Prayer and Fasting
I can understand that right from the start that many of you will have questions, concerns and apprehensions regarding this opportunity to pray and fast for 21 days. While this document aims to serve you by providing some information around prayer and fasting, it won’t ever be exhaustive or the final authority on the subject. Please talk to a Pastor/Elder more if you have concerns.
This season of prayer and fasting will be aided and accompanied by several tools in this document, including: a Biblical guide to fasting, different fasting options, plus you can download a prayer and devotional guide for each of the 21 days that includes a central Biblical passage, a brief devotional thought, reflection questions, and a prayer.
The goal of fasting is simply to draw nearer to God. Biblical fasting always has to do with eliminating distractions for a spiritual purpose; it hits the reset button of our soul and renews us from the inside out. It also enables us to celebrate the goodness and mercy of God and prepares our hearts for all the good things God desires to bring into our lives. Remember, your personal fast should present a level of challenge, but it is very important to know your body, your options, and, most importantly, to seek God in prayer and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do. There is no obligation. Everyone is free without any condemnation to choose if they participate or not.
If you have never fasted before, I just want to acknowledge your devotion and believe whole heartedly that you won’t be doing so in vain. Fasting has been a major emphasis in the lives of many of the great spiritual leaders throughout history. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, fasted every Wednesday and Friday and required all of his clergy to do the same. Effective ministers of God from the apostle Paul to Martin Luther to John Calvin made it a continual part of their walks with God. None of those men had a “formula fast” that was the only “right” way. Fasting is about the condition of the heart, not the number of days etc. So, let’s examine what the bible teaches and then we will look at a few different types of fasts.
What does the Bible teach about fasting?
Biblical fasting involves abstaining from eating (and/or drinking) for spiritual purposes.
In the Old Testament, Israel celebrated certain annual fasts, the most prominent being the Day of Atonement.
There were also occasional fasts tied to specific historical events, sometimes individual and sometimes corporate. Here are a few of the occasions for fasting: at a time of grief (I Sam. 31:13; Nehemiah 1:4), at a time of repentance (I Sam 7:6; I Kings 21:27), as an expression of humility (Ezra 8:21; Psalm 69:10) and as an expression of a need for God’s guidance and help. What all of these fasts share in common is that they were an expression of dependence on God.
Several New Testament passages give us insight about fasting.
Fasting teaches us to that God’s Word nourishes us:
Matthew 4:1-4 records the only example of Jesus fasting, just prior to His being tempted in the wilderness. He faced temptation with these words, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3-5 which talks about the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness, depending daily on manna to sustain them. He says that God humbled them and let them be hungry in order to teach them to depend on God’s Word to sustain them. By His example of fasting, Jesus reminds us that food alone can’t sustain us. We need to be nourished by God’s Word.
Fasting teaches us that doing the will of God sustains us:
John 4:31-35 records Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. When the disciples return, they encourage Jesus to eat. He responds by saying, “I have food to eat that you know not of.” Then He adds, “My food is to do the will of the Father.” Again, Jesus reminds us that food alone is not enough. We are sustained by doing God’s will.
Fasting teaches us that Jesus Himself sustains us:
In John 6:48-50 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” We see this pictured symbolically in the bread and the cup of the Lord’s supper. Jesus is the source of eternal life. Fasting is feasting on Jesus.
Jesus assumed that fasting would be a part of His disciple’s spiritual life. In Matthew 6:16-18, He says, “when you fast,” not “if you fast.” He warns us not to fast to impress people, but to be near to the heart of God.
What is the purpose of fasting?
Fasting is designed to intensify our dependence on God by weakening our dependence on food and other things. How does it do that?
Fasting reveals and heals our dependence on food (and other things) and instead allows us to place our dependency on God instead.
Richard Foster says, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.”
Fasting teaches us that we can go without getting what we want and survive. Fasting can free us from having to have what we want. Therefore, fasting can teach moderation or self-control, not only in relation to food, but in other areas as well. It teaches contentment. (I Timothy 6:6)
Fasting expresses and deepens our hunger for God. Richard Foster says, “Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God:” (Matt. 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, “All things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Therefore, in experiences of fasting, we are abstaining from food or other activities and feasting on God’s Word.
Fasting must always, first and foremost, center on God. It must be about Him.
TYPES OF FASTS
Now that we have explored the Old and New Testament teaching and instruction on fasting, we can proceed to discuss specific kinds of fasts. Let us begin with the helpful words of Richard Foster in his classic, Celebration of Discipline: “As with all the Disciplines, a progression should be observed; it is wise to learn to walk well before we try to run.”
Biblical fasting almost always concerns food. Since the purpose of fasting, as we saw earlier, is to focus on God, to humble ourselves and to remind ourselves that we are sustained by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, then the task in fasting is connecting our “going without” to “hungering for God.” This takes time, focus and prayer in itself. Please do not expect to be an “expert” at fasting right away. Fasting is a discipline that can take a very long time to understand well but don’t let this deter you or intimidate you.
TYPES OF FASTS:
Supernatural Absolute Fast
This type of fast is seen in the bible where people like Moses and Elijah engaged in what must be considered a supernatural absolute fast of forty days where they did not eat and drink anything. (Deuteronomy 9:9; I Kings 19:8)
The difference here between the ‘supernatural absolute’ and the ‘absolute’ is not just it’s length of time but the ability for the fast to be sustained. For anyone to fast for 40 days, it must be a supernatural (miraculous) experience. However, people can fast with no food or drink for a few days such as the Apostle Paul who went on an absolute fast for three days following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9).
