Introduction to Fasting
“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 (NIV)
Historically being close to God meant disengagement from culture. Spirituality meant avoiding and abstaining. However, Jesus presented an alternative way, an engaged spirituality. A connection with heaven that makes a difference in our everyday lives and to those around us.
One of the ways this connection happens and grows is through the habit of fasting. Simply stated biblical fasting is refraining from food for a spiritual purpose. The point is not simply to stop eating but to transfer our hunger, to begin to hunger more for God.
When we read Matthew’s words, it is clear that Jesus expected his followers to fast. It was not an optional extra for those engaging in the Kingdom. It was a habit for believers that released life in their everyday.
There are many reasons why we might fast. We may do it to:
- receive breakthrough (Ezra 8:21)
- reveal God's direction (Daniel 9:2-3, 21-22)
- reverse tragedy (2 Samuel 12:16,22 & Joel 2:12,14)
- release freedom (Isaiah 58)
- remind ourselves that He alone is our daily bread (2 Chronicles 20:3)
Types of Fast
People can fast in different ways just in the same way that people can pray in different ways.
- Normal Fast: Abstaining from all food, solid or liquid but not from water. In Matthew 4, we see Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. We read that "he was hungry" and that satan tempted him to eat, suggesting he abstained from food but not water.
- Partial Fast: This is sometimes referred to as the 'Daniel fast'. It was his custom to restrict his eating/diet but there was not a total abstention of food (Daniel 1:12,15).
- Absolute Fast: This is linked to a particular crisis situation or for mourning where no food or drink is taken. There are examples of absolute fasts lasting for forty days, but they must have supernaturally sustained due to the length of time. It was normal for a period of 3 days as anything more could have been physically damaging (Esther 4:16, Acts 9:9).
Other Practical Tips on Fasting
- Choosing the type of fast: Be wise in this decision. Your health may play a factor. Remember a partial fast is still of great value, especially where circumstances make it impossible or inconvenient to undertake a normal fast. It can be more suitable for elderly persons or those with a weak constitution who can not manage a normal fast. It can be used as a stepping stone to the normal fast. You should never fast if you have a eating disorder.
- The length of fast: The issue is not how long you fast, its what you long for when you fast. In this decision, talk with God (and maybe others) about what is the right length of time.
- Preparing to fast: This is a key in helping maintain the habit. What you eat and drink before a long fast is important. Eat lightly and reduce your intake of cooked foods and meats. Resist the urge to have that "last big feast" before your fast. If you are a regular tea or coffee drinker, it is advised you cut down on the lead up. This could help with the potential headaches.
- Breaking a fast: You may be tempted to eat a rich and large meal after going so long without food. This is not recommended. Solid food must be reintroduced slowly otherwise it could be uncomfortable for your body or even cause damage. After a 40-day fast, you should make a careful transition for at least three days before returning to eating meats or fats or normal foods. Raw foods and liquids can be helpful.
There is nothing wrong with fasting for breakthrough or for specific answers to prayer, but at its core, fasting it is to be done not so that we can gain, but to lead us into greater alignment with God's heart. It is our undivided worship and wholehearted response to Him. In forgetting the possibility of personal gain, in making a habit of fasting, we bring an offering just for Him and our hearts change.