There’s an old saying, “Without a spiritual purpose and plan, fasting is not fasting; it’s just hunger.”
Before we can learn how to fast however, we must first understand what fasting is (and is not). A common misconception is that fasting is the same thing as a diet. While a few exterior results may be similar—losing weight for example—fasting is done for a spiritual (biblical) purpose only. To enhance one’s relationship with God. An expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras, fasting is a biblical way to truly humble oneself before the Lord. By giving up desires of the flesh, we’re given a sharpened prayer life in return. Some would even say an answered prayer life in return.
There are many mentions of fasting throughout the Bible for a variety of different reasons. Perhaps one of the most telling passages about fasting is in Matthew 6:16 where Jesus, instructing His disciples, gives basic principles of godly living. He began His instruction with, “When you fast,” not “if you fast.” We are called to a life of fasting and prayer because it prepares us for the great work God has ordained us to do.
In Matthew 4:1-17, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-14, Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness fasting and praying before beginning His life-saving ministry on earth. In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted in order to better seek God’s wisdom. The great prophet Nehemiah mourned, fasted and prayed in order to show the Lord his deep grief in Nehemiah 1:1-4. Jonah fasted for repentance in Jonah 3:10, the Israelites fasted in order to gain victory in Judges 20:26, and a prophetess by the name of Anna worshipped day and night with fasting in order to better show God her deep love and devotion to Him (Luke 2:37). And just think, these are only a select few of the seventy-seventy examples depicted throughout Scripture.
If you are considering one for yourself, or in need of a quick refresher, here are six easy tips to get started:
1) Easy does it
If you are new to fasting, start small! Don’t go from no fasting to attempting a full-out, multiple day fast. Start with fasting one meal and gradually work up from there. It is not a race, it is a journey. As a side note, it is never recommended to abstain from water during a fast of any length so drink up!
2) Have a plan
Keep in mind that fasting isn’t merely an act of self-deprivation. It is a spiritual discipline for seeking more of God in our every day lives. Having a plan for what spiritual pursuit we’ll undertake during the time we’d normally eat (our fasting meal) will help us to be successful. We spend a good portion of our lives centered around food, and it is a difficult habit to break. If we don’t have a plan in place, a fast will be much more difficult to complete. If you choose to fast dinner for example, plan a thirty minute meditative prayer alone with God in a specified location during that time. This will give you something else to focus on—a set plan—when dinnertime comes.
3) Try different kinds of fasting
The typical form of fasting is personal and private, but we find many different forms in the Bible such as personal or communal, private or public, congregational and national, regular and occasional, absolute and partial. Try all different sorts of fasts, implementing them into your life when it makes sense, and check your motivations often. Make sure your heart’s motive is pure and with the sole intention of seeking more God.
4) Meal prep
Take the time to meal prep if your fast includes limiting certain types of food and/or drink from the menu (as in the Daniel Fast) or when abstaining from full meals altogether. Meal prep is especially helpful when partaking in longer and more restrictive fasts. Have the right kinds of foods on hand and prepared—it will make all the difference. *Pro tip: Grocery shop and meal prep on Sunday’s for easy grabbing and preparing during the busy work week.
5) Mental preparation
Meal prep is necessary—but so is mental prep! Before you begin a fast, and every morning, afternoon and evening throughout, spend quality time with God in prayer. Ask Him to help you stay focused and disciplined when temptations set in—and they will set in. You will be tempted time and time again to either give in or give up. Being mentally prepared will help you finish strong when the mental distractions set in.
6) Something other than food
Fasting from food is not for everyone. Some health conditions will prevent some of the most devout from traditional courses of action. Fortunately, we serve a God Who tells us in Jeremiah 17:10 that He examines the heart of men. So long as one’s fast is made to include something self-sacrificial (giving up something that is actually difficult to give up), it is assumed legitimate. Don’t worry about the legality of a fast; rather, do what you can do and give everything else to God. He sees your well-intended effort(s) and will diligently reward you for it.
As with any discipline, it is always wise to do your research and consult with a physician before beginning a fast. And remember, God promises to heap blessings on people who are hungry for Him (Matthew 5:6).