Fasting and prayer go together.  Fasting is a means of prayer in which we give up food or some other daily activity of life for a set period of time in order to focus more clearly on God.  The Hebrew word tsum means a voluntary abstinence from food, which has also been translated as “deny self” or “afflict the soul.”

How to do this prayer practice:

1. Discover the Biblical roots.

Fasting is mentioned in the Bible from Exodus to Acts. In the Old Testament book of Jewish law in Leviticus 16: 29 – 31, everyone in Israel was commanded to fast on the Day of Atonement.   Today, Jews over the age of 20 still fast on this day.

The following people in the Bible fasted: Moses, David, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, the disciples of John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Anna, Paul and Barnabas and Jesus.  Throughout history, Christians have fasted from Augustine to John Wesley.   John Wesley was so serious about the benefits of fasting that he would not ordain a pastor who did not fast two times weekly on Wednesday and Friday.

2.  Answer a spiritual call to fast.

A fast should be centered on God. The Holy Spirit may sometimes call you to a short, personal fast.  Other times, a group of believers or a spiritual leader may call you to fast especially during special church seasons such as Lent or in times of national or world crisis.

The inner calling to fast is often in response to a feeling that you need to get serious about your spiritual needs.  Below is a list of reasons you might decide to fast:

To Know God’s will

For personal cleansing, both physical and spiritual

An expression of grief

When we need protection

Help in time of trouble

To express sorrow for sin

As a reminder of our dependence on God

When we need God’s wisdom, guidance, direction or courage

When we need healing, whether physical healing or for the healing of our country

When seeking spiritual discernment

When we need the power of the Holy Spirit

As a way to humble ourselves

When we need a breakthrough in the Spiritual realm

When there is a personal crisis or national emergency

As an act of service and worship

To express love and devotion to God

To learn self discipline and to break the power of temptation and sin in our lives

3.  Choose your type of fasting.

There are a number of ways that people carry out fasts.

Supernatural – Moses, Elijah and Jesus went for 40 days and nights with no food or water.  This sort of extreme fasting cannot be replicated by human effort.

Absolute – Queen Esther practiced this form of fasting.  During an absolute fast you go without food or water, typically for 3 days or less.  (See Esther 4:16)

Normal – This is a slightly modified version of an absolute fast.  In this type of fast you go without solid food or liquids containing nutrients while allowing yourself to drink water.

Partial – This type of fasting is sometimes called a Daniel fast based on Daniel 1:12 where Daniel, a young Jewish exile who was being trained to serve the king of Babylon, refused to eat the normal royal foods which were forbidden by the Jewish dietary laws.  Daniel requested a trial run of 10 days eating vegetables and drinking water instead of eating the meats and drinking the wine served in the royal household.  At the end of ten days he was found to be healthy enough to be allowed to continue this diet.

In this mode of fasting, you limit your diet to a list of restricted foods, normally only vegetables and fruits and water.

Occasional – Most of the Biblical fasts were done on a specific occasion according to a need

Congregational – In the early church, the church of Antioch fasted and prayed to set Paul and Barnabus apart for their missionary work.  (Acts 13:3)

National or group fast – In the Bible, David and his men fasted together (II Samuel 1: 11 – 12) and in Joel 1:14 the Bible says, “Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly.  Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”

Extended or repeatedly fasting – This sort of fast takes place at intervals over an extended period of time while bringing a long term request before God.  The Bible describes how Daniel fasted, “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”  (Daniel 9:3)

4.  Determine the length of time.

The length of your fast is determined by your spiritual need and the type of fasting you are doing.  An absolute fast where no food or water is consumed is necessarily limited to a few days at a time in order to avoid dehydration.  Daniel fasts, on the other hand, where only certain foods are eaten may last anywhere from a few days to a month.  Other fasts are based on skipping a certain meal.  For instance, some might fast during the day and eat breakfast and dinner.

DALLAS Willard in his book, The Spirit of the Disciples says: “the length or severity of a fast is much less important than ‘an attitude’ of confirming our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of our sustenance beyond food.”

5.  Don’t fast for the wrong reasons.

Remember that a fast is not just a Christian diet to lose weight.  Without prayer and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, a fast is no different than a fad diet.

Jesus also warns us not to fast to appear super religious to other people so they will notice us and commend us for it.  The Pharisees in the day of Jesus fasted regularly as a religious show and even bragged about it, as recorded in Luke 18:12.

In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret,  will reward you.”  NIV

6.  Don’t jeopardize your health.

Always be aware of the state of your health before and during fasting.  Those with heart and kidney problems, those who are diabetic, those who are pregnant and nursing, those with other medical challenges and/or those taking medication should consult a medical professional before fasting.

My personal experiences and tips:

Start for a short time and work up to longer fasts. When doing extended fasts some may experience vomiting as toxins clear from the body. Drink chlorine-free water.  After 2 to 10 days, stored fat is released into the blood stream and you may have high cholesterol reading. Be very aware that once your body uses up its reserves, damage to organs can occur. It is important to stop fasting before reaching this point! Your body is the temple of God and God wants us to nourish and care of it.

I began researching the Biblical basis for fasting when a family member was falsely accused of something.  After studying fasting, I did a long term personal fast so I could give that time to God in prayer.  Fasting and prayer were very important to me not because I was trying to earn the answer I wanted but because I was very much in need of time with God to deal with the situation, how I felt about it, and how it was affecting my family.

After that I used to fast every Monday and I made that my day when I really focused and concentrated on prayer.  In our home library we have a chair that’s our prayer chair.  I sat in the chair while listening to quiet, worshipful music and explored and read about different things that fascinated me, such as holiness, the glory of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.  Today I don’t fast on a regular schedule.  Instead I fast occasionally when I feel called by God to do so.

You may be able to fast in other ways by giving up certain activities or behaviors.  The things you give up for the Lord will be honored.

How to fit this prayer idea into your schedule:

Fasting may be done on any day as you carry on your usual activities.  Many find that spending the time you would normally spend on cooking and eating meals can be used as times of prayer to pursue the spiritual intention behind your fast.

The Biblical origins and traditional roots of this method of prayer:

Exodus 34: 28, Leviticus 16: 29 – 31, Deuteronomy 9:9; 9:18, Judges 20:26, II Samuel 1: 11 – 12; 3:35; 12: 22 – 23, I Kings 19:8; 21: 27 – 29, II Chronicles 20:3, Ezra 8: 21 -23, Nehemiah 1: 3 – 4; 1: 5 – 10, Esther 4:16, Psalms 35:13, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 3:9, Daniel 1:12; 9:2; 10: 1 – 2, Joel 1: 13 – 15, 2:12, Jonah 3: 1 – 10,  Zechariah 7: 1 -7; 8:19, Matthew 4: 2 – 3; 6: 16 – 18; 9: 14 – 16, Mark 9: 28 – 29, Luke 2: 36 – 38; 18:12, Acts 13: 2 – 3; 14:23; 27:9

Denise CantrellCopyright 2011 Denise Cantrell.  All rights reserved.