You need to fast as a follower of Jesus Christ. Not Seasonally, but rather more frequently than rarely. I got convicted last year to start fasting once a week, every week. This conviction came from a number of sources.
The first conviction came from my friend, John Kigada. John shared with me how he fasts every Monday. He shared how it rejuvenates him spiritually. He encouraged me to fast, especially since I am involved in a lot of ministry work.
The second conviction was a portion of scripture from the teachings of Jesus. This is what he said:
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)
I noticed that Christ said when you fast. He did not say if you fast or whenever you fast. He said when. He used the same word of certainty when he was speaking about prayer. A few verses before this when teaching about prayer he says when you pray. Jesus’ teaching assumes that the believer prays regularly. His teaching on fasting accommodates the same premise; that believers fast as a regular practice. This convicted me because my fasting practices were periodical and often only based on corporate activities such as a church fast or a joint fast with friends and family. I realised that Christ requires this to be part of my formative practices in order to grow spiritually. Christ also teaches that there is a reward in fasting. The Pharisees get theirs in full. But the one who does it correctly will get theirs from God.
The third conviction also came from a portion of scripture where the disciples were unable to cast a demon out of a boy. They tried and tried in vain until Jesus intervened.
Then Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and from that moment the boy was healed. Then the disciples approached Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” “Because of your little faith,” He told them. “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. However,this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” Matthew 17:18-21 (HCSB)
Jesus informs the disciples that there are two reasons for their failure to exorcise the demon out of the boy. One, they lacked faith. Secondly, this particular breed of demons was exorcised successfully only when the formative practices of prayer and fasting were employed. That line where Jesus teaches this is verse 21. Some manuscripts omit this verse and merely place it as a footnote in the story. But many other manuscripts affirm unequivocally that Jesus said these words. It is such a treasure verse; I would not be surprised that Satan would try to get rid of it. However it appears clearly in the Gospel of Mark to affirm that Jesus said this. “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:29 (HCSB).
The logical conclusion is that these practices of prayer and fasting (coupled by faith) need to employed beforehand when involved in the ministry of deliverance. This ministered to me greatly because in my ministry journeys in 2017 and 2018 I was involved in exorcising a few people, corporately and personally.
The fourth conviction was a dream that I had in 2018. I have often had the LORD speak to me through dreams. I often write them down. In this particular dream, the LORD showed me a girl that was in need of deliverance. She came to me to be exorcised and I prayed for her but nothing happened. The unclean spirit laughed at me as I tried and tried, persisting for more than an hour. The unclean spirit through the girl looked at me and said to me mockingly, “I’m going nowhere! You’ve not been fasting!” In the dream, we let the girl go because we were powerless against the evil entity. I remembered the words of Jesus. “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:29 (HCSB).
Then I woke up. I was broken by the ordeal, even though it was just a dream. I made up my mind to fast regularly since. And almost like clockwork, two weeks after that dream, a neighbour summoned me at midnight to help her relative who was seeing unclean spirits in the house. I knew that I cannot take fasting as a casual, seasonal or optional practice in my Christian life.
A few remarks on fasting
Now, granted, there are some seasons where it is impractical to fast; for example, when you are pregnant, breastfeeding, unwell or under certain medication. I recommend that you speak to a trained doctor/physician if you have reservations or exceptions in certain seasons of your life; they should advise sufficiently.
Even the world acknowledges the benefits of fasting. Many health experts speak of the benefits that fasting brings such as detoxing your body, burning up excess body fat, moderating a ketosis diet and improving your immune system. For us in the faith, those are fringe benefits. They are good and we appreciate them but they are not our core motivation. We fast primarily for spiritual benefits. What are these benefits? I will list them from the LORD’S teaching on fasting in Isaiah 58.
But before I do that, I’d like to simply define fasting for the faith. Fasting is abstaining from eating food so that one can amplify their spiritual strength and sensitivity through prayer and faith. Fasting and prayer go hand in hand. If you are not praying during your fast you are merely starving. Fasting and faith also go hand in hand. If you fast for something but don’t believe God’s faithfulness, then it is equally in vain. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:16-18 that when we fast we ought not show everyone we are doing it. It is a private activity between you and the LORD, your Father in Heaven. He says that our private fast done in secret will have a sure reward.
There are people who like to say that fasting is not about abstaining from food, but rather from any kind of pleasures e.g. social media, television, the movies etc. I wholeheartedly disagree. The biblical references for fasting refer to abstaining from food. I believe that abstaining from other pleasures can assist fasting but they are not fasting. I believe that taking a social media break can help you fast effectively but taking that break in and of itself is not fasting; it can assist your fasting but it is not fasting. If you feel convicted to deny yourself other pleasures so that you can get spiritual strength and sensitivity, that’s okay. Even the Bible teaches that married couples can choose to abstain from sexual pleasure for a short time so that they can focus on prayer.
