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A Biblical Guide
Questions & Answers about Fasting for Christians
Everyone has questions about fasting. No one hears about it much in church anymore. Of all the teachings of Jesus, one of the least talked about is fasting. Consequently, most people tend to wonder about fasting. They associate it with something weird or fanatical. Few people view fasting as something that can bring abundant blessings to the one who participates in it. Included in this booklet are some of the most common questions people ask about fasting. To answer these questions we began with the Bible. Additional books that help us paint a clearer picture of fasting include – Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster and The Coming Revival: America’s Call to Fast, Pray, and “Seek God’s Face” by Bill Bright. * * * * *
If I’m supposed to fast why do I never hear about it at church?
Fasting and prayer were an integral part of the Early Church, but in medieval times, fasting as a discipline came to be frowned upon. Most people saw it as a harsh, severe practice, better suited for monks in monasteries than “normal” life. Throughout the centuries that followed, fasting and prayer were revived periodically, usually during the great revivals like the First and Second Great Awakenings. Spiritual leaders like John Wesley, Martin Luther and others all practiced and proclaimed the benefits of fasting. In the last century, however, fasting has once again become a lost concept in the church. When author Richard Foster wanted to research it, he could not find one book on the subject published between 1861 and 1954.
Does the Bible really say we should fast?
Fasting is mentioned throughout the Bible in personal and corporate settings. For 3,000 years the Jewish people have celebrated Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as a fast and a time for humility and repentance before the Lord. In Joel, the Lord commanded the people to “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning… Return to the Lord your God” (Joel 2:12-13). Jesus spoke of fasting in the same way he spoke of prayer and giving, as part of a natural Christian lifestyle. The question is not Should I fast?, but Will I fast?
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But is fasting a commandment? Where does God make clear that He requires us to fast today?
There is no specific commandment in the New Testament that commands us to fast. However, most authorities agree that if the command was not specifically made, it seems to have been assumed. Jesus himself fasted forty days in the wilderness before he began his ministry, and spoke of fasting as though it were a normal act that Christians would perform. The Apostle Paul said he was “in fasting often” and the Church in Acts fasted and prayed over the appointment of their leaders. As we strive to follow Christ’s example, we would do well to take this practice into consideration.
Will God always answer and give me what I ask if I add fasting to my prayers?
No. God is not a cosmic vending machine. He only answers prayers that are in harmony with His will and His purpose for our lives. In many ways, fasting is simply another way to glorify God. When you fast, you set aside everything and proclaim to God that you are so serious you are going to focus on nothing but Him. If you are bringing a specific petition to the Lord, you are indicating to Him that you are serious about going the extra mile to see His will carried out in that matter.
Isn’t fasting practiced by other religions?
Yes. Fasting is practiced by Hindus, Muslims, and others for a variety of reasons, including religious piety and improved health. Christians, however, are the only ones who fast to give glory to God, and therefore are the only ones who can know the special blessings that come with spiritual fasting.
Do I fast for myself or for someone else?
The Scripture contains examples for both fasting for personal needs and fasting for loved ones, nations, and even enemies. Your fasting is a way to bring your most urgent and serious requests before God, the focus should always be to glorify Him. Without that focus, fasting deteriorates into little more than trying to bribe God with your “holiness”. Instead, concentrate on listening to God once you have told Him of your requests and as you fast, try to worship Him in all You do.
I just don’t feel the need to fast.
This may be true, but if you are praying for guidance or spiritual discernment, the Holy Spirit may be leading you to fast. The Bible makes clear that a true spiritual fast, done with a humble heart, will change many things. After you have fasted once or twice, you will begin to see a huge difference between before and after your fasting in your spiritual walk.
I’m thinking about fasting, but how do I know when I’m supposed to do it?
There will be times in your life when you will feel a specific prompting of the Holy Spirit to fast and pray, but once you understand true spiritual fasting, you are free to proclaim a season of fasting whenever you sense a desire to draw close to God in a dynamic way. Maybe you feel the need to seek special help from Him. As you become more accustomed to fasting, you will learn to recognize situations that may be helped by the presence of fasting.
I just don’t have the time!
Time is a gift from God that we are free to spend as we choose. If you spend a lot of time watching TV, surfing the internet, or doing other non-essential leisure activities, consider putting that time into prayer while you fast. Also, don’t forget that not eating meals frees up two or three hours that you can spend with God as you fast.
Is it possible for a Christian to get ‘caught up’ in fasting and go too far with it?
We need to think of fasting in terms of balance, as we should in all areas of our lives. More fasting does not necessarily mean more spiritual benefits. When you begin to become legalistic about fasting, you’ve gone too far. Fasting is under grace and it is only one part of the Christian life.
How does fasting ‘unto the Lord’ benefit me spiritually?
Fasting with a pure heart and motive will bring you close to God. James 4:8,10 says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” Fasting is a way to humble ourselves and concentrate on what God is saying to us. It helps us tune out distractions, brings personal revival, and adds power to our prayers.
Do I need an organized plan or schedule to follow for my fast?
In the beginning, a schedule is wise because it will help you plan your day and include time with God in your routine activities. As you grow more experienced with fasting, you may not need to follow a schedule so rigidly, but instead can listen carefully for the Holy
Spirit’s leading which will direct your fast. However, a simple schedule in the beginning will enable you to concentrate without numerous distractions and take your mind off food.
Will fasting ruin my health?
Christian nutritionist Julio C. Ruibol says, “Fasting is a natural physiological process. It is also a Biblical concept that was practiced during difficult times. So, from both the Scriptural and scientific point of view, we can have confidence that fasting is not harmful, but rather beneficial when properly carried out.” This view is supported by other experts in the field of fasting and nutrition. Fasting can actually help your body, because many toxins are flushed from the bloodstream during a time of no eating. This may seem unusual, but people on extended fasts many times have said that after the first week, they actually feel better, had more energy, and could think more clearly.
Should I consult my doctor before I fast?
If you have health problems that you think might be increased by fasting, or you plan to go on an extended fast, seeing a doctor is recommended. There are certain conditions that people should not fast with, and one of them is if you do not believe in fasting or you have serious doubts about it. However, almost anyone in good health who feels called to it can undertake a twenty-four hour fast with few or no ill effects.
How does God want me to fast?
There are many fasts in the Bible of different lengths. You can set the amount of time you feel is appropriate and honoring to God. However, if you are a beginner in fasts, you should begin with shorter fasts before working up to more extended periods of time. There are three main types of fasts: Partial Fast—A person abstains from most but not all food and drink. The most popular fast in this form is the juice fast, which is recommended for beginners in fasting, and allows for the drinking of juice and herbal tea in addition to water. Biblical Fast—A person abstains from all food and drinks nothing but water. This was the traditional fast in the Bible and is still practiced by the Jews who celebrate Yom Kippur today. Absolute Fast—A person abstains from all food AND water for a short amount of time, usually no more than three days. Fasts like this are generally reserved only for emergencies and extremely urgent situations. They should not be undertaken without a direct and clear mandate from the Lord.
How can I prepare for a fast?
1) Set a specific goal for the fast. Why are you fasting — for spiritual renewal, guidance, healing, resolution of problems, or special grace to handle a difficult situation? Do you seek the salvation of a loved one or some other thing that you believe to be in God’s will for you? Are you praying for revival in America or your community? 2) Prepare yourself spiritually. This means that before you begin, spend some time getting right with God and confessing your sins. Heart Searching, For Prayer Preparation and Personal Revival is a good handbook to guide the confession of these sins. Be especially aware of specific issues that God may point out in your life as needing to be changed. You may want to include the resolution of these in your fasting goals. 3) Prepare yourself physically. Don’t rush into a fast, especially an extended one. Consult your doctor if you think medical concerns may interfere, and on a fast of more than one or two days begin to wean yourself from food by eating less a day or two before you begin. 4) Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the kind of fast He wants you to undertake. Will you fast with juices or only water? Is God calling you to one meal a day, one day a week, or several days or weeks at a time? Token fasts, such as giving up chocolate for Lent, are good, but not always useful in prayer life. If you decide to drink juices on your fast, stay away from acidic juices like orange juice and tomato juice because of their acidic content as well as juices high in sugar content. The best juices are fresh cabbage, beet, celery, carrot, grape, and apple juice. Also, stay away from caffeine and do not chew gum, as it will activate the enzymatic processes in your stomach and increase hunger pangs. Plan a schedule for when you will drink juices and which types of juice you will drink. 5) Limit your activity level. Exercise only moderately and rest often. Expect some hunger pangs and possibly headaches, nausea, and cotton mouth. These things will pass, but you must be prepared for them.
What about work and my normal activities? Should I take time off to fast?
A short fast, composed of one to three days, should not have any ill-effect on the person fasting, unless they are constantly involved in heavy physical exertion. However, for extended fasts, it is wise to take into consideration what type of work you do, how long you will be fasting and what type of fast it will be. You may wish to cut down on your normal activities not only to rest more but to give yourself more time with God. During an extended fast, it is also wise to restrict physical exercise or recreation as well.
6) Consider your medications. Again, consult your doctor if you have any doubts about your physical ability to fast. 7) Set aside ample time to be with the Lord. This is most important, because it is what you are fasting for. There is little joy in going without food physically if you are not replacing it with food spiritually. Let God take care of your hunger, and even think of stopping to pray over hunger pangs. You will be amazed at the power of God to transform you.
Important Biblical References to Fasting
** ** Ezra 8:21-23 Psalm 35:13 ** ** Nehemiah 9:1-3 Joel 2:12-17 ** ** Esther 4:15-16 Matthew 6:1618 ** **
How long should I fast?
The time limit is between you and God. If you are a beginner, it is wise to limit yourself to a day or two at first, and gradually work up to longer or more consistent fasts. Threeday fasts are popular in the Scriptures, and can be a beneficial time-out at almost any point of your life. The rule of thumb is: Don’t give up and eat in the middle of an emotional struggle over food. Instead, give the Spirit time to work within you and overcome that temptation.
A Suggested Way to Spend a Day Fasting
Decide what type of fast you will try during this time. The length of time and the type of fast is completely up to you and God. You could try to fast from food, while drinking juice and water, for the full 24 hours. If you are not able to fast from food for medical reasons you could decide to give up something that is part of your daily routine (for example: drinking soda pop, watching television, listening to music, internet, messenger, facebook/myspace, etc.) **The ultimate thing to remember is to take the time you would use eating and preparing food (or involved in these other activities) and spend it in the Word, in prayer, and in the presence of the Lord.** Here are some tips on how to use this time to get closer to God:
May I tell others about my fasting?
Jesus addressed this in Matthew 6:16-18 when he advised people not to boast when they were fasting. However, Jesus was not speaking against corporate fasting, but merely against using fasting as a pious, legalistic practice. Believers throughout the Bible gathered to fast and pray in groups, and fasting can be used as an example for mentoring young Christians. You should not brag about fasting, and there is really no need to mention it unless someone specifically asks. However, there is no need to lie and conceal your fast from others. Fast in humility, and consider it an honor that God has allowed you to fast unto Him.
PUT YOURSELF ON A SCHEDULE
For maximum spiritual benefit, set aside ample time to be alone with the Lord. Listen for His leading. Quietly wait on the Lord. Be still and know that He is God.
• • • • • • • Begin your day in praise and worship. Even before you get out of bed, commit your day to the Lord. Read and meditate on God’s word, preferably on your knees. Invite the Holy Spirit to work in you to will and do His good pleasure according to Philippians 2:13. Invite God to use you. Ask Him to show you how to influence your world, your family, your church, your community, your country, and beyond. Pray for His vision for your life and empowerment to do His will. Discuss your purpose for fasting with the Lord (i.e. finding His will, overcoming temptation, repentance for sin, seeking His guidance, etc.) Ask God to give you the courage and discipline to take the “Next Step” in your walk of faith with Him.
How shall I break my fast?
Gorging yourself at a buffet after you have been without food for a time is a bad idea. When you are breaking your fast remember that your stomach has shrunk and eat accordingly. After an extended fast, it is wise to ease back into wholesome foods without much grease, sugar, or caffeine in them. These few pages don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the topic of Biblical fasting. If God is tugging at your heart to fast, seek His will and do some more research. Denying your body to seek your soul before the Lord can be one of the best things you ever did in your Christian walk. And having fasted once, you will never look at it the same way again! You may even begin to make it a regular discipline in your Christian life.
• • • Return to prayer and God’s Word. Take a short prayer walk or go to a quiet place, such as a prayer sanctuary. Spend time in prayer for your sphere of influence and your ability to reach out to those around you.
Some Questions for Confession
Prayerfully, consider the following questions. Go through these questions one by one. Answer truthfully. In reading these questions, as you are convicted of sin, confess it at once to God. Be willing to make it right… then you can claim cleansing and forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) (1) Matthew 6:12-14 Is there anyone against whom you hold a grudge? Anyone you have not forgiven? Anyone you hate? Anyone you do not love? Are there any misunderstandings that you are unwilling to forget? Is there any person against whom you are harboring bitterness, resentment, or jealousy? Anyone you dislike to hear praised or well spoken of? Do you allow anything to justify a wrong attitude toward another? (2) Matthew 6:33 Is there anything in which you have failed to put God first? Have your decisions been made after your own wisdom and desires, rather than by seeking and following God’s will? Do any of the following in any way interfere with your surrender and service to God: ambition, pleasures, loved ones, friendships, desire for recognition, money, your own plans? (3) Mark 16:15 Have you failed to seek the lost for Christ? Have you failed to witness consistently with your mouth for the Lord Jesus Christ? Has your life not shown to the lost the Lord Jesus? (4) John 13:35 Are you secretly pleased over the misfortunes of others? Are you secretly annoyed over the accomplishments or advancements of another? Are you guilty of any contention or strife? Do you quarrel, argue, or engage in heated discussions? Are you a partaker in any division, or party spirit? Are there people whom you deliberately slight? (5) Acts 20:35 Have you robbed God by withholding His due of time, talents and money? Have you given less than a tenth of your income for God’s work? Have you failed to support mission work either in prayer or in offerings? (6) 1 Corinthians 4:2 Are you undependable so that you cannot be trusted with responsibilities in the Lord’s work? Are you allowing your emotions to be stirred for the things of the Lord but doing nothing about it? (7) 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Are you in any way careless with your body? Do you fail to care for it as the temple of the Holy Spirit? Are you guilty of intemperance in eating or drinking? Do you have any habits which are defiling to the body? (8) 1 Corinthians 10:31 Do you take the slightest credit for anything good about you, rather than give all the glory to God? Do you talk of what you have done rather than of what Christ has done? Are your statements mostly about “I”? Are your feelings easily hurt? Have you made a pretense of being something that you are not?
• • • Get alone for an unhurried time of “seeking His face.” If others are fasting with you, meet together for prayer. Avoid television or any other distraction that may dampen your spiritual focus.
R e m e m b e r t o encourage others around you. Along with fasting comes spiritual warfare. When we desire to seek God’s face during this time, Satan doesn’t like it and will try to discourage us in any way he can. Those who choose to fast pray for your own spiritual protection, and even if you aren’t fasting during this time, please pray for the protection of those who are.
(9) Ephesians 3:20 Are you self-conscious rather than Christ-conscious? Do you allow feelings of inferiority to keep you from attempting things you should in service for God? (10) Ephesians 4:28 Do you underpay? Do you do very little in your work? Have you been careless in the payment of your debts? Have you sought to evade payment of your debts? Do you waste time? Do you waste time for others? (11) Ephesians 4:31 Do you complain? Do you find fault? Do you have a critical attitude towards any person or anything? Are you irritable or cranky? Do you ever carry hidden anger? Do you get angry? Do you become impatient with others? Are you ever harsh or unkind? (12) Ephesians 5:16 Do you listen to unedifying radio or television programs? Do you read unworthy magazines? Do you partake in worldly amusements? Do you find it necessary to seek satisfaction from any questionable source? Are you doing certain things that show that you are not satisfied in the Lord Jesus Christ? (13)Ephesians 5:20 Have you neglected to thank Him for all things, the seemingly bad as well as the good? Have you virtually called God a liar by doubting His Word? Do you worry? Is your spiritual temperature based on your feelings instead of on the facts of God’s Word? (14) Philippians 1:21 Are you taken up with the cares of this life? Is your conversation or heart joyful over things rather than the Lord and His Word? Does anything mean more to you than living for and pleasing God? (15) Philippians 2:14 Do you ever by word or deed seek to hurt someone? Do you gossip? Do you speak unkindly concerning people when they are not present? Do you carry prejudice against true Christians because they are of some different group than yours, or because they do not see everything exactly like you? (16) Philippians 4:4 Have you neglected to seek to be pleasing to Him in all things? Do you carry any bitterness toward God? Have you complained against Him in any way? Have you been dissatisfied with His provision for you? Is there in your heart any unwillingness to obey God fully? Do you have any reservations as to what you would or would not do concerning anything that might be His Will? Have you disobeyed some direct leading from Him? (17) Colossians 3:9 Do you engage in empty and unprofitable conversation? Do you ever lie? Do you ever exaggerate? Cheat? Steal? Carefully consider… do you overcharge? (18) 2 Timothy 2:22 Do you have any personal habits that are not pure? Do you allow impure thoughts about the opposite sex to stay in your mind? Do you read that which is impure or suggests unholy things? Do you indulge in any unclean entertainment? Are you guilty of the lustful look? (19) Hebrews 10:25 Do you stay away from the meetings of preaching the gospel? Do you whisper or think about other things while God’s Word is being read or preached? Are you irregular in attendance at services? Do you neglect to attend
or participate in meetings for prayer? Have you neglected or slighted daily or private prayer? Have you neglected God’s Word? Do you find the Bible and prayer uninteresting? Have you neglected thanksgiving at meals? Have you neglected daily family devotions? (20)Hebrews 3:17 Do you hesitate to submit to leaders in the church or elsewhere? Are you lazy? Do you rebel at requests given to you to help the work of the gospel? Do you in any way have a stubborn or unteachable spirit? (21) James 1:27 Have you allowed yourself to become “spotted” by the world? Is your manner of dress pleasing to God? Do you spend beyond what is pleasing to God on anything? Do you neglect to pray about things you buy? (22) James 4:6 Do you feel that you are doing quite well as a Christian? That you are not so bad? That you are good enough? Are you stubborn? Do you insist on having your own way? Do you insist on your rights? (23) James 4:11 Have you dishonored Him and hindered His work by criticizing His servants? Have you failed to pray regularly for your pastor or other spiritual leaders? Do you find it hard to be corrected? Are you more concerned about what people will think than what will be pleasing to God? *** *** *** *** ***