What And Why of Fasting
By Zacharias Tanee Fomum
Fasting is the abstention from food for a period of time.
Various forms of fasts are possible.
First of all, there is what I call the absolute fast.
The absolute fast is one in which the person fasting eats no food
whatsoever and drinks no water for a certain length of time.
Moses underwent two absolute fasts for forty days each.
During that time he neither ate food nor drank water.
His were supernatural fasts spent in the immediate presence of God.
Although I know people who have had absolute fasts of up to fifteen days,
I do not advise anyone to go on absolute fasts of more than ninety-six hours.
It is risky and I do not think that the risk is necessary.
There is also what we call the complete or total fast.
This is the withdrawal from all food and all drink except water. In a complete fast, a person drinks water and water only.
No juices, tea, milk, or anything else is allowed. This
is most likely what the Lord Jesus underwent for forty days, for we are told
that after the fast He was hungry, but we are not told that He was thirsty. I consider this the normal fast--nothing taken in but water.
There is also what may be called the partial fast.
There are many forms of this. One
common type is to take one meal every twenty-four hours.
The one meal should be light and not the size of three meals, which would
be gluttony. Another type of
partial fast is to live for some days or weeks only on fruit juice or milk.
Another type of partial fast is the one described by Daniel.
“In those days I, Daniel was
mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor
did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks” (Daniel 10:2,3).
Some brethren have had a partial fast during which they ate only bread
and drank only water for a period of three weeks.
They were blessed.
As we have said, the normal practice is to abstain completely from food,
that is, a complete fast. The
spiritual benefits are greater. I
have never had an absolute fast of more than seventy-two hours, and so I cannot
say much about absolute fasts from personal experience.
I have some experience of long and short complete fasts and of a number
of three-week partial fasts. Partial
fasts are only recommended for people who have health problems that prevent them
from undergoing complete fasts. A
case for partial fasts may be made for people in job situations that make long
complete fasts impossible.
A definite advantage of a partial fast of, say, three weeks is that one
is strong enough to do the normal duties of life.
I remember one time when I had a three-week partial fast during which I
had only bread and tea. I was
strong enough to work fifteen to eighteen hours a day on the book I was writing
at that time.
If your experience of fasting has been limited to partial fasts, then
this is the time to make progress. Stop
going on partial fasts and begin to go on complete ones. Maybe
you ought to start next week. You
may begin with a forty-eight-hour complete fast and two weeks afterwards go on a
seventy-two-hour complete fast. You
will see the impact of that fasting on your spiritual life and be glad.
There was a time during which I backslid in my fasting life.
I stopped complete fasts and only took to partial fasts.
I gave the excuse that it was because I was too busy with other aspects
of the ministry.
When I realized that I had backslidden, I repented and decided to go back
to normal fasting. It was
difficult. I even found a seventy-two-hour complete fast very difficult,
and a couple of times I broke a fast that I intended to go on for seventy-two
hours after only forty-two hours. I
cried to the Lord for mercy and help. He
heard my prayer and healed my backsliding.
I was then able to fast normally again.
Fasting is not only abstention from food.
It is concentration on the Lord, His holiness, His Kingdom, and His will.
Normally, when a person is full of food, the desires of the physical body
are very strong as well as the desires of the soul--that is, the will, the mind
and the emotions. During fasting
the desires of the body are greatly reduced and the spirit rises and soars,
controlling the soul.
This means that spiritual reality is more easily discerned by a fasting
person than by one who is not fasting. At
the height of a long fast, which may be between the twenty-fifth and the
fortieth day, the things of this world become absolutely meaningless.
For example, I found that the following were absolutely meaningless to me
during such a period: my looks, my
educational qualifications, my job, money, clothes, property, the presence of
human beings (in fact, each one had a detestable odor), any accomplishment in
the world, etc.
On the other hand, God was near and thoughts of heaven possessed me.
I was anxious to walk in perfect holiness.
I wanted to obey the Lord in everything.
I wanted His companionship. I
wanted to hear His voice. Although
I did not have much strength to pray, I felt that I was in direct communion with
my God and my short prayers that were uttered as short phrases throughout the
day and night seemed to go right to the heart of God. As I read the Word, God seemed to speak more clearly and
spiritual illumination was received readily.
Fasting brings spiritual power. When
those who are unsaved fast, they release spiritual power that is of the
enemy’s kingdom and that goes to strengthen it.
That is one reason why it is impossible for believers who are given to
food and pleasure to make any headway in the winning of Muslims and Buddhists to
Christ. The reason for this is
obvious. Because these people fast
extensively and pray extensively, they release a lot of spiritual power that
insulates their spirits from penetration by the Gospel.
Penetration is only possible when ministry to them is carried out by
people who also have spiritual power released through fasting in the name of the
Fasting is also a form of mourning.