1 Corinthians 7:5 “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”(NLT)
I believe that giving oneself more completely to prayer could involve fasting. But you see the sexual abstinence is not prayer, neither is it fasting. The abstinence from the sexual pleasure in marriage only helps one pray and fast well; the sexual abstinence in marriage is not prayer and fasting in and of itself. Similarly, abstaining from your favourite TV program is not fasting. It can assist your fast but it is not fasting. Biblical fasting is abstaining from eating literal food so that one can amplify their spiritual strength and sensitivity through prayer and faith.
PS: I hope that the pleasures we are talking about are not sinful pleasures. Those don’t count for abstaining temporarily. Those should be done away with for life. I did away with my TV series in my final year in university. They were laced with so much nudity and carnality, I knew they were sinful and not healthy for a believer. I have never gone back to watching them; needless to say my spiritual power has increased dramatically over the past six years. The pleasures I’m referring to for the fast are healthy pleasures and not sinful ones.
Different fasts; one goal
Bible teachers list different kinds of fasts. They list the Daniel fast- this refers to when Daniel and his friends abstained from meats and the royal food as they prepared to be presented before the king. They stuck to a kosher diet. Many believers believe that a Daniel fast basically involves abstaining from meats, sweets and breads; the alternative is to only eat vegetables and fruit. The other kind of fast is the full fast (like Queen Esther’s), that involves no eating at all, except for liquids such as water. The other is the absolute fast that involves neither eating nor drinking any liquids (as Jesus referred to John the Baptist). I believe these descriptions of fasts to be valid because they are biblical. I have met people who disdain them without solid scriptural rebuttal. I believe you can employ any of these fasts. I also believe that if you have never fasted before, you can start with a Daniel fast. You can then move to a full fast after some time where you skip just one meal. Then perhaps two meals with time. I believe in gradual growth in this formative practice as with any other Christian discipline.
The fasting the LORD desires
Isaiah 58:6-7: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (ESV)
When you read this portion of scripture, the LORD requires that our fasting to be sincere. He rejected Israel’s fasting because it was showy and hypocritical. They ignored social justice. They ignored the plight of their neighbours. They ignored the poor, the weak and those in need. They were corrupt and mean. They quarrelled, they fought with one another and they were very proud in their hearts (See Isaiah 58:1-5). Then they wondered why their fasting was not acceptable. The LORD rebuked them that he was not after their formative practice; he was after their hearts.
Basically your fasting is useless if you are living a double life. If you are indulging in sin willingly and are living contrary to the faith, God’s first command for you is to repent. And if you are not born again, you must receive salvation. It is possible that many people fast hypocritically. They do it to show others. They do it to feel good about themselves. They do it to assuage their guilt. They do it because they have always done it religiously. God rebukes the religious heart that has a form of godliness but lacks the power; the heart that talks Christian but gives excuses when it is time to be a Christian.
If the Gospel message of forgiveness of our sins by grace through faith has not penetrated your heart, your fast shall be in vain. We don’t fast to get saved; we fast because we are already saved. Religion says obey then you will be accepted. The Gospel says you are already accepted, therefore obey. Christian fasting is gospel-centered; it is in response to God’s mercy and grace shown on the cross. Fasting that is legalistic can fool you to think that you have done something great and because of that God owes you; this kind of heart must be changed by the gospel first. Otherwise, formative practices will only be done to fuel superiority and pride. In fact, it is possible that you think yourself saved yet you are not (Matthew 7:21-23). But for those that have humbly submitted their lives to God, see the benefits of fasting:
The benefits of fasting: spiritual revelation
Isaiah 58:8a: Then shall your light break forth like the dawn (ESV)
When scripture talks about light, if often refers to insight and revelation. The word of God is called a light and a lamp in Psalm 119:105. Jesus taught in John 8:12 that he was the light of the world that came to set free those walking in darkness. Isaiah 58 implies that those who fast as the LORD desires will gain insight like the dawn. The light of dawn gets brighter and brighter. I believe this refers to increase in knowledge and understanding. Fasting can enable us to gain deeper insight into the truths of scriptures. Those passages that seem hard to grasp can become easy to comprehend because the Spirit of God brings revelation when we fast.
The benefits of fasting: healing
Isaiah 58:8b: and your healing shall spring up speedily; (ESV)
When we fast, areas of hurt will heal, and they will heal quickly. Chronic pains such as bitterness and unforgiveness can be overcome rapidly when we fast. I also believe this healing to cover areas of spiritual struggles such as fear, worry and anxiety and doubt. At times these spiritual lows can be overcome by fasting. I once remember being anxious about my finances to the point that I could not sleep. When I fasted, the heaviness of anxiety left. I even developed a clearer mind to think of a solution to my financial problem. The healing here could also include addictions and sinful habits that are hard to break. Believers struggling with pornography, masturbation, sexual addictions, drug and substance abuse and repetitive sins that are hard to break can experience speedy recovery and healing by fasting. I have heard of people who have broken pornography and masturbation addictions in a few weeks after having struggled for over 10 years simply because they fasted.
