While fasting Jesus said, “My food, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
Fasting as a discipline for the spiritual life is a primary discipline of abstinence or self-denial. Properly understood, Fasting is Feasting. Jesus shows us this and it’s why he taught us, “When you fast do not be somber, but be happy as you look to your Father in secret who will nourish and bless you” (paraphrased from Matthew 6:16-18).
Biblical fasting is not for physical health, but for prayer. The only way to understand the value of fasting is to practice it, looking to Jesus to help you.
The normal way to fast is to choose to go without food but drink plenty of water, perhaps for a 24-hour day. It’s important to know your body and learn about fasting before you begin a fast, especially with a longer fast of three days or more, because it can be dangerous to your health (e.g., if you’re diabetic or have digestive disorders). It’s especially important not to go too long without water.
Fasting just one meal or doing a partial fast are good ways to begin experimenting with fasting and they can be very effective. Partial fasts include limiting yourself to juices, abstaining from meat, eliminating sugar and junk foods, or eating significantly less than normal.
Also you can fast from things other than food, like media or shopping.
Fasting is About Prayer
The purpose of fasting is prayer. As you gain experience with fasting you will discover how dramatically it helps you to rely on God and to concentrate in pray. But the first order of business is to clear out whatever it is in your body and your life that is hindering your prayer connection to God. This is likely to be difficult! At first you may not feel that your fasting is helping you to pray.
Fasting is a purgative or cleansing discipline that surfaces inner sin, immaturity, and stress points. For instance, when you’re learning to fast you’re likely to have problems with hunger, fatigue, headaches, low frustration tolerance, or feeling deprived. You may discover that you’ve been relying on food — more than Jesus — to provide comfort, fullness, rewards, energy pick ups, or simply having something to look forward to.
Fasting and Prayer Experiments
To learn how to fast you need to not only read about it — studying the Scriptures and learning from spiritual mentors — you also need to experience it personally. Start small and to help you pray and rely on Jesus during your fast find some Scriptures to meditate on that relate to the purpose of your fast.
Here are some examples of how you might focus your prayers in a fast:
- Meditate on Hungry Heart Scriptures to cultivate your hunger for God as you continually turn your thoughts from physical hunger to your deeper hunger for God and his Word.
- Use your experience of fasting to Watch and Pray that in daily life you would rely on Jesus as your Source, not overeating, lusting, reacting in anger, using alcohol, overworking, judging other people, gossiping.
- Intercede in concentrated prayer for someone in need.
- Seek discernment from God about a decision.
- Practice relying on the Holy Spirit and not your natural energies and abilities as you preach, serve the hungry (physically or spiritually), or do your work for the glory of God.
Other Disciplines Related to Fasting
All of the main disciplines of abstinence in our Spiritual Disciplines List can be thought of as ways to fast from something: Sabbath (not being productive), Secrecy (not letting your good deeds be seen), Silence (not making or being around noise), Solitude (not being with people), and Submission (not seeking to have your way).
Additionally these Biblical disciplines of abstinence are related to fasting:
- Chastity: Abstaining from sexual gratification, even in marriage for a time, to be governed by God.
- Sacrifice: Forsaking a need or dream and trusting that God and his provision are enough for you.
- Vigil: Going without sleep for a time in order to pray about a matter of urgent concern.
Additional Resources on Fasting
These resources will help you to better understand fasting from a Biblical perspective and how you can use this discipline to grow in the grace of Christ:
- “Hungry Heart Scriptures“: Soul Shepherding Bible Study
- “Fasting is Feasting“: Soul Shepherding Article/Class
- “Fasting is Feasting: a Scripture Prayer“: Soul Shepherding Experience
- Unforsaken: With Jesus on the Stations of the Cross: 68 page booklet that will guide you on a prayer walk with Jesus and the ancient stations of his cross.