Why fasting in the Bible? The Bible gives numerous reasons for fasting, from repentance and mourning to preparation and power for God’s mission. When planning a fast, a believer should have a specific purpose for that fast. Scripture gives us examples for determining purposes for fasting. Let’s examine these purposes and bring light to why a Christ follower would enter into a fast.
1. To Fortify Our Prayers
Experiencing prayer and fasting together is seen throughout the Scriptures. To combine fasting with our prayer seems to add strength and impact to our prayer time as we come before the Father. Don Whitney notes,
“There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father.”
We might suggest that combining fasting with our prayer brings more weight or increases the intensity of our requests and intercessions. Daniel understood this as he sought the Lord with prayer, supplication, and fasting (Dan. 9:3).
Why fasting in the Bible? “Combining fasting with our prayer brings more weight or increases the intensity of our requests and intercessions.”
2. To Repent from Sin
When we repent from individual sin in prayer, fasting can accompany our heartfelt repentance. It is appropriate for these two experiences to be presented together before the Lord. David expressed his deep remorse with prayer and fasting in Psalm 69:10. Jonah did the same in Jonah 3:19.
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, he calls for prayer and fasting in repentance. He writes:
“As soon as a Christian recognizes that he has failed in his service, that his readiness has become feeble, and that he has sinned against another’s life and become guilty of another’s guilt, that all his joy in God has vanished and that his capacity for prayer has quite gone, it is high time for him to launch an assault upon the flesh, and prepare for better service by fasting and prayer.”
Nations can also repent from sin. In the Old Testament, Israel sinned repeatedly in its history. There is a cycle in Israel’s history that can be identified in the following manner: God abundantly blesses Israel, Israel falls away from His commands, God sends Israel into bondage, and Israel repents and is restored. As this cycle repeated, Israel’s repentance was frequently accompanied by fasting. Leaders of Israel would personally intercede for their people before the Lord, fasting and praying for their restoration. (For specific examples, see Deut. 9:19; 1 Sam. 7:1–6; Ezra 10:6; Neh. 1:4; 9:1–2; Dan. 9:1–6, 9; Joel 2:12–15; Jer. 36:9.) In Jonah 3:5–9, the prophet witnessed the king of Nineveh repenting with fasting over his people and their sin.
3. To Spiritually Prepare for Ministry
Immediately after His public baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for a time of fasting and contemplation (Matt. 4:1–11). Many scholars believe that part of Jesus’ experience in going to the wilderness was to prepare Himself for His public ministry.
His coming work would involve public and private teaching, miracles, and bringing the kingdom of God to man. Seriously seeking His Heavenly Father in the desert and spending time with Him created a spiritual foundation for this coming work.
Why fasting in the Bible? “Seriously seeking His Heavenly Father in the desert and spending time with Him created a spiritual foundation for this coming work.”
When believers are called into leadership ministry in the local church, to missionary service, or para-church ministry, an excellent way to begin their service would be to dedicate themselves to a specific time of fasting and prayer. In this time, they seek the Lord for His dynamic presence, blessing, and direction for their coming work. Through fasting, we offer ourselves completely to God without distraction, and we become increasingly aware of His purposes.
4. To Receive Power for Ministry
There is a power that’s available to serve Christ far beyond what we can do in the flesh. It is one of the major keys to effective, biblical ministry. Paul, in Ephesians 3:16, prays “that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” We must understand that either we choose to minister in the flesh through our own abilities and our own strength, or we choose to minister through the impacting influence of the Holy Spirit. While effective planning, good strategy, and careful analysis are important, they are secondary to the impact of the Holy Spirit and His presence.
Paul teaches us further in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” Again, in 2 Corinthians 4:7, he says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Why fasting in the Bible? “While effective planning, good strategy, and careful analysis are important, they are secondary to the impact of the Holy Spirit and His presence.”
How do we access this power? We access it through sincere, daily obedience to Christ. We seek Him through soaking prayer and through the ministry of fasting. They are forces that function well beyond hard work and diligence. Ronnie Floyd writes:
“God stands at our side, patiently holding yet another connection that promises to link us with one of the greatest sources of power we will ever know. It’s a source of power still underused, misunderstood, and even fear-evoking in the minds of some people. Purely and simply, it is the power of God that manifests itself through prayer and fasting.”
When we minister through the impact of the Lord’s presence, we see results that are significant. When important ministry events happen in the life of our church, severe problems present themselves, or difficult challenges appear, through fasting and prayer we find more than just solutions. We overcome and find victory! All through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit graciously working through us.
My friends, find the power and impact for your service through seeking the Lord in prayer and fasting.
5. To Discover the Lord’s Will
There is an “umbrella” will, a universal will that God has for all His people in general. Scripture gives us clear guidelines as to the Lord’s commands and directives: to live a righteous life, to lead others to faith, to serve Him, to obey His commands, to use our spiritual gifts, etc. But there is also God’s specific will, revealed to individuals and groups. When discovering God’s specific will for our lives, fasting will bring our request for divine guidance directly before the Lord.
We see this demonstrated in numerous places in Scripture. We see this from the sons of Israel praying for guidance in battle (Judg. 20:18–48), to the prayers of a blind Saul in Damascus waiting to discover the Lord’s will for his future (Acts 9:9), to the apostles seeking the Lord’s guidance in the selection of elders for the early churches (Acts 13:1–4; 14:23).
Why fasting in the Bible? “When discovering God’s specific will for our lives, fasting will bring our request for divine guidance directly before the Lord.”
It is always right to seek the Lord concerning certain, specific areas of our lives. As we pray for wisdom and discernment, we pray and add fasting to the act of seeking the Lord’s personal will for each of us. Prior to marriage, whom should we marry? Vocationally, if we receive an offer for a new position, should we take it or remain where we are? Should we sell our house or purchase a house?
Whenever we come to a “Y” in the road and need to make a decision, we should go the Lord and ask for His divine guidance. He is our Father. He knows and loves us. He knows what is best for us. We trust Him for His leading through conversations with trusted friends, through confirming signs, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and His Word. We pray and fast, asking for His specific direction.
6. To Mourn Those Lost in Death
When loved ones, friends, or acquaintances are lost in death, it is appropriate to fast to express grief. The people of Jabesh-Gilead fasted and mourned at the loss of King Saul (1 Sam. 31:8–13). David also mourned and fasted when he heard of Saul’s death and the death of Abner (2 Sam. 1:11–12; 3:31–39). In 2 Samuel 12:15–22, we see David fasting and praying for seven days for the life of the son he was to have with Bathsheba. When the baby passed, David broke his fast. When handling the grief that death brings, we can go to the Lord for comfort and help through a fast.
7. To Seek Protection from Approaching Danger
David, knowing that his strong enemies were near, pleaded with his Father to save him. In Psalm 109:24, he prayed, “My knees give way from fasting; my body is thin and gaunt.” Jonathan, son of Saul, understood that Saul was attempting to kill David. Jonathan grieved over this sin of his father through a fast (1 Sam. 20:30–34).
Ezra was worried about the long trip he was overseeing involving those who had been part of the Babylonian captivity. They had been released to return to Jerusalem. Their trip was around 900 miles! He was worried about enemies and thieves attacking them while they were traveling. Ezra 8:21–23 tells us that a fast was proclaimed for all those making the trip. Through the intercession and fasting of Ezra, the traveling group successfully made the sojourn to Jerusalem.
Why fasting in the Bible? “Just as Ezra interceded for his people, we can also intercede for others in our prayers.”
Just as Ezra interceded for his people, we can also intercede for others in our prayers. Intercessory prayer was offered in the Old Testament by Moses, David, and the Prophets. In the New Testament, Jesus our Lord interceded for His disciples in His High Priestly prayer in John 17. Paul requests in numerous places in his writings prayer from those who loved and supported him. We ask the Lord for help, healing, protection, direction, and blessing on those who need our prayer support. When we intercede for others in our times of prayer and fasting, we are displaying love, mercy, and compassion at the highest levels.
As previously mentioned, Esther also found herself in a very dangerous situation and called a complete fast to save her Jewish countrymen (Esther 4:9–14; 9:1–3).
When we sense that there is grave danger in our lives or futures, going to our Father through a fast is a very wise action. We cling to Him and make our request. The Lord will hear us and move on our behalf.
