Life in the fasting lane can be brutal, especially if you go into fasting and prayer halfheartedly. The hunger pangs rumble our stomachs and suddenly carbs are a temptingly luscious lifeline. Many of us have a mindset that we’re restricting ourselves and therefore it’s punishment.
It’s not, prayer and fasting is where physical detox meets spiritual transformation. Fasting and prayer is where you nourish your spirit, and your fears starve death. Fasting helps detach us from this world while prayer re-attaches us to God. Yet, most of us haven’t participated in this sacred discipline or we’ve heard of it as intermittent fasting for weight loss.
Fasting is the spiritual discipline of denying ourselves something (typically food) to feast on the things of God. Fasting and praying are Bible-based disciplines that are appropriate for all believers of all ages throughout all centuries in all parts of the world. The word "fast" or "a fasting" is tsom in the Hebrew and nesteia in the Greek language. The literal Hebrew translation would be "not to eat." The literal Greek means "no food."
It’s a choice of abstinence from food. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him.
What Does the Bible Say about Prayer and Fasting?
Jesus practiced fasting when he was tempted by Satan, (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-4). During those 40 days of loneliness, “He ate nothing” (Luke 4:2). In fact, the earlier mention of fasting in the Old Testament were the instructions God gave Moses after leading his people to freedom in Exodus 13:3, “Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the land where you were made to stay and work. For the Lord brought you out of this place by a powerful hand. No bread made with yeast will be eaten.” The book of Acts also records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:2; 14:23). It allows us to take our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ.
One of the many reasons why God called his people to fast had to do with the culture and times. Today, we can have a full meal in three minutes thanks to freezer foods and microwaves. Back then, hours upon hours went into food preparation. Fasting was a way to take the focus off ourselves and put it back on God. Jesus also gave us clear instructions on how to fast because it was meant to be a spiritual breakthrough, not pride.
"When you give up eating, don't put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They make their faces look sad to show people they are giving up eating. I tell you the truth, those hypocrites already have their full reward. So when you give up eating, comb your hair and wash your face. Then people will not know that you are giving up eating, but your Father, whom you cannot see, will see you. Your Father sees what is done in secret, and he will reward you" Matthew 6:16-18.
What Does Prayer Do for Fasting?
Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). 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. Instead, we pray when we were supposed to be eating. Use the hunger pangs to remind you to remind yourself you hunger for God. In other words, fasting gives us more time for prayer and prayer helps tear down walls, utter us into spiritual breakthroughs, destroys chains, and gives us clarity of God’s answers that we seek!
When Jesus returns, fasting will be done. It is a temporary discipline for this life and age to connect our hearts to Christ and prepare us for when we will encounter Him face to face. When he does return, he will throw a glorious feast and there is a place at the table for each of us (Luke 14:16-17). Until then, we fast.
How Do You Fast and Pray Biblically?
While Biblical fasting refers to food. There are a number of ways to fast. Remember, the point is to connect with God on a deeper level. A Fast is about humbling our hearts before God. Fasting and praying are about giving up the thing you seek for satisfaction in order to draw near to God… allowing God to satisfy you. The length of time and what you’re fasting from depends on what you sense God pressing you to do. How long you fast is entirely up to you and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
You’ll want to put yourself on a schedule. Set aside ample time to be alone with the Lord. Listen for His leading. The more time you spend with Him, the more meaningful your fast will be.
Begin your day with praise and worship. Read and meditate on God’s Word. Invite the Holy Spirit to work in you and ask to be mindful of his presence. Pray for God’s vision and empowerment to do his will.
Return to prayer and God’s Word. If possible, take a short prayer walk. Journal what you sense God speaking to you.
Get alone with God and seek Him. Spend time in intercessory prayer for your community and our nation’s leaders, for the world’s unreached millions, for your family or other needs.
What Is the Daniel Fast?
These would have been things that satisfied Daniel, good food, and relief from dried skin. He abstained after being captured and brought to Babylon. It was likely the royal food was not kosher according to Daniel’s customs. When Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and other young Israelite men were taken into Nebuchadnezzar’s service, they were to be given food and wine from the king’s table while undergoing a three-year training program. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (Daniel 1:8).
What Is a Partial Fast?
A partial fast is also known as a three-day spiritual fast. We see examples of Daniel and his friends eating veggies, fruit, and drinking water for ten days. They used this fast to honor God while in captivity. Others fasted using different lengths of time and how. This fast could last from part of a day to an entire day to several days or weeks (Esther 4:16; Joel 2:12; Ezra 8:21-23; Jonah 3:5-9).
What Is a Liquid Fast?
In this type of fast, there is no intake of solid foods. All food is replaced with liquids. Liquids can be consumed at any time. Make sure that you drink plenty of water, and you may also include fruit juices, vegetable juices, herbal teas, smoothies, smooth soups, and broth.
What Is a 40-Day Fast?
What Is a Fast from Sex?
Before men went to war in biblical times, they sometimes abstained from sex wither their wives to fast. The New Testament also reveals to us that abstaining from sex (to fast) is a good thing to do when a couple decides on it together (1 Corinthians 7:5). This type of fast from pleasurable things short-circuits our tendency to lose appreciation for them. No matter how good something makes us feel, over time we take it for granted and lose the thrill.
What Is a Fast from Social Media, TV, Spending Money?
Sometimes the world gets a grip on us. Picking up our phones instead of our Bibles. Turning to wine instead of Christ to help us unwind. Zoning out on Netflix for hours on end instead of going to God with what we’re trying to numb ourselves from. I truly believe this is the enemy’s best and greatest tactic—to get us to turn to anything or anyone except Christ. Fasting from these things on a regular basis brings the presence of God back into focus. One can fast from any of these for any period of time.
Things to Avoid while Fasting and Praying
Fasting is not about weight loss or causing health complications or marriage issues. Anytime a fast is being seriously considered, look at the calendar to ensure you won’t be doing anything to jeopardize your fast. It’s not a good idea to fast while taking the family to Disney World. It’s not a good idea of fast from sex unless you have the support of your partner. While you fast:
- Avoid drugs, even natural herbal drugs, and homeopathic remedies.
- Medication should be withdrawn only with your doctor’s supervision.
- Limit your activity. Exercise moderately.
If you sincerely humble yourself before the Lord, repent and seek God’s face, you will experience breakthrough and his presence. Fasting and prayer are difficult, and it takes time to build spiritual muscles. Consider starting small. If you fail to make it through your first fast, do not be discouraged. You may have tried to fast too long the first time out. Fasting changes us for the better.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Pheelings Media
Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal, Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.
This article is part of our larger resource library of Christian practices and disciplines important to the Christian faith. From speaking in tongues to tithing & baptism, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about Christian living.
10 Things to Know about Speaking in Tongues
The Fruit of the Spirit - What Are They?
What Is the Tithe?
What Is the Sabbath and Is it Still Important?
Baptism - What Does it Mean and Why Is it Important?