A Personal Guide to Fasting

This article was originally published on Cru.org.


Why We Fast?

Fasting is one of the Spirit’s tools for strengthening and transforming grace in our lives. This spiritual practice is a gift from God meant to grow us and draw us into deepening relationship with Himself. If you do not already know this power and the importance of fasting, here are some insights drawn from God’s Word and personal experience to get you started:

  • Fasting was an expected practice in both the Old and New Testament eras. For example, Moses fasted at least two recorded forty-day periods. Jesus fasted 40 days and reminded His followers to fast, “when you fast,” not if you fast.
  • Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of your "first love" for the Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
  • Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God (Psalm 35:13; Ezra 8:21). King David said, “I humble myself through fasting.”
  • Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance and a transformed life.
  • The Holy Spirit will imprint God’s Word deeper on your heart, and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
  • Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
  • Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival and make you a channel of life change to others.

If you fast, you will find yourself being humbled as I did. You will discover more time to pray and seek God's face. And as He leads you to recognize and repent of unconfessed sin, you will experience  God’s grace to grow and mature you.
 

How to Fast Safely

As you begin your fast, you may hear from concerned loved ones and friends who urge you to protect your health. And they are right – you should protect your health. But I assure you, if done properly, fasting will not only prove to be a spiritual blessing but a physical blessing as well.

By all means, consult your doctor before you begin your fast. But be aware that many doctors have not been trained in this area and so their understanding may be limited. Even so, it would be wise to ask your doctor for a physical exam to make sure you are in good health. You may have a physical problem that would make fasting unwise or dangerous. Also, if you are taking any type of medication, make sure to talk to your doctor before changing your regimen. Prudence and caution are in order.

When you are assured that you are in good health, you are ready to begin your fast. Follow the guidelines in the Physical Preparations and Maintaining Nutritional Balance and Health parts of this website.

In spite of the safety and benefits of fasting, there are certain persons who should NEVER fast without professional supervision. For example:

  • Persons who are physically underweight or emaciated.

  • Persons who are prone to anorexia, bulimia or other behavioral disorders.

  • Those who suffer weakness or anemia.

  • Persons who have tumors, bleeding ulcers, cancer, blood diseases or who have heart disease.

  • Those who suffer chronic problems with kidneys, liver, lungs, heart or other vital organs.

  • Individuals who take insulin for diabetes or suffer any other blood sugar problem such as hyperglycemia.
    Women who are pregnant or nursing.

How to Prepare Yourself Spiritually and Physically

Spiritual Preparation

In preparation for this special time with God, I urge you to examine your heart through prayer, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any unconfessed sin. Scripture records that God always requires His people to repent of their sins before He will hear their prayers. King David said: "Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me. For I cried out to him for help, praising him as I spoke. If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me" (Psalm 66:16–20 NLT).

In your prayers, confess not only the obvious sins that come to mind, but allow yourself to linger in His presence, giving Him time to show you the less obvious ones as well. You may want to ask God if you are experiencing any of these signs of  leaving your first love: worldly-mindedness, self-centeredness, spiritual indifference,  unwillingness to share your faith in Christ with others, not spending sufficient time in God's Word and in prayer, a poor relationship with your spouse, your children, your friends, or other members of your church community.

Another great way to prepare for your fast is to practice what I call “spiritual breathing.” The concept is simple, but it has changed my own life and that of countless others.

Like physical breathing, spiritual breathing is a process of exhaling the impure and inhaling the pure. If you knowingly sin, breathe spiritually to restore the fullness of God's Holy Spirit in your life. You exhale by confessing your sins when you become aware of them, and you inhale by inviting the Holy Spirit to re-take control of your life. As an act of faith, trust Him to empower you. During the fast, spiritual breathing-constant reliance on the Holy Spirit-will enable you to resist temptation, not only to sin but to abandon your fast.

Physical Preparation

Although fasting is primarily a spiritual discipline, it begins in the physical realm. You should not fast without specific physical preparation.

If you plan on fasting for several days, you will find it helpful to begin by eating smaller meals before you abstain altogether. Resist the urge to have that “last big feast” before the fast. Cutting down on your meals a few days before you begin the fast will signal your mind, stomach and appetite that less food is acceptable.

Some health professionals suggest eating only raw foods for two days before starting a fast. I also recommend weaning yourself off caffeine and sugar products to ease your initial hunger or discomfort at the early stages of your fast.
 

