Learn why fasting may be the most underutilized blessings available to Christians today
A Beginner’s Guide To Fasting
Fasting may be the most underutilized blessing available to Christians. It is a tool that can help believers petition God on behalf of self or others, overcome or endure affliction, or gain a godly perspective. It can also help us overcome habitual sin and harmful patterns. Fasting is a supernatural tool that we can use when we face great opportunities or seemingly insurmountable problems.
We often fail to engage in fasting for at least three reasons. First, we don’t really recognize the blessings that are available to us through this practice. We live in a society that is driven by consumption. To set aside a time of “not-consuming” goes against everything in our culture. Secondly, to be honest, we really don’t like the “menu” during times of fasting. Finally, we have not really been taught how to fast. For this reason, I wanted to create a “getting started” guide to fasting. My hope is that you will see life change by embracing this discipline as a regular practice.
What is fasting?
Fasting is a time of abstinence from food (all or part) and sometimes liquids in order to draw near to God in prayer.
It is a way of strengthening your soul by disciplining your flesh. During times of fasting, the believer’s focus will be upon prayer in order to encounter God in a greater way and to bring before Him our petitions. As the body becomes disciplined and the mind focused, the believer is able to enjoy and hear God with greater clarity.
What fasting is not.
- A diet or way to lose weight.
- A way to earn the love or favor of God.
- A public performance. Fasting is a personal commitment between you and God. You are doing it to please God, not impress someone else. There may be times when you have to tell others you are fasting. (Your coworkers may get the wrong impression if you don’t explain to them why you are not going to eat with them.)
- A time of punishing or harming the body.
Is fasting commanded in scripture?
Donald Whitney writes that there 75 references to fasting in the Bible. However, because fasting is not commanded in the New Testament, and because it is a private, personal discipline, it often goes unnoticed and untaught in many churches.
Fasting is commanded under the Old Testament covenant. God commanded the Israelites in the Old Testament to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to identify with the High Priest who was making sacrifice for their sin.
This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves b and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you—30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.Leviticus 16:29-31
Fasting is not commanded in the New Testament, but it is available and assumed.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18
Jesus, when questioned why His disciples don’t fast, replied that there is a time they will fast. Matthew 9:15.
What are some Biblical examples of fasting?
Some Old Testament examples of fasting:
- Moses fasted 40 days on behalf of Israel’s sin: Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, 25-29; 10:10.
- David fasted following the deaths of:
- Saul: 2 Samuel 1:12.
- Abner: 2 Samuel 3:35.
- His child: 2 Samuel 12:16.
- Elijah fasted for 40 days after he fled from Jezebel: 1 Kings 19:7-18.
- Darius fasted on behalf of Daniel: Daniel 6:18-24.
- Daniel fasted on behalf of the sin of Judah when reading the prophecy of Jeremiah: Daniel 9:1-19 and following a vision from God: Daniel 10:3-13.
- Ezra fasted and wept for the sins of the returning exiles: Ezra 10:6.
- Nehemiah fasted concerning the broken walls of Jerusalem: Nehemiah 1:4
- Esther told the people to fast on behalf of her when facing the task of helping her people. Esther 4:13-16.
- The Ninevites fasted after they heard the preaching of Jonah: Jonah 3
Some New Testament examples of fasting:
- The prophetess Anna fasted night and day for the redemption that would come to Jerusalem: Luke 2:37.
- After his baptism, Jesus fasted for 40 days before He was tempted and began His ministry: Matthew 4:1-11.
- John the Baptist’s disciples fasted: Matthew 9:14-15.
- Before commissioning Paul and Barnabas, the elders in Antioch fasted: Acts 13:1-5.
- Paul fasted three days after he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road: Acts 9:9.
- Before elders were appointed in local churches: Acts 14:23
Why should I fast?
Some biblical reasons for fasting:
- In order to petition God on behalf of self or others: Psalm 35:13
- To cry out to God when experiencing affliction: Joel 1:14 and 2:12.
- When facing a great challenge: Esther 4:16
- When commissioning, appointing, or exploring a call to ministry: Acts 14:23
- To confess sin: 1 Samuel 7:6
- To seek deliverance, justice, answered prayer, direction, refreshment and restoration: Isaiah 58:5-12
What are some different ways of fasting?
- Absolute. An absolute fast is the abstaining from all food or liquids for a short period of time. (DO NOT do this for more than three days.) Acts 9:9
- Normal or liquid: Abstaining from all food, but not liquids: Liquid fast can include: juice, water, coffee, soup, and anything you can put in a blender or a juicer.
- Daniel Fast: Only vegetables and fruits: (No meats, no sweets and no treats.) Daniel 1.
- Daily Fast: Fasting from morning until evening
- Wesley fast: In his early ministry, Wesley fasted every Wednesday and Friday. He also ate only bread 10 days prior a conference that was offered every 2-3 months.
- Combination: For example: normal fast for one day followed by a three days of a Daniel fast
The Do’s of fasting
- Have a reason for fasting
- What is the reason (cause) for which you are fasting? What are you praying God will do? What are you praying God will do in you? Your church?
- Is there any specific spiritual/life issue you would like to bring before God during this season?
