Fasting is a powerful discipline in the life of any Christ follower, meant to draw one closer to Him. It’s a principle we see all throughout scripture as a tool to humble one’s self and provide an increased amount of time to worship and seek Him.
Medical Note: If you have any medical conditions that would make it difficult or dangerous for you to go without food for any extended period of time, please check with your doctor as to what would be advisable for you. Also note that there are non-food ways you can choose to fast, such as TV, social media, or spending.
Fasting is a powerful discipline for any follower of Christ. Admittedly, denying yourself food or any other luxury for an extended period of time doesn’t make much sense. How does going without eating make you grow closer to Christ anyway? But, when you understand the purpose and benefits of fasting, it becomes easier to make the decision to participate in a fast.
Here are a few reasons why fasting is important in the life of a Christ follower:
- Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testaments. There are many recorded instances of fasting in scripture — all to call people back to God. Jesus himself even gave commands for when you fast, not if.
- Fasting and prayer can restore your first love in Christ, and grow a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.
- Fasting is a biblical way to humble yourself before God, laying aside your wants and needs before Him.
- Fasting allows the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition and often results in Him bringing to light areas of brokenness, pain, and hurt that need healing.
- Fasting produces self-discipline in other areas of your life. When you say “no” to food for any length of time, it becomes easier to say “no” in other areas of life, especially to temptation.
- Fasting allows you to hear God more clearly.
- God promises to respond to the discipline of fasting. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, he says: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Fasting is a form of humbling ourselves. When we fast, He responds.
Fasting draws us closer to Him, empowers us to say no to temptation and sin, and humbles us before God so we can hear Him more clearly.
Here are a few ways you can get yourself and your family ready for fasting:
- Pray and ask God what type of fast you will do. There are a number of different kinds of fasts, from a full fast of food to partial fasts to fasting something other than food (like social media or TV). The type of fast you choose is important and should be sacrificial. Ask God what kind of fast would be most beneficial for you. You can view the types of fasts in the Fasting 101 section below.
- Determine how your children will participate. We don’t advise making your children go a week without food; however, there are things your children, as part of your family, can sacrifice for a period of time. We’ve put together a Fasting and Prayer Ideas for Families section below. Read through it and talk to your children about how they can be involved.
- Begin small. Going any length of time without food will be difficult, but there are things you can do now to prepare yourself. Eat smaller meals, skip the late-night snacks, purchase the food you can eat if doing a Daniel fast. Easing into the fast by eating smaller meals and fewer times now will help make the fast easier next week.
- End small. Begin planning how you will end your fast. It’s not advisable to gorge on all the foods you missed out on right after the fast. Your stomach won’t be able to handle it — especially greasy or spicy foods. Plan a few easy, bland meals the day you break your fast to get your body used to food again.
- Determine how you will spend time in prayer. The purpose of fasting isn’t just to deny ourselves something; it’s about emptying ourselves to be filled with more of God. Take the time you normally would spend eating to pursue God. Pray. Worship. Read your bible. Whatever it looks like for you, determine that ahead of time, otherwise it will be easy to fill that time with something else.
Types of Fasts
The Bible records many different circumstances, types, and lengths of fasts.
- The most common fast or what is called the normal fast involves going without food for a meal, a day, or a certain number of days. If you undertake a normal fast, you should drink water, and plenty of it. Depending on the length of the normal fast, you may also choose to take clear broth and 100% juices in order to maintain your strength.
- Another type of fast is the partial fast. This fast usually involves giving up particular foods and drink for an extended period of time. This is often referred to as the Daniel fast (cf. Daniel 1:12 and 10:2) based on several times in Daniel’s life where he allowed himself no choice foods, meats, breads, sweets or wine, but ate only vegetables and drank water.
Choosing Your Fasts
Like anything else, depending on your level of experience with fasting, you may want to learn to walk before you attempt to run.
Fasting for Beginners:
- Begin by fasting for one meal a day (i.e. skip lunch and eat breakfast and a light dinner).
- Cut out all sweets and sodas and incorporate a partial fast for several days of the week.
- Maybe during week attempt a normal fast for a full day.
Fasting for Intermediates:
- Incorporate a partial fast for all or most of the 21 days.
- Blend a partial fast for most of the week with a normal fast 1 or 2 days of the week.
- Build up to a normal fast of 1-2 days toward the end of the week.
Fasting for Experienced:
- Attempt a normal fast for all 21 days, using water, fruit juices and broth.
- Combine the partial fast and normal fast (begin with a partial fast, work into a normal fast for 1-2 days and end with a partial fast)
Fasting for Whatever Level:
- Ask God for guidance on how you should incorporate fasting into this 21-day journey.
Tips for Fasting
- Use the free meal time to pray and study your Bible.
- Drink a lot of water (this will flush your system of all the built up toxins).
- Expect a normal fast to be uncomfortable at first (if you go without food for a day or two you may feel weak and experience a headache; that’s just your body getting rid of lots of junk you don’t need).
