Dress yourselves in burlap and weep, you priests! Wail, you who serve before the altar! Come, spend the night in burlap, you ministers of my God. For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people of the land into the Temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to him there. The day of the Lord is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be!
Joel 1:13-15 NLT
In the Old Testament, fasting was often an act of penance to beg for God’s mercy. Here in Joel, the priests and ministers are called to action first. As a follower of Christ, you are a spiritual leader in the world and are called to act first before the rest of the world is held to account. As you look at the world around you, where do you see our culture and country running headlong into sin? How is it manifested on a local level? Where do you see its impact directly on your life? What can you do as a leader to act in love and confront the sin? Start with yourself at the smallest action level and work outwards. List 10 ways you can lead within your sphere of influence and beyond.
And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany us and protect us from enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king, “Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him.” So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.
Ezra 8:21-23 NLT
This passage in Ezra demonstrates once again that God is faithful and that fasting allows us to hone in on listening to him speak. As you read and reflect on this passage, choose one word that comes to mind about fasting. Write that word longways so that each letter is on a new line down the page. Use each of these letters to write an acrostic poem or a list of words that describe God, with the beginning of each line starting with the next letter of the word you wrote down the page.
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide yourselves from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.
Isaiah 58:5-8a NLT
If you have time, I suggest reading this whole chapter or coming back to read it later and spend some time studying all of it more deeply.
We often think of fasting as abstaining from food or maybe from media, but God shows us here that fasting isn’t about what we give up: it’s about the condition and motivation of our hearts. God’s words to Isaiah for the Israelites in this passage are transformative. Instead of just skipping lunch, we should also skip social injustice. We should feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the needy among us. Fasting very often turns into a self-righteous act, and God turns that on its head by pointing us out towards the world in need of help. Find a news headline today about a great need in the world. Print it or cut it out. Then write or sketch a different ending – a way you can help to transform that need.
After this, the armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and some of the Meunites declared war on Jehoshaphat. Messengers came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army from Edom is marching against you from beyond the Dead Sea. They are already at Hazazon-tamar.” (This was another name for En-gedi. Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people came from all the towns of Judah to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.
2 Chronicles 20:1-4 NLT
Jehoshaphat immediately turned to the Lord for guidance and to his people for prayer support through fasting. This account tells us that all the people of Judah came together to seek God’s help. What an amazing picture of unity and humility. When have you felt that sense of unity within the body of Christ? Draw something that symbolized the power of God’s people fasting and praying as one in Jesus.
The attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others. God gave these four young men and unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams.
Daniel 1:14-17 NLT
God doesn’t call us to give something earthly up without the promise of something better spiritually, something amazing that we would never have imagined or asked for in our finite knowledge. In Daniel’s story, he knew that the king’s food would defile him, so he abstained from eating the rich food and wine of the king and had only vegetables and water instead. God rewarded Daniel’s faithfulness and sacrifice by giving him the special ability to interpret dreams and an incredible capacity for understanding literature and wisdom. Write or draw about a time in your life that God rewarded your sacrifice with something amazing.
Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.
Esther 4:16 NLT
Fasting is most often a tool for praying specifically with laser-like intention and focus on one topic – an important decision, a stronghold of sin, or even a national crisis like the one Esther was facing. Pray and ask God to point his laser beam into your life and show you where you may need a focused time of prayer or fasting. Write that in the center of the page and draw a shape around it. From that central idea, brainstorm actions you need to take and draw the thoughts God brings to you as an idea map.