- Have a plan
- Have a clearly defined purpose and have a settled conviction in your purpose and in the Lord’s guidance.
- Declare your intentions to fast to God. Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast in 2 Chronicles 20:3. A proclamation denotes: (a) a choice, (b) a commitment and (c) a covenant agreement with God.
- What types of difficulties do you think you may encounter through the fast? What may be the problems you anticipate facing (physical, medical, spiritual)
- What will I need to do prepare/acclimate these things before hand.
- Measure your intentions and expectations for fasting with Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6:16-18.
- Follow the Holy Spirit and your conscience.
- Fasting is commanded in the OT and allowed in the New Testament. Fasting is not required. Fast how, and for as long, as you feel led. Corinthians 10:31
- Expect physical and spiritual resistance.
- Jesus was tempted by Satan following 40 days of fasting. Matthew 4
- This will not be easy. You will find yourself craving foods you never even thought about eating. In addition, this time may also bring many unsolved sinful or relational attitudes to the surface. You may begin to wonder why you are so irritable, impatient, unforgiving, etc. Many of these attitudes were present before, they were just fed with food instead of God’s word. Also, there will be times when it is not a spiritual battle; you are just really, really hungry.
- Try to fast with someone else
- Fasting can be done among a community of believers.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Acts 13:2
- We can always persevere longer and accomplish more when we are enduring with someone else.
- Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
- Check with your doctor.
- Be sure to consult your physician before fasting, especially regarding any medications you may need to take during the period of fasting. Recognize that your body may experience some changes during this period. When in doubt, call your doctor. Finally, be sure to gradually introduce food following the period of fasting.
- Make the most of your time when you are fasting
- Since fasting is a time to hear from God, it is recommended that normal meal times be set aside for prayer, Bible reading, meditating, journaling and other Christian reading. Journaling. This is the best time to interact with your thoughts, experiences, insights and questions through journaling.
- Spend time in prayer. Success is not dependent on how far you can get away from food, but rather how close you can get to God.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. Fasting prepares the heart and mind to hear from God. Therefore, it is recommended that you refrain from television, secular/talk radio, Facebook and idle conversations. This is not a legalistic issue. However, consider the following: 1.) It is hard to hear the voice of God when we allow the media to drown it out. 2.) You will be amazed at how many Big Mac commercials appear during a fast. Trust us on this, you don’t want to know about $.99 Whoppers during a fast.
- Fasting is a good time to have the godly conversations you may have been neglecting for a while. Is there a major decision you need to make? Is there a difficult conversation you have been putting off having?
- Be warned: If you give up television, Facebook and pointless internet surfing you will quickly find that you are not as busy as you have been led to believe.
The Do Nots of fasting
- Do not attempt a supernatural fast. Only Jesus and Moses were able to do it. Do not go more than two days without liquids.
- Do not be legalistic. Don’t think that fasting will “earn” you something or that you are more spiritual than someone else because of the manner in which you are fasting. According to Isaiah 58:1-5, it is possible to fast with the wrong motives.
- Do not quit the first time things get difficult. Fasting will not kill you. In fact, it will probably be good to eliminate many of the toxins/poisons from the body. However, as we said before, check with your doctor before fasting.
- Do not beat yourself up if you stumble during a fast. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. If you fail or forget, don’t beat yourself up. Just move on.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus -Romans 8:1.
- Do not think that you are unspiritual because you get hungry. You are supposed to get hungry and this is supposed to be uncomfortable.
- Do not worry about people thinking you are weird. People may have been thinking that about you for some time. You are doing this for God and not people. It is actually an opportunity to share your struggles, prayer needs and faith in God. Daniel 1
- Do that which you believe will honor God and your conscience.
- Romans 14:22-23
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Fasting with a purpose
We should always hunger with a clear purpose. When our body begins to cry out for food and we are reminded that we are abstaining from food, we should remind ourselves, “Oh, yeah I am fasting so that ________.” Being hungry reminds us that we want God to hear our prayers for that more than we want food. “What are the needs of yourself, your family, your church, and your community that you want God intervene in a powerful way?”
It is best to fast with a very clear purpose. I recommend writing this out in advance.
- The reason(s) (cause) I am fasting is:
- Will anyone be fasting with me? _________ Who? __________________________
- I will fast:
- Begin date _________time _________
- Ending date ________time _________
- My fast will be a: (Check one)
- _________ Daniel: (Only vegetables and fruits: No meats, no sweets and no treats.)
- _________ Normal or Liquid: A liquid fast can include: juice, water, coffee, anything you can put in a blender. (Well, maybe not anything you can put in a blender.)
- _________ Absolute (No food or liquids. Do not do for more than three days.) Example: Acts 9:9
- _________ Daily Fast. Example Sunup to Sundown
- _________ Wesley fast(s) In his early ministry, Wesley fasted every Wednesday and Friday. He also ate only bread 10 days prior a conference that was offered every two to three months.
- _________ Combination: For example: Absolute fast for one day followed by a three days of a normal fast. I will fast by:_______________________________________
A closing thought
My prayer is that you will experience God’s presence thought the privilege of fasting. As I write this, I am praying that you will experience God’s presence and tremendous breakthroughs through this discipline. If you would like to download a copy of this booklet, you can find it “here”.