Jesus said, “When you fast…” not “If you fast…”
* Jesus Himself declared that when He was taken away, His disciples would fast.
Angels and demons are watching us and fasting is one way to signal which kingdom we belong to.
So do not be surprised if Satan fights you while you fast!
2. When I fast, I am strengthened spiritually.
Fasting is not a “hunger strike.”
We can not starve God into doing anything or starve a demon out of anyone. However, Satan’s basic agenda for our lives is to take our spirits off the throne of our lives and put our bodies or our emotions or our minds on the throne of our lives (or, to invade our spirits with his demonic spirits – this strategy shows how Satan himself realizes that human beings are the most powerful when they are led through their spirits by his evil spirits.)
Fasting causes me to focus on the spiritual part of my existence and, if accompanied by increased communion with God results in my becoming stronger spiritually.
* Jesus fasted forty days and at the end of them was physically hungry, but spiritually strong.
He was able to confront three direct temptations brought to Him by the devil himself and overcome them through rightly applying Kingdom truths revealed in God’s Holy Word. He came out of that fast, “clothed in the power of the Spirit,” with such an anointing upon Him that demons came out while He was preaching…! Through His preaching, He so shook the Kingdom of Satan that demons incited a horde of “church people” to try and kill Him…! (cast Him off of a cliff.)
We must never think that prayer and fasting will make all of our problems go away. Rather, sometimes they provoke more serious problems than ever, but, as we pray through those problems and move forward in the power of the Spirit, more territory is taken than ever before…!
3. When I fast, I become more spiritually sensitive.
Sometimes God wants to speak to me things that I am not positioned or even willing to hear. My mind, my emotions, my body rebel against what His Spirit is saying to me through my spirit and I fail to discern and obey His promptings. Fasting helps clear away that “interference” so that I can clearly hear the voice of the Spirit.
God sometimes exposes sin and uncovers problems when we fast. He also gives us fresh, new revelation that we would not have otherwise.
Daniel set himself to fast and pray and seek the Lord in order to receive revelation from the Lord that would explain the vision.
“1 ¶ In the third year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar) had another vision. It concerned events certain to happen in the future—times of war and great hardship—and Daniel understood what the vision meant. 2 When this vision came to me, I, Daniel, had been in mourning for three weeks. 3 All that time I had eaten no rich food or meat, had drunk no wine, and had used no fragrant oils. 4 On April 23, as I was standing beside the great Tigris River, 5 I looked up and saw a man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. 6 His body looked like a dazzling gem. From his face came flashes like lightning, and his eyes were like flaming torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice was like the roaring of a vast multitude of people.” (Da 10:1-6 NLT)Cornelius
Cornelius set aside a special time of prayer an fasting and had an angelic encounter that changed the course of history.
“30 Cornelius replied, "Four days ago I was praying in my house at three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayers have been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send some men to Joppa and summon Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a leatherworker who lives near the shore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now here we are, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you."” (Ac 10:30-33 NLT)Antioch
* It was through a time of prayer and fasting (and worship), while the church at Antioch was waiting on the Lord that the Holy Spirit spoke and revealed God’s plan to send Paul and Barnabas forth to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. That spiritually mature church then gave themselves to more prayer and fasting before laying their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sending them forth. It would appear that additional confirmation and perhaps even clarification came through prayer and fasting.
“1 ¶ Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called "the black man"), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. 2 One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work I have for them." 3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.” (Ac 13:1-3 NLT)
“21 After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned again to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, 22 where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that they must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations. 23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church and prayed for them with fasting, turning them over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had come to trust.” (Ac 14:21-23 NLT)Anna
Anna, the widow, worshipped, fasted, and prayed and had a special encounter with Jesus that others did not have…!
“36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, and was very old. She was a widow, for her husband had died when they had been married only seven years. 37 She was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.” (Lu 2:36-37 NLT)