Fasting

In speaking to his disciples, Jesus said: “When you fast…” (Matt 6v17). He assumed this would be the normal practice of his followers.

Fasting is to abstain from food (or something else) in the context of praying with a deep concern for God to act.[i] In this sense it is to “seek the Lord” for whatever matter is at hand.[ii] It is often linked to mourning, whether over our own sin or others’, or over a realization of the state of the world or church that has moved us to pray.[iii] Abstaining from food shows how desperately we long for God to help. More than that, where this desperation is sincere, fasting may reflect the fact that we can’t even think about food until we have properly sought the Lord. Although some Jews fasted regularly in Jesus’ day, fasting is usually therefore engaged in more occasionally, when a particular need is faced.[iv]

The act of fasting aids prayer not by somehow twisting God’s arm, but because by fasting we “humble ourselves,” submitting ourselves to his will whilst being reminded that we are weak creatures who are wholly reliant upon him.[v] By focusing us on the Lord in this way, fasting also therefore increases our hunger for God and his work in our lives.

Types of Fast
  1. The normal fast: To eat no food and drink only water. 
  2. The partial fast: To eat only vegetables or fruit, or skip a meal. This obviously benefits those in heavy work or who cannot fast more fully for medical reasons. Daniel 10:2-3
  3. The juice fast: To have a liquid only fast. This allows for more physical work too, or can be a means of engaging in a longer fast.
  4. The absolute fast: To fast completely without food or water for up to three days.[vi]
  5. The alternative fast: To abstain from something else, eg. the TV.

Guidelines
1) God rebuked the Israelites for not fasting “to him.” He and his purposes must be our concern, not our own benefit or pride.

2) Time for prayer needs to be planned in. Some choose to give the time they would have given to preparing or eating food to prayer. You might agree to fast with others, meeting for prayer at set times.

3) Be prepared for it to be hard. You may experience opposition from the evil one. Your own body will certainly struggle, and you could experience headaches, dizziness, tiredness and irritability as your body aches at the lack of the caffeine and food it is used to. Well meaning people who know you are fasting may even urge you to stop, seeing it all as rather extreme.

4) Agree with yourself how long you are going to fast for. But be prepared to change that if your health or circumstances change.

5) If you are underweight, pregnant, or have any medical conditions, consult your doctor even before a small fast.

6) Don’t boast about fasting. It is to be done in secret, if possible, with only God knowing. However, don’t be legalistic about this. If people such as family members need to know, then tell them.

7) Plan in regular rest breaks when you get tired, and don’t do more than light exercise.

8) Break a fast for anything above a day only gradually.

[i] Jud 20v26, 2 Sam 12v15-23, Est 4v16, Joel 1v14.
[ii] 2 Chr 20v3-4
[iii] Matt 9v14-15, 1 Sam 31v13, 2 Sam 1v12, Ps 35v13-14, 69v10, Zech 7v5, 1 Sam 7v6, Neh 1v4, Joel 2v12
[iv] Lk 2v37, Matt 17v20, Acts 12v2-3, 14v23
[v] Ezra 8v21-23, Ps 35v13, Is 58v3-9
[vi] Esther 4:16, Ezra 10:6, and Acts 9:9 Some fast for longer, but this should only be done after serious thought and having regularly fasted previously.