Practical Guidelines for Fasting
I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the variety of ways in which one might fast. Contrary to what many think, one need not always fast from food or drink to achieve the desired goal. Do not feel pressure from others to fast in precisely the same way they do. Nor should you impose your choice in regard to fasting on someone else or judge anyone for the decision they make in this regard. Fasting is always susceptible to legalism, so beware! Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and your own conscience (not someone else’s). So let’s note some ways in which you might choose to approach a corporate fast.
Food and Drink
This, of course, is the most popular and explicitly biblical expression of fasting. It too, however, comes in a variety of forms.5 You may choose to fast from caffeine or soda or wine or other special liquids that you regularly imbibe. But you need not go “cold turkey”! If you are fasting from caffeine, wean yourself from coffee or sodas gradually, reducing your intake over a span of days before you stop drinking them entirely.
You may choose to fast from sugar or from some sort of food that is a regular, even daily, part of your diet. Perhaps you choose only to eat fruits or vegetables for the length of the fast, refraining from all meat (or vice versa). In the case of both of the former two forms of fasting, you would continue to eat and drink other items to maintain your strength and health.
If you should choose to go on a liquid fast, you would refrain from eating all solid foods for a time. You might still drink Gatorade or fruit juices or perhaps eat only soups. If you choose this approach there are several things to keep in mind.
First of all, a progression should be observed in your fasting, especially if this discipline is new to you and you are unfamiliar with its physical effects. Don’t start out with a weeklong water fast! Begin by skipping one meal each day for two to three days and set- ting aside the money it would have cost to give to the poor. Spend the time praying that you would have used for eating.
Second, remember also that there are degrees of fasting. There is a regular fast which consists of abstaining from all food and drink except for water (Matthew 4:2–3; Luke 4:2). Apart from supernatural enablement, the body can function only three days without water. A partial fast is when one abstains from some particular kind of food as in the case of Daniel while in Babylon (Daniel 10:3; cf. 1:8, 12). As noted above, a liquid fast means that you abstain only from solid foods. Again, most who choose this path are sustained by fruit juices and the like. A complete or absolute fast that entails no food or liquid of any kind (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9) should only be for a very short period of time. For anything longer than three to five days, seek medical advice. There is also what can only be called a supernatural fast, as in the case of Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9), who abstained from both food and water for forty days (enabled to do so only by a miraculous enabling from God).
You may also wish to fast from all food for only a particular meal each day. In other words, you may choose to skip lunch for a day or two or a week, or dinner, or even breakfast. All such forms of partial fasting are entirely appropriate.
If you’ve never fasted before, be aware that in the early stages you may get dizzy and have headaches. This is part of the body’s cleansing process and will pass with time. Be sure that you break the fast gradually with fresh fruit and vegetables. Do not overeat after the fast. Chili and pizza may sound good after several days of not eating, but please, exercise a little restraint and say no!
How long you fast is entirely up to you and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The Bible gives examples of fasts that lasted one day or part of a day (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35; Nehemiah 9:1; Jeremiah 36:6), a one-night fast (Daniel 6:18–24), three-day fasts (Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9), seven-day fasts (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 12:16–23), a fourteen-day fast (Acts 27:33–34), a twenty-one day fast (Daniel 10:3–13), forty-day fasts (Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2), and fasts of unspecified lengths
(Matthew 9:14; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2; 14:23).
Sam Storms (PhD, University of Texas) is founder of Enjoying God Ministries, which provides biblical and theological resources to the body of Christ. He is also the senior pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City and a former professor. Storms travels both in the United States and abroad, speaking at churches and conferences. He is the author of over two-dozen books and a contributor to the Zondervan Counterpoints volume Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today? He blogs regularly at www.samstorms.com.
5. It is important to remember that some people simply cannot refrain from eating and drinking in any degree at any time. This is usually due to certain medications that they cannot cease taking and often have to ingest only after eating. If you have unique physical problems that would make fasting dangerous or unhealthy, please do not alter your prescribed regimen of medication or of eating and drinking without first consulting with your physician. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you cannot fast in regard to food and drink. Simply choose another way to fast, such as those noted above.
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Publication date: February 15, 2017