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Fasting food is a self-affiction of our own soul (Lev 16:29-31; Isa. 58:5, Jas 4:49) To fast means to abstain from food--that which caused the fall of man. Fasting humbles the soul before God (Ps. 35:13); chastens the soul (Ps. 69:10); and crucifies the appetites and denies them so as to give the entire time to prayer (2Sam. 12:16-23 Mt. 4:1-11). It manifests earnestness before God to the exclusion of all else (1Cor. 7:5); shows obedience; gives the digestive system a rest (Mt. 6:16-18; 9:15; Lk. 5:33); demonstrates the mastery of man over appetites; aids in victory over temptation; helps to attain power over demons; develops faith; crucifies unbelief; and aids in prayer (Mt. 4:1-11; 17:14-21). All believers are supposed to fast, but no regulations or set rules are given as to how long or how often. That is determined by individual desire and needs (Mt. 9:14-15 1Cor. 7:5; Acts 13:1-5). Men should fast when under chastening (2Sam. 12:16-23); under judgment (1Kings 21:27); in need (Ezra 8:21); in danger (Esther 4); when worried (Dan. 6:18); in trouble (Acts 27:9,33) in spiritual conflict (Mt. 4:1-11); and when desperate in prayer (Acts 9). We read about the real FASTING experice from David. The people who deprive of their own food, will NOT seek any other pleasures of this world. We read it in 2 Samuel 12:16 as David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. David fasted for 7 days but still the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead. But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.
No, fasting doesn't always have to involve fasting food. In 1 Cor. 7:5, Paul gave these instructions to married couples who fasted marital relations for a time: Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. In other places in the Bible, people kept certain vows to refuse certain actions or pleasures, or to adopt certain practices. These kinds of actions can be likened to a fast. Jeremiah 35 recounts the lifestyle of the Rechabites, who kept the command of their ancestor to never drink wine or to settle in one place, adopting a perpetually nomadic lifestyle. Samson was forbidden to drink wine or to even eat grapes, to shave his head, to touch a dead person or animal, or to eat anything unclean (see Judges 13). The idea of a fast is to go without something that we normally depend on in some way in order to heighten our dependence on God. We can also fast something that can interfere with our love and devotion to God, and this can be vastly different from person to person.
The question as to whether fasting is only food brings into focus the types of fasts that are contemplated in Scripture. The Bible does not prescribe any method by which we may fast but abstaining from solid food is certainly an effective and popular method. Some believers do dry fasts too. Let us take the examples of Moses and Jesus who are reported to have fasted for long periods. One may ask how Moses and Jesus fasted forty days and nights without food (and possibly water). In human terms, these are excruciatingly long periods for a person to abstain from food. We should bear in mind that the two fasts by Moses and Jesus were under divine direction from God who sustained them through their periods because he was preparing them for special ministry callings. In the case of Jesus, Matthew records in 4:1 that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted. We can assume in Moses’ case that the power of God sustained him in the mountain. However in view of the length of such fasts we need to observe that the physical impact on the human body without food can be devastating and could even result In death if done without divine direction and wisdom. Besides, the nature of these fasts is not specified. Were they wet or dry fasts? If the fasts were dry then only God could have made it possible for the two to successfully pull through because it is biologically difficult to sustain a dry fast for such lengths of time. While Christians should fast and pray (implicit from Jesus teaching in Matthew 6:16), it is nowhere taught in Scripture how long we should fast and what abstinences would apply. This is left to the discretion of the believer. There is evidence that the New Testament church did fast and pray on some special occasions to seek divine direction but no details are provided on the type of fasting. Notice the two occasions recorded in Acts 13:2, when choosing missionaries and Acts 14:23 when choosing and appointing leaders for the churches. My view is that the 40 day fast should not be replicated by believers. Fasting is a discipline that Scripture supports but which should be observed with wisdom and to the glory of God. Jesus took great exception to the conduct of the Pharisees and the religious leaders of his day who made a public display during the days of fasting (Luke 18:10-14). Fasting is also rewarded by God (Matthew 6:17-18). It is not a tool for manipulating God but for preparing the believer to be in a better position to hear the voice of God and to keep the distractions and pleasures of life at bay. It is an indispensable spiritual discipline that accompanies and includes prayer Jesus expected that his disciples would fast after he was taken up from them (Luke 5:30-35). However he did not give any elaborate teaching on the method of fasting. Every believer should exercise prudence and diligence in applying this discipline so that they are strengthened in the Lord and glorify His name. We should however not make and enforce legal rules on length of fasting or elevate fasting above other spiritual disciplines including our devotion to the Word of God which are equally needful for a balanced spiritual life
While fasting often involves 'no food', there are a variety of different ways you can fast. The particulars are up to you, as God is more concerned with the heart. There are many different reasons for fasting (Soul searching, realizing our frailty, obedience, repentance, remembering an event, petitioning God, etc), and different ways of fasting may be suitable at different times. For the jews, strict fasts were only required on certain days of the year. For a strict fast there was no food or drink for about 26 hours, sunset to sunset. (For us, with modern clocks, it would be 24 hours if we wished to do the same). For the jews, bathing and marital relations were also abstained from at this time. There were also half-day fasts (sunrise to sunset), or even fasts of a single meal. Beyond "no food", there are many ways that are now commonly considered fasting. You can fast from a particular food, practice, or object (no chocolate, no tv, no Starbucks, etc). This is often done to combat an addiction in ones life and refocus on God, or to save money and use the proceeds for charity. [However, since the object in question is usually amoral of itself, then I am not sure if it can be grouped in with fasting, which is in its essence the denial of something good and healthy to devote oneself to prayer]. Some fasts mentioned in the Bible: Esther 4:15-5:1 [Esther, her hand maidens, and the jews fast, both day and night, for about two and a half days]. Daniel 6:18: A fast from food and entertainment (Interestingly, Darius was not a jew, but did hope that Daniel's God would deliver him from the lions). Jonah 3:6-10: A severe fast brought on by humility and repentance. Even the animals were covered in sackcloth and not allowed to eat or drink. 1 Cor 7:1-6: A fast from marital relations for the purpose of prayer - however this is not a required fast that couples 'must' do. Rather, it is allowable by mutual consent and only for a short time. Psalm 35: 11-16 A fast of wearing sackcloth and denial of food to pray for the health of someone ill and to mourn Motives and purpose are far more important than the type of fast (Isaiah 58:4, Mark 2:18-20, Matt 6:16, Zech 7:4-6) Distress, supplication, preparation, humility, repentance, to cast out demons or pray for illness, etc - these are all good reasons. To look good, claim spirituality, or inconvenience someone else is not. For example in 1 Cor 1 7:5 the fast is by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer, it is not for one spouse to punish the other or to claim higher spirituality. In Luke 18:9-14 it is not the pharisee who tithes and fasts who is considered righteous, but the humble tax collector who acknowledges his own sin and need of God's mercy. In short, a fast denies the self something good in order that one might repent or humbly seek God. The particulars of what is fasted from, or for how long, are inconsequential compared to the heart turning from self towards God.
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