Chances are you are among the massive majority of Christians who rarely or never fast. It’s not because you haven’t read your Bible, or heard about the power of fasting, or that you don't genuinely want to do it. It's more likely that you simply don't know how to, or if it even should be done.
It may come to surprise you that the New Testament nowhere commands followers of Jesus Christ to fast. In fact, even in the Old Testament, the Jews were only commanded to fast on one day out of the year, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27, 29, 32). Any religious leader who commands a fast or restricts certain foods is doing so without biblical warrant. However, Jesus sometimes fasted (Matthew 4:2), and He assumed that His followers would also fast on occasion (Matthew 6:16–18; Mark 2:20). So, if fasting is something that Christians do, what is the proper way to fast? What does the Bible say about how to fast?
Fasting is voluntarily going without food — or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God — for the sake of some spiritual purpose. The Bible mentions different types of fasting. There is limiting yourself to a certain type of food (Daniel 1:8–14) or fasting from food entirely (Daniel 10:2–3). There is also fasting from food and water (Luke 4:2; Acts 9:9). The last type is “fasting” from a certain activity, such as a husband and wife abstaining from sex for a predetermined period (Exodus 19:15; 1 Corinthians 7:5). With the different types of fasting in mind, how to fast depends greatly on what type of fasting you are doing. It is markedly counter-cultural in our instant-gratification loving society.
Fasting should always have a clear purpose. People in the Bible fasted and prayed because they wanted something specific to happen. They either wanted God to change them, to change their circumstances, or to reveal something to them. Ultimately, fasting is far more about focus than food. Fasting is taking your focus off of the things of this world in order to focus more on the things of God. Fasting can thus be a means of growing closer to God.
It is good to examine your motives for fasting. Fasting is not about manipulating God. Fasting will not make God do something that is outside of His Will. Fasting is about changing yourself to be in agreement with God’s plan and to be prepared to carry out your role in His plan. When you are deciding how to fast, it is crucially important to remember what fasting is all about—changing yourself, not changing God or convincing Him to do something for you.
Prayer For Fasting
Before you begin your fasting, say this prayer and ask for God's guidance.
Lord, as I enter into this time of fasting, I invite you in. Come into my heart, come into my mind, renew me in new ways. You are my Lord, King and Savior. You are perfect, you are beautiful and good. Lord, I am not those things. I confess that I am sinful and without you, I am lost. Forgive me Lord for the ways I have not put you first, forgive me for not letting you reign over me.
This is what this time of fasting is all about – to take me off of the throne of my own life and to put you on the throne instead. I know I will be hungry for food – I pray as I am hungry that you would satisfy me with your Word. I know I will be tired – I pray as I am tired that you would strengthen me. Sustain me in your grace, Father. For every hunger pang I experience, direct my gaze not down to my belly but up to you. For I know that I cannot live on bread alone, but every Word from you.
Help me enter this time of fasting and prayer with a heart of joy and a mouth that praises your goodness. Give me all the benefits of this spiritual discipline and keep me humble. Thank you Lord for your great, unending, all-consuming love for me. I love you, Father. Amen.
How to Begin Fasting
Fasting is hard. It sounds much easier in concept than it proves to be in practice. First, you must start small. Don’t go from no fasting to attempting a weeklong. Start with one meal; maybe fast one meal a week for several weeks.
Next, plan what you’ll do instead of eating. Fasting isn’t merely an act of self-deprivation, but a spiritual discipline for seeking more of God’s richness. This means we should have a plan for what positive activities to do during the time it normally takes to eat. You will want to also consider how fasting will affect others in your life. Fasting is no license to be unloving. While you might at times feel grumpy or flustered, you can't take it out on those around you. Lastly, figure out which type of fasting you will do, and if it will be from food or another vice of yours.
Fasting can turn you more towards God, and help you realign your focus on Him. While our bodies are being deprived for the purpose of drawing near to God, He has promised in return to draw near to us.