The benefits of fasting: spiritual power
Isaiah 58:8c: your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. (ESV)
When we fast, we are being sanctified and our righteousness becomes more evident. We know that our righteousness is not our own. We receive it from Christ upon justification. But it is interesting that the scriptures call it ours. Meaning that Christ has given it to us as if it belongs to us. Our righteousness becomes more evident. Adding to that, God’s glory arms us; it becomes our rear guard. I heard one teacher state that this must mean the believer is more powerful than usual because the full armour of God is mainly geared to protect our front face. The glory of God takes the place of being our rear guard. This means that the believer has more spiritual power. This power could be very useful when we pray for others and when we exercise our spiritual gifts. I have the spiritual gift of teaching. I remember once I was invited to preach in Chuka. I fasted and prayed before I preached. That day, I noticed a significant power in my teaching. The result was also evident in the altar call. I could tell that God was backing up the teaching powerfully. He had been my rear guard and had granted me spiritual power that I was not previously privy to.
The benefits of fasting: closeness to God
Isaiah 58:9: Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness (ESV)
Another benefit of fasting is being more intimate with God. Our primary desire as believers is to know God and to make Him known. One characteristic of an intimate relationship is healthy communication. When we fast, God assures us that our cries and prayers will have immediacy in response. And even if the response is no or wait, fasting will develop in us a humility to accept it humbly, knowing God’s sovereignty is at work. He affirms that he will be close by responding “Here I am.” I believe fasting helps us know that God is truly working especially when we feel he is absent. The comfort of knowing that the Creator of the Universe is with us closely is a gift for the believer. However we must realise that this benefit of fasting has a condition; that we turn away from speaking wickedness and pointing of fingers. This basically means that we will enjoy this benefit if we live in harmony with other human beings. That as we fast, we will experience closeness with God if we choose to remove accusatory attitudes and evil speaking such as gossip, slander, malice and envious talk. Gossipers, accusers and slanderers can be sure that they will always have God far from them despite their fast.
The benefits of fasting: joy and wellbeing
Isaiah 58:10: if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. (ESV)
The next benefit of fasting is that our gloom and darkness shall be lifted. Our lives shall be like noonday. This speaks of joy and wellness. Gloom speaks of dullness and heaviness. This benefit of fasting also has a condition; that we seek to meet the needs of others in our fast. One of the things you can do during your fast is be involved in community service and meeting the needs of the poor, the destitute, the orphans and the widows. If we do this during our fast, the LORD assures us that our wellbeing will improve. Often some people struggle with depression because they are preoccupied with self. The LORD gives a solution to this kind of depression; deny yourself, fast, pray and serve others. It is as Christ taught, that by serving others and becoming the least we become the greatest.
The benefits of fasting: guidance and provision
Isaiah 58:11: And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like aspring of water, whose waters do not fail. (ESV)
Fasting seems to have a direct link to receiving guidance from God and experiencing his provision. When you are confused about a life decision such as a dating/courting relationship, a job situation etc. fasting will bring clarity. When you are not sure what to do, fasting will bring the LORD’S guidance and you will know exactly what to do. God also promises that provision will follow. When we are in deep need for resources, wisdom and direction, God promises that a fast will rejuvenate us. I must however note that this kind of provision does not negate the principles of working. You cannot fast yourself out of laziness.
The benefits of fasting: effectiveness in ministry
Isaiah 58:12: And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. (ESV)
Fasting makes you a more effective minister. You become one who repairs and restores the broken areas. This is the same description given to the ministers of Isaiah 61 who follow the spirit of the sovereign LORD that Jesus fulfilled. A fasting minister will preach the good news to the poor effectively, he/she will bind up the broken-hearted, deliver the captives who have been chained by sin (breaking addictions and recurrent sins), and he/she will bring light to the prisoners in darkness (he will bring revelation of the word).
The benefits of fasting: favour
Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (ESV)
As we fast and honour the command of the LORD, especially the one on the Sabbath (resting to commune with God) we will experience his favour. Belonging to a regular church or fellowship is a very biblical thing (See Hebrews 10:24-25). The favour is riding on the heights of the earth. The heights of the earth are often the mountains and the hills. They are places of refuge and safety. It could also speak of triumph over obstacles. I once heard a story of a believer who was the object of attack by his workmates because he refused to participate in a corrupt deal. They tried to manage him out of the company. He decided to fast and pray and the plans of his enemies floundered. The heritage of Jacob includes blessings here on earth and in the afterlife. God guarantees blessings both here on earth and after we die.
Isaiah 58:14d: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (ESV)
The LORD signs off by declaring that his own mouth has spoken. These promises are not untrue. They are not partial. They are not out-dated. They are not powerless. They are true, whole, relevant and full of power and God puts his own name to back it up. Fasting is a spiritual war as well. So don’t be surprised if you feel sleepy, excessively tired and out of sorts when you decide to fast. We have a real enemy. Ask the LORD for help and he will fight for you. We need more fasting believers.