What is Fasting?
Fasting is a practice seen both in the Old and New Testaments, but how does it relate to the modern Christian? In some circles, fasting has been assigned only to the most zealous, seen as an extreme exercise most Christians need not concern themselves with. However, these are misconceptions.
Fasting is an incredible opportunity for us to gain new heights of intimacy with God. If you have been seeking Him for an answer to a burning question, or to meet an urgent need, or you just want to be closer to Him, you should consider going on a fast. No other action will so quickly reveal the parts of your heart that need to be cleansed and purified by God, and if the fast is done correctly, you cannot help but be changed.
Different Reasons for Fasting
The Bible identifies quite a few reasons people fasted in the past, but all are powerful. Fasting is not an activity undertaken lightly, almost always spurred by great emotion and desperation for God. It is designed to quiet your flesh so you can hear from God more clearly and experience new depths of His presence. If you are considering a fast, you need to be prepared to see it through to the end, or you will not be able to gain its full benefits.
Fasting in Grief or Mourning
In Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah learns that the walls of Jerusalem have been broken down, leaving the remaining Jews vulnerable to attack. He fasts in grief, as revealed in verse 4:
Now when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
During his fast, he continually entreats God to have mercy on His people and offer a solution to their condition. God does have mercy on him and allows Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to lead his people to rebuild the walls and protect the city.
If you have experienced a loss or other source of grief, God wants to provide supernatural comfort to you. 2 Corinthians 1:5 says,
For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
Though we may have to go through incredible heartaches in this life, God promises that we will never go through them alone. Though He does not require us to fast to access this comfort, as it is freely given to us through His Holy Spirit, fasting can give you a heightened closeness with God that you may feel you need during an especially difficult time. Seek God to see if He is leading you in this direction.
Fasting in Repentance
Fasting in repentance was common in the Old Testament as it was a way to outwardly show to God regret for past sins. In Jonah 3, the city inhabitants of Nineveh all fast as one after being warned of God’s intended punishment for them, as revealed in verses 5 and 6:
Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, removed his robe from himself, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the dust.
Fortunately for us, God no longer requires us to cover ourselves with sackcloth and dust in order for Him to offer forgiveness. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, His forgiveness is ours forever, as 1 John 1:9 says,
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
His forgiveness will never be based on our actions, as Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. So you will never need to fast in order for God to forgive you. However, God may lead you to fast in order that He might cleanse the offending behavior from your heart. Lean in to Him if you think He may be leading you to fast and He will guide you.
Fasting in Preparation
If you are about to undertake a dramatic life change, or you know God is leading you to take a big step for Him, you may want to fast to prepare your faith for the future. In Matthew 4:1-2, we see Jesus fasting as He prepared to begin His ministry on the earth:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
How comforting it is to know that Jesus experienced the same temptations and challenges that we face! He knows how difficult it is to resist the cravings of the flesh, but by quoting God’s Word, He claimed victory over the enemy. God has given us the same authority, as revealed in Matthew 18:18,
Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
We have the power to speak God’s Word to our temptations and circumstances. If you feel God preparing you for something, you might be tempted to be afraid of what the future might bring. Remember that God is good and He will always work out everything for your benefit. If you want to lean in to Him and hear His plan for you, a fast might provide some clarity. Once again, seek God first to ensure this is the direction He wants you to go.
Fasting for Guidance
It is important to remember that if you are seeking God for an answer to a question or guidance for the future, a fast is not a way to strong-arm Him into a response. We cannot force God to change His timing to suit our preferences, and if you begin a fast with that intention, God will not bless it.
Instead, you should be willing to hear an answer you might not want to hear, or even no answer at all. What’s important is to be submitted to God’s will, whatever that may be. Jesus, hours before He went to the cross, responded this way in Luke 22:42:
‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’
He knew the importance of accomplishing God’s will for our sake, so He stayed submitted to God no matter what. Now, thanks to His devotion and perseverance, we can enjoy uninterrupted relationship with God.
When we put God’s will before ours, we give Him room to work within us. If you feel led to fast while seeking God for guidance, you will receive blessings through your surrender, even if it’s not what you originally wanted or expected. God always gives us what’s best for us, so we need to trust His judgement as our Heavenly Father.
Different Types of Fasts
Typically, when people think of fasting, they think of no food and maybe even no water for several days. However, there are so many other options available to you (and I don’t recommend ever going without water!). In fact, as long as what you’re fasting is something that your flesh feels like it needs, you can fast just about anything. That can be just general food, yes, but it can also be coffee, sugar, meat, bread, or even non-food items like social media and television.
