How to Fast as a Family
- Kristen Feola Author
- 2011 27 Dec
When it came to food choices for their family, Andy and Brooke Jagerson, like most Americans, often resorted to what was quick, easy, and convenient. But about a year ago, they decided their eating habits needed an overhaul. As followers of Jesus, they wanted every aspect of their lives to be pleasing to God, including what they ate. Brooke admits, “We knew that our diet, which consisted of large amounts of junk, wasn't working.”
One of their first steps toward healthier living was to participate in a Daniel Fast. They wanted their whole family to be involved, but their children were both under five years of age. Andy and Brooke knew it wouldn’t be realistic to expect them to follow the food guidelines.However, they still found ways to make their children a part of the fast. Brooke recalls: “While the kids (then ages 4 and 2) weren't participating by actually fasting, they joined in by praying together with us. We explained the concept of fasting to the boys and told them why we were doing it.”
Since that first Daniel Fast, the Jagersons are, in many ways, a completely different family. They eat more fruits and vegetables and have decreased their sugar intake. They avoid processed ingredients and eat out less frequently. Exercise has also become a priority in their lives. Andy and Brooke work out together, and Brooke walks with the kids to and from school each day instead of taking them in the car.
As a result of these lifestyle changes, Andy and Brooke have lost a combined total of 55 pounds. In addition, Andy, who suffered from foot and back discomfort for years, is now pain free. Spiritually, the Jagersons have grown closer to the Lord and to each other. Their marriage has been strengthened, and they’ve experienced victory over alcohol and food addiction. Andy and Brooke have experienced firsthand the benefits of seeking the Lord as a family. Brooke says, “We praise God for bringing fasting into our lives.”
Fasting is a powerful discipline that allows you to have a deeper connection with God. When you fast, you deny yourself food, or certain foods, for a specified period of time as an act of surrender and worship. The principle of fasting is simple: When food intake is temporarily stopped, the body is provided a much-needed break from the constant demands of digestion, giving it a chance to heal and restore itself. What occurs during a fast is not starvation, but rather the body's burning of stored energy. Starvation occurs when the body no longer has any reserves and begins using essential tissues as an energy source. A therapeutic fast ends long before such a process occurs.
There basically four different types of fasts:
• absolute – no food or water.
• supernatural absolute – no food or water for a longer time than the absolute fast.
• liquid – water, fruit and vegetables juices, and/or broth.
• partial – eat certain groups of foods and restrict others.
The Daniel Fast
One type of partial fast that is gaining popularity among individuals and churches is the Daniel Fast. On this fast, commonly enjoyed foods are restricted for 21 days as you devote yourself to seeking the Lord.
The food guidelines for the Daniel Fast are based upon accounts of Daniel’s fasting experiences as recorded in the Bible. In Daniel 10, Daniel received a vision from the Lord that allowed him to see what would happen to the Israelites as result of their disobedience. Daniel was so grieved over what the Lord revealed to him that he entered into a state of mourning, or fasting. The Bible says that he ate no choice food and had no meat or wine for three weeks (10:2-3). Most commentaries agree that such desirable foods probably included bread and sweets. The English Standard Version of Daniel 10:3 says, “I ate no delicacies,” and another translation puts it this way: “I did not eat any tasty food (10:3 NASB).” Daniel ate simple foods, taking in only what was necessary for physical sustenance.
The goal on the Daniel Fast is not to duplicate Daniel’s menu but to imitate the spirit in which he sought the Lord. His passion for God caused him to long for spiritual food more than physical food, which should be the ultimate desire of anyone choosing to participate in a fast. Therefore, foods that are allowed on the Daniel Fast are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oils. Restricted foods include dairy, meat, sugar, all forms of sweeteners, yeast, refined and processed foods, deep-fried foods, and solid fats.
Getting Your Children Involved
When my husband and I are on a Daniel Fast, our daughters (ages 8 and 6) follow the food guidelines the majority of the time. However, if our fast is during the school year, it’s much more difficult for me to control their food intake, even if I pack their lunches every day. Between school parties and snacks at church, it’s challenging to make sure everything they eat is Daniel Fast friendly. Therefore, don’t worry if your children aren’t able to adhere to the food guidelines because of such circumstances. They’re still learning the basic concepts of fasting and why it’s good to set aside physical desires (certain foods) for spiritual purposes (to pray for the salvation of others). Just the fact that they’re fasting with you will sow seeds of faith in their hearts that one day will reap a harvest of righteousness.
The extent of your children’s involvement in the Daniel Fast will depend upon their ages and spiritual maturity. Ask the Lord to show you what will work best for your family dynamic, and trust Him to give you wisdom. Following is a list of ideas that will help you move through each stage of your fast:
Before the Fast
- Sit down with your children and discuss the definition of a fast. Look at examples from Scripture, such as when Esther called a 3-day fast (Esther 4:16) or when the Israelites prayed before their 900-mile trek to Jerusalem through difficult and dangerous territory (Ezra 8:21-23). Talk about what God how God answered their prayers.
- Read the story of Daniel’s 10-day test in Daniel 1 to give your children an idea of Daniel’s character and how he refused to violate his convictions. Take a look the account of Daniel’s 21-day fast in Daniel 10. Explain how the modern-day Daniel Fast is following the prophet’s example of devotion to prayer.
- Talk about which foods you are going to give up during your fast. Emphasize that such foods are not bad or wrong, but that you are abstaining from them temporarily as a way to honor the Lord.
- Make a list of people for whom you want to pray.
- Go grocery shopping together. Even though it may mean more time at the supermarket (and more patience on your part!), make it a family event. Have older children select produce for you. Let a younger child hold the shopping list. You’ll make your kids feel special, and they’ll be more likely to be excited about the fast.
- Get a copy of my book, The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast, to encourage you and keep you on track.
During the Fast
- Pray together each evening. This commitment will be a challenge, especially with school and church activities during the week. However, do your best to make this family time a priority. Keep it simple and brief. Otherwise, your children will lose interest. One activity to try with your children is The Prayer Game (see sidebar). Get creative with your ideas, and your children will look forward to bringing their needs before the Lord.
- Invite your kids into the kitchen to assist with meal preparation. Even though it will mean more work for you, it will be worth it. Assign older children the job of rinsing and chopping vegetables. Allow younger ones to set the table and fill glasses with water. Ask your husband (or wife) to wash the dishes. Get the whole family involved!
After the Fast
- Plan a family outing to review your Daniel Fast experience, such as a camping trip or weekend at the lake. Spend time thanking and praising the Lord for answered prayers. Share struggles and disappointments that you encountered along the way. Have older children write down what they learned.
- Challenge family members to keep praying for requests that are still to be answered.
- Continue to make healthy food choices. Don’t fall back into old patterns of eating!
I hope that you are encouraged to seek the Lord through the Daniel Fast with your family. As parents, we would be wise to approach this spiritual discipline with the boldness of Paul, who wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).” As you demonstrate the importance of prayer and fasting to your children, you will be leading them in the footsteps of Jesus.
Kristen Feola is the author of the book, The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast, and writer of the blog, www.ultimatedanielfast.com. She has worked as a personal trainer, nutritional consultant, First Place 4 Health leader, and fitness instructor. Kristen lives in Springfield with her husband, Justin, and her two daughters.