8. To Accompany Grief in Personal or Corporate Loss
In Nehemiah 1:1–4, we are told that Nehemiah hears of the destruction of Jerusalem. In deep grief over the loss of the city, he enters a time of weeping, mourning, fasting, and prayer. Daniel, grieving the Babylonian captivity that he and his friends were experiencing, calls upon the Lord through fasting and begs God for restoration (Dan. 9:1–6). When Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den, King Darius is very disturbed and fasts and stays awake all night, anticipating Daniel’s fate (Dan. 6:16–18).
Why fasting in the Bible? “When devastating grief, worry, anxiety, or fear hover over your mind and heart like a dark cloud, or when deep loss becomes part of your journey, turning to the Lord in fasting and prayer can be one of your best first moves.”
When devastating grief, worry, anxiety, or fear hover over your mind and heart like a dark cloud, or when deep loss becomes part of your journey, turning to the Lord in fasting and prayer can be one of your best first moves. Suffering has a way of focusing our experiences, thinking, and priorities. Turning to the Lord through the fast is what we need to do.
9. To Offer Worship and Praise
The prophetess Anna served “night and day” in the temple, offering up “fasting and praying” (Luke 2:36–38). Her ministry of prayer and fasting was acceptable to God as her service and work. Fasting in our private times of worship and praise impacts our experience with the Father. It can be such a rich time in His presence.
When we are together corporately, we offer up a wonderful and sweet sacrifice of adoration and worship through our singing and praying. We listen to the Word of God proclaimed, offer our material resources, and meet Jesus around His table in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. These worship expressions are all enhanced through the offering up of the fast. Fasting seems to intensify the worship experience. It helps to draw us closer to our Father as we present ourselves to Him in a heartfelt time of personal and corporate worship.
10. To Avert God’s Wrath
Wrath can be described as an emotional response to perceived wrong and injustice. It is often expressed with anger, indignation, or irritation. God’s wrath is a very real part of who He is. We need to always remember that along with the overflowing grace of God, there are dark lines in His face as well. John Stott describes God’s wrath as “His steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.” His wrath is revealed dramatically in the Old Testament when Israel repeatedly sinned through their disobedience (Exod. 32:11; Deut. 11:17; Ps. 89:46). The New Testament also describes God’s wrath, which is provoked through blatant sin and rebellion (Rom. 1:18; 2:5). His wrath is taken away through sincere repentance.
Why fasting in the Bible? “His wrath is taken away through sincere repentance.”
There may be times when a nation, state, city, church, family, or individual can evoke the wrath of God due to sin. As we repent through fasting and prayer, God meets us in His grace and forgives us.
11. To Set Aside People for Ministry Leadership
The early church prayed and fasted when setting aside specific people for leadership work. In Acts 14:23, elders for the church were being appointed. We should note that prayer and fasting were part of this process. In Acts 13:2–3, Paul and Barnabas were being set aside for missionary service. Again, the church fasted and prayed over this event. These two elements were absolutely essential to leadership selection.
The reason is evident. As the leaders of any church or para-church organization go, so goes that church or organization. The leadership team determines whether that church or organization has a healthy culture and whether it is completing its assigned mission. The leaders set the pace and example of faith and practice. When the leadership team of a church is competent, the church moves forward. A great deal of the organization’s effectiveness is determined by who is leading the church. This is why seeking the Lord through prayer and fasting before selecting significant leaders was so important in the early church. Soaking prayer and sincere fasting should always be a part of any leadership selection in the body of Christ.
Why fasting in the Bible? “Soaking prayer and sincere fasting should always be a part of any leadership selection in the body of Christ.”
As you can see, there are numerous excellent reasons to fast. Are you ready to begin incorporating fasting into your relationship with God?
 Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991), 157.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, translated by Chrs. Kaiser Verlag (London: SCM Press, 2015), 116.
 Ronnie Floyd, The Power of Prayer and Fasting: The Power of Prayer and Fasting (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997), 2.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 171
Excerpted from David Roadcup and Michael Eagle’s book Prayer and Fasting: Moving with the Spirit to Renew Our Minds, Bodies, and Churches