My post on fasting created quite a bit of discussion, so I have updated it with some further thoughts. My big issue is understanding how fasting works and what is its purpose. It is most frequently used by Christians in intercession, but when used for this purpose, it can easily become a tool for manipulating God into doing things. God has to do what I demand because I have fasted. That easily slips into witchcraft.

When I engage in intercession, I try to find God's will first, then I can pray with authority, without needing to persuade him to change his mind. If I am just releasing his power by giving authority to do what he wants to do anyway, then fasting does not seem to have a role (apart from hearing his voice).

Mark 9:29 is often quoted as justification for fasting when dealing with evil spirits.

This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.
The problem with this verse is that the word "and fasting" is missing from some early manuscripts. Likewise, Matt 17:21, which has the same message, is missing from early manuscripts. So, I can't help wondering if some copyists who were fasting fans added these words in later. I think it is dangerous to build a doctrine on a couple of verses whose authenticity is uncertain with a message that is not repeated elsewhere.

Anyway, these words are hard to understand, because Jesus stresses elsewhere that the key to dealing with evil spirits is authority. I can see how prayer would increase my sense of authority, but not fasting. Evil spirits do not care whether I am fasting or not. Why would they? They are removed by authority in Jesus. I do not understand why an evil spirit would be impressed by my fasting. The only benefit when praying against a demon would be if fasting made me spiritually sharper.

Faith is a gift of the Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the word of God. I do not believe that the scriptures teach that fasting produces faith. Fasting is likely to increase my confidence, but not my faith.

I don't think the spiritual powers of evil are impressed by my fasting. It does not change their behaviour in any way, so I do not see a role for fasting to make them submit to God's will.

Most teaching about fasting comes from the Old Times. During that season, there was a much greater emphasis on external matters, such as circumcision, sabbath, food laws and fasting. The message of the New Testament is that these are irrelevant for those who have been rescued by faith in Jesus. Everything changes with the Holy Spirit coming in fullness. He is the one who convicts us of sin and builds our faith, not fasting.

Even in the Old Testament, the prophets say that God prefers mercy, justice and obedience to fasting (Is 58). God prefers obedience to fasting. The same is true now. Churches often call for fasts during a time of crisis, but this seems to make it seem like God is the problem, and we need him to change. Fasting can be an excuse for not making the real changes that God is calling the church to make. God wants the church to change the way it operates. That is the best way to deal with the crisis it is facing. Fasting will achieve nothing if we are unwilling to do what God is calling us to do.

Most of Jesus teaching comments about fasting accused the Jewish people of hypocritical fasting. One example is Matthew 6:16, but "when/if you fast" is a conditional, not an imperative. I agree with Jesus point that fasting can easily become a showy thing. When fasting is done as a spiritual exercise, it can easily slip into a religious activity which produces pride. This is dangerous for young Christians. We are to live by faith, not by works. Fasting easily becomes works if it is not initiated by the Holy Spirit.

Many people quote Jesus saying that people would fast once the bridegroom had gone away (Mark 2:19-20). They assume that means Jesus ascending into heaven, but that does not sound right to me, because he sent us the Holy Spirit. I suspect that Jesus was telling his disciples to fast during the period between his ascension and the pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. During that time, they were really separated from their bridegroom, because Jesus had gone, but the Holy Spirit has not yet come.

Jesus was taken away from the Jewish people who did not trust him, so they are the ones who should have been fasting. I don't feel like the bridegroom has been taken away from me. He is present with me every day through the power of the Holy Spirit, so I do not feel that I need to fast to serve him. Maybe, if I had lost the presence of the Holy Spirit, I would fast until he returned.

I was surprised at how little mention there is of fasting in the book of Acts. Cornelius fasted, but he was an unbeliever seeking the truth when he did.

The two main references in Acts describe leaders of the church fasting when they were deciding about who to appoint as apostles (Acts 13:1-3) and who to appoint as elders (Acts 14:23). This suggests that fasting was not an individual spiritual exercise, but a joint leadership action, expressing commitment to each other at times when they needed to seek direction for their church. This quite different from what is usually taught. Fasting is usually taught as a personal spiritual exercise, or the pastor calls on the entire church to pray for some cause that he believes is important. The two examples in Acts are different, because the fasting was done by the elders. They were supporting each other and seeking guidance for the direction of the body of Jesus. The focus was on praying for leaders.

Paul only mentions fasting a few times in his letters. Apart from going hungry during storms and other trials when he could not eat, he only mentions fasting in connection with abstaining from sex (probably a message relevant for our time). Paul writes far more about being filled with the Spirit, so that should be our greatest priority.

Controlling what I eat could be useful for putting my flesh to death. Paul explains that we put to death the sins of the flesh by doing the opposite. A person who was a liar should practice speaking the truth. A person who was a thief should put the habit to death by working and giving generously. The pattern is to replace something bad/negative by doing something positive/active. Fasting does not really fit with this teaching, as it is avoiding doing something.

I think that the most important thing that I take from the comments made on my far is that fasting should only be done in response to leading of the Holy Spirit. It should be not done to achieve results, or because a leader says I should, or because I think it is what I should do. If we are not wise, it can easily slip into being another religious activity that God hates.