Fasting is a practice of self-denial. In the old testament there were different motives why people fasted, for example Hannah, who was greatly distressed on account of her childlessness, “wept, and did not eat” (1Sam 1:7). Violent anger produces the same effect (1Sam 20:34). According to 1Kings 21:4, Ahab, “heavy and displeased” on account of Naboth's refusal to part with his estate, sulked and “would eat no bread.” David demonstrated his grief at Abner's death (2Sam 3:35) by fasting. Ezra fasted to show that he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles, (Ezra 10:6) and the Jews in Ester’s day mourned with fasting, weeping and lamenting when they learned of the king’s decree to kill all of the Jews (Ester 4:3).
Fasting was also used to appeal to God to move him to pity. For example David pleaded to God on behalf of his child with Bathsheba that God will let the child live after God declaring that the child will die. When the child dies David stopped his fasting concluding that it was useless to fast when the child is now dead (2 Sam 12:16-23).
Ezra proclaimed a fast at the river Ahava, ‘that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods’ (Ezra 8:21). Fasting is a way of seeking divine protection and favour, it displays one’s urgency to see God move or act very quickly in a situation.
The Pharisees in the New testament accused Jesus’ disciples for not fasting, they said to Jesus "The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink." And Jesus replied, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days." (Luke 5:33-35)
The Pharisees associated fasting with abstaining from food and drink and a similar pattern is found in the old testament. But it is also abstinent from washing, anointing and sleeping. Dan 10:3 says ‘I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.’ Fasting can be of short or long duration of time; what’s important is that after one has declared their period of fasting that they keep to it - so let your yes be yes and your no be no.
Also in the New testament Jesus gives us principles for when we fast, "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:16)
Fasting can be opportunities when God reveals his will to the church when done corporately. Act 13:2-3 says ‘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." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.’
There is the soul of fasting, that is fasting from sins, having a pure heart and delighting in mercy rather than sacrifice. As the Lord says in 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?”
God is seeking after true worshippers, those who will seek him in spirit and in truth. The same principles hold in fasting, God is looking at your heart and wants you to worship him in spirit and in truth. Fasting can show our urgency to see God move in our situations or it can display our grief and sorrows. Fasting should always be focused on God, should always be a time to seek him as well as a time to love humanity which ought to be our constant duty - both are our daily task.
What burdens your heart or what would you like God to do so desperately? Why not fast about it and really seek God’s face.
This is not a detailed assessment on fasting so please ask questions or post what you think on the comment box. I hope this gives you an idea of what fasting is or something about its nature.