Jesus assumed that prayer and fasting would be a part of the lives of his followers. He didn’t say “if” but “when.” With his assumptions we see again that spiritual disciplines were not just meant for the clergy, but for everyone. In January, our church typically participates in a 21-Day Prayer & Fasting plan. With that in mind, here’s some basics on fasting from a few of my favorite books on the subject of prayer.
From Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster:
- Fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. It’s not a hunger strike or a form of dieting. Biblical fasting always centers on spiritual purposes.
- Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained.
- More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that controls us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.
- In Scripture the normal means of fasting involves abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water (Luke 4:2).
- Sometimes a partial fast is described. Like Daniel, “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth” (Daniel 10:3).
Isaiah 58 is one of the best resources on fasting in the Bible. Tom Eliff in his great book, A Passion for Prayer shares an outline with us on improper and proper motivations for and the promised benefits of fasting:
Four Improper Reasons for Fasting:
- Fasting to get God’s attention (Isaiah 58:3a).
- Fasting w/o focusing on the Lord (Isaiah 58:3b).
- Fasting w/o humility of heart (Isaiah 58:4).
- Fasting for a brief external show of piety (Isaiah 58:5). Jesus spoke against this as well in Matthew 6:16-18.
Proper motivations for fasting (Isaiah 5:6-7):
- To bring spiritual liberation and freedom.
- To relieve heavy burdens.
- To increase our awareness of the needs of others.
God’s promised benefits for those who fast sincerely and seriously:
- Insight and understanding (v. 8)
- Physical well-being (v. 8)
- A deep sense of what is right (v.8)
- God’s presence to protect and provide (v. 8)
- A sense of immediate access to God (v. 9)
- Release from spiritual oppression (v. 10)
- Real-time guidance from God (v. 11)
- Satisfaction and joy during difficult times (v. 11)
- Increased strength to accomplish the Lord’s work (v. 11)
- Fruitfulness (v. 11)
- Recovering and restoring culture (v. 12)
- Rebuilding what was destroyed (v. 12)
Some Options for introducing fasting into your life:
As you consider fasting, before conducting an extended, lengthy complete or total fast from all food, consider your past health and conditioning and some of you may want to consult a doctor. Consider your work. If your work is rigorous then you need food for energy to give your best to your employer. A complete fast may not be for you at this point. Here are a few other options:
- One meal each day—The fast is not about only giving up food, but also includes praying during mealtime. Jesus said, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). It takes about an hour to prepare a meal or travel to a restaurant or get ready to eat. So this time is a perfect opportunity to pray. Those who work in hot exhausting jobs cannot fast completely because they need their strength and stamina for physical exertion. However, they can sacrifice one meal a day for the Lord.
- Two meals each day—Some people can pray for two hours each day, sacrificing two meals to the Lord.
- Eat only veggies—The Daniel Fast involves giving up meats, desserts and snacks, eating only the food that Daniel most likely ate. While the fast doesn’t give extra time to pray, it is a commitment of the heart that when joined with prayer, moves the heart of God.
- Give up television—Secular people might laugh at “fasting television” or “sacrificing television” but it is a commitment to God to place loyalty to Christ first above all else. This is a spiritual choice in response to Christ, who promises, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
- Give up sports—Giving up bowling league, golfing, fishing, jogging or other activity for a season (such as 40 days) to pray during that time is a choice. It places spiritual exercise above physical exercise.“Bodily exercise profits little, but godliness is profitable for all things” (1Timothy 4:8).
- Give up pleasure reading—Beyond what you must read for your work or preparing for teaching the Word of God, pleasure reading could be turned into prayer time. You could consider laying aside reading the daily newspaper too.
- Restrict mobile phone use and text messaging—While some of these communication devices are necessary, they are serious time robbers that could be placed aside for praying.
- Facebook and other social media—These activities can consume huge chunks of time. Part of a fast could be to cease social media and use the time for prayer and intercession.
- Other—There may be something that the Holy Spirit brings to mind that you could place aside for a season while you focus on more prayer.
The Daniel Food Fast
The Daniel Food Fast is a very healthy way to eat. So health professionals will support this eating plan but might suggest a few modifications if you have health issues that need special attention. For example, pregnant and nursing mothers might get instructions to add fish, chicken and cheese into the Daniel Food Fast but otherwise stay the course. Diabetics may need to add more carbohydrates or include chicken and fish. Also, those who are especially active either through sports, bodybuilding or vocation may need to slightly alter the eating plan. I encourage you to check with your doctor . . . and by the way, being addicted to Snickers and Coke don’t count as a special need!
What is the Daniel Food Fast?
The Daniel Food Fast is a biblically based partial fast. It is a method of fasting that men, women and young people all over the world are using as they enter into the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting.
There are two anchoring scriptures for the Daniel Food Fast. In Daniel 1, the Prophet ate only vegetables (that would have included fruits) and drank only water. So from these scriptures we get two of the guidelines for the fast:
1. Only fruits and vegetables
2. Only water for a beverage
Then in Daniel 10, we read that the Prophet ate no meat nor any precious breads or foods and he drank no wine for 21 days. So from this scripture, we get a third guideline:
3. No sweeteners and no breads
Another important guideline is drawn from Jewish fasting principles, where no leaven is used during the fast. So that’s why yeast, baking powder and the like are not allowed on the Daniel Food Fast.
Other resources for your 21 Day’s of Prayer & Fasting: