Fasting: what is it, how to


Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God. – Andrew Murray

Do you have a hunger for God? If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. If we are full of what the world offers, then perhaps a fast might express, or even increase, our soul’s appetite for God. Between the dangers of self-denial and self-indulgence is the path of pleasant pain called fasting. – John Piper

A fast is not a hunger strike. Fasting submits to God’s commands. A hunger strike makes God submit to our demands. – Ed Cole

By fasting, the body learns to obey the soul; by praying the soul learns to command the body. – William Secure

Did you know that Jesus spoke more about fasting and prayer than “the Lord’s supper” and “baptism”? If you are thinking about setting some time aside to fast and pray the next few pages have been designed for you.

What is the ultimate purpose of prayer and fasting?

1. To draw us closer to the heart of God.
Ultimately God wishes to be more active in our lives that we allow Him to. Fasting is the “affliction of the soul” to become more spiritually sensitive. It’s a posture of humility that declares to God our total reliance on Him. It’s a sign of a return to God (Joel 2:12) that starts with the release of sin and declares whole hearted dependency and devotion. (See the section – Spiritual Preparation.)

2. To see God’s glory at work in our lives
The Biblical pattern that we find during and after periods of fasting and prayer is a supernatural encounter with God that transforms our lives. Here are some Biblical examples of people who fasted and prayed. Daniel received supernatural insight into the scriptures. Jesus promised his disciples greater insight into the supernatural with greater authority over demons (Mt 17:21). Nineveh saw the mercy of God in their city as God withheld judgment. David found peace at the death of his son (2 Sam 12). The Children of Israel became aware of their own sin and repented (Neh 9:1-3).

Prayer & Fasting

  • Does not help obtain “spiritual credit” from God.
  • Is not a hunger strike to force God to do something you want him to. He doesnot contradict his own character and word.
  • Does not cause God to ignore our disobedience. See the section – SpiritualPreparation

 When Should I Fast?

Prayer and fasting is a voluntary activity. In the OT law, there was only one mandatory day of fasting – the day of atonement. In the NT, while fasting is assumed (Mt 6:16) as a normal spiritual activity of Christ’s followers – the “when” is left up to the individual.

The pattern we do see is that fasting and prayer usually centers around a desire:

  • For healing 2Sa 12:16-23; Ps 35:11-13
  • For direction 2 Chron 20:3, 10; Acts 13:2; Acts 14:23
  • For supernatural insight Daniel 10
  • For protection or breakthrough in difficult situation – Jud 20:26; 2 Chron 20:23; Es 4:3
  • In seeking God’s mercy for judgement of personal or national sin 1Ki 21:17-29; Jonah 3:4-10; Da 9:3-5; Neh 9:1-3

Fasting is not an activity that requires you to stop carrying out life’s responsibilities. Fasting doesn’t mean you stop going to work, cleaning your home, taking care of your children, or giving attention to your relationships. On the contrary, Jesus actually commanded that we continue with life’s activities during periods of fasting (Mt 6:16-18). This is also the pattern also supported by 1 Samuel 14:24 and Acts 27:33.

How Do I Fast?

Ultimately it is important that you are led by the Holy Spirit and common sense as you determine the type of fast that you will participate in. It is important to remember that the purpose of fasting is not simply to remove something but to replace the time that you spend on that activity – in prayer and seeking God’s face.

Determine the length of your fast …

  • One meal (Dan 6:18)
  • One day (Judg 20:26; 1Sa 14:24; 2Sa 1:12; 3:35)
  • Three days (Esth 4:16)
  • Seven days (1Sam 31:13; 2Sam 12:16-18)
  • Three weeks (Daniel 10)
  • Up to Forty Days (Exod 34:28; Deut 9:9; 1Ki 19:8; Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2)

Determine the type of your fast

  • An absolute fast (no water or food)
  • A liquid fast (no solid foods)
  • A vegetarian / removal of pleasure foods – fast (Daniel 10:3)
  • Removal of regular life activity such as (television, a hobby, sex(only if marriage partner agrees – 1 Cor 7:5), etc.

Before you do choose, also consider the section Physical Preparation. In some cases it is important that you obtain medical advice before proceeding. If your job requires strenuous physical activity, it may be wise to limit fasting to the weekends only. It is also wise to make sure that you are fasting during a period where you will be with extended family and face the temptation to eat (ie// thanks giving).

In the same way that medical experts ask us to prepare our bodies before certain medical procedures are performed, I have found it so helpful to prepare both spiritually and physically before I enter into a fast. Preparation ensures that you get the most from your time with God.

How do I prepare physically? 

It is important that you begin by preparing your body to fast. Here are some keys.

1. Medical Clearance: make sure that you understand what you are physically able to fast. You many need to get a physical exam and the advice of your doctor first. The following type of people should never fast without medical supervision: pregnant, nursing, physically underweight, prone to eating or behavioral disorders; those who have been diagnosed with tumors, bleeding ulcers, cancer, blood diseases, heart disease, diabetes, a blood sugar disorder or have chronic problems with kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, or other important organs; individuals on any type of medication.

2. Reduce Caffeine Intake: It’s often suggested to eliminate coffee and caffeinated teas from your diet at least a week or two ahead of the beginning of longer fasts. It usually takes at least a week for your system to “withdraw” and be free of headaches and other symptoms associated with caffeine elimination. It is hard to fast and pray during the period your body is detoxifying.

3. Don’t neglect sleep. Make sure that you go into your fasting period, alert and ready to hear God.

4. Develop “fasting” muscle. If you are looking to do a longer fast, it is always wise to work your way up by first completing several shorter fasts first. You will be able to better tell how to both start and end a fast.

5. If you are planning a longer fast, some suggest it important to first wean your food intake requirements down through smaller meals and then “raw only” meals – rather than going in “cold turkey” and gorging yourself ahead of time.

How should I prepare Spiritually?

The Bible teaches that God always responds to believers prayers whose hearts are pure before Him. Unconfessed sin(Psalm 66:16-20), marital strife(1 Pet 3:7), unrepentant living(Isaiah 58), and unforgiveness(Mat 6:15), prevents God from hearing and answering prayer

As you prepare to seek God, ensure that your heart is right before Him, confess any sin that you might have, purpose to change sin in your life, set your relationships in order, and forgive those who have offended you.

Realize that these will be the primary areas that the Holy Spirit will work to convict you of during any fast.

During the Fast

Here are some tips for walking through a fast.

  • Reduce head noise: eliminate television, radio, outside work computer-internet, cell phone use that will get you thinking, discouraged, or fully distracted from what you are doing.
  • Schedule: plan what you are going to do when. It will help you stay on track.
  • During extended fasts eliminate unnecessary physical exertion. Your body needs to be resting.
  • Drink plenty of liquids – water and juice. Water will help your body as it begins to naturally detoxify itself and juice will help you maintain a good blood sugar level.

Breaking a Fast

While shorter fasts are easier to break, prolonged fasts require wisdom and a gradual return to normal eating patterns. Often it is wise to begin with protein and vitamin enriched liquids, to move on to raw foods, then cooked vegetables, and finally to meat over a period of a few days.

If you are planning a prolonged liquid only fast, ensure that you have obtained the proper medical clearance and are under continual medical supervision throughout and during your post fast routine.

Scriptures to Consider

Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9-18; Ezra 8:21-23; 10:6; Nehemiah 1:4; Esther 4:16; Job 33:19,20; Psalm 69:10, 102:4; Isaiah 58:6; Daniel 9:3,20-23, 10:3; Joel 2:15; 2 Samuel 12:16,17; Matthew 4:2; 6:16, 9:15; Acts 13:3, 14:23; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 11:27,28; Jonah 3:5,10