This resource on fasting was put together using the following materials:
Biblical Fasting, by Dennis Rupert
Permission is granted to distribute to others, but not for commercial purposes
What Fasting is NOT:
Some people take even the most pure of religious exercises and twist it to their own ends. Fasting is one of those religious acts which people have often misunderstood and misused. So let’s be sure that we are clear on what Biblical fasting is not:
(1) A Physical or Psychological Discipline — God never tells people to fast as a purely physical discipline, i.e. dieting for the purpose of making the body beautiful or for some other physical benefit. I’m not saying that dieting is wrong — only that this is not found in the Bible. Dieting may or may not be helpful to you personally, but the Bible never encourages “fasting” for that reason alone.
Fasting does have many positive physical and psychological benefits. During the fast your body is cleansed of many toxins, and you are likely to lose some weight (although not as much as you may think). Additionally, many Christians testify to possessing a greater amount of discipline in their lives once they began fasting on a regular basis. The discipline of conquering the desire to eat transfers over to other areas.
These may be helpful by-product of fasting, but should not be an end in itself. God never encourages fasting for solely discipline or self-denial reasons. God has a higher purpose in mind for fasting.
(2) A Manipulative Tool — Sometimes fasting is viewed as an attempt to twist God’s arm or to win His approval. But God doesn’t respond to pressure.
We must never think of fasting as a hunger strike designed to force God’s hand and get our own way! We don’t need to strong-arm God. God is good (Psalm 119:8) and eager to answer our prayers. He is generous (James 1:5) and eager to give us ‘good things’ (Matthew 7:11). Don’t use fasting to try to push God into a corner.
(3) A Hypocritical Religious Exercise — By Jesus’ time fasting had become a very important part of the Jewish life. Perhaps overly important would be a better way of saying it. Based on Luke 18:12a, we know the Pharisees fasted twice a week. The Talmud tells us that this was on the 2nd and 5th day (Monday and Thursday). Why those days? According to the Pharisees it was because Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to get the Law on the 5th day and returned on the 2nd. At least that’s what they said.
But if you look closely into Jewish history, you find another possible reason for the Pharisees fasting on Monday and Thursday. Market day in the city of Jerusalem was on the 2nd and 5th day! Everyone from the countryside came to town on those days. It was on these two days that the Pharisees chose to hold their fasts. They would walk through the streets with their hair disheveled; they would put on old clothes and cover themselves with dirt; they would cover their faces with white chalk in order to look pale; and they would dump ashes over their head as a sign of their humility!! Fasting had become a “look-at-how-spiritual-I-am” exercise. It was a hypocrisy.
Fasting is denying myself. It is denying not only my own body, but also my own wants. It is a way of saying that food and my desires are secondary to something else.
What Biblical Fasting Is:
Biblical fasting is “not eating” with spiritual communication in mind. How do we know this? Because Biblical fasting always occurs together with prayer in the Bible – ALWAYS. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast (Biblically speaking) without praying. Biblical fasting is deliberately abstaining from food for a spiritual reason: communication and relationship with the Father.
Types of Fasting:
The Bible gives examples of many different kinds of fasting.
Normal fast: There are very few rules when it comes to fasting. What you do is really between you and the Lord. There is only one fast command in the Bible and that was the fast on the Day of Atonement. This fast was from sunset of one day to sunset of the next (Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:32). Since, people usually don’t eat during the night that makes the fast fairly easy, since you can eat again in the evening before retiring to bed. The normal fast involves abstaining from all forms of food, but not from water for a period of one day. (Some people may choose to include abstaining from water as part of this fast)
Absolute fast: This type of fast is one in which the person refrains from both food and water. An absolute fast can be harmful to your health and in most cases should not exceed three days.
“Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16 Queen Esther
“And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” Acts 9:9 The apostle Paul
“Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.” Ezra 10:6 Ezra
Extended fast: Fasts that extend beyond three or seven days can be found in the Bible, but these exceptions were based upon direct guidance from God or a supernatural ability given by God to complete the fast. Examples of these extreme fasts are:
“When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tablets of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the Lord made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water:” Deut. 9:9 Moses
Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments. Exodus 34:28 Moses
So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:8 Elijah
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Matthew 4:1-2 Jesus
After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. 2 Samuel 12:15-17 David
Partial Fast: In this type of fast, the emphasis is placed on restriction of diet, rather than abstaining completely from eating.
“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” Daniel 1:8
“In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.” Daniel 10:2-3
The partial fast involves restriction of diet, and not complete abstention. We most commonly hear about this kind of fasting in relation to the Lenten season.
God said, “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13,14). When a man or woman is willing to set aside the legitimate appetites of the body to concentrate on the work of praying, they are demonstrating that they mean business, that they are seeking God with all their heart.
Fasting is an expression of wholeheartedness. This is clear from Joel’s call to the nation of Israel: “Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting. . .” (Joel 2:12).
How do you know when to pray and fast and when to just pray? That is not a question that someone else can always answer for you. But here is a principle: In God’s word we always find fasting connected with a very troubled spirit or a very anxious heart before the Lord. So a reason for fasting is not something you choose on the spur of the moment. Rather the reason is a consuming one. In a sense, it’s not something you choose, so much as something that chooses you, because it’s that important.
So why fast? To demonstrate that we are seeking God “with all our heart.” Fasting puts things in proper focus. It is a physical way of saying, “Food and the things of this life are not as important to me now as (fill in the blank) .”
Of course, denying yourself food to focus on God and His program shows humility. That is why fasting is also the equivalent of the phrase “to humble oneself before the Lord” (Psalm 35:13; 1 Kings 21:29; Ezra 8:21). When a person is really concerned about the things of God, he will humble himself. There will be times when he will abstain from the enjoyment of food to continue concentration and focus on that which is important to God.
“When is it appropriate to fast?”
So when should a Christian fast? When he or she feels the Spirit of God leading them to fast. The occasion for fasting is a totally voluntary decision. Some of the specific times when people in the Bible fasted are listed in the next section. But basically we can say a Christian may decide to fast whenever there is a spiritual concern or struggle in his or her life. Of course, there may be times when those in authority over us proclaim a fast, as was done by King Saul (1 Samuel 14:24) or Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:3). But normally and ultimately that decision is solely between us and the Lord.
What types of situations should induce a fast?’ ‘What is a good Biblical reason for going without food?’ The Bible has answers to those questions. We find seven occasions when the people of God fasted. God’s people fasted in these situations:
Mourning someone’s death: We see fasting and mourning connected in 1 Samuel 31:13; 1 Chronicles 10:12; 2 Samuel 1:12; and 2 Samuel 3:35. In these situations fasting showed the sorrow that the people felt over the loss of someone God used in their lives. In fact, the custom of fasting in mourning was considered normal behavior among the Israelites. That’s why the servants of David were so astonished when David got up and ate following the death of his son: “David’s servants said to him, ‘Why are you doing this? When the baby was still alive, you refused to eat and you cried. Now that the baby is dead, you get up and eat food?!'” (2 Samuel 12:21).
When someone experiences the loss of a close friend or relative, they usually don’t feel like eating. This is a normal, natural reaction in the initial stages of grief. It is a perfectly good reason to fast.
Mourning sin, i.e., in repentance and confession: Examples of this are found in Deuteronomy 9:18; 1 Samuel 7:6; 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 10:6; Jonah 3:5; and Acts 9:3-9. When people wished to demonstrate that they were serious about repenting from their sin, they fasted. Our willingness to sacrifice shows the depth of our commitment and in this case, fasting is a pictorial way of saying to the Lord, “I care more about getting right with You, God, than I do about even my own life.” So a good occasion for fasting is when we are truly grieving over our sins.
A situation of impending danger; for protection: There are occasions when death or danger threaten us. We see from the Scripture that it is certainly appropriate to employ fasting as a means of receiving God’s protection during these times. When Ezra was carrying a large consignment of gold and silver to the temple in Jerusalem along a route infested with bandits, he records: “I proclaimed a fast…that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a straight way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21,23,31). Other examples of fasting for protection are found in Jeremiah 36:9 and Esther 4:3.
Direction: Fasting helps us find God’s will. If we expect God to reveal His direction for our lives, we must put Him first. Often this means putting aside the fulfillment of our physical appetites, so that we can focus our attention on Him.
We find an example of fasting for direction in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. Three nations were coming against Judah to destroy them. King Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, proclaimed a fast for the whole nation and they asked the Lord what they should do. God heard their prayer and their fast and gave the people prophetic direction through one of the choir members! God told them what to do.
Acts 13:2 is another example of direction being given by God during a fast. Here we find the leaders of the church of Antioch worshiping and fasting. The Holy Spirit used this occasion to tell the church leaders to choose Paul and Barnabas from among their group and send them out to spread the gospel among the Gentiles. So fasting is one of the ways we seek God’s guidance and direction in our lives.
Sickness: There are two examples in Scripture of fasting on behalf of those who are sick: 2 Samuel 12:15-23; Psalm 35:13. Both of these examples come from the life of David. In Psalm 35:13 David says, “Yet when they were sick, I put on clothes of sadness and showed my sorrow by going without food.” David saw fasting as a way to ask God for physical healing in the lives of other people.
