Overview of the Practice of Fasting
The spiritual practice of fasting is one you might incorporate into your life on a regular basis or at particular times. You might fast from particular foods, or even particular activities. In Scripture, fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Unlike a hunger strike, where you want people to see what you’re doing and make a change or dieting, which is for physical reasons, fasting is a personal practice centered on spiritual purposes.
What Scripture says
Incorporate this practice into your life
Fasting from food can be an “absolute fast” or a “partial fast.” Absolute fast – abstaining from both food and water – probably isn’t the place to start. In Scripture, this type of fasting happens in emergencies or as desperate measures, and it isn’t something to enter into lightly – as the body can’t survive more than a few days without water. A partial fast, on the other hand, restricts the diet but doesn’t entirely stop it You might abstain from all food, but continue to drink water or fruit juice. Or, you might keep up a very simple diet, abstaining from delicacies, alcohol, treats, etc. You could also apply the principles of fasting to abstaining from watching TV or doing some other activity.
The duration and frequency of fasting also varies. You might fast regularly – for a day each week or a day each month. There aren’t any Biblical commandments that require regular fasting – we all have freedom and opportunity to engage in fasting as God calls us.
However you go about fasting, the purpose is focusing on God. Fasting reveals what controls us, and helps us uncover our real selves before God. Fasting reminds us of how God provides and sustains us. In that sense, when we fast we aren’t as much going without food as seeking nourishment from the word of God. Fasting also helps us put things in perspective.
In your first fast, begin with a partial fast of 24 hours (this means skipping two meals – if you wake up and go without breakfast, lunch, and dinner before having breakfast the next day, you are fasting about 36 hours, which is often too much for beginners). Make this a partial fast – keep drinking water and fruit juice. As you fast, monitor your inner attitude – you keep going with your daily routine, but inside see how you’re filled with the things of God. After trying a 24-hour partial fast once a week for several weeks, try a day where you only drink water and not juice. This may be harder, but remind your stomach that you’re the master! As you continue to participate in the spiritual practice of fasting, seek God about what he’d have you do for a longer or different fast.
Whatever form of fasting you choose, keep Jesus’ instruction about not calling attention to it. Only tell those you have to tell – this helps keep focus off you. Remember, this spiritual practice should serve to help you stay connected to God, not serve to impress others.
How does this practice relate to what I’m facing?
- Fasting and prayer about many situations: Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer
- This extensive resource covers fasting in more depth. It lists reasons you might fast and offers numerous suggestions about making fasting a worthwhile spiritual practice (and some important information for people who shouldn’t fast for health reasons). Read this article and consider fasting as a way to help you reconnect with God about any number of things you’re facing.
- Access resource: Fasting articles
- Fasting when making a decision: Ezra 8:21,23
- Ezra 8:21,23 is just one example of someone who fasted when seeking to hear from God about an important matter. You might use the spiritual practice of fasting to focus on hearing from God and seeking His wisdom about a decision.