In all the years I’ve taught the how-to’s and benefits of fasting, I don’t remember a time when so many were as interested as today. So many churches—to their credit—are now starting the year with a concentrated 7 to 21 days of fasting and prayer.
As a general rule, most people today don’t know much about fasting unless you would call dieting fasting (which is not our context today.)
But it was common in Bible times. And even though the Bible refers to fasting numerous times, you won’t find a lot of practical instruction there because basically the audience then understood it already.
You may be involved in a fast right now. Or you know someone who is and would like to know more about it. Either way, I’d like to give you a few insights and practical advice that will help make this a highly beneficial experience—and one you’ll hopefully repeat.
What Is Fasting?
People talk about fasting many different things: e.g., social media, TV. But, to fast means primarily to not eat. Fasting something else may have some value; but, essentially we’re talking about limiting food in some way.
There are basically three kinds of fasts:
- Normal. This is abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not water. Often the case in biblical examples.
Absolute. This is abstaining from water as well as food. Not generally recommended because a person can’t live without water more than a few days maximum. There are several biblical instances no longer than three days. Moses and Elijah conducted absolute fasts for 40 days yet they were sustained supernaturally by God—impossible otherwise.
Partial. This tends to be the most common today. It’s more of restricting your diet than completely abstaining—usually variations of what’s commonly referred to as a Daniel Fast which is predominantly a plant-based plan. Other examples are a juice fast, one light meal a day, etc.
Although there are numerous physical benefits, the focus is primarily for spiritual reasons. As we discipline our fleshly appetites and set ourselves before God in a more concerted way, we become more spiritually sensitive.
Fasting, therefore, is really for us. We aren’t buying God’s favor or earning extra blessing from Him. We are merely positioning ourselves to be more sensitive to Him and His will.
Fasting isn’t to make God hear from you on high—it’s to help you hear from God on low!
How To Fast
- Before the fast:
- Begin slowly like starting a new exercise program. Don’t try to impress anyone or follow someone else’s habit. Start with fasting only a meal, then two, then 24 hours. Or perhaps a partial fast.
- It’s good to wean yourself off caffeine couple days before.
- Don’t gorge yourself before! Best to eat a light meal of fruit as last meal or two.
- Ask yourself: What is the purpose of the fast? What are you hoping to learn?
- How will you direct time and attention toward God differently during this time of fasting? Spend the time you would normally spend eating or preparing food in prayer, meditation, or Bible reading.
- During the fast:
- Rest when necessary.
- Be especially attentive to your hygiene.
- Understand the phases of fasting. Read other books to learn what normal: e.g., cravings, weakness, return of energy and creativity.
- Breaking your fast:
- Two or three days isn’t to hard to rebound from. It’s best to break your fast with fruit juice or steamed vegetables. Avoid heavy sauces, meats, etc.
- Beyond three days, take a couple days to break your fast in a gradual way. That in itself requires discipline. Your digestive system needs to ease back in action.
Jesus said, “And whenever you fast…”. Like prayer and giving, fasting is a spiritual discipline with direct and indirect benefits. For more information, two of my favorite books of the subject are God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis and Celebration of Spiritual Disciplines by Robert Foster.
Question: How has fasting benefitted you spiritually? Share your answer in the comments below.