Christian fasting is the act of abstaining from something for a period of time for a certain spiritual purpose–it’s intentionally emptying oneself to be receptive to something else. When Christians fast, they become receptive to a closer relationship God and to being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Fasting is a crucial part of our walks with the Lord and although it isn’t commanded, we can clearly see in Scripture that Jesus expects His followers to fast. Fasting shifts our attention from the things of the flesh to the things of the Spirit, and it is an act of surrender to the Lord and the things of Him.
What should Christians do when they fast? Fasts are unique to you, so pray about what the Lord wants you do to or not do during your fast. When you fast, I highly encourage you to replace the time you’d normally spend doing whatever it is you’re fasting from and spend that time dedicated to the Lord instead.
Biblical fasting should not be considered a method for dieting, but a method for growing into deeper communion with God and being more in tune with His Spirit. The primary Biblical reason to fast is to take our eyes off of the things of the flesh and to open our eyes to the things of God.
Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.Andrew Murray
Fasting is the act of denying oneself and one’s needs to grow our dependence and reliance on God. It is a part of our sacrificial living for the purpose of bringing our spirits in alignment with His. It is a reminder to us that He provides for each and every one of our needs.
Because fasting is so broad and there are multiple ways to fast, it can be difficult to figure it out, so you can use this blog as a tool to help you better understand the rules, guidelines, and best practices of fasting.
Rules for Fasting
Here are both practical and spiritual rules for fasting.
1. Fast in Secret
We can see in Matthew 6 that Jesus expects our fasting to be solely between us and the Lord. It says:
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.16-18
When we fast to be seen or approved of by others, our reward will be just that–approval of man. There will be no reward for us stored in heaven. Don’t let your fast be wasted because you would’ve rather had man’s approval than God’s approval.
If you’re the type of person who needs accountability during your fast, ask a close friend, mentor, or family member to help keep you accountable, but it is unBiblical to go around telling others of your fast for the sole purpose of wanting others to know that you’re fasting.
2. Have the Right Motives
Fasting as a Christian means to humble ourselves before the Lord. It’s a way to glorify Him, so our focus should be centered around Him rather than ourselves.
When you fast, you shouldn’t:
-Fast to be seen by others
-Fast for a reward
-Fast to be more holy or righteous
But when you fast, you should:
-Fast to deny oneself
-Fast to deepen spiritual hunger for God
-Fast for God’s intervention
Remember that God sees every intention of the heart. Make sure that before you begin your fast, your heart is in the right place which is to desire to be in alignment with God and the things of Him.
3. Physically Prepare for a Fast Lasting Longer Than a Couple Days
When fasting food, it’s crucial to prepare your body and eat smaller meals a few days prior to your fast and to avoid high-fat and sugary foods before the fast. Make sure you’re also drinking plenty of water and staying away from strong stimulants such as caffeinated and sugary drinks immediately before and during the fast.
Guideline for Fasting
Here are a few practical and spiritual guidelines for fasting:
1. Consult Your Doctor
Keep in mind that years of improper fasting can cause permanent physical damage. The negative effects won’t typically be felt at a young age, but they will accumulate after years of fasting. If you have previously or currently struggle with an eating disorder, have any dietary restrictions of any kind, or are on prescription medication, please consult your doctor before beginning the fast and know that you may need to fast something other than food. Pay attention to your physical needs and what your body is telling you.
2. Know What Scripture Says About Fasting
Although fasting isn’t blatantly commanded in scripture, we should not take lightly anything we know Jesus expects of us. If you don’t know why fasting is a necessity in the life of a believer and why Jesus expects it of us, you will have a difficult time completing and being fulfilled from your fast.
Here is a blog you can read on what the Bible says about fasting.
Before you begin your fast, I highly encourage you to familiarize yourself with what scripture says about discipline since fasting requires much of it.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.Hebrews 12:7-11
I highly encourage you to read and study on other passages about discipline. If you’re unsure on how to discipline yourself, you’ll have an extremely difficult time completing your fast. The main purpose of fasting involves the question “What am I desiring to be filled with?” and most times, emptying oneself to be more filled with the Spirit is not easy because it goes against your norm–it requires much sacrifice and much discipline.
3. Identify the Purpose
Be intentional about determining the purpose for your fast before you begin your fast. Are you fasting for clarity on a decision? Are you fasting for God’s intervention? Are you fasting to go deeper in your relationship with God? Clarifying the purpose for your fast creates a frame for it. It also helps your activity during your fast be in alignment with the purpose of it. The more intentional you are before your fast, the more fruitful your fast will be.
4. Determine the Length of the Fast
Don’t go into it playing it by ear, but determine the length of the fast before it begins. Whether if it’s for one meal, one day, three days, a week, a month, etc. If you’re just beginning, fasting for one meal is a good place to start. Ask the Lord to reveal to you how long your fast should be! I highly encourage going into your fast committed to a time period for it. Be as intentional as you can be with it.
5. Plan What You’ll Do Instead
Before you begin your fast, make sure to plan what you’ll do in the time period that you’ll normally spend doing the thing you’re fasting from. If you’re fasting food, you’d be surprised how much time opens up from not only not eating, but also from not having to prepare and cook meals. As I previously mentioned, I highly encourage you spend that time with the Lord to get the most benefit from your fast.
Connect the plan with your purpose for the fast. If you’re fasting because you need to make a big decision, spend that time praying about the decision. Whatever it may be, it’ll be the most beneficial to you if you found a way to connect the plan for your fast to the purpose for your fast.
Without a purpose and plan, it’s not Christian fasting; it’s just going hungry.John Piper
6. Start Small
Especially with fasting food, starting small is crucial because our bodies need to grow accustomed to the lack of supply. Don’t go from not fasting to attempting a weeklong fast, but instead, work your way up to it with smaller fasts. Start with one meal, then after fasting one meal for a couple weeks, try two meals. Then work your way up to an all day fast.
If you’re fasting from something else such as social media and you know you’re going to have a difficult time, try fasting it for a couple days rather than cutting it cold turkey. Most of the time, we need time to train our bodies and brains to go without the thing we’re fasting from. You don’t always have to “go big or go home,” it’s okay and often times necessary to start small!
7. Try Different Kinds of Fasting
As we see throughout scripture, there is more than one way to fast. We see congregational and national, regular and occasional, absolute and partial, public and private, and personal and communal. If you’re the type of person who needs accountability for your fast, ask someone to fast with you! Consider fasting with your church, family, small group, or whoever may want to see the same outcome of your fast.
If you can’t fast food for various reasons, fast social media, Netflix, or something else! I encourage you to fast from whatever it is that takes up most of your attention.
8. Wean Your Way Back In
Break your fast gradually. At this point, you will need to exercise watchful self control. Especially if you fasted food, it’s important to wean your way back in and not immediately eat a huge meal. Your body needs time to adapt and adjust. Start with something small such as a salad, potato, vegetables, etc.
Best Practices for Fasting
We’ve talked a lot on what to do before your fast, but here are a few things to do during your fast.
1. Meditate on Scripture
In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to dwell on whatever it true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is of good repute. Scripture is the truth that fits all of these qualifications, so we’re called to dwell on it. Allow the Lord to guide you on what scripture(s) to meditate on.
If you’d like to meditate on Biblical examples of fasting, here’s a list of ones that you can read and dwell on.
If you’d like to meditate on what the Bible says about fasting, here’s a blog that goes can be helpful for you.
Meditation is Biblical, especially when meditating on the words of God.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.John 15:7
2. Spend Time in Prayer
It’s easy to forget to spend intentional time in prayer during our fast, but prayer strengthens our weak flesh. Prayer is for our benefit because it puts us into alignment with God and allows our spirit to be in tune with His. It opens us to be receptive to God and to the things of Him.
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.Matthew 26:41
Notice how this scripture doesn’t say pray so that we won’t be tempted; rather it tells us to pray so that we may not enter into temptation. Temptation is bound to come during your fast, so it’s crucial to pray that you don’t fall into it.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.Luke 18:1
Because fasting brings us to a weak state before the Lord, it’s easy to lose heart, but this passage comforts us in saying that prayer helps us to not lose heart but to remain steadfast and encouraged.
We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry.Joseph B. Wirthlin
3. Spend Time in Devotion
On the Bible app, there are many reading plans about fasting that you have access to. I highly suggest finding a devo or two and doing them during your fast! It can be a helpful tool in learning and growing during your fast. If you don’t want to spend time in devos about fasting, I encourage you to find a devo that’s linked with the purpose for your fast.
I believe that fasting, prayer, eating the Word, getting in the prayer room are ways that we violently get serious and radical about following Jesus.Michael Miller
4. Make Sure You Exercise
Especially if you already exercise, don’t stop during your fast. With the Lord as your strength, He’ll give you the energy you need, but don’t stop exercising during your fast.
In fasting, we are not trying to get something from God, but we are seeking to realign our hearts’ affections with His. Fasting enables us to cleanse the sanctuary of our hearts of anything that is not of or from Him.
5. Prepare for Opposition
Satan tempted Jesus during His fast, and we must expect the same. Temptation and discouragement may come in like a flood, but remember that because of Christ, we can stand in victory. Breakthrough often come after the fast, not during. So don’t give into the lie that nothing is happening just because you can’t see or feel it. Stand firm in the conviction that your fasting when done in faith will be rewarded.
If you are not fasting, it is perhaps because you do not feel any fervent longings for God’s power in your life.John Piper