It is mourning because the Lord Jesus is away and the believer misses him
and wants him back. It is mourning
because of the believer’s poor spiritual condition when God has given him so
much in Christ. It is mourning
because of the worldly condition of the church and her impotence against the
enemy. It is mourning over the
multitudes that are passing into a Christless eternity.
Fasting is a heart’s cry to God to act.
He does act when people fast. You
are invited to the ministry of fasting. You
can actually begin tomorrow. Do not
postpone it. Start at once and may
the Lord bless you.
How to Fast
There never was a question in the mind of the Lord Jesus about the
importance of fasting. He
demonstrated His evaluation of the ministry of fasting by His own forty-day
fast. He, however, taught very
clearly how to fast. He taught saying,
“And when you fast, do not look
dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting
may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting
may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who
sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
The Lord Jesus said “when you fast” and not “if your fast.”
He took for granted that all who are His would fast.
He addressed Himself to three important questions about fasting.
The first question was:
how should a person look during a fast?
In answering this question, the Lord divided those who fasted into two
classes, viz., the hypocrites and His children.
It is interesting to know that in all religions people fast.
Fasting is therefore not automatically an evidence of genuine
spirituality. There are unbelievers
who fast: Muslims, Hindus,
Buddhists, etc. They fast for
The Lord had in mind a class of people, the Pharisees.
When they fasted, they disfigured their faces.
They made sure that their looks were different. They were not satisfied
with the natural impact that fasting produced on the body. They were afraid that that might not serve their purpose.
The Lord said that those who were His were to be different.
They were not to look dismal. They
were to wash and anoint their faces. In
other words, their external appearance was to be given special attention so that
it did not draw attention to their fasting.
The same lesson is applicable today.
Believers who fast must pay special attention to their physical
appearance. They should be clean. They
should wear clean clothes. They
should bathe at least once a day. They
should brush their teeth once every two hours.
Fasting people have a special mouth odor.
They cannot afford to burden other people with it.
The second question was:
who should see the fast? Here
again there were two different attitudes--that of the hypocrites and that of
those who belonged to the Lord. The
hypocrites fasted in order to catch the eye of man.
They therefore did everything to ensure that man would not mistake the
fact that they were fasting. That
is why they disfigured their faces. The
aim of their fasting was that they might be seen by men.
They fasted to impress men. Their
preoccupation during the fast was, Have
people seen that I am fasting? Have
they seen how long I have fasted? Who
has actually seen that I am fasting? They
possibly thought of the various people whom they wanted to impress and made sure
that somehow those people knew.
Those who belong to Jesus are to fast not to catch the eye of man, but
the eye of God. They are to fast so
that their fasting is seen by their Father Who is in heaven!
Can you see the enormous difference between fasting to be seen by man and
fasting to be seen by the Lord? How
foolish to fast in order to be seen by man!
Yet these people fasted for that purpose and many today fast to be seen
The third question was:
who rewards the fasting person?
The Lord Jesus taught clearly that the rewarder of the fasting person is
the one whose eye the fasting person wanted to catch.
The hypocrite fasted to catch the eye of man.
So man is the rewarder of the fasting hypocrite.
Anyone who fasts in order to be seen by man is a hypocrite!
He receives his rewards from the people who see his fast and sing his
Those who are Christ’s fast so as to be seen by their Father, Who is in
secret. He is not to be seen with
human eyes. He is in secret and He
sees all that goes on in secret. Those
who fast for His glory labor to ensure that their fasting is seen only by Him.
They want to catch His eye, and they want His reward.
The hypocrite’s fast is rewarded by the congratulations and the
admiration of men. The fasting of
those who are truly the Lord’s is rewarded by the One Who sees in secret.
The hypocrite has already obtained his reward.
He received it when people looked at his disfigured face and exclaimed,
“What a fasting man!” The
reward of the one who fasts in secret is in the future essentially, even though
he may have some of it now.
The Reason For Fasting
There are many reasons why believers fast.
Some fast in order to mourn the Lord Jesus’ absence.
Others fast to move God’s hand. Others
fast as a part of their seeking after God, and so forth.
There is, however, a reason for fasting that has nothing to do with the
current age or getting things from God now but has to do with the age to come.
When the Lord comes He will reward His servants according to their works.
The books shall be opened.
There shall be the book of prayer, the book of giving to the Lord, the
book of self-denial, the book of fasting, the book of obedience, etc., and
believers shall be rewarded according to what has been recorded in those books.
My dear brother and sister, the book of fasting shall be opened.
What is recorded in that book against your name? Is there anything at
all? Are there only partial fasts?
Are there only a few complete fasts?
Are there any absolute fasts? Are
there any long fasts? Are there any
fasts that satisfy the heart of God? It
is possible to know now so that no one will be surprised on that day.
There will be no reward for any fast by any believer that was carried out
to draw attention to himself. God
does not record such fasts, since the fasting person has already received his
reward from the one whose attention he drew to his fasting.
This should make believers think.
There will be no reward for any fast by any believer that was carried out
to draw both the attention of God and the attention of man.
That is a mixture, a mess, and God cannot be involved in mixtures.
Those who fast to be seen both by man and by God have lost out as far as
Judgment Day is concerned.
There will be rewards only for those who fasts were meant to catch the
eye of God alone.
What does this all mean? I
think that the first thing that it means is that any reward that may be received
now, like power for service, divine visitation, etc., is only a foretaste of
what will be in the future. The
central issue will be the reward by the One Who sees in secret.
Those who may not receive any visible reward for their fasting in time
need not be discouraged. The Lord
is keeping their reward for Judgment Day.
I know of a brother who fasted for three weeks in order to receive
spiritual power to perform signs and wonders.
Many months after the fast, there was no obvious manifestation of the
power to perform miracles in his life and he was disappointed.
He felt that his fast had been in vain and the Lord had disappointed him.
There are two things that he ought to have noted.
First of all, there is no direct promise in the Bible that says that any
believer can receive the power to perform signs and wonders through fasting for
twenty-one days. The Lord is not
under obligation to satisfy the desires of human hearts.
He is under obligation to His will and His Word and no more.
Second, it is most likely that the Lord really valued this brother’s
fast, accepted it, and recorded it against his name in the book of fasting and
that he will receive a reward for it on Judgment Day.
So fasting believers should continue to fast whether or not they see any
results of their fasting now. That
requires faith and the people of God are called to walk by faith and not by
Can you think of the amount of faith that it must have taken for Anna to
keep on fasting for about sixty years so that the Messiah might come?
Yes, she pressed on and in the fullness of time He came. She could have given up, but she did not.
May you too not give up. We
encourage you to keep on fasting and trust that the Lord Who is in secret is
seeing you and will reward you.
To Tell Or Not To Tell
The Lord taught about the secrecy of fasting.
He taught that the fast was to be carried out in such a way that it
caught only the eye of God. It is
important to realize that God does not look only at the heart.
He looks at the motives. It
is possible that a person carried out a fast about which he does not tell people
but his motives for the fast are not pure.
If, for example, he says to himself, “I am fasting.
I will keep it to myself so that when God gives me supernatural power,
everyone will be amazed,” then he has gone wrong altogether.
He has received his reward.
Another person may let people know about his fast not because he wants to
be seen by them but for one or more of the following reasons:
He feels that he is weak and cannot complete the fast without the prayers
of the brethren. He therefore
announces his fast to them so as to solicit their prayers.
He may be a leader who is setting an example in fasting for those he is
leading so that they may do likewise. He
therefore tells them not because he wants them to “see” him but because he
desires their growth in this area.
He may have a major battle before him and wants people who will fast with
him for the overthrow of the enemy. He
must therefore tell them about his fast and solicit their cooperation.
He may want to demonstrate to young believers that God does honor
fasting, that fasting is not something that has outlived its usefulness, and
that they should commit themselves to a life of fasting.
In doing this he might have to share how it has worked in his own life.
He can therefore talk about his experience in fasting without seeking to
draw attention to himself or to his record in fasting.
5. There are some practical things that a person who is to carry out long fasts must know. No one is qualified to help people along these lines without personal experience. There is no substitute for someone who can say, “These are the problems that you will encounter on the way. I know them because I faced them. However, do not give up. The Lord stood with me, and He will stand with you.” A person can do this without seeking to draw attention to himself.
We know about the forty-day fast of
the Lord Jesus because He told the disciples about it. Yet He did not become a hypocrite because of that.
Moses told the children of Israel about his forty-day fasts, yet he did
not become a hypocrite because of that. Paul
talked about his frequent fasts, yet he did not become a hypocrite because of
It is obvious, then, that the Lord is looking at the heart and the
motive. Different people may talk
about the same thing, but their motives are different.
We should not become the judges of the motives of people for doing or
saying things. We must leave that
to the Lord. The Apostle Paul
“Why do you pass judgment on your
brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before
the judgment seat of God, for it is written, ‘As I live says the Lord, every
knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So each of
us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12).
Paul also wrote, “But with me it
is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or any human court.
I do not even judge myself. I
am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.
It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore
do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring
to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the
heart. Then every man will receive
his commendation from God” (2
It is your responsibility to decide whether or not to tell anyone about
your fast. You know your heart and
you know your reason for telling or not telling anyone.
Make sure that the reason meets the approval of the Lord, and you shall
From Zacharias Tanee Fomum, The
Ministry of Fasting, published by Vantage Press, Inc., 516 West 34th
Street, New York, NY 10001. Copyright
1991. Used by permission.