Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, believe it or not. This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical or professional advice. As always, consult your doctor before doing anything, ever. You know the drill.
We talk about prayer way more than we talk about fasting, yet fasting is mentioned along side prayer so often. It’s easy to read the prayer part, since praying (or at least the idea of praying) is easy.
When we’re going through a hard time, we know we need to pray. Our friends tell us to pray, and that they’re praying for us, but again… what about fasting? I know it’s not my first thought.
Fasting is an unmatched tool in the results it can bring, but it’s so often forgotten. And I don’t think it’s because everyone is fasting and keeping it to themselves. Sure, we’re supposed to fast in secret (Matthew 6:16-18), but more often that not, we’re not fasting at all.
It’s really easy to forget about something that we rarely talk about in church, and are supposed to do in secret.
Now that I have your attention, and you feel like you should be fasting more (I know I do), let’s get practical.
Getting Started With Fasting
We don’t talk about how to fast. It seems easy until you get ready to do it. That’s when all the questions come out:
- How long should I fast?
- How long can I fast without, you know, dying?
- Should I fast from food only? Or liquids too? And what about things like TV and internet?
- If I am only consuming liquids, am I still “allowed” to drink juice and smoothies?
These are some of my initial questions when I fasted for the first time. Food and I are pretty close. I like eating, so the thought of not eating for a period of time caused me to start figuring out how far I had to take it. Honestly, I wanted to get as close to eating as I could, and that was the first issue I noticed.
I was more worried about my physical comfort than the purpose of the fast.
So let’s start with the purpose of a fast. I can’t encompass every purpose here, but I can give you an idea based on Scripture.
Why Do We Fast?
Prayer and fasting appear together often, and for good reason. The combination is unbeatable. Prayer deals directly with your heart and your relationship with God, from the perspective of your mind and your spirit. Fasting adds the physical dimension of discipline.
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah 1:4
“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” Daniel 9:3
“and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Luke 2:37
Fasting is throughout the entire Bible, but it seems especially prominent in the New Testament.
What did Jesus say about fasting? This is one of the most common verses:
“And they said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.'” Luke 5:33-35
Today, Jesus wants us to fast and pray. We always seem to pull out the prayer in these verses, but it’s rare to mention the fasting part. Fasting is an important part of the Christian life.
If you’re going through an emotional time, fasting may be the cure. If you have a big decision to make, fasting may be the cure. If you experience depression, loneliness, or sadness, fasting may be the cure. If you’re dealing with anything at all, fasting may be the cure.
The church often fasted before making big decisions, and before sending people off to plant churches or do mission work.
“Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:3
“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 14:23
So that’s why you fast, but how does fasting work?
How Do We Fast?
Fasting is simply not consuming or not doing something. It’s that simple.
If you want to try, and you’ve never done it, I would suggest going 48 hours consuming only water. While fasting often gets easier after the three or four day mark, it’s good to start small and work your way up. Of course, you can start with whatever you want.
When you’re fasting, you need to use the time wisely, and here are a few ideas:
- Get an idea of what you want to focus on during the fast
- Every time you feel hunger pangs, pray for something specific
- Spend alone time with God, to the point that you forget about hunger
You will be focused and in-touch with the Holy Spirit when you fast.
Fast often. Regular fasting is better than random fasting. Trust me. You’ll love the spiritual results you start to see in your life from regular fasting and prayer.
Different Types of Fasts
Fasting comes in different shapes and sizes.
Here are some common fasts to try (from most extreme to least):
- Total Fast – No food. No liquid. This should not be done for long. I would never go more than 24 hours, but you make your own decision. If you do this, be sure to monitor yourself. Don’t engage in physical activity, and don’t go into extreme heat. This fast should only be taken with approval from your doctor.
- Water-Only Fast – Exactly what it sounds like: you consumer only water. This is safe for an extended period of time, but listen to God and your body.
- Liquid-Only Fast – With this fast, you consumer water, vegetable juices and fruit juices. I wouldn’t suggest unnatural drinks like soda or beer, since your body will be more sensitive to caffeine and alcohol. For the record, Spicy Hot V8 Juice really helps to curb hunger. Try to stick with vegetable juice over fruit juice, to keep your sugars low.
- Partial Fast – This is where you fast some types of food, such as bread or sugary foods. This can be good for spiritual discipline and growth, but it shouldn’t always replace a water-only fast as a “lazy way out.”
- Intermittent Fast – This is simply fasting for a certain number of hours every day. I actually practice this regularly by only eating from 11:00am to 7:00pm. While I don’t do this for spiritual reasons, it could be done for spiritual reasons. You could also consider fasting for one or two entire days out of the week for prayer, on a regular schedule.
- Daniel Fast – This is a specific fast in the Book of Daniel. In Daniel 10, it mentions that Daniel did this diet for three weeks, so that’s often what churches will do as a congregation. You could always do it on your own at any time. Here are the guidelines:
Common Questions About Fasting
With traditional fasting, there are many questions that arise. Let’s address some of them.
Is there anything special I need to do for an extended fast?
When you fast for more than two or three days, you want to consider using an enema. You may notice a lot of discomfort until you do this, but afterwards, you’ll feel much better. Some people also like to drink a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar each day to help clear your system, but this is personal preference. You’ll also want to introduce food slowly when you get ready to break your fast. Start with real food, such as fruit or vegetables.
How long should I fast for?
This is 100% your decision, but 48 hours is a good starting point. I wouldn’t suggest starting with an extended fast if you’ve never fasted before. Get an idea of how your body reacts and what true hunger feels like.
Can I fast if I have a physical/labor-intensive job?
Absolutely! I’ve fasted while still going to military physical training five days a week. With God, all things are possible, but you need to do your part and be aware if you feel faint during this work. You may need to sit down for a few minutes, and then slowly stand back up, drink some water, and keep going. It also may be a good idea to mention the fast to your boss so he understands if anything happens.
What risk is associated with fast?
Believe it or not, one of the most common fasting dangers is standing up too quickly and passing out. There are also risks when you fast for an extended period of time, but we can go longer than we think without food. Fasting all food and liquids is extremely dangerous and shouldn’t be done for very long at all.
How do I know if I’m experiencing true hunger or starvation?
There’s a difference between being hungry and actually going into starvation mode. When you experience true hunger, you’ll notice an intense desire for food, not the typical hunger pangs and hungry feeling. This is similar to extreme thirst if you’ve ever been extremely dehydrated. A fast will typically start with a couple days of hunger, and then you’ll gradually get less hungry as the days go on. Once this extreme desire for food comes back, that’s true hunger. You don’t want to go long after that before you eat.
Am I supposed to fast in secret?
Matthew 6:17-18 says, “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.” That doesn’t mean that you will be able to fast without telling anyone. You’ll likely need to let your spouse know. You may need to let some of your co-workers know, if you normally go out to lunch with them. God is concerned with your motive (your heart). If you’re bragging to everyone about how spiritual you are, Pharisee-style, that’s not pleasing to God. If you have to let some people know you’re fasting for common-sense reasons, you can still fast for legitimate purposes.
There is plenty of Scripture on fasting, here are 40 verses you can check out to answer any more questions you have. And you can always comment below for questions.
Take Action: Plan a Fast
If you’ve never fasted before, it’s time to plan your first fast. If you have fasted before, try another fast. To get started, simply define the guidelines of your fast, set a start date and get to it. If you’re completely new to fasting, start with a shorter fast, maybe 24-48 hours. I suggest starting with a water-only fast.
Let me know your experience with fasting and the results, in the comments below!
Further Bible Study
Fasting is mentioned throughout the entire Bible, but here are some of the more prominent passages: