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The Basics of Fasting

March 14, 2018

 

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra 8:23

THE PURPOSE OF FASTING

 

Due to general misunderstanding and past church abuses of the practice, fasting is often missing from the life of contemporary Christians.   The purpose of this article is to give a Biblical foundation, as well as provide practical guidelines for fasting.

 

 (This article is not intended for medical advice.  It is general observations concerning fasting.  Please contact your doctor with any medical questions concerning fasting.)

 

Definition of fasting.  Biblical fasting is the act of going without food (or certain foods or activities) for a certain amount of time, to humble yourself and heighten your awareness of your need for God. The Bible teaches that prayer and fasting are to be part of the life of a believer.

 

Prayer combined with fasting is a discipline that seeks to recapture your hunger for God. It indicates that you are willing to set aside anything to be in His Presence and to hear His voice.

 

As Richard Foster explains in his book, Celebration of Discipline (Harper, 2002), fasting and other spiritual disciplines do not in themselves produce change in us, but rather, they place us where change can occur.  Fasting and prayer help us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.

TYPES OF FASTING

 

Total-Food Fast:  In this fast, you do not eat any food and only consume liquids (typically only water or juice)  for a specified number of days.  Total-food fasts are usually for 1-3 days.  Often when people engage in an extended, total-food fast (3 or more days), they will eat one healthy meal a day for the designated fast days. 

 

Partial-food Fast:  During this fast, you give up certain foods for a specified number of days.  People who desire to fast but cannot do a total-food fast for medical and health reasons, will often engage in a partial-food fast.

 

Note:  People will also do combination of a total-food and a partial-food fast for an extended period (21 Days or 40 Days).   For example a person will fast sweets for 21 days, but will fast all food every Tuesday during the 21 days.

 

The Daniel Fast:  The Daniel Fast is a particular type of Biblical partial-food fast.  This fast is patterned after two periods of fasting that Daniel engaged in (Daniel 1 and Daniel 10).  During this fast, you fast nearly all food except fruits and vegetables.  This means no sweets, meat or bread.  You also drink water and juice during this fast.  

 

Sacrificial Fast:  During this fast people will give up television, social media, entertainment or other activities that are a sacrifice for them to not engage in.   This can be done in combination with other types of fasts.

HOW JESUS VIEWED FASTING

 

Jesus fasted.

 

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. Luke 4:1-2

 

Jesus expected His followers to fast.  Notice in the following verse, Jesus did not say, "If you fast." He said, "When you fast." 

 

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do... Matthew 6:16a

 

Jesus taught that you should not bring attention to your fast.  With that understood, it is Biblically appropriate for a group fast to be called and during those times others will know you are fasting. The point is you should not go around seeking attention because you are going without food.

 

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 

 

Jesus taught us to fast with purpose.  Before you fast determine the purpose of your fast.  Are you fasting in response to the Holy Spirit's leading?  For spiritual breakthrough?  To humble yourself? For breakthrough in others?  Are you participating in a group fast called by spritual leaders?  

 

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. Matthew 9:14-15

 

Jesus taught us there are spiritual issues that can only be resolved through prayer combined with fasting

 

And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:28-29, NKJV

HOW THE EARLY CHURCH VIEWED FASTING

 

The Apostles and the early church viewed fasting as a normal part of a believers life. They seemed to fast while seeking direction concerning significant decisions particularly.

 

Paul was anointed for his life purpose after a time of Fasting and Prayer. 

 

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.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:2-3

 

The Church fasted while appointing leaders and seeking direction. 

 

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14:23

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU FAST

 

Expect some discomfort while fasting.  (REMEMBER this article is not intended for medical advice.  It is general observations concerning fasting.  Please contact your doctor with any medical questions concerning fasting.)

  • You will typically experience hunger pains and "light-headedness."

  • Fasting some foods, such as caffeine and sugar, can have a withdrawal effect, causing headaches and irritability.  These symptoms should subside after a few days.

  • You might experience weakness so limit physical activity and get plenty of rest.  Pay attention to your body.  Consider medical attention if you experience extreme fatigue, persistent dizziness or fainting.  

  • You might encounter spiritual opposition while fasting.

 

Expect spiritual benefit!    Sometimes you won't sense a breakthrough while you're fasting. Hunger and irritability can often "cloud" your senses. Often the full spiritual impact will not be felt until after the fast is over.

 

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

HOW LONG AND HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU FAST?

 

This depends on several factors.  What is God leading you to do?  Is it a total-food fast or a partial-food fast?  Total food fasts are typically for 1-3 days but can be longer.  Partial food fasts are typically for extended periods of time.  Most (but not all) Biblical fasts were for one day.  


Some people make it a practice to fast a day every week.  The fast is not out of ritual, but rather to routinely keep themselves humbled in the Presence of God.  Others only fast occasionally as they feel directed to do so by the Holy Spirit.  Others will fast certain times of the year.  

 

In Scripture it was a common practice for leaders to call a group fast.  This applied to nations in the Old Testament and to the Church in the New Testament.    Most Biblical accounts of fasting were a group endeavor.  (1 Samuel 7:5-6, Ezra 8:21-23, Nehemiah 9:1-3, Joel 2:15-16, Jonah 3:5-10, Acts 27:33-37)

FASTING TIPS:

  • Fast sensibly. Most Biblical fasts were for one day, with a few exceptions. For extended fasts, people often only abstain from certain foods or activities they enjoy, rather than all food. Often extended fasts are engaged in by just eating one meal a day for a designated time.

  • Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated while you fast.

  • Eliminate all time wasters while fasting.  Turn off anything with a screen (TV, computer, game device, smart device).  Use only if required for your work.  Set a time twice a day to check for messages, other than that, set it aside. 

  • Remember that fasting without prayer has no spiritual benefits.

  • Feed your mind and spirit on the Word of God.  When you are hungry, read and study and pray. When you are weak, feed your spirit.  When you are bored, feed your spirit.

  • Children should not go without eating.  If a child wants to participate in a fast, perhaps they could give up a "favorite" food or give up a toy or an activity that they enjoy.

  • Remember, before fasting, consult your doctor.  This especially important if you are on medication or have certain health issues. If you should not engage in a total-fast food because of medical reasons, consider a sacrificial fast or a partial-food fast.

 

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