People fast for various reasons. Sometimes they need to clean out their digestive systems completely to prepare for an upcoming surgery, or perhaps they do it to lose weight. In Old Testament times, refusing to eat was a public way of demonstrating that you were really upset or distraught. And then there’s religious fasting. Have you ever temporarily denied yourself food for religious reasons?
There are no New Testament rules about religious fasting. God neither commands it nor discourages the practice. It belongs to the vast set of religious behaviors where God invites you to use your own judgment. God’s priest Ezra once asked Israel’s leaders to join him in a time of intense prayer, and he invited them furthermore to take no food for a set period of time to intensify the experience: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer” (Ezra 8:22,23).
If you are easily distracted, fasting probably won’t work too well for you—your constantly growling stomach will keep you focused on your stomach, not on God. But as a discipline of self-denial, just as when the church in Antioch commissioned Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2,3), it can help you give 100 percent of your attention to your prayers.