The ordination of missionaries or church leaders: Fasting appears to have been a regular part of the ordination of church leaders and missionaries. We have already looked at Acts 13, the calling of Paul and Barnabas for missionary service. Verse 3 tells us that after they received this direction from the Lord, then they ordained them for missionary service by prayer, fasting and laying their hands upon them.
We find the same thing later on in the book of Acts — Paul and Barnabas fasted at the selection of the first elders for the new churches they planted (Acts 14:23). It would appear that fasting in these cases is a way of seriously seeking God’s blessing, anointing, and power upon the leaders of the church.
Special revelation: The final occasion for fasting is for special revelation. Exceptional insights from God were sometimes given to the prophets and others during periods of fasting. Daniel sought God with fasting to ask God to fulfill His promise to restore Jerusalem (see Daniel 9:9,18 and compare with Jeremiah 29:10-13). He received through the angel Gabriel a wonderful unfolding of God’s plan for Israel. If we have sought God in vain for the fulfillment of some promise, it could be that He is waiting for us to humble ourselves by fasting and seek Him as Daniel did.
In Preparation of Fasting
Is God inviting you to fast, and if so why?
Why are you fasting? Is it for spiritual renewal, for guidance, for healing, for the resolution of problems, for special grace to handle a difficult situation? Ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His leading and objectives for your prayer fast. This will enable you to pray more specifically and strategically.
Through fasting and prayer we humble ourselves before God so the Holy Spirit will stir our souls, awaken our churches, and heal our land according to 2 Chronicles 7:14. Make this a priority in your fasting.
Pray about the kind of fast you should undertake.
Jesus implied that all of His followers should fast (Matthew 6:16-18; 9:14,15) For Him it was a matter of when believers would fast, not if they would do it. Before you fast, decide the following upfront:
- How long you will fast – one meal, one day, a week, several weeks, forty days (Beginners should start slowly, building up to longer fasts.)
- The type of fast God wants you to undertake (such as water only, or water and juices; what kinds of juices you will drink and how often)
- What physical or social activities you will restrict
- How much time each day you will devote to prayer and God’s Word
Making these commitments ahead of time will help you sustain your fast when physical temptations and life’s pressures tempt you to abandon it.
Make time to prepare yourself spiritually
The very foundation of fasting and prayer is repentance. Unconfessed sin will hinder your prayers. Here are several things you can do to prepare your heart:
- Ask God to help you make a comprehensive list of your sins.
- Confess every sin that the Holy Spirit calls to your remembrance and accept God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
- Seek forgiveness from all whom you have offended, and forgive all who have hurt you (Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4; 17:3,4).
- Make restitution as the Holy Spirit leads you.
- Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit according to His command in Ephesians 5:18 and His promise in 1 John 5:14,15.
- Surrender your life fully to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master; refuse to obey your worldly nature (Romans 12:1,2).
- Meditate on the attributes of God, His love, sovereignty, power, wisdom, faithfulness, grace, compassion, and others (Psalm 48:9,10; 103:1-8, 11-13).
- Begin your time of fasting and prayer with an expectant heart (Hebrews 11:6).
- Do not underestimate spiritual opposition. Satan sometimes intensifies the natural battle between body and spirit (Galatians 5:16,17).
Prepare yourself physically
Fasting requires reasonable precautions. Consult your physician first, especially if you take prescription medication or have a chronic ailment. Some persons should never fast without professional supervision.
Physical preparation makes the drastic change in your eating routine a little easier so that you can turn your full attention to the Lord in prayer.
- Do not rush into your fast.
- Prepare your body. Eat smaller meals before starting a fast. Avoid high-fat and sugary foods.
- Eat raw fruit and vegetables for two days before starting a fast.
While you Fast
Your time of fasting and prayer has come. You are abstaining from all solid foods and have begun to seek the Lord. Here are some helpful suggestions to consider:
- Avoid drugs, even natural herbal drugs and homeopathic remedies. Medication should be withdrawn only with your physician’s supervision.
- Limit your activity.
- Exercise only moderately. Walk one to three miles each day if convenient and comfortable.
- Rest as much as your schedule will permit.
- Prepare yourself for temporary mental discomforts, such as impatience, crankiness, and anxiety.
- Expect some physical discomforts, especially on the second day. You may have fleeting hunger pains, dizziness, or the “blahs.” Withdrawal from caffeine and sugar may cause headaches. Physical annoyances may also include weakness, tiredness, or sleeplessness.
- Regularly evaluate your attitude and spirit. Remind yourself why you are fasting and ask yourself if your motives are still pure.
The first two or three days are usually the hardest. As you continue to fast, you will likely experience a sense of well-being both physically and spiritually. However, should you feel hunger pains, increase your liquid intake.
