SOME PRACTICAL POINTS ON FASTING
(Fasting, 4 of 5)
The guidelines that I am sharing in this article are not meant to be exhaustive and there are many more practical resources available to help a person to fast. I do recommend ‘Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting’ by Derek Prince, which offers some great practical teaching about fasting.
First and foremost, we need to remind ourselves of the purpose of a fast, especially while participating in an extended fast.
We’re not fasting to win favour with God or to gain a position of authority over others because of our apparent dedication to God. We are fasting to help facilitate a greater focus upon God which can help us to hear him more clearly without the ‘clutter’ of busyness, etc. We sometimes fast for breakthrough when it seems that heaven is silent or a situation is not improving with just prayer.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.’ Matt.5:6.
Prayer and Fasting
We can easily become so pre-occupied with the fact that we are not eating that we may forget our primary reason for fasting. Every time we read of fasting in the Bible it always has spiritual goals in mind. The context is seeking to bring oneself into a right or more enhanced posture of communication with God.
Biblical fasting always occurs together with prayer – Always. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast, Biblically speaking, without praying. (See 2Chron. 20:1-4; Ezr. 8:21; Neh. 9:1-2; Ps. 35:13; Dan. 9:3; Joel 1:14; 2:15-17; Jonah. 3:5-9; Ac. 13:2; 14:23). Obviously we need to keep this in mind when we enter into our times of fasting. We are not merely interrupting our eating, but we are seeking to enter into a deeper and more focused time of prayer.
It is helpful to consider the average time a family spends in the purchase, preparation, eating, and cleaning up food per day? Answers vary but generally speaking, three hours per day seems the average. Ideally, this is the kind of minimum time that we should be replacing with prayer while not eating.
What is a Biblical Definition of Fasting?
First of all, let’s look at the root word, which is used for “fasting.” The Greek word for fasting is nesteia — a compound of ne (a negative prefix) and esthio, which means, “to eat.” So the basic meaning of the word simply means, “not to eat.”
The Hebrew meaning of fasting, tsôm, is to humble oneself or to afflict oneself. A Jewish fast was usually from sunset to sunset of the following day.
- Normal Fast
There are three main types of fasts described in the Bible, but essentially Biblical fasting was water only. This is called a Normal Fast, abstaining from all food and liquids except water. When Jesus was led into the wilderness to fast for 40 days, most scholars believe that he drank water during this time. In Matt. 4:3 when Satan tempted him, he was focused on his hunger, “turn these stones into bread” and did not seem at all focused about his thirst for water. Water only would be the kind of fast that David employed personally when he humbled himself in seeking God, Ps.35:13; or which was used by Jehoshaphat in calling all the nation of Israel to fast while consulting the Lord before they went into battle, 2Chron. 20:1-3. This was also the type of fast that was expected annually by all the people of Israel on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16:29,31, which was still practiced by the early Church in the Book of Acts 27:9.
2. Daniel Fast
Often people refer to a ‘Daniel Fast’ as a Partial Fast. To be Biblical, it would be better to refer to this as a ‘Daniel Diet’, where the emphasis is placed on the restriction of diet, rather than abstaining completely from eating. Examples are: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego eating only vegetables and drinking only water (Daniel 1:8-15 and also Daniel 10:3). Daniel and his companions not only abstained from certain foods, but Daniel also turned to fasting for twenty-one days as he pleaded with God in prayer and petition, Dan. 9:3. I recommend that we ‘train ourselves up’ with water only before we try fasting for longer periods of time with a partial fast or with various juices.
3. Supernatural Fast
The last example is an extreme fast or what is called a Radical Fast or Supernatural Fast. No food of any sort or any water is taken during this time. Outside of supernatural aid, no-one can live without water for more than 3 days. Moses existed like this for 40 days, (Deut. 9:9-18). Two other examples of this are Queen Esther’s call to all the Jews to ‘not drink or eat anything for three days, night or day’, Esther 4:16; and that of Paul who went without food or water for 3 days, (Acts 9:9).
Anyone attempting more than one day of this type of a radical fast would be wise to seek medical advice.
While a juice fast is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, today many people enter into a juice fast and achieve very satisfactory results for any extended fast, (more than 10 days). It is also important to say that often we may quit a water only fast after 3 days when we could easily consider 7 – 10 days which can be very beneficial spiritually. When considering a Juice Fast, we need to ensure that our prayer focus does not become jeopardized by long periods of preparing a complicated juice, or even by daydreaming about the juice you’re going to shortly enjoy! Believe me, it’s real!
There are many great recipes and ideas out there to enjoy a simple and nutritious juice or smoothie drink, check out your local bookstore for a large selection of books offering different recipes.
Medical Conditions and Fasting
Anyone with a medical condition who may be planning an extended water only or a juice fast should consult their physician before they try fasting.
- Arthritis and other ailments where a person is taking medication for inflammation. These medications can do damage to the lining of a person’s stomach and must be taken with food. A person must not be ‘legalistic’ in their approach to fasting with such conditions and there are some modifications a person can try with fasting. For example, taking pyslium powder just before your medication can be a great help.
- Diabetes is affected by a person’s blood sugar levels, which are obviously affected by what they eat. Again, there are numerous examples where people have been able to modify their normal routine and yet still manage to control their diabetes.
- It is quite normal for a person to experience headaches or to feel tired, or dizzy while fasting and one should be prepared to adjust their normal activity levels during a fast. Some person’s blood sugar levels are greatly affected by water only fasts and while they may not suffer with diabetes, they may need to eat something like an energy bar to help get them through. It is wise to prepare yourself physically two days before you begin your fast. During this time a person should limit their intake of food to fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of water to help your body detoxify.
When considering an extended fast, i.e. a 40-day fast, we need to be sure to pace ourselves. We know many who have achieved a 40-day fast with water only, but I would say that this is quite an extreme fast and not meant for the novice. It is absolutely true that God can sustain a person and empower him or her to successfully complete such a fast. Be sure that God is calling you to an extended fast and perhaps consider a modified fast, (juice, or partial fast), when contemplating something longer than 10 days.
Let me give you one example of a modified 40 day extended fast that includes five segments of water only:
- Five segment of eight days = 40 days
- Days one to three of each segment > water only
- Days four to eight of each segment > juice or a ‘smoothie’
This is quite achievable and yet is still requiring grace and empowering from God. With this modification a person has the benefit of receiving some needed energy while maintain their normal duties in their workplace during their extended fast.
Always remember to keep yourself hydrated and never break your fast with some huge meal. Eat small portions of food. The longer the fast, the more you need to break it gently.
Lastly, we need to exercise a great deal of grace for one-another to fast and pray as they feel specifically led. Our main goal should be to increase focused prayer. “More is Better” is a good quote to keep in mind regarding national prayer. The Apostle Paul said it is not wise to measure ourselves by ourselves, see 2Cor. 10:12. One person’s grace to fast my be for 40 days, another might be for three days. We should bless whatever a person can do to increase prayer for our nation.