Fasting is a spiritual discipline where people abstain from eating food for a period of time in order to help them focus on spiritual growth. Fasting is an ancient practice found throughout the Bible. Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah all fasted in the Old Testament (among many others). In the New Testament, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness to prepare for his public ministry (see Matthew 4:2).
In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, "And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get." Jesus assumed his followers would fast and wanted them to do it the right way. Proper fasting is neither a test of our nor a way for us to prove our spiritual fortitude. Fasting should be a private matter between you and God. And rather than being a reason to boast about your deep devotion, fasting should reveal your deep spiritual need.
When done properly and with the right attitude, fasting can help you grow closer to God. It can teach you to endure suffering with joy. It reminds you to be thankful for blessing you take for granted. It helps you rely more on God's providence. It can provide spiritual clarity. Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
For centuries, fasting was a common practice among Christians throughout the world. Unfortunately, few Christians in 21st century America fast as a spiritual discipline. Many people today have forgotten how to fast safely as a means of spiritual growth. Here’s are 6 tips for a safe spiritually fast.
6 Tips For A Safe Spiritual Fast
1. If you are sick or have a health condition like diabetes, it may be unsafe to fast from food. Talk to your physician. It may be better for you to choose something else for your fast, like abstaining from TV or the use of social media or from drinking coffee. There are many are great alternatives that can be just as effective as fasting from food.
2. If you fast from food, please drink plenty of water. It is dangerous to go without drinking water for more than a few hours. You could choose to drink juice while you fast. (called a “juice fast”). A juice fast is milder than going completely without food. You still feel hungry, but it’s not as overwhelming and you may have more energy.
3. Don’t fast for too long. If you are new to fasting from food, you could start out by just skipping one meal you usually eat or fast from sunrise to sunset. Don’t overdo it with your fast if you are new to fasting.
4. Pray as much as you can while you fast. Fasting reminds us how weak we are and how much we need God’s help. Our weakness and desires while we fast remind us to pray and seek God’s help.
5. Fasting is something between you and God. Jesus makes it clear we should never use fasting to impress people with how spiritual we are. The whole point of fasting is to recognize our helplessness without God. So, don’t brag about it. Just do it and keep your focus on God.
6. End your fast gently. If you’ve gone without food, you will be hungry and may be tempted to gorge yourself. Don’t. Your stomach may be sensitive and eating too much can make you sick. It is better to eat a small amount of light food for your first meal after your fast. A modest bowl of mild soup is a good choice.
Never abstain from drinking water or other fluids for long periods, unless instructed by a medical doctor. It is crucial that you continue to drink plenty of water. For especially long fasts, I recommend you also drink fruit juice. You will still feel hungry, but your body will stay hydrated and receive enough calories from the juice to sustain your energy.
Take care when you stand up while fasting. Do not stand up too quickly as you may experience dizziness. This is only temporary. If you feel light-headed, simply sit down and wait for it to pass, which usually happens in just a few moments. Move more slowly next time. Understand that you may have less energy while fasting. The more experience you have, the more you will understand how your body reacts to fasting. If your fast makes you truly ill or becomes unbearable, go ahead and end it with a light meal. Don’t gorge yourself; it may make you sick.
Do not make your fast into a survival contest. If you want to see how far you can push your body before it gives out, you have lost the spiritual focus that needs to be first and foremost on your mind when you practice spiritual fasting.
Make sure you spend a lot of time in prayer while you fast. It is also helpful to read your Bible and devotions, and to meditate on God’s Word.
When you are ready to end your fast, do it slowly and carefully. It may be tempting to gorge yourself, but don’t because it could make you sick. Start with something light like broth or a soup. Then, slowly work yourself back up to regular food. You may be surprised to find you are full after eating only a small amount of food. Thank God that He has filled you and you needed less food.
Do not fast again until your body has a chance to rest and recover.
I invite you to pray and fast with me on Ash Wednesday, February 17.
What do I do?
Sign up to pray for 30 minutes during our 24-hour prayer vigil and pray at your chosen time. To fast, eat dinner on Tuesday night, February 16th. Then, skip breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, February 17th. Also refrain from any other solid foods during your fast, but please do drink plenty of water. (You may also drink coffee or fruit juices during the fast if you choose.) Then, eat dinner after the sun goes down.
If you are not sure if you can go that long without food (or if it is not healthy for you), consider an alternative. You could only skip one meal you normally eat. Another idea is to give up coffee (or something else), or to fast from a non-food item like social media, using your cell phone, or watching TV.
Is Fasting Safe?
Fasting for short periods is safe for healthy individuals when done properly. It is not recommended for those who are ill or have certain conditions like diabetes. Please ask your medical doctor if you are unsure whether fasting is safe for you. Please be sure to drink plenty of water (or juice) while fasting.
But Won’t I Be Hungry?
Yes. You will probably be hungry while you fast. This is normal. Let your discomfort remind you to pray. Every time you feel hungry, focus on God and pray. Ask God to reveal anything you need to change about your attitude and character. Ask God to fulfill you in ways that food never can.
What If It Makes Me Sick?
It is normal to feel hungry and uncomfortable and have less energy while you fast. However, if you feel ill or unable to continue for any reason, please be safe and end your fast. God will still honor your spiritual work.