- Consider simple meals for several days as a form of fasting: yogurt, spoon of peanut butter, small bowl of soup, piece of toast, etc. This works well for those who need to maintain healthy blood sugar or have something in their stomach when taking medication. The focus is on maintaining health not eating for pleasure or spending time preparing food.
- Expect to get healthier (one of the side benefits of fasting is that you will get healthier and you will lose weight).
- If you undertake a normal fast for 3 days or more, don’t shock your system by eating a big meal right away. When you fast, your digestive system shuts down. Start it up again by eating some fruit or a light salad, scrambled eggs or oatmeal (as opposed to a 24 ounce steak or a loaded Burrito).
Incorporating Fasting into Your Daily Life
- Set aside time daily for undistracted worship (even if it is 5 minutes, 3 times a day).
- Include the family! Set aside a few minutes to pray together or dance for Jesus. Work together on an act of kindness for a neighbor or a family member (the best prayer is often love in motion). Write thank you notes to God…tell him all the things you like about him. Make a book of mysteries…illustrating and writing out questions you have for God or about him. (Jeremiah 33:3 says that if we ask…he will answer and show us mighty things we do not know.) Leave some space to record solved mysteries!
- Make it a point to bless others. Fast critical or unkind words (this is a great cure for sibling squabbles whether you are 5 or 95).
- Journal your thoughts…even if it is one word on a sticky note you keep inside your 7-day fasting guide.
- If you get stuck, praise him! Read the Psalms. Tell him you’re sorry. Tell him you love him.
- Ask God to open your ears so you can hear his answer to your questions. Ask him to open your eyes so you can see him at work. Ask him to open your heart and to enlarge your capacity to receive love from him and love him back more deeply than before.
- Expect great things!
- Bible Reading Plans
Make a commitment to engage in regular Bible reading!
A reading plan will walk you day by day through intentional connection with the truth and inspiration that can only come from regular time with scripture.
- Fasting by Jentezen Franklin
Pastor Cal highly recommends reading this book in preparation for and during the fast! It will open the door to a deeper, more intimate, more powerful relationship with God! You can pick one up at the Connections Bookstore.
Asking your children to fast from food for 21 days is obviously not an option. However, there are things your children, as part of your family, can sacrifice for a period of time. Remember, fasting isn’t just about what we give up. It’s about emptying ourselves to be filled with more of God. It’s about using the time we would have used for whatever we give up, to press in to God. Even young children can take part in this and can begin to understand a little about this important spiritual discipline.
- Television…this is a tough, but really good one! Your family could give up TV for part of the day each day, for a period of days, or for the whole 21 days! At times when you would typically be watching, pray instead. Use the time to ask God for blessing in your family. Ask for break-through in the things your family needs God’s help with.
- Video games…if your child is really “into” playing video games, talk with him/her about giving them up for a period of time. Apply the same principles listed above for television fasting.
- Candy or sweets…maybe your family loves candy, or dessert at the end of meals. Giving those things up and praying at your normal dessert time if you have one would work great! Or maybe if your child loves candy, talk to him/her about giving it up and designating a time each day to pray instead. This would work with any specific food your child loves to snack on-especially for older kids who can understand all of this a little better.
- A family activity…maybe your family does something special together each week, like go out to eat and to a movie. What a great thing to give up once or twice and dedicate the time instead to prayer as a family! Maybe on those nights you could still go out to eat but then your family goes home and prays together. You could also order in pizza and pray together afterward.
What Your Family Could Pray for:
- immediate family
- extended family
- church-pastors, elders, teachers, etc.
- children’s ministry
- specific family issues such as anger, disobedience, lack of spiritual discipline, etc.
- a person you know that is sick
Ways to Pray as a Family
Your options will differ, depending on the age of your children. We encourage you as parents to pray ahead of time about what God wants your family to do. Some ideas are:
- “Prayer Lists” If you are going to fast for at least a whole week from something, make a list of what you are going to pray for each day. For example, Monday our family, Tuesday-our extended family, etc.
- “Journaling and Drawing” If your kids are old enough, buy each person in your family a journal. Use part of your designated prayer time for prayer together as a family, then each of you also journal for a period of time. At the end of the 7 Days, share things from your journal where you’ve seen God answer your prayers. If you have younger children let them express themselves through art. Provide paper, and markers and allow them to create a meaningful piece of art as they respond to God.
- “Pray for Break-through” If there is a big break-through area your family is praying for, pray for that every time you gather to pray. Then you could follow that with prayer for the things from your daily list.
- “Family Theme Song” Choose a Christian song to be a theme song for your family during this time. Begin each family prayer time by playing that song.
- “Prayer Walk or Drive” Even though it’s cold outside, you could bundle up and take a short walk around your neighborhood and pray for neighbors and their families. When you get back home you could warm up with hot cocoa and talk about your walk.
- “Prayer Walk” in your home. Walk around your house and pray inside each room, for God’s blessing and protection on that area, etc. In bedrooms, pray for peaceful sleep, protection from nightmares and growth in Christ for that person.
- “Prayer Park” in the parking lot at your church, school, grocery store, etc. Drive to one of these places and sit in the car together and pray.