It’s that time of year when pastors of large congregations call for the entire church to fast for their own corporate reasons. And sometimes people, who want to start the year off fresh, decide to fast in order to get wisdom and direction for their lives at the beginning of the new year.
Whether you’re an experienced or new to the whole idea of fasting, I’ve created an FAQ to help you understand.
What is fasting?
Fasting is voluntarily giving up foods, beverages and activities, in order to dedicate the time normally spent doing those things, strictly to prayer, reading the Bible and spending time with God. In most references, you see the phrase “fasting AND prayer,” because merely giving up food is called anorexia or dieting.
So while you are giving up those things you would normally be enjoying, you should be spending more time in prayer. Your willingness to give up those things indicates to God that you are totally and completely dependent on Him and you’re willing to sacrifice those things that you would normally use to sustain yourself, in exchange for what you need from Him.
Why should I fast?
There are several reasons people choose to fast. Using Biblical references, I’ll cover some of the most popular below.
- To get a specific prayer answered. In the Bible, Queen Esther asked all the Jews to commit to fasting for 3 days so that God would give her favor with the king and he would save the Jews from being killed by Haman (Esther 4:16). For other examples, see Daniel 9:2-19 & Daniel 10: 2-3.
- To hear God clearly. While your physical body is being disciplined by fasting, your spiritual body is more sensitive to God. You’re able to hear and recognize more of what God is saying to you. This reminds me of the research that blind people can hear better than people who can see. When one of your senses is restrained, the others improve; they become sharper than before. In Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit spoke directly to the disciples while they were fasting and praying, telling them what He wanted Paul and Barnabas to do.
- To get freedom or power over your enemies. If you’re having a hard time getting over fear, heartbreak, sicknesses or addictions, you may need to fast. All of those problems can be categorized as enemies that torment Christians and hold them back. But, you can gain power over them if you simply fast. In Mark 9:28 – 29, the disciples asked Jesus why could they not cast a mute spirit out of a child and Jesus replied: this kind is cast out only by fasting and prayer. Even though every Christian has power over their enemies (Luke 10:19), not every Christian exercises that power. As a result, some enemies actually have the upper hand. They are stronger and more resistant to leave, until we fast. See also Matthew 17: 14-21.
What should I give up?
There are countless of ways to fast and countless of pleasures to give up. The whole point is to sacrifice the things you love in order to get closer to God.
Because God judges our hearts, He knows whether or not we are really making a sacrifice. For instance, if you are a vegetarian or someone who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, abstaining from meats would probably do you no good. There isn’t much of a sacrifice there. But, if you’re a meat-aholic, and you decide to give up meats, that would be considered a great sacrifice.
This is called a partial fast, which is what Daniel did (Daniel 10:2 – 3). He ate no pleasant bread, meat or wine for 21 days. He only ate plant based foods and water. This fast is very popular among Christians. You can google “Daniel fast” to see lists of food suggestions. Many websites will direct you to only eat fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and water.
There were many instances in the Bible where a total fast was done. This includes completely giving up all foods and beverages or totally abstaining from foods while drinking only water. If you indulge in strenuous exercise or a job with lots of physical activity, you may want to include juicing or smoothies in this type of fast so you can keep your energy up. If you are pregnant or on medication, it’s not be a good idea for you to commit to a total fast.
How long should I fast?
The length and timing of your fast is a personal decision.
Moses, Elijah and Jesus all fasted for 40 days—which I don’t recommend unless you are led by God. Daniel fasted for 21 days. Esther and Paul fasted for 3 days. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, just be mentally and physically prepared to sacrifice something in order to get what you need from God.
Again, the point is to replace pleasures with time with God. If you mess up one day, don’t beat yourself up. Start fresh the very next day. And if you start off on a multi-day fast and need to take a break to celebrate a birthday or some other special occasion, take a day off and start fresh the next day.
Health benefits of fasting
In addition to producing discipline, humility, and a closer relationship with God, fasting has health benefits. One side effect of fasting is getting cleansed from toxins and allowing our organs time to rest from having to digest heavy foods all day long. Fasting brings your body into balance and helps to stabilize your systems. In addition, researchers are also contending that fasting helps you live longer.
And during the process, you might even lose some weight, too.