Years ago, a friend challenged me to fast and pray one day a month for my adult children.
When she suggested it, I had mixed feelings. I love my children. I want God’s best for them. I also love food. And I have a high metabolism that requires me to eat often. My kids call me “The Toddler” because I eat every few hours to avoid headaches, lightheadedness, and weakness.
I thought long and hard when my friend suggested a prayer plan that involved going without food for extended periods.
As I weighed the benefits against the losses (no pun intended), I realized that I wanted God to release His power in my family’s life way more than I wanted a comfortable stomach and a headache-free life. For the last nine years, I’ve set aside one day a month to fast and pray for my adult children.
I shared biblical reasons for fasting last week in a post called “Powerful Reasons to Fast—Even When You Don’t Want To.”(If you missed it, perhaps you’ll want to read that introductory post before continuing.)
Why do some Christians fast? Here are three of the most common reasons:
- To seek God’s power and favor (Matt. 6:16–18; 17:21 NKJV).
- To ask for forgiveness and healing (Dan. 9:3).
- To gain wisdom and direction (Acts 14:23).
If you’ve never fasted or if you’ve fasted unsuccessfully, I’d like to share ten tips from my own experience that might help you. Feel free to pick and choose the ideas that best fit your needs. Everyone’s experience looks a little different. That’s okay. The most important thing is not how we pray, but that we pray.
10 Tips for a Successful Fast
1. Fast from dinner to dinner.
I used to fast by skipping breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I almost always failed. Now I fast from after dinnertime one evening to just before dinnertime the next. This allows me to fast for a full day but skip two meals instead of three.
2. Consider an alternate fast.
Some people can’t skip multiple meals because of medical conditions. An alternative to a twenty-four-hour fast is a single meal fast, a liquid only (juices, teas, broths) fast, or a fast from TV, internet, sweets, coffee, or a favorite activity for a longer period of time. One of my friends gave up her daily soft drink consumption for forty days to pray for her unsaved loved one.
3. Drink lots of water.
When I fasted, I often experienced terrible headaches. I did some research and discovered that lack of food isn’t usually what causes headaches. Lack of water does. Staying well hydrated can prevent that brain-stabbing pain that can quickly derail your fast.
4. Drink herbal tea with a little sweetener if you really start to feel crummy.
Herbal tea tricks your brain into thinking you’re not quite as deprived as you think. Go easy on the sweetener, though, to avoid a blood sugar spike and crash that can leave you feeling overwhelmingly hungry. I experience much less hunger if I limit myself to drinking water or unsweetened beverages.
5. Set a timer.
Because life goes on, even during a fasting day, I sometimes get so busy I forget to pray. This defeats the purpose of fasting. At the same time, I can’t pray nonstop. To make sure I pray often, I set the timer on my phone to sound every thirty minutes. When the timer goes off, I stop and pray for five minutes about some aspect of my children’s lives.
6. Use a prayer guide for focus and direction.
You might want to keep a journal to list things you want to pray for your children or loved ones, like physical health, spiritual growth, or work success. Or you can compile a list of Scripture verses to pray on their behalf. My favorite guide, Stormie OMartian’s The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, combines both. If you’re praying for younger children, I suggest The Power of a Praying Parent.
Each chapter in Omartian’s books contains a sample prayer. Every hour I pray a different chapter’s prayer. This allows me to ask God to help my adult children develop a heart for God; grow in wisdom; find freedom, restoration, and wholeness; understand God’s purpose for their lives; work successfully and enjoy financial freedom; avoid sexual pollution and temptation; and many other requests.
7. Choose a day when you’re likely to have more “mental space.”
I try to schedule my fasts on days that aren’t crammed so full I don’t have time to think. Because prayer requires mental concentration and dialogue with the Lord, you’ll want to choose a day that allows for mental pauses. Otherwise, your day of fasting and prayer might deteriorate into a day of fasting but no prayer.
8. Be open to prayer tangents.
During a fast, God might bring to mind other people and prayer needs. My primary goal is to pray for my children, but if a different need comes to mind, I pray for it. We can trust that the Holy Spirit will direct our prayer where it needs to go most.
9. Use your hunger or cravings as prompts to pray.
Whenever your tummy grumbles or you desire what you’re fasting from, pray. Instead of trying to ignore your cravings, celebrate them. Recognize them as prayer prompts. Redirect your thoughts from how hungry you are to one of the items on your prayer list.
10. Expect spiritual and physical opposition.
I wish I could say I look forward to my monthly fast. I don’t. Every month my flesh tries to talk me out of fasting. This isn’t a good day. You have too much to do. Why not skip it this time? You can pick it back up next month. Are you really going to fast when there’s leftover lasagna and chocolate cake in the refrigerator?
Inevitably a friend will invite me out to lunch that day, or I'll have to attend a dinner for a coworker who's moving away. My husband will bring home a special food treat, or a women's ministry leader will schedule a planning meeting over lunch.
The Secret to Staying Faithful
What helps me stay faithful to my commitment to fast month after month? My overwhelming desire to see God release His power in my children’s lives. This is infinitely more precious to me than chocolate cake and lasagna.
Second Corinthians 4:17–18 comforts and encourages me: ”For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Hebrews 12:11 reminds me, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Developing a spiritual discipline like fasting takes time, effort, and self-control, but the results can be eternal.
If you desire to seek God’s power and favor, ask for forgiveness and healing, or gain wisdom and direction, consider setting aside time to fast and pray. Then trust God to use your prayers to accomplish His will in the lives of those you love.