In this type of fast, you don’t eat solids and drink only liquids, typically water with light juices and broths as an option. It is assumed that Jesus fasted this way after his baptism where he ‘ate’ nothing for 40 days in the wilderness (Luke 4).
This type of fast involves removing certain elements from your diet. One example of a selective fast is the Daniel Fast (Daniel 10:3), during which you remove meat, sweets, and bread from your diet and consume water and juice for fluids and fruits and vegetables for food.
This fast is sometimes called the “Jewish Fast” and involves abstaining from eating any type of food in the morning and afternoon. This can either correlate to specific times of the day, such as 6:00 am to 3:00 pm, or from sunup to sundown. For many it might be a fast from such things as coffee or alcohol…or dare I say…chocolate?!
This fast is a great option if you do not have much experience fasting food, have health issues that prevent you from fasting food, or if you wish to refocus certain areas of your life that are out of balance. For example, you might choose to stop using social media or watching television for the duration of the fast and then carefully bring that element back into your life in healthy doses at the conclusion of the fast.
A word of caution…
Once again, if you are doing any kind of food fast I urge you to take every precaution possible and begin slowly.
If you have any medical conditions or are taking any medication, please consult your GP before taking a fast and be wise to follow their recommendation.
If you do participate in a solid food fast, then I also strongly advise you to drink plenty of liquids. Obviously, if God leads you to undertake an ‘absolute’ fast, you should obey. If so, be certain, without doubt, that God is leading you. Do not do anything to try and ‘prove’ your devotion to God.
When it comes to making your final decision about what type of fast is right for you, the best advice I can give you is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. He will guide your heart and mind as to what is best for you. Remember, the most important consideration in fasting is your motive. Why are you fasting? To seek something personally from God’s hand or to seek His face in worship, praise and thanksgiving?
‘Water-only’ fasts (such as Complete fast, Selective Fast etc.) that last for more than several days need to be undertaken with complete rest and under medical supervision because of the extreme danger of over-toxification, breakdown of vital body tissues, and loss of electrolytes. If you have any known medical conditions, please speak to your GP before you begin.
If you have never fasted before then I personally recommend the ‘selective or complete fast’, where you deny yourself solid food. During these fasts you are still able to consume liquids such as water, juices and broths. This type of fasting will provide you with more energy than absolute or water-only fasts and still lead you into the humbling experience of denying your desire for solid food that you can chew.
We eagerly wait on what the Lord will do for us, in us and through us during these very special 21 days.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. - Ephesians 1:17-19a
My Fasting Plan
Choosing your fasting plan is a very personal decision. We are all at different places in our walk with God and our spirituality should never be a cause for comparison or competition. There is nothing more “inherently spiritual” about one type of fast as opposed to another. Your personal fast should present a level of challenge to it, but know your body, know your options, and most importantly, seek God in prayer about this and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do. It’s also important to not let what you eat or do not eat become the focus of your fast. This is a time to disconnect enough with your regular patterns and habits in order to connect more closely to God.
If you do not choose to fast, or no matter what kind of fast you choose, seek God with us in prayer.
Step 1: clarify the purpose of your fast
Why are you fasting? Ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His leading and objectives for your prayer fast. This will enable you to pray more specifically and strategically. Fasting is God-led and God-initiated. That means that He fuels a desire to fast and pray. He loves it when we fast.
Step 2: specify the kind of fast you will do
Pray about the kind of fast you should undertake. Jesus implied that all of His followers should fast. (Matthew 6:16-18; 9:14,15) For Him it was a matter of when believers would fast, not if they would do it.
Before you fast, decide the following up front:
• How long you will fast - one meal, one day, one week, several weeks, certain days (beginners should start slowly, building up to longer fasts)?
• The type of fast God wants you to undertake - discussed in the Types of Fasts section.
• What physical or social activities you will restrict
• How much time each day you will devote to prayer and God’s Word
Making these commitments ahead of time will help you sustain your fast when physical temptations and life’s pressures tempt you to abandon it.
Step 3: prepare your heart, mind, and body for fasting
Fasting is not a spur-of-the-moment thing. It is planned. We must prepare. The very foundation of fasting and prayer is repentance. Un-confessed sin can hinder your prayers.
There are several things you can do to prepare your heart
• Fasting requires reasonable precautions. Consult your GP first, especially if you take prescription medication or have a chronic ailment. Some persons should never fast without professional supervision.
• Do not rush into your fast. Prepare your body. Eat smaller meals before starting a fast. Avoid high fat and sugary foods. Eating raw fruit and vegetables prior to your fast is helpful. Physical preparation makes the drastic change in your eating routine a little easier so that you can turn your full attention to the Lord in prayer.
• Prepare your heart and mind: Remember that God is your Father and He loves you and is for you.
• Confess every sin that the Holy Spirit calls you to remember and accept God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Seek forgiveness from all whom you have offended, and forgive all who have hurt you (Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4; 17:3,4). Make restitution as the Holy Spirit leads you.
• Surrender your life fully to Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1, 2). Meditate on the attributes of God, His love, sovereignty, power, wisdom, faithfulness, grace, compassion, and others. (Psalm 48:9,10; 103:1-8, 11-13)
• Begin your time of fasting and prayer with an expectant heart. (Hebrews 11:6)
• Do not underestimate spiritual opposition. Satan sometimes intensifies the natural battle between body and spirit. (Galatians 5:16,17)
• Finally, and of deep importance, Jesus instructs us in Matthew to not let others know about your fasting. The strict details of your fast should not be something you constantly talk about to others. It should remain between you and God.
Be clear on the following:
The purpose of my fast is:
The type of fast I plan to do is:
The length of time I will fast is:
Are there any other activities I need to restrict?
When and how much time do I plan to Pray and read the Bible?