History of Fasting
Lieut.-Colonel Janet Munn
In the Old
Testament, fasting appears to be a prerequisite for revival.
In Joel, chapter 2, prior to the prophecy of the outpouring of
the Holy Spirit on all flesh, the people of God are challenged
to “declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly” (Joel 2:15).
Then God promised, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit
on all people” (Joel 2:28). Is it possible that greater
revival, an increase in the manifest presence of the Holy
Spirit on all people, is delayed in our day, at least in part,
as a result of our lack of fasting, our self-indulgence rather
than our self-denial? How often do we really say “no” to
ourselves, to our own appetites and cravings, for the sake of
seeking the face of God through fasting and prayer?
In the Sermon
on the Mount, Jesus taught the disciples how they were to pray
and fast; His assumption was that they would do both.
5 “And when
you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray
standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be
seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their
reward in full...16 “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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and
wash your face.” Matthew 6: 5, 16-17
disciples were criticized for their lack of dietary restraint
compared to John the Baptist’s disciples, Jesus assured the
critics that when He, the bridegroom, was taken from them,
then they would fast.
35 “But the
time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in
those days they will fast.” Luke 5: 35
In fasting, we
humble ourselves, and we know from the book of James that God
gives grace and favor to the humble (James 4:10). Jesus’
example reminds us of the power over temptation connected with
fasting (Luke 4). Throughout the book of Acts, the early
Church gathered corporately for periods of prayer and fasting
in order to gain clarity and guidance regarding the will of
God. This He made known to His people when they were together
seeking Him in prayer and denying themselves of food as they
sought Him. Imagine if we as Salvation Army leaders began to
make major decisions only as we met together in fasting and
prayer, rather than at meetings planned around meals!
Prayer and Fasting
called her people, the Jews, to join her in a corporate fast
for their deliverance as a people. Anna served in the
Temple in Jerusalem around the time of the birth of
Jesus Christ, with prayer and fasting. She lived a fasting
lifestyle (Luke 2:37), as did John the Baptist. It was during
a period of fasting and prayer that God spoke to the Gentile
Cornelius, the Roman centurion, about contacting Peter, which
then led to a major shift in understanding regarding the
Gospel and the Spirit offered also to the Gentiles (Acts
10:30-31). The Apostle Paul fasted for safety and deliverance
during a fierce storm (Acts 27) and Daniel fasted as a gesture
of repentance on behalf of the sin of the people (Daniel 9).
Jesus began His public ministry immediately following a 40-day
church fathers, Polycarp and Tertulian, fasted, as did Martin
Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and John Wesley. Wesley was so
committed to fasting that he would not approve a candidate for
ministry if he did not fast twice a week! How would that
policy change our Candidates’ Councils and us?
became aware that his spiritual power or anointing was
weakening, Charles Finney would immediately commence a
three-day fast. Following the fast, the presence of God would
radiate so powerfully through Finney that people would fall
under overwhelming conviction upon his entrance into a room, a
building, or even the city limits.
Edwards and Charles Haddon Spurgeon would fast and pray in
order that they would be able to preach well!
Types of Fasts
outlines various types of biblical fasts and their purposes,
in his book, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough. These
include the Samuel fast, in which people join together to seek
God’s guidance for them corporately (1 Samuel 7) as well as
the Ezra fast, a corporate fast for protection (Ezra 8:22).
The Elijah fast is an individual fast to cry out for God’s
help in time of trouble and discouragement. The Disciples’
fast is for spiritual power to exercise authority over the
demonic (Matthew 17:21) and the
fast is an individual fast for increased light – for an
opening of the eyes of the heart (Acts 9: 17-19). God’s
covenant people agreed together to fast for deliverance from
danger and evil in the Esther fast (Esther 4:16) and the
Daniel fast is one in which the individual fasts for physical
health and strength.
Janet Munn - Secretary for Spiritual Life Development
For more on
The Rewards of Fasting
Mahesh Chavda, The Hidden
Power of Prayer and Fasting
Celebration of Discipline
Elmer L. Towns, Fasting
For Spiritual Breakthrough
Dallas Willard, The
Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes