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Understanding Fasting

by Josh Willaford, Executive Director of SEU Ohio

Hello SEU Ohio Family,

As you know, we've started the year off as a campus by dedicating ourselves to an intentional time of focused prayer and fasting. Over the years, I've noticed that fasting is often a point of confusion for many believers. So as a part of this devotional journey, I wanted to unpack for you a biblical framework for understanding fasting.

What is Fasting?

Fasting, in the most traditional sense, is the practice of abstaining from eating food or certain foods as a spiritual discipline. For some, this takes the form of only drinking water for a specified period. For instance, Jesus drank only water during His forty-day fast. In other cases, it was the removal of certain types of foods. In the case of Daniel, he did not eat the decadent food of the king's table to demonstrate that God would care for his body.

In any case, fasting is self-denial. In simple terms, fasting is removing the physical to make room for the spiritual. On every occasion fasting is mentioned in the Scripture prayer is also mentioned. The two are indelibly tied together. In practical terms, fasting a meal means that you replace it with prayer. Fasting is a time of more intentional, focused prayer. Each time that you feel the pangs of hunger or the longing for a piece of pizza, you are reminded to pray.

Where is fasting mentioned in the Bible?

Here are a handful of the mentions of fasting in the Bible:

  • In Exodus 34:28, Moses fasted before receiving the ten commandments.

  • In 2 Chronicles 20:2-3, the Israelites fasted before going into a victorious battle.

  • In Daniel 9:3; 21-23, Daniel fasted to receive guidance from God.

  • In Nehemiah 1:4, Nehemiah fasts as he prepared to make a dangerous and bold request of the king.

  • In Joel 2:12, a fast was started to demonstrate a depth of desire for the Lord.

  • In Ezra 8:23, a fast brought about the release of God’s divine power.

  • While some fasts were personal, others were corporate: 1 Samuel 7:5-6, Ezra 8:21-23, Nehemiah 9:1-3, Joel 2:15-16, Jonah 3:5-10, Acts 27:33-37

  • In Act 13:2-3, a fast resulted in the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas toward the world’s first missionary endeavor.

  • In Luke 4, Jesus fasts for forty days in preparation for His mission and to keep fresh the connection He had with the Father.

Why is fasting important?

Fasting is a symbol. It’s a bold statement that we don’t find our deepest nourishment from food. Our deepest, most fulfilling nourishment comes from the presence of God. In fasting, we partake of the bread of life which satisfies our innermost being. For Jesus, fasting was not simply the activity of a few spiritual superstars. Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 6:16-18:

“'And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Notice Jesus says, “When you fast…” This is not “If you fast…” Jesus believed and demonstrated that fasting is a regular element of the life of those who follow God. In this verse, He also shapes the intention of fasting. For the Pharisees, fasting was an outward display of their spirituality. The goal was to impress the crowd with their piety. However, Jesus wasn’t buying what they were selling. If fasting morphs into a demonstration, then the value of the action is lost. If the righteous intention remains, then the results will be sourced from God’s infinite resources.

How can you fast?

There are several approaches to fasting. Remember that you should take into consideration your physical health when you fast any kind of food. While some are physically able to endure a full fast, others can only undertake partial or Daniel fast because of underlying physical concerns or physically strenuous jobs that require more exertion. Be wise and capture the intention and the heart of the activity.

  • Full fast - water only

  • Full fast - liquids only such as juice or herbal tea

  • Partial fast

  • Fast breakfast/lunch with mild dinner

  • Fasting from sunup to sundown

  • Daniel Fast - no meat, dairy, processed foods, refined sugars. Only whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, seeds, water, and fruit juice are permitted.

For another resource on fasting and more details about the Daniel Fast, visit:

What can you expect when you’re fasting?

When you fast your body detoxifies, eliminating toxins from your system. The detoxification can cause mild discomforts such as headaches and irritability during withdrawal from caffeine and sugars. And naturally, you will have hunger pains. You should Limit your activity and exercise moderately. Additionally, you want to take extra time to rest.

How should you end a fast?

Don't overeat when the time comes to end your fast. Begin eating solid food gradually, eating small portions or snacks.

What are some things to keep in mind? While the type of fasting described in the Bible is most often related to food, there are other types of self-denial for spiritual purposes. Remember, fasting is removing something physical to make space for spiritual things in your life. For instance, Paul seems to indicate that married couples can fast sexual intimacy for a season to replace it with prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5). In the modern age, fasting has come to take additional forms. With the constant barrage of media, we experience from day to day, some choose to break from social media or television for a season to give that time to the Lord.

In whatever it is that you fast, realize that it should be a sacrifice. Said another way: it should be uncomfortable. Fasting is never intended to be a way of life, but it reminds us of how dependent we can become on this life. So, for a season, we practice self-denial to open our hearts more to God. We pray that this season of fasting produces powerful moments with the Lord with great spiritual results!

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