The Daniel Fast
Is it a diet? Is it a spiritual practice? Find out about the Daniel Fast movement that is changing the shape of the American Church.
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Fasters sing the praises of the method, which Gregory says has helped scores to jump-start and sustain a long-term, healthy lifestyle. Some report benefits that go well beyond nutrition.
“I developed patience,” recalled Kathleen Woodbury, who did the fast a few years ago as part of a discipleship group at Eagle Brook Church in White Bear Lake, Minn. “The practice of restraint made me more patient with my teenage son and husband. I wouldn’t have been as patient with them if I hadn’t fasted.”
Even so, happiness with the fast’s benefits isn’t spawning new appetites for veganism per se. Observers say evangelicals generally still don’t embrace the “vegan” moniker, even for just a few weeks, in part because it carries connotations beyond the diet.
“You’ve got all these political and cultural implications that go along with those labels” of vegan and vegetarian, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. “Those might be some reasons why evangelicals might shy away from the labels.” Seeing the regimen as a God-given one, however, makes it compelling.
“It makes an impression on people,” Eskridge added, “to think that God has a special insight into what makes for a healthy existence: spiritually, emotionally and physically.”
Eskridge notes that evangelical thinking has periodically spawned calls for discipleship that includes plant-based diets. Examples include the Seventh Day Adventists in the 19th century to Marie Chapian’s Free to be Thin in the late 1970s. But they’ve “never caught on” in a big way, he says, in part because church fellowship is commonly associated with eating rich, comfort foods together. And social habits are hard to break.
What enables some evangelicals to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet is the Daniel fast’s spiritual dimensions. Gregory emphasizes that it’s a fast, not a diet, and a fast comes with a specific, God-seeking purpose. Some fast to find God-given clarity around big decisions; others fast simply to get closer to God. Whatever the particular purpose, evangelicals can get on board in good conscience because they’re following a model sanctioned in scripture.
Fasting and prayer are hardly new for evangelicals or their spiritual ancestors. Early Puritans in the American colonies, for instance, used to declare fast days to repent for sins, discern God’s will and seek blessings such as rain for crops. In some ways, the Daniel fast taps into that heritage by setting aside a stretch of time for disciplined eating and mindfulness.