Fasting is a spiritual discipline often overlooked. I don’t hear much about traditional fasting in church, though I have heard things like, “I’m going on a social media fast,” or “I’m going on a sugar fast.” And there’s nothing wrong with those. But the ancient practice of depriving oneself of food for extended periods of time, though gaining traction in the fitness world, is losing its place in the standard American Christian faith. But fasting can teach us how to get closer to God on several different levels. This post will outline the most prominent functions of fasting in the Bible, and hopefully inspire you to give it a try if you haven’t already.

Function #1: Fasting Over Big Decisions and Leadership Responsibilities

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments. - Exodus 34:27-28

As Moses listens for the pinnacle commandments on which the law of Israel will hinge for years to come, he fasts. He fasts perhaps as a way of focusing his full attention on God’s instruction. Like Moses, we can fast as a means of opening ourselves up to God’s direction and listening attentively for His commands.

We see a similar kind of fasting in the New Testament.  In the early church, as God unfolded His radical plan for the rampant spreading of the gospel, church leaders fasted prior to receiving direction from the Spirit:

“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” - Acts 13:1-3

The men fasted and prayed over Saul and Barnabas before sending them out to do the Lord’s work. Similarly, in the following chapter, Paul and Barnabas fast and pray over the appointment of church elders:

“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” - Acts 14:23

If we want to learn how to get closer to God, we must learn to recognize His voice. John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If we are to be His sheep, and if we are to truly “know” Him, we must become acquainted with His voice. We should know it when we hear it.  And when we hear it, we should listen attentively.  When we fast, we pave the way for receptive, humble, distraction-free listening.

Function #2: Fasting to Supplement Prayer When Facing a Challenge

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” - Esther 4:16

Esther, before risking her life by appearing before the king to make a case for her people, asks Mordecai to have the people fast for her. We too, when facing a daunting challenge or danger, should fast.  And if we’re blessed with the kind of community who will fast with us and for us, we should employ their help. 

We also see Ezra fasting for deliverance for his people:

“There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” - Ezra 8:21-23

In both Ezra’s and Esther’s cases, the prayers that were supplemented with fasting were answered. But in the following passage, we see a prayer, with fasting, go unanswered:

After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. - 2 Samuel 12:15-16

Here David fasts while praying that God would save the life of his child- a prayer which God does not fulfill. It’s important to note that fasting does not impose some kind of magic power that supercharges our prayers. However, that doesn’t mean fasting is useless. Here David’s fast still served as a purifying spiritual practice, even if it did not yield an immediate earthly result. Remember, our ultimate goal in fasting is to learn how to grow closer to God.

Function #3: Fasting in Repentance and Mourning

The most common purposes for fasting mentioned in the Bible are repentance for sin and mourning for misfortune. Twice we see David fasting as an expression of mourning for others:

●     Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. - 2 Samuel 1:11-12

●     Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn. Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother. - Psalm 35:11-14

Like David, we can fast as a way of mourning for the misfortunes of others. Romans 12:15 instructs us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  As we learn how to get closer to God, we must learn to draw near to those who are suffering as He does. Fasting is a way of putting ourselves through physical discomfort so that we can be in solidarity with those who have experienced lack, pain, or loss. (If you have a loved one in mourning right now, take a look at our subscription box selection, and consider sending them a gift to raise their spirits.)

But we also see several cases of fasting as an expression of not just mourning, but repentance, or mourning for one’s sin:

●     “Even now,” declares the Lord,  “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. - Joel 2:12-14

●     The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.  But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish. Jonah 3:5-9

●     They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. - Nehemiah 1:3-6

●     Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.” (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)  When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.” - 1 Kings 21:24-29

This last one is my favorite. Having already received a harsh condemnation from God, Ahab went into mourning, repentance, and fasting. Because of this, God noticed his humility and spared judgment.

It’s one thing to fast when we need God’s help with making a big decision or overcoming a lofty challenge. But there’s something beautiful about fasting out of repentance- making a deliberate, physical effort to humble ourselves before God and mourn for our own sin.

The idea of fasting and mourning for our own sin might sound melodramatic, but the idea behind it is that we are agreeing with God that what we did was sinful. We show Him that we are not going to overlook our sin or dismiss it as irrelevant or miniscule. We take it seriously enough to put ourselves through physical discomfort- not as a way of punishing ourselves, but as a way of starving the flesh that brought us into sin in the first place.

And that leads us to our next point.

Function #4: Fasting to Starve the Flesh

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” - Luke 4:1-4

Notice that the devil tempts Jesus with food after Jesus has been fasting. You would think that Jesus would be extra-susceptible to the temptation after having fasted for so long. Yet He remains self-controlled. I would argue that His fast strengthened His ability to resist the temptation of food.

Ironically, when we fast, we starve our flesh. Jesus had been starving His flesh, so that when the temptation came along, although His body may have been starving, He had developed a firm control of His fleshly desires.


How Not to Fast

“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

Here Jesus warns against fasting as a means of flaunting piety. Fasting should be between us and God, or it can be done in an earnest community of believers with a common goal. But it is not something we do for our own glory. With fasting, as with everything, God’s glory should be the end goal.

In Isaiah, we see a critical reminder of the pointlessness of fasting when it’s made into a mere ritual and unaccompanied by the greater virtues of love and kindness:

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. - Isaiah 58:3-9

In essence, fasting should only augment a life of peace, generosity, kindness, love, and harmonious fellowship. We cannot abuse it as a ritual and expect to see results if our overall lifestyle is completely amiss.

As we learn how to get closer to God, we should keep in mind that nothing can stunt our intimacy with Him faster than pride. The parable below cautions against allowing fasting to feed pride:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” - Luke 18:9-14

While fasting can be an expression of humility before God, the act alone does not make us humble.  Our heart still needs to be in the right place.  As we see in this parable, the Pharisee was prideful, and the fact that he regularly fasted fed into his pride. We must never be proud of ourselves for having the discipline or the piety to fast. Rather, we do it because we want to draw closer to God. With empty stomachs, we make room to be filled with Him.

If you’re new to fasting and wanting some practical tips on getting started, here’s a helpful article.


Have you ever fasted before?

If so, what was your experience?  Let us know in the comments!


Erica Baker

Erica is a professional writer and editor, helping ministry leaders and entrepreneurs share their stories.

She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.


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ADA said:

it’s good to fast.

Suzanne said:

Thank you for this article.

I am new to fasting. I have fasted once or twice before, but nothing happened except I just wanted to eat!

I have recently decided to fast on Wednesdays. Today will be my fourth Wednesday. Water Wednesdays, I call them.

I was contemplating giving up because I feel like a better Christian when all bodily needs are taken care of! No distractions etc. However, then the enemy wins and I can’t let him have the glory.

I just really want more of God and I’m not getting more of Him, so I just feel like I’m depriving myself now. As I said, I am a better Christian the day before and the day after fasting. Everyday I am eating, really… :) Just feel stuck now.

And not looking forward to Wednesdays…

Michael said:

Every time I fast the enemy tries to attack me. The flesh wants the victory and so does the enemy. Fasting is about surrendering so by default the flesh doesn’t like it because we are giving God control. Humble yourself and God will draw close to you and you will draw close to him. I fasted for 3 days while attending a special event at church. In return I felt Gods presence every night and I was freed from 18 years of addiction during that time.

Daniela Romero said:

This really resonated today. I tried to dry fast and when I completed it, I realized God needed to break me in order for me to resolve past traumas. It helped me through my marriage, I nearly got a divorce but God showed me how lost I was in my marriage. Through this lots of temptations came my way, this fast lifted and revealed to me exactly what I needed. Through many tears long nights. I am eternally grateful.

Elia said:

I tried fasting once and I woke up masturbating from a dirty dream I don’t understand why.😔

Bonolo said:

I realized that everytime I fast something bad happen in my life.Im fasting now and this morning some car hit my car at the back.I couldnt even argue with the guy that hit me because I was weak.

Teey said:

Thank you very much Erica for this article. You’ve have helped me to know how to fast and to encourage my children that there’s God and He’s good.

Kalina said:

Fasting is a discipline. It takes time to learn. When we go into fasting we are telling God we want a closer spiritual connection with him and a breakthrough for something going on in our lives. We are denying our flesh to become spiritually stronger. When we fast we have to cut off almost everything that is not pleasing to God to hear him more clearly ex. Tv, music, or anything that we know that doesn’t please God. Hence denying thy self for him. Praying, reading word, hearing word, worshiping all play a part.
Of course our flesh wants us to indulge in food and other things but discipline and focusing on God helps us to see it through!
Sometimes after a fast we may not see results right away but continue to seek God and ask him for his guidance. He will not fail you!

Ila said:

Today I did a fast. It was my third time in a week. I have been going through some mental issues and felt like fasting would give me the breakthrough I need. I have modified my fasting over the years. I do not do a full day anymore because I would feel very sick so I end it at 12noon. I feel extremely hungry and after a few hours I would be watching the time. Anyway I keep praying, praising,and reading the word until it ends. I know it is something that I should do as part of my Christian discipline but I do it when I realize that I need divine help that I think I will achieve with fasting and prayer. I learn now to do what I can. God loves me just the same.

Faith said:

Why is that when am fasting that’s when I get angry and sin

Filipp Filippov said:

I was fasting to get closer to God. I went on a two day fast and it was during the time that I was celibate or at least trying to be celibate I was 30 days celibate or more and I went on this two day fast. And nothing happened. In fact, I just got more tempted my desire from as fast as they get closer to God, which to be honest, I didn’t feel closer to God after maybe a little bit for the first two days and then, after I just started to die off so I’m kind of confused what’s going on

Zelle elize said:

I started fasting last month then after a week God gave me my dream job, he also healed my lung disease :) thats how powerful God is

Jamila said:

Nicky, I’m so glad you asked this question. What you are feeling and thinking is totally normal. When I fast, I think about food a lot. But for me, when my stomach starts to growl and I can’t get food off my mind, that is the time to turn to Him. The idea is to deprive yourself of food and instead allow Him to fill that need instead. In simple down to earth teams, when I fast, the headaches do go away after about a day or so, but that desire for food is still there. Each time I start to feel overwhelmed by it, I spend that time praying instead of eating. It definitely takes will power to do it, but that’s why fasting is a spiritual discipline. We are choosing self control instead of feeding our desire for food. A friend and I chatted about some simple tips that might help on our YouTube channel, you can check it out at the link below. Hope it helps!

Nicky said:

I just recently tried to fast to get a closer relationship with God, but I feel like fasting has made me more distracted than before. When I am hungry the only thing I can think about is food. I also feel weak and lightheaded sometimes. Is there a proper way to fast so that I don’t keep thinking about food?

Krystal W Harris said:

I’ve been fasting for 4 months. I started the process of building my first home. As we got closer to the home being finished and closing I began to fast and pray that every thing goes as planned. Well we have been having problems closing on the house. The builder cancelled oir contract, and the house that I built is currently being sold to someone else. Im devastated. I know not to question God so Im just trusting that he works a miracle. I’ve just lost 16k dollars and have no home. Whay do you do when you’ve done all you can?

Soul said:

Wisdom for mind, body and soul, thank you warmly 🙏

Mike said:

This is a GREAT article Erica, thank you very much! I do think though it could have addressed the issue fasting from food and if this should include “water”? Thanks, blessings, Mike.

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