Fasting is often neglected today, but when done out of a right motive it can be a real help in spiritual warfare. Jesus fasted often (Matthew 4:1-11, etc.). Jesus assumed His disciples would fast (note the “when,” not “if” in Matthew 6:16). Fasting is a spiritual exercise distinct from prayer, although often done in connection with prayer. It is still something for us to do today (Matthew 9:15). Usually fasting is done from food (all or a certain food group, like sweets, or a certain meal a day, or no food all day). Sometimes drink is abstained from, other times not. Sometimes sleep (II Corinthians 6:5; 11:27) and/or sex (I Corinthians 7:3-5) are included. Be sensitive to how and when God leads you to fast.
The motive in fasting is not to punish self for sin or prove sincerity to God so He will smile with more favor in a certain situation. Hunger pictures humility (Psalm 69:10; Deuteronomy 8:2-3,11-14; Hosea 13:6). Enduring hunger teaches self-discipline and works against pride (Ezra 8:21; Isaiah 58:3). It provides an attitude of submission. Fasting also opens up more time to be available to pray and seek God. It shows a willingness to sacrifice anything to get closer to God. It serves notice to demonic forces that you are serious in your pursuit of God’s will and glory (Jeremiah 29:13-14). A side benefit of fasting is that one can learn to depend on God for self-control and thus better control their appetite (I Corinthians 6:12-13; II Peter 2:19). This also helps with self-control over sexual sins as well.
While we usually think of fasting as going without any food, there are various forms fasting can take. Partial fasts can involve eliminating certain foods or meals. Even with a complete elimination of food healthy drinks can be consumed.
Fasting is not a way to force God’s hand or get our prayer answered quickly. It must be done for the right motive or there is no benefit (Matthew 6:6-18; Isaiah 58; Luke 8:11-12). Fasting can provide an attitude of submission (desire to please God and not self). It can free up extra time for prayer. The accompanying hunger can be a reminder to pray without ceasing and the hunger itself can be offered as a sacrificial gift to God.
It is best to begin fasting gradually and not embark on an extended period of fasting the first time. Many good books and articles are available helping one learn what is best to eat before and after a fast. Just remember that the focus is on God, not the faster. The enemy can use it as a source of pride and this negates the whole purpose of fasting.
Have you ever fasted for spiritual reasons? How did it help you spiritually? Ask God if He would have you fast in some way now. What would it be for? What would you fast from? For how long? What would be your goal or purpose for the fast? Prayerfully consider these things before starting.
(If I can answer questions or offer personal counsel, or if you would like a free copy of my Spiritual Warfare Handbook, email me at Jerry@ChristianTrainingOrganization.org or download it from http://sw.christiantrainingonline.org/. My next book, Spiritual Warfare in the Bible, which is a more advanced treatment of spiritual warfare, is also available there for free.)