These non-food options should never be chosen as an “easier” alternative, however. The point of fasting is to make a sacrifice and draw closer to God, and if you are not really challenging yourself, you will get to the other side and look back to see that you didn’t learn anything.
That being said, here are some food-specific fasts you should consider.
This fast is named after Daniel in the Old Testament, who chose not to eat the food served in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, but instead requested only vegetables and water. We can see in Daniel 1:15,
And at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better, and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.
This fast is a good option if you are planning on fasting for a number of days. Foods you can eat include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, quality oils, soy products, and water. You can see a more complete list here.
This fast is exactly what it seems: just water. You should only engage in this fast if you absolutely feel God leading you to do it as it will be very tough on your body. If you are planning on fasting in this way for more than a couple of days, you should also consider including a portion of bone broth in your daily intake for the sake of the electrolytes.
In this fast, all of your caloric intake should be in juice form, whether you make your own juice or buy it from the store. If you make your own, it is much easier to avoid excess sugar and get more well-rounded nutrition. This method is also popular as a detox or weight loss technique, but I will stress that those should not be your reasons for choosing to fast this way. Remember you are making a sacrifice in order to draw closer to God, not going on a diet.
The length of your fast can be anywhere from one day to several weeks, depending on your spiritual needs. These are some of the more popular fasting methods, but there are many more, so I encourage you to do some research to see which one may work best for you. Be also seeking God about what specific thing or things He wants you to fast, and for how long, – He will definitely tell you and you have to be completely willing to give up whatever He chooses. If you are not entering into a fast in absolute submission, you will not be able to receive the fullness of what God has for you during this special time.
If you have underlying health issues, for your safety please consult your physician before embarking on a fast.
Your Attitude During the Fast
It’s important to meditate on your reasons for fasting, keeping them at the forefront of your mind. When you feel those intense hunger pains, when you feel lightheaded, when you catch a whiff of someone’s french fries at work and you think, “Just this once wouldn’t hurt,” that’s when remembering why you’re doing this is most crucial. The enemy preys on the weakness of our flesh, which is why, during the fast especially, your flesh has to take the backseat.
Pay attention to what’s coming out of your mouth. Are you finding yourself complaining of hunger and fatigue? Are you telling others how you can’t wait to be done so you can pig out on your favorite burger? Or are you praising God for this opportunity to grow closer to Him? Your words reveal what’s in your heart and where your mind is focused. When you complain, you magnify your flesh over your spirit and make it that much harder to keep going.
Remember that it’s a joy to suffer for Christ, as it says in James 1:2-4,
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
God uses these times of challenge to bring out the parts of us that aren’t like Him. Like how gold is superheated so that the impurities will rise to the surface and can be skimmed off, even so fasting reveals the parts of our hearts that need His touch. Yes it’s uncomfortable, maybe even painful, but if it makes us more like God and brings us closer to Him, it’s absolutely worth it.
Leaning on God for Strength
During the fast, there will be low moments when you feel like you just have to break. Your flesh is screaming for something sweet and caffeinated, you have a headache and feel exhausted, and the end of the fast seems eons away. These moments have ended many a fast prematurely, but you have a resource you must take advantage of in those moments: God.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God promises to give us His strength when we are weak:
And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
God is not asking us to fast in our own strength, because we would be guaranteed to fail. He promises to come alongside us in our low moments and bolster us with His Spirit. When you feel yourself weaken and are tempted to break your fast, turn to Him. Pray and thank Him for His supernatural strength within you. Turn on some worship music and take a praise break. He is faithful to give us the grace to keep going.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fast
When you decide to fast, you need to be aware that we have an enemy who understands the benefits and will do anything to keep you from getting them. He’ll pull out all the stops to tempt you to break, whether that be donuts in the break room, someone offering to take you out to lunch to your favorite restaurant, or that box of Valentine’s chocolate in the pantry you forgot about, but suddenly looks very good. You are entering into a spiritual battle the moment you begin.
However, as we have established, God is right there with you, ready to offer His strength whenever you need it. Don’t be afraid of the challenge. It will stretch you in ways you might never have even thought possible, but I promise it will be worth it. When you reach the end and look back over every chance you had to cheat or give up and you didn’t take it, you’ll be overjoyed. God will reward your faithfulness with greater intimacy with Him. He will rejoice with you over every victory.
Spend time in prayer with God this week to ask if He wants you to fast. Remember not to undertake it lightly, but be joyful at the opportunity for new growth.