Fasting is the spiritual discipline of denying ourselves something (typically food) to feast on the things of God. I explored some reasons to fast in yesterday’s post. Perhaps you sense the Lord is leading you to fast. You may be thinking, Now what?
To get you started, here are answers to some practical questions about fasting.
Q. Do I have to fast from food?
When we see fasting in the Bible, typically food is involved. But what the individuals eat (or don’t eat) varies. For example:
- Moses had no bread or water for forty days (Deut. 9:9).
- Esther didn’t eat or drink anything for three days (Est. 4:15–17).
- Daniel ate no delicacies, meat, or wine for three weeks (Dan. 10:3). In other words, he ate to live but not for enjoyment.
The Bible doesn’t give us strict rules about what we can and cannot eat during a fast because the focus is less on what we do (or don’t do) and more on what we are asking God to do in our lives.
With that in mind, food isn’t the only thing we can fast from. When considering a fast ask this question, “What can I remove from my life for a season in order to make more space for prayer?" Here are some ideas:
- Fast from all social media.
- Fast from TV.
- Fast from your favorite show.
- Fast from a certain activity that is a part of your daily routine.
Q. How long should I fast?
Again, the Bible describes wide variety in the length of fasts. Here are a few examples:
- All of the people of Israel fasted for one day after a devastating battle in Judges 20:26.
- Esther asked the Jews to join her in fasting for three days before she approached the king on their behalf in Esther 4:16.
- The men of Israel fasted for seven days to mourn the death of Saul in 1 Samuel 31:13.
- Moses fasted for forty days before receiving the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 9:9–18. Jesus fasted for this same amount of time before starting His ministry in Matthew 4.
So, how can you know how long to fast?
Ask the Lord. If He is leading you to fast, He will make the specifics clear.
Look at your calendar. Do you have a big event coming up that would make fasting difficult? Are you hosting a dinner at your house? Is there a holiday coming up? In order to keep your commitment to the Lord, plan a fast that is manageable with your responsibilities and commitments.
Q. What am I supposed to do during the fast?
You are supposed to pray like crazy!
Fasting without praying isn't fasting. It is dieting or deprivation. The only reason to fast is to make space for you to seek the Lord with greater urgency. Here is what that might look like practically.
- During the times when you would be eating, pray!
- Use those hunger pangs as a reminder to pray. When your belly rumbles, seek the Lord.
- Pray passages of Scripture related to hunger. Here are a few such prayers.
- Lord, Your Word says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). Increase my hunger for You and Your Word just like my physical hunger is increased during this fast.
- Jesus, You said, “Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Teach me to be sustained by Your Word.
- Lord, Your Word promises that You can satisfy my needs (Isa. 58:11). Help me to see all of the ways You satisfy and sustain me.
Q. But I’m a momma! How can I stop cooking?
You can’t! Those little mouths will still need to be fed. Lunches will still need to be packed. Your family will still need your care. Explain to them what you are doing upfront and ask them to pray for you. Take mealtimes as an opportunity to explain what you are praying about and how God is answering. Use the opportunity to teach your kids about prayer and open a dialogue about what God is doing in each of your lives.
Q. Is it okay to tell others I am fasting?
It will be impossible to hide your fast from your family, but the Bible clearly teaches that fasting should be as private as possible.
Here is fasting 101 according to Jesus:
“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” (Matt. 6:16–18).
In Luke 18:10–14, Jesus hammered this point home by blasting a Pharisee who fasted publicly in order to draw attention to himself.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A natural by-product of fasting should be humility. It doesn’t take long without food to realize that we aren’t really in charge. We cannot even sustain our own bodies without food the Lord provides. When fasting becomes about impressing others or trying to impress or persuade God, we’ve missed the point.
Speaking of impressing God . . .
Q. Will fasting earn me preferred parking in heaven?
It may be a temptation while fasting to think of yourself as super-spiritual or to convince yourself that God will be highly pleased with your fast. The truth is, God is already pleased with you (Rom. 8:1). He accepts you, not because of anything you do or don’t do, but because He created you and He ransomed you through His sacrifice, not yours. Because of this, fasting is not a gift we give to God, but rather it is a gift He gives to us. Ultimately, we fast under grace, not under the law. It’s not about rules; it’s about our relationship with God.
Q. Why haven’t I heard more about fasting?
Honestly, I’m not sure! It is a subject that gets plenty of real estate in God’s Word but isn’t talked about much in our Christian circles. As I’ve studied fasting, I’ve realized that fasting is an important discipline for my Christian walk just like prayer and Bible study. God has moved some major mountains in my life recently through fasting.
That’s why I wanted to open this dialogue about fasting with you. I’m not an expert on fasting, but I’d love to become one. Maybe you can help me out! What truths has God shown you in His Word about fasting? What has your experience with fasting been?