A Guide to Prayer and Fasting: Part II, Fasting
Part I on Prayer has yet to be completed. It with this Fasting portion will be included with the revised Food in God’s Place when it is completed. Most of my posts on prayer are listed in the section below on prayer.
Although this page will focus primarily on a discussion of fasting, it is discussed in the greater context of prayer and fasting. Christian fasting is always a tool for focussing and enhancing prayer. Prayer is by far the most important. Although I write about fasting from the perspective that it is the individual believers choice to use fasting to enhance self-discipline and prayer, I find it interesting that most of the servant leaders who have contributed significantly to the Christian faith practiced regular fasting. These include within scripture: Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Paul, and of course our Lord and Savior its founder. Within recent history, we see examples from Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Edwards, and Finney. It, however, remains a matter of choice.
The day devoted to prayer and fasting is a day of concentration on our Lord. I think the best description of this necessary concentration is found in the October 3rd reading of Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, where he comments on Mark 9:29.
“His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?” (Mark 9:29) The answer lies in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “This kind can come out by nothing but” concentrating on Him, and then doubling and redoubling that concentration on Him. We can remain powerless forever, as the disciples were in this situation, by trying to do God’s work without concentrating on His power, and by following instead the ideas that we draw from our own nature. We actually slander and dishonor God by our very eagerness to serve Him without knowing Him.”
So fasting is about concentrating in prayer at such a level that we carry it over into all of our other days.
Fasting affects each person differently, and even when you practice it regularly, the experience is not always the same. Sometimes it will be agonizing and you will feel fatigued. Other times you may be testy and irritable. And sometimes you will feel great and have lots of energy. Whatever the experience, it is fervent persistent prayer that will move you through it.
Even after much practice, I still view my fasting days with a sort of low grade dread. I dislike it, but it is the day after where I usually see the blessing and the benefit. It is like choosing to have a bad day, then with prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit finding a way to move through it. I view my prayer and fasting days as intense training for all the other days. Fasting helps to refine and enhance our prayer focus, but it also enhances our other natural tendencies.
Quick to Anger?
If we are quick to anger, we may be somewhat more so on a fasting day. If we are quick to give up, then we may struggle in this area a little more on a fasting day. Or If your commitment to Christ is loose or wavering, whatever controls you will likely be revealed on your fasting day in your time of going without. Be prepared to face it in prayer. As Chambers says, double and redouble your concentration on Jesus.
So I’m trying to encourage you to do something I dislike, but do it because it will change your prayer life dramatically. And when you change your prayer life, you will have an intimacy with God you never knew before.
It is best to fast on a day where you will have sufficient time to devote to prayer. Also it is best, if possible, to choose a day free of anticipated challenging interactions at work or at home.
Suggestions of what to eat before and after:
The more you prepare and plan the easier it will be. If you use caffeine and eat a lot of sugar and simple carbohydrates, it will be harder. If possible, try and cut back on these a few days before your fast. My regular coffee and tea intake is down to one or two cups a day, and I can usually fast without difficulty. When I first tried fasting, I was drinking more coffee at that time, and I did have trouble with caffeine withdrawal headaches.
You will feel best if your meals the day before your fast are rich in fruits and vegetables, those highest in soluble fiber and vegetable fats (nuts, avocados, vegetable oils). With the exception of yogurt and eggs, minimize animal fats and proteins. Cut your intake of simple carbohydrates as much as possible. If the last meal you have before a fast is a cheeseburger, fries, and a soft drink, you will probably find your fasting day much more of a struggle than normal.
When you break the fast, stick to the same regimen. Don’t break your fast with fast food, candy, or sweets. If you do, you will drag your body down and you will miss the total experience.
Sunup to sundown (from evening meal to evening meal) 24 hours or 36 hours (from evening meal to breakfast the day after)? It is your choice. The daylight fast was common with the early church where the Wednesday and Friday fasts concluded mid-afternoon. Many people like myself find the 36 hour fast easier to manage. If you do choose evening meal to evening meal, take special care to have your fast breaking food prepared and available, and take special care not to binge. When I fast 24 hours, I am more likely to eat too fast and too much when I breakfast. The temptation to eat too much always hits me hardest in the evenings.
Water or no water?
Foster says in Celebration of Discipline that fasting in scripture typically involved abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water. There were exceptional examples of the absolute fast of going without food or water for three days, Esther’s fast and Paul’s fast after his encounter with Christ for example. Foster says, “It must be underscored that the absolute fast is the exception and should never be engaged in unless one has a very clear command from God, and then for no more than three days.” The human body cannot go without water for much more than three days, and much less in hot dry environments. While fasting, think of water as the Lord’s pure Spirit entering you, transforming you, and supplying you richly.
Attitude and mindset:
Meditate on Deuteronomy 8:3 on your fasting day. Remember who it is who supplies you with good things. Remember to love God during your fast, meditating on Deuteronomy 6:5. Ask Him to teach you how you can love him more during your fast and what lessons there are for you to learn during this time of prayer and fasting. Ask Him for strength to love others as yourself during the fast.
Read Isaiah 58 for a proper perspective on fasting.
Share your food:
I recommend that you share the money that you would spend on food with a homeless shelter or organization committed to helping the hungry. This sharing exercise may seem like a small donation, but after you try it, it will become something that you look forward to doing and will motivate you to fast more frequently.
What to do when you sense hunger:
Ask God in prayer to remind you every time that you have hunger pangs that you need him more than air, food, or water. Ask Him to calm you and relax you and help you rest in Him. Pray that you can learn to hunger for his Word and Spirit more than you hunger for food. Ask Him to teach you to hunger for being obedient, loving Him, and loving others more than you hunger for food.
What to pray about:
The day before your fast list everything which is an obstacle, everything that you worry about, and everything you desire. Pick the top three ‘mountains’ that are blocking your growth and progress. You can pray about everything on your fasting day, but keep focussing, doubling, and redoubling your efforts on these mountains. For more about what to pray about: What Do I Pray For?
Postings on Prayer
Daily reading in my Utmost for Highest by Oswald Chambers often help greatly with prayer, search “intercessory prayer.” Those devotionals can be found at utmost.org
After you cultivate fasting as a habit, you may want to invite friends to join you in the practice. When I do this, usually with a group of three, we share our mountains and pray about those. When possible we break our fast with a meal and prayer period. My bonds with my prayer and fasting partners are very strong.
Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1992.
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity, Volume I: Beginnings to 1500. Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2003.
Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity, From the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great, A.D. 100 – 325. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.
Originally Published Jan 13, 2013