"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me" John 14:1
Home arrow Sermon Outlines (& Audio) arrow Topical arrow BIBLICAL OVERVIEW OF FASTING
Written by Kevin L. Howard   
  • Intro: Thai taxi driver taking me the long way to bookstore.  If I'd known where the store was, my time that day would have been better spent.  But there's no way I could have known.  There are some things we don't know about...like fasting, which can make life better.
  • Who cares?  Wouldn't you want to know how to improve your spiritual life?
  • Encourage them to take notes.
  • Title of sermon.



Fasting means abstaining from something, typically food, for a certain time to place special attention on God concerning any number of issues.


Biblical Introduction

"In the Old Testament only one fast was commanded-the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29, 31).  Only after the fall of Jerusalem were fast days instituted (Zech. 7:3, 5; 8:19)" [Walvoord/Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary].


1. The Bible connects fasting with repentance and sorrow. 

  • Ezra 10:6 "Then Ezra left the front of the Temple of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib.  He spent the night there without eating or drinking anything.  He was still in mourning because of the unfaithfulness of the returned exiles."
  • Neh 1:4 "When I heard this, I sat down and wept.  In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven."
  • Jonah 3:5 "The people of Nineveh believed God's message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow."

2. The Bible also connects fasting with prayer.

  • Luke 2:37 "She was now eighty-four years old.  She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer."
  • Acts 14:23 "Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church and prayed for them with fasting, turning them over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had come to trust."

3. The Bible shows that fasting involved variety-duration and content.

  • (Absolute-3 days) Acts 9:9 "He [Saul/Paul] remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink."
  •  (Absolute-40 days) Ex 34:28-29 "Moses remained there on the mountain with the LORD forty days and forty nights.  In all that time he ate no bread and drank no water.  And the LORD wrote the terms of the covenant-the Ten Commandments-on the stone tablets.  When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn't aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the LORD." 

-God supernaturally sustained Moses since we can't go many days without water.

  • (Liquids only...probably) In Mt 4:2, Jesus fasted 40 days and nights without food and was supernaturally sustained by God the Father.
  • (Sex for married couples) 1 Cor 7:5 "Do not deprive each other except 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."

4. The New Testament doesn't command but assumes believers will fast.

  • Mt 6:16-17 "And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.  I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get.  But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face."
  • Mark 2:18-20 "John's disciples and the Pharisees sometimes fasted.  One day some people came to Jesus and asked, 'Why do John's disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don't fast?'  Jesus replied, 'Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom?  Of course not.  They can't fast while they are with the groom.  But someday he will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.'"  (Also see Luke 5:34-35.)


Attitude Counts

1. When fasting, try to keep it a secret, unless someone asks specifically, or needs to be informed not to cook for you. 

  • Temptation to impress people.  The Bible warns those impressing others that they will only gain the applause of humans and indicates that God frowns at these vain efforts (Matthew 6:16-18). 
    • Mt 6:16-17 "And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.  I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get.  But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face."

So, if possible, keep your fasting to yourself. 


2. There might be times when it's appropriate to call a group time of fasting.

  • Joel 1:14 "Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting.  Bring the leaders and all the people of the land into the Temple of the LORD your God, and cry out to him there."


Struggles Are Real

1. Your first few times will be a struggle, but hang in there.  Ask God for perseverance during the hard times of fasting.  Perhaps fasting with a friend would make it a little easier.

2. Allow your pangs to remind you to pray more about the focus of your fast.  If you fail and break your fast early, keep trying. 


"The hunger during fasting makes every second longer and converts the minutes and hours into devices of torture.  But somewhere between the seconds and the minutes, between the minutes and the hours, between the sleeping and praying, between the distractions and concentrations, God shows up."

KLH, 1999


[Interlude prayer]: "God...I want to be open...to the great things you could do...when I fast with the right attitude."


Details You Need to Consider Before Fasting

1. Always consult your doctor before fasting. 

2. You may fast for a few hours, days, or weeks, but beginners should start reasonably with just a few hours.  When concluding a fast of 12 or more hours, eat a small portion for your initial meal because your stomach might not be ready for much.

3. Set the duration before you start fasting.  The Bible doesn't mandate time limits for fasting, so be flexible.  The situation you're fasting about could change before your set time to stop fasting, and that could effect how long you fast.  King David stopped fasting when his baby died (2 Samuel 12:16‑22). 

4. Clarify specifically why you want to fast.   Maybe write down beforehand what you want God to accomplish. 

5. Know what you are abstaining from.  Perhaps you will want to fast from food, television, the Internet or a combination of things.  You can be creative!


The Goal is Christ-likeness

1. Fasting shouldn't be a burdensome duty, and it certainly isn't a magic wand.  By itself, fasting will not make you a better Christian.  People of other religions fast, but they aren't right with God.  A relationship with Christ, not fasting, makes us right with God.

2. We fast because, if done with the right attitude, it can draw us closer to God.  When we abstain from necessary things like food or permissible things like television, such discipline can draw us closer to God.  (Note: "can" not "will.")  Fasting isn't our goal-worshipping our great God is.  Fasting is merely a way to fellowship with him.

3. Fasting might help us to humble ourselves and to treat others well.

  • Is 58:5-6 "You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like a blade of grass in the wind.  You dress in sackcloth and cover yourselves with ashes.  Is this what you call fasting?  Do you really think this will please the LORD?  No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you.  Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people."  (Also see Jer 14:10-12.)

4. Fasting might help us discern God's will.

  • Acts 13:2-3 "One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.'  So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way."


Misc Thoughts: 

A. When I've fasted, I...

  • felt the extent of my weaknesses.
  • was reminded by the pangs to keep praying.
  • became sincere about the issue I was praying for.
  • learned more about discipline (delaying that which is OK).
  • discovered that getting to know God is more important than being comfortable.
  • was able to see the important things in life more clearly.
  • learned to trust God for his provision.


B. When fasting...

  • We give up something short term to gain something long term.
  • It forces us to see our neediness (If I think I'm needy for food, just think how needy I am for God).
  • It forces us to call on God.
  • It can help to build endurance against things that are always off limits.



  • This study is on our website (or it will be soon).
  • Book: The Coming Revival, Bill Bright.
  • If we do it with the right attitude, will our church be better or worse for having practiced it?
  • I encourage you to plan to fast for a few hours sometime in March [the next month].  Perhaps 8th.
  • Didn't know how to type in college; if I'd taken the time to learn, it would have made my college experience better.  Take the time to fast and learn how to do it.  It won't necessarily make your life easier, but it can make life better.


Present Gospel

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