The most frequently asked question about fasting that people ask me has to do with how to fast. I always preface my answer to this question by saying that fasting is not something that should be entered into lightly. Fasting is a serious matter between you and God. However, once you are certain that God is indeed calling you to fast, there are certain guidelines that can help ensure that you fast safely.
Do not be surprised if family members or friends raise legitimate concerns about protecting your health while fasting. Heed those concerns and proceed only if you are in good general health. As I stated in a previous blog, any person who has diabetes, hyperglycemia, ulcers, anemia, heart disease and various other medical conditions should never fast without professional medical supervision.
Once you are certain that God has called you to fast, determine how long you will fast and what type of fast is right for you. For example, during Daniel’s fast, he drank only water and ate vegetables (Dan. 1:12; 10:3). The Apostle Paul fasted for a period of three days after his conversion in which he abstained from water and food (Acts 9:9). Moses (Deut. 9:9), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) each fasted for forty days.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination fasted twice each week and instructed his followers to do the same. Great leaders of the faith like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Matthew Henry, Charles Finney, Andrew Murray, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones recognized the importance of fasting and included it as a key component of their spiritual lives.
There is no formula for fasting. As the late Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, observed, “Fasting is about the condition of the heart, not the number of days.” If you feel called to do an extended fast, there are some practical considerations to keep in mind. The goal of a fast is not to ruin your health, but rather to seek God on a more intimate level. He will honor your commitment to seek Him more nearly whether you fast for a few days or for an extended period.
Although fasting is a spiritual discipline, it begins in the physical realm. When fasting for extended periods, be sure to drink plenty of liquids and guard against the loss of electrolytes. Again, Dr. Bright advises, “I personally recommend and practice water and juice fasting, especially if you are going to fast for an extended period of time.” As for me, I substitute a cup of broth for juice twice a day. I dissolve one bouillon cube in a cup of boiling water and sip it slowly. This helps me to maintain sodium in my system.
When I first fasted for forty-days, I asked a dear friend who had fasted for that same period of time to advise me. He told me that during his fast God had led him to drink only water and to eat a piece of bread daily. There is no need to become Pharisaical or judgmental about his fast because he included a piece of bread. The important thing to keep in mind is that he denied himself in order to seek God. Your fast will not be invalidated if you choose to do a fast in which you abstain from everything but a piece of bread or a cracker.
Do not be hesitant to share with selected family and friends that you are fasting. While your reason for telling them should not be to gain recognition for yourself, you can ask them to pray for you while you pray and fast. Dr. Bright observed, “By isolating ourselves from the support of other Christians, we will be more susceptible to doubts and negative influences (both human and demonic). We need the prayer shield of our Christian friends and family members to help us continue when we feel alone and when the enemy tempts us to give up…” That’s good advice.
Regardless of how many days you fast, I encourage you to keep a journal to record your insights and to voice your prayers. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas, has fasted for extended periods several times. He writes, “When we are willing to obey the biblical call to prayer and fasting, we will receive a fresh set of eyes. We will begin to see much more that God wants to do with us and through us.” I agree. And that is why it’s a good idea to keep a journal.
Fasting is a powerful spiritual discipline and one worthy of practicing. God can transform our lives and lead us to make spiritual breakthroughs when we faithfully seek him through prayer and fasting. Seek God’s guidance about fasting and proceed with the confidence that your time of prayer and fasting will be one of the most meaningful spiritual experiences you have ever had.