The generally accepted definition of fasting is to “refrain from eating certain foods and drinking certain liquids for a designated period of time”. Denying oneself food and liquids is not new. Not only has fasting existed in almost all religions for centuries, but it has also been used for political purposes, medical therapy and personal enhancement.
It is important to remember that Biblical fasting is “not eating” with spiritual communication in mind. How do we know this? Because Biblical fasting always occurs together with prayer in the Bible – ALWAYS. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast (Biblically speaking) without praying. Biblical fasting is deliberately abstaining from food for a spiritual reason: communication and relationship with the Father.
Fasting is not designed to be harmful to the body. Therefore, if you are taking certain medications or if you have certain physical conditions, you may be restricted from fasting from foods and liquids. Please consult your physician if you have diabetes mellitus (“sugar diabetes”), heart conditions, hypertension (“high blood pressure”) or any other condition requiring routine medications and regular eating. There are other things that can be sacrificed or fasted beside food. Things that divert our focus and keep us from Godly living should be considered. Only you know what those things are. In Isaiah 58:1-6 the people were regularly fasting from food but they didn’t have a change of heart. The Lord is not looking for a ritual that doesn’t result in a change of heart and mind. What are you willing to sacrifice?
TYPES OF FASTS
For those who can participate in restricting eating, there are three types of fasts. There are very few rules when it comes to fasting. What you do is really between you and the Lord.
- The Normal Fast: There is only one fast command in the Bible and that was the fast on the Day of Atonement. This fast was from sunset of one day to sunset of the next (Leviticus 16:29;23:32). Since, people usually don’t eat during the night that makes the fast fairly easy, since you can eat again in the evening before retiring to bed. So in this type of fast the person abstained from food and liquid for a period of one day (from sunset to sunset). This is a normal fast.
- The Partial Fast: In this type of fast, the emphasis is placed on restriction of diet, rather than abstaining completely from eating. Examples are: Daniel, Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego eating only vegetables and drinking only water (Daniel 1:15) and later on when Daniel alone practiced a limited diet for three weeks (Daniel 10:3). Some people would argue that this isn’t really a fast at all, but Daniel 10:3 does use the word “mourned” which is a Biblical occasion for fasting and a common synonym for fasting.
- The Radical Fast: This type of fast is one in which the person refrains from both food and water OR simply food (but not water) for an extended period of time. A radical fast can be harmful to your health and in most cases should not exceed three days. An example of a radical fast can be found with Esther and her household. Esther decided to fast for three days abstaining from both “food and water” both “day and night” (Esther 4:15-16). The rabbi Ezra and the apostle Paul also went without food and water for three days (Ezra 10:6-9; Acts 9:9). David is another example of a radical fast. He went seven days without food (but probably with liquid) as a plea to God to save the life of his child (2 Samuel 12:15-20). Fasts that extend beyond three or seven days can be found in the Bible, but these exceptions were based upon direct guidance from God or a supernatural ability given by God to complete the fast. Examples of these extreme fasts are: Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9-18 and Exodus 34:28); Elijah (1 Kings 19:8); and Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11).
HOW TO FAST
Fasting can be a great experience instead of a test run at starvation if you approach it with the right attitude.
Prepare yourself physically. Fasting can actually be a cleansing opportunity for the body, but you don’t want to make yourself sick. Prepare yourself for the transition from eating regular meals to following restrictions. Do not overload your system with high sugar and high fat foods in the 2-3 days before the fast begins. Try to eat more fruits and vegetables and drink more water.
Make the fast an opportunity to step-up your spirituality. Set aside time to study scripture, read devotionals and Christian books and meditate on their meaning.
Pray during your fast. Whatever your purpose for fasting, it is a great opportunity for spiritual growth when accompanied by prayer. Pray with purpose, expressing gratitude and articulating both your needs and the needs of others. Pause to reflect and meditate on your prayer and your fast.
The connection between fasting, spiritual growth and knowledge for Christian living is prayer. Without this, fasting is an idle exercise. It is important that you devise a plan for spending your quiet time each day for individual prayer, bible reading and meditation. Finding this time will not be easy, especially at first. Be prepared for interruptions, distractions and spiritual attacks as you purpose in your heart to do this on a daily basis. If you have a prayer partner, be sure to communicate by phone to offer mutual support and to share prayer concerns. Close your fast with prayer. If you were fasting with a specific purpose, take the opportunity again to express your purpose. Express gratitude for the opportunity to fast, and for being able to complete it!
Remember why you are fasting. When hunger pangs occur, especially during the first few days, let them be a reminder of the sacrifice you are making. If you are used to drinking a lot of coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages, you may experience a headache, a common withdrawal symptom. This should gradually diminish after the first few days.
Stay away from food. The sight or smell of food will probably make fasting more difficult physically, and if food is easily accessible, you may unconsciously begin to snack.
Do not let your outward appearance or behavior indicate you are fasting. Dress appropriately for your situation and conduct yourself appropriately. Carry on your daily family and professional responsibilities.
If you have never fasted before, it may be wise to only fast for periods of 1-3 days at a time. Remember, fasting is not designed to harm you. It is designed to feed your soul and to help you hear and obey the voice of God. Ask Him to guide you in this decision.
Do not fast if you are seriously ill. Don’t use a minor illness as an excuse, but consider your own health and the possible risks associated with fasting.
If you are taking medications, ask your physician before fasting and continue to take them as instructed by your physician.
If you do not want anyone to know you are fasting, try going out of the workplace for lunch or going into another room when people start to eat.
ENDING YOUR LONG-TERM FAST
Be careful about what you eat. Start to eat by drinking warm fluids and by eating small amounts of food. However, the most important thing you can do at the end of this fast is to pray a special prayer of thanksgiving, praise and rededication.