Dealing With the Responses of Friends and Loved Ones

Many people are reluctant to tell others that they are fasting so they will avoid the sin of the Pharisees: fasting just to gain recognition for themselves.

I strongly believe that attitude is a result of a wrong interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, “that your fasting may not be seen by others” (Matthew 6:18). His point is avoiding self-praise, not total secrecy. Our misguided silence can be a trick of the enemy who does not want us to fast, nor to share with loved ones and friends the benefits of fasting.

By isolating ourselves from the support of other Christians, we will be more susceptible to doubts and negative influences. We need the prayers  of our Christian friends and family members to help us continue when we feel alone and when the enemy tempts us to give up.. Eventually, people will notice you are not eating.

However, I have found that unless you see certain people daily, they do not consider your skipped meal much of a concern. If you are asked by someone who does not follow Christ, they may be satisfied by such a brief answer as, “I have other plans for lunch today.” Or Christians should be satisfied when you answer that you are fasting.

If friends and family express concern for your health, ease their fears by telling them that you will stop fasting the moment you feel you are harming your body or if the Lord leads you to end your fast. Tell them you are fasting under your doctor's care, which I urge you to do if you have any question concerning your health.

There is usually no reason for telling strangers or casual acquaintances that you are fasting. If you do, they may subject you to a lot of questions that you may not want to answer. But in any case, use your best judgment and the Lord's leading in telling people about your fast.
 

How to Make Your Spiritual Experience the Best it Can Be

Experiencing God's best from a fast requires solid commitment. Arranging special time each day with God is  crucial in attaining intimate communion with the Father. You must devote yourself to seeking God's face, even (and especially) during those times in which you feel weak, vulnerable or irritable.

Read His Word and pray during what were mealtimes. Meditate on Him when you awake in the night. Sing praises to Him whenever you please. Focus on your Heavenly Father and make every act one of praise and worship. God will enable you to experience His command to “pray without ceasing” as you seek His presence.

As you enter this time of heightened spiritual devotion, be aware that Satan will do everything he can to pull you away from your prayer and Bible reading time. When you feel the enemy trying to discourage you, immediately go to God in prayer and ask Him to strengthen your resolve in the face of difficulties and temptations.

The enemy makes you a target because he knows that fasting is a powerful Christian discipline and that God may have something very special to show you as you wait upon Him and seek His face. Satan does not want you to grow in your faith; he  will do anything from making you hungry and grumpy to bringing up trouble in your family or at work to stop you. Make prayer your protective shield against such attacks.

My major reason for fasting is for personal revival, revival for our nation and the world and for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But praying for our own needs and interceding for others are also important reasons to fast and pray. Bring your personal needs before the Lord, intercede for your loved ones and your friends. Pray also for your church, your pastor and your community. By your prayers, as you fast with humility, you will help the Great Commission be fulfilled (1 John 5:14-15).

However, do not become so caught up in praying for yourself and others that you forget about simply reverencing and praising God. True spiritual fasting focuses on God. Center your total being on Him: your attitudes and actions, your motives, desires and words. This posture can only happen if God and the Holy Spirit are at the center of our attention. Confess your sins as the Holy Spirit brings them to mind, and continue to focus on God and God alone so that your prayers may be powerful and effective.

A renewed closeness with God and a greater sensitivity to spiritual things are usually the results of a fast. Do not be disappointed if you do not have a “mountaintop experience,” as some do. Many people who have completed extended fasts tell of feeling a nearness to God that they have never before known, but somes who have honestly sought His face report no particular outward results at all. For others, their fast was physically, emotionally and spiritually grueling, but they knew they had been called by God to fast. Even so,  they completed the fast unto Him as an act of worship and God honored that commitment.

Your motive in fasting must be to glorify God, not to have an emotional experience and not to attain personal happiness. When your motives are right, God will honor your seeking heart and bless your time with Him.


Dr. Bill Bright was the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru in the U.S.) along with his wife, Vonette. A celebrated communicator, pastor, and author, Bill was considered a major catalyst for the modern-day resurgence of the disciplines of fasting and prayer in the Christian church. He also cofounded the Global Pastors Network, an Internet-based training center designed to equip pastors and ministers worldwide with interactive resources, events, and networking opportunities.