Maintain a fairly set schedule
For maximum spiritual benefit 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 in praise and worship.
- Read and meditate on God’s Word.
- Invite the Holy Spirit to work in you to will and to do His good pleasure according to Philippians 2:13.
- Invite God to use you. Ask Him to show you how to influence your world, your family, your church, your community, your country, and beyond.
- Pray for His vision for your life and empowerment to do His will.
- Return to prayer and God’s Word.
- Take a short prayer walk.
- Spend time in intercessory prayer for your community’s and nation’s leaders, for the world’s unreached millions, for your family or special needs.
- Get alone for an unhurried time of “seeking His face.”
- If others are fasting with you, meet together for prayer.
- Avoid television or any other distraction that may dampen your spiritual focus.
When possible, begin and end each day in prayer for a brief time of praise and thanksgiving to God.
A dietary routine is vital as well. Dr. Julio C. Ruibal – a nutritionist, pastor, and specialist in fasting and prayer – suggests a daily schedule and list of juices you may find useful and satisfying. Modify this schedule and the drinks you take to suit your circumstances and tastes.
5 a.m. – 8 a.m.
Fruit juices, preferably freshly squeezed or blended and diluted in 50 percent distilled water if the fruit is acid. Apple, pear, grapefruit, papaya, watermelon, or other fruit juices are generally preferred. If you cannot do your own juicing, buy juices without sugar or additives.
10:30 a.m. – noon
Fresh vegetable juice made from lettuce, celery, and carrots in three equal parts.
2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Herb tea with a drop of honey. Avoid black tea or any tea with caffeine.
6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Broth made from boiling potatoes, celery, and carrots with no salt. After boiling about half an hour, pour the water into a container and drink it.
Tips on Juice Fasting
- Drinking fruit juice will decrease your hunger pains and give you some natural sugar energy. The taste and lift will motivate and strengthen you to continue.
- The best juices are made from fresh watermelon, lemons, grapes, apples, cabbage, beets, carrots, celery, or leafy green vegetables. In cold weather, you may enjoy a warm vegetable broth.
- Mix acidic juices (orange and tomato) with water for your stomach’s sake.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks. And avoid chewing gum or mints, even if your breath is bad. They stimulate digestive action in your stomach.
Breaking Your Fast
When your designated time for fasting is finished, you will begin to eat again. But how you break your fast is extremely important for your physical and spiritual well-being.
End your fast gradually
Begin eating gradually. Do not eat solid foods immediately after your fast. Suddenly reintroducing solid food to your stomach and digestive tract will likely have negative, even dangerous, consequences. Try several smaller meals or snacks each day. If you end your fast gradually, the beneficial physical and spiritual effects will result in continued good health.
Here are some suggestions to help you end your fast properly:
- Break an extended water fast with fruit such as watermelon.
- While continuing to drink fruit or vegetable juices, add the following:
First day: Add a raw salad.
Second day: Add baked or boiled potato, no butter or seasoning.
Third day: Add a steamed vegetable.
Thereafter: Begin to reintroduce your normal diet.
- Gradually return to regular eating with several small snacks during the first few days. Start with a little soup and fresh fruit such as watermelon and cantaloupe. Advance to a few tablespoons of solid foods such as raw fruits and vegetables or a raw salad and baked potato.
If you sincerely humble yourself before the Lord, repent, pray, and seek God’s face; if you consistently meditate on His Word, you will experience a heightened awareness of His presence. The Lord will give you fresh, new spiritual insights. Your confidence and faith in God will be strengthened. You will feel mentally, spiritually, and physically refreshed. You will see answers to your prayers.
A single fast, however, is not a spiritual cure-all. Just as we need fresh infillings of the Holy Spirit daily, we also need new times of fasting before God. A 24-hour fast each week has been greatly rewarding to many Christians.
It takes time to build your spiritual fasting muscles. 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, or your may need to strengthen your understanding and resolve. As soon as possible, undertake another fast until you do succeed. God will honor you for your faithfulness.
Some questions to help plan your fast:
- How are you experiencing God’s invitation for you to enter into a fast?
- What are you seeking God’s face about? What do you want clarity about?
- God, as I prayerfully enter into this time of fasting, I ask that you would reveal to me…
- God, as I prayerfully enter into this time of fasting, I ask that you would hear my prayers and…
- What kind of fast do you believe God is inviting you to undertake?
- How long do you hear God inviting you to fast for?
- What time are you setting aside to spend with God?
- Is there a passage of scripture that you feel God is inviting you to use to focus your meditations?
- Are you inviting others to fast with you? Who? Why?
- Have you chosen one or two individuals to provide guidance and to help you keep focused and committed? Who?