A couple weeks ago I wrote on Help To Better Pray. I felt it might be helpful to post a few thoughts and helpful tips regarding seasons of fasting in general.
Biblically, there is one main way to fast and that is to fast everything but water. When the Bible talks about fasting, it is usually talking about a water-only fast. The Esther Fast (no food, no water) was only done once in the Bible and was done in light of a coming holocaust. Many people talk about doing a Daniel Fast, but there is no mention that what Daniel and his friends did was a fast. Though in some ways what they did was fast, the Bible never calls it a fast. The reason I’m bringing this up is that many take the easy way out by deciding to do a Daniel Fast.
The main reason why we fast is to create hunger in our hearts for God by making our flesh uncomfortably weak.
In your Christian walk, you will realize that the quickest way to stir up hunger and longing for God is to deny your flesh food. When our flesh is weak, our spirits become strong. A second reason why we fast is for discernment. The more we starve our flesh, the clearer we hear from God.
In reality, when it comes to fasting, there are only a few things that are required:
- Do whatever God tells you to do.
If God tells you to fast by only eating vegetables, then do it. If He doesn’t tell you any particulars, don’t wimp out. Fast like the Bible says to.
- Fast only what is doctor-approved and authority-approved (parents/pastors/doctors).
If “God told you” to not drink water for a week, your doctor, parents and pastors will tell you that you didn’t hear from God. These checks are there for our good.
- Avoid media and other time-wasting activities.
If we’re not careful we dullen our spirits and hunger by consuming crumbs and trash from media. Do you best while fasting to spend as much time with God as you can. There’s always time to go to the beach, shopping or to watch that TV show.
- Seek God.
If we hold back food from our flesh but don’t seek God, we’re not fasting, we’re dieting.
Here are a few tips to get the most out of your fasting time.
Overcome the first 72 hours
When doing an extended fast, whether 7 days, 21 days or 40 days (or longer), the hardest part of the fast is the first 72 hours. It is the time that the body realizes it’s not getting it’s normal diet and lifestyle. This can begin some slight pains both physically, mentally or emotionally (such as hunger, boredom, loneliness, etc). It is important to remember that all these things are fleeting. Your body will adjust after the few days. I find myself at the end of the fast wanting to continue the fast instead of ending it, but those first few days can be killer. Remember to see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep praying for grace. You’ll make it.
I will say to expect free food during the fast. Also expect your favorite shows or movies to appear while your fasting media. There’s something about fasting that draws people and media to tempt you in every way, but be strong. The Lord loves our seeking Him!
Buy mints and gum
This point sounds silly, but trust me, your breath will reek after a day of fasting. Help yourself out and buy some mints and gum. Another benefit is that you trick your stomach into thinking you’re eating if you chew gum. I’ve had major stomach pains lighten up simply by chewing a piece of gum.
On a water only fast, I think the hardest thing to do is to drink water. After about a day, I begin hating water. I feel sick of it. It is incredibly important to keep drinking it. The average person should be drinking 3-4 liters of water a day. Force yourself to drink or you will become dehydrated.
I advise suspending exercising while fasting if you’re only drinking water. It’s not healthy to work out your body without feeding it. You will force your body to start eating muscle, and your heart is the most vital muscle in your body. Don’t mess with it. Doing this opens the door to anorexia and bulimia.
This is a fast, not a diet
It’s so easy to start thinking about how to lose weight while we’re not eating. Resist the temptation to think that way. It will turn your fast from a spiritual act into a carnal one. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Pray during the fast
This may sound like an obvious point, but I find it amazing how many times I’ve fasted and I rarely ever pray. I’ll read the Bible some but I’ll seldomly enter the place of prayer during this time. There is a tendency while fasting to focus on the hunger (or whatever it is you’re fasting) instead of focusing that attention and time to God in prayer. I also think that we try to bear the fasting “burden” ourselves thinking that God will call us a wimp if we approach Him complaining or speaking how we’re hungry. This is not how God thinks. He is moved that we desire Him enough to put away things we enjoy to better seek Him and better stir our heart to love Him. If we pray for grace and strength when we are struggling in our fast, He will gladly give it. Use this fasting time to speak and pray to Him more. Let it stir you to seek Him longer and more regularly.
Remember the phrase “in secret”
The phrase “in secret” comes from Matthew 6:16-18:
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus states that fasting is something done in the privacy of your life. Our fasting time should be between the Lord and us. There is no need to proclaim what sacrifices we are making for the Lord. Neither should we look all depressed and hurting during the fast. This can be a little challenging especially if you’re fasting all food for the first time; the hunger pain can be quite intense for the first few days. Regardless, Jesus calls us to be joyful, keeping our fasting secret to all but Him. (Note: As a husband, the only one besides Jesus who knows what I’m fasting is my wife. We fast together as one flesh. Also I highly encourage all children and youth to tell their parents what they are fasting, if they are.) If hiding the discomfort of fasting from others seems too hard, then pray (point #1) that God would give you grace and joy to fast.
It’s about love, not legalism
If you don’t make it and you cave into your desires for food or entertainment, don’t stop! Remember, the act of fasting is not about the human will trying to prove itself to God. It’s about love. It’s not about legalism. Reject any lie that tells you that you’ve ruined the fast and that God is disappointed with you. Pick yourself up and continue fasting and seeking Him. The Lord delights in us. He remembers that we are weak and that we stumble and fall and He rejoices when we get back up and continue to do that which we originally set our hearts towards.