How is fasting defined? Fasting is taking something highly significant to us and deciding to lay it aside or postpone it temporarily for a spiritual purpose. It can involve abstaining from everyday things such as interaction with people, noise, and hectic activity, but most often it refers to setting aside a time to go without food.
A helpful way to approach fasting is to understand its definition. Significant leaders have defined fasting in the following ways.
Richard Foster defines fasting as “the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” Ronnie Floyd states that fasting is “the abstinence from food with a spiritual goal in mind or for a spiritual purpose.” Donald Whitney gives his definition and expands the thought when he writes, “A biblical definition of fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is Christian, for fasting by a non-Christian obtains no eternal value because the Discipline’s motives and purposes are to be God-centered. It is voluntary in that fasting is not to be coerced. Fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.”
Fasting Defined: Biblical Words for Fasting
It can also be helpful to look at the biblical words which are translated as “fasting.” The Hebrew word used for fasting in the Old Testament is “tsom” ( צוֹם ). This word, used fourteen times, suggests “a period of complete abstinence from food and sometimes from drink undertaken as religious as plea to God.” The Greek word “nesteia” (νηστεία) is the New Testament word for fasting. Its primary meaning was “abstinence from food or drink or both for health, ritualistic, religious, or ethical purposes. The abstention may be complete or partial, lengthy, of short duration, or intermittent.”
Fasting Defined: Additional Methods of Fasting
Historically, fasting involves depriving oneself of food and drink. However, there are also additional ways to fast from things. Sacrificing things that are important and meaningful to us can provide a worthy substitution for food.
- Fasting from people or crowds or both is called solitude.
- Eliminating noise, hectic activity, and the din of the world is practicing silence. Technological devices such as our cell phones, computers, and tablets could be set aside for a specific time. We can fast from various forms of entertainment such as television, video gaming, and movies.
- We could fast from hurry, complaining, and expressing negative attitudes. Fasting from bitterness and unforgiveness could lead to significant emotional and spiritual healing.
- First Corinthians 7:4–6 tells us that married couples can agree to refrain from marital relations for a time for spiritual purposes. Paul teaches that this form of fasting should be mutually agreed upon with a start and finish time so as not to give Satan a place of power in spiritual warfare.
We could fast from hurry, complaining, and expressing negative attitudes.
In his excellent work on the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Lloyd-Jones states,
To make the matter complete, we would add that fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not only be confined to the questions of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.
Fasting Defined: Characteristics of Fasting
At its root, fasting is taking something highly significant to us and deciding to lay it aside or postpone it temporarily for a spiritual purpose. As you seek to learn more about fasting, consider the following characteristics of Christian fasting.
- Fasting and our call to it is initiated by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Fasting calls for a definite, proactive decision of obedience.
- Fasting takes determination.
- Fasting takes planning.
- Fasting calls for using a “blow torch” to cut a place for a date in our planning calendars.
- Fasting, if married, means communicating our plans to our family.
- Fasting is not easy; it’s hard, uncomfortable, sacrificial, and involves self-denial.
- Fasting provides the opportunity to step out of our normal routines to gain a clearer perspective.
- Fasting is a way to reboot the internal heart hard drive.
- Fasting is one of the gateways to significant spiritual growth.
- Fasting will stretch us to wonderful, new places of understanding and discernment.
- Fasting is a form of worship and adoration.
- Fasting involves prayer before our Father.
- Fasting brings us into a world of wonder around our Father’s throne.
- Fasting is spiritually, mentally, and physically restorative.
- Fasting exposes Satan’s intense opposition to our desire to grow spiritually.
- Fasting is normally surrounded by spiritual warfare. Plan on it.
- Fasting brings power to prayer and to our ministries.
- Fasting is an impactful experience, bringing blessing to us as God’s children.
- Fasting sincerely before our Father brings Him pleasure.
This ancient practice needs to be part of every believer’s journey.
Our hope is to convince you that this ancient practice needs to be part of every believer’s journey. We really can learn how to build this discipline into the ebb and flow of our normal schedules. By examining Scripture and the practices of saints who have gone before us, we can incorporate this ancient practice as part of our lives so that it can empower us for ministry and personal spiritual growth.
 “Spiritual Disciplines: A Practical Strategy,” Renovare. https://renovare.org/about/ideas/spiritual-disciplines (accessed June 25, 2020).
 Ronnie Floyd, The Power of Prayer and Fasting: The Power of Prayer and Fasting (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997), 3.
 Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 152.
 “Chapter II Biblical Perspective of Fasting and Its Development through the Inter-Testamental and Post Biblical Period,” AP Messiah Party Nepal, July 12, 2012. http://apmessiahparty.blogspot.com/2012/07/chapter-ii-biblical-perspecive-of.html (accessed June 25, 2020).
 “Fasting,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/fasting (accessed June 25, 2020).
 Martin Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), vol. 1, 38.
Excerpted from David Roadcup and Michael Eagle’s book Prayer and Fasting: Moving with the Spirit to Renew Our Minds, Bodies, and Churches.