Every year, millions of people go through the spiritual discipline of fasting. It’s not the easiest thing to do because resisting food is hard! Like, wouldn’t you choose, say, two luscious pieces of Chickenjoy served with gravy and piping hot rice, over an hour of prayer?

Still, there must be many reasons many Christians deny themselves the joy of a good meal and replace it with the joy of prayer instead. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Fasting can result in joy?

Oh yes!

Good Grief: Fasting in the Old Testament

For one thing, the Hebrew word for fast is tsom, while its Greek translation is nesteia; both words mean the same thing: “self-denial.” There are many reasons for fasting in the Old Testament, but many Bible scholars believe that fasting as a spiritual discipline started with particular individuals who denied themselves the joy of food because of their situations:

  • Hannah was so distressed about her infertility that she “wept and would not eat” (1 Samuel 1:7)
  • Jonathan did not eat anything because of an incident between him and his father King Saul (1 Samuel 20:34)
  • Ahab would not touch any food until he owns Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:4)
  • David pleaded with God for his son’s life (2 Samuel 12:15-23)  

Soon, fasting was being done on a national level:

  • During the annual Day of Atonement there was only one fast that was commanded (Leviticus 16:29)
  • Fasting days were instituted on certain specific days and months after the downfall of Jerusalem (Zechariah 7:3, 5, 8:19)
  • Leaders of Israel declared fasting on a national scale during imminent wars (Judges 20:26; 2 Chronicles 20:3) or pestilence (Joel 1:13)

Eventually, this practice of fasting became connected with an appearance of grief:

  • David expresses his grief through fasting when Abner died (2 Samuel 3:35)
  • The Psalmist also conveys his sorrow about the unfortunate condition of his enemies (Psalm 35:13)
  • It shows a personal “affliction” of one’s soul and body as well (Isaiah 58:3-5)  

Pray Real Fast: Fasting in the New Testament

When fasting shows up in the New Testament, we see it in a different light, primarily because of its twin: prayer. Characters who submitted to the will of God by denying their fleshly desires to fast and pray found they were sensitive to the direction of the Holy Spirit. God’s people were no longer bound by regular fixed dates, unlike in the Old Testament:

  • Jesus famously fasted for forty days before He formally began His public ministry (Matthew 1:12-13)
  • Some disciples were told that demons were forced to leave by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21, KJV)

What Prayer and Fasting Can Do

Prayer coupled with fasting is a powerful spiritual discipline that will unlock a great number of spiritual doors in the life of a Christian believer as we continue to honor God and make disciples.

Here’s the thing: fasting without prayer and reading of God’s word is just plain physical weight loss. Denying our stomachs to meditate on the Word of God–Jesus Himself said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)–is an expression of humble submission to God’s will.

Fasting with prayer and meditation of God’s Word will move not just the physical reality but the spiritual realm as well. It helps you clearly hear the voice of the Spirit in your personal moment of devotion. It deepens one’s intimate relationship with God, giving you sensitive insight of the Holy Spirit’s leading, aside from spiritual breakthroughs so we could do His will in our personal life, our family, our campuses, our workplace, and our nation.  

What usually comes with breakthrough? JOY. Oh, yes, the kind that feels better than fried chicken and gravy over hot rice.

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This article is based on “The Theology of Fasting” by Pastor Jun Divierte.