I’ve not posted on Christian fasting for spiritual purposes in a couple of years, but I received a nice question posed to my “Ask Dr. Walt” column in Today’s Christian Living. My answer was published earlier this year, but the magazine has given me permission to reprint it here.
Dear Dr. Walt, I’ve done some food fasts that have lasted a few days. I’m considering trying a longer one. Any advice? — Faster in Idaho
The practice of fasting (abstinence from all or some foods or drinks for a set period of time) is mentioned over 70 times in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Moses, Daniel, King David, the Apostles, and even Jesus fasted!
Fasting helps us focus on prayer and seeking God’s will. Through fasting, God can give us guidance and wisdom while helping us grow in a more intimate relationship with Christ and opening our eyes and hearts to what He wants to teach us.
Fasting is a practice I’ve prescribed to many of my patients for over four decades. Besides its spiritual and emotional benefits, fasting has been shown to have many health benefits, from increased weight loss to reduced inflammation along with better brain and heart function. Here are some steps I recommend for a fruitful time of fasting.
Why are you fasting? Spiritual renewal? Guidance? Healing? Resolution of problems? Special grace for a difficult situation? Ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His leading and objectives for your fasting and prayer.
Prayerfully determine how long God is leading you to fast – one meal, one day, one week, several weeks, forty days? (Warning – beginners: start slowly, building up to longer fasts.) What type of fast does God want you to undertake? Intake: water only, water and juice only, certain foods, all foods – and how often for each? Activity: no Internet, no TV, etc.
Determine how much time you’re being led to fast (i.e., how much time each day). Decide how much time you’ll devote to quiet time, prayer, God’s word, meditation, and memorization. Making these types of commitments ahead of time will help sustain your fast when physical temptations and life’s pressures tempt you to abandon your fast.
The foundation of fasting and prayer is repentance. Unconfessed sin will hinder your prayers. Ask God to help you make a comprehensive list of your sins. Confess every sin that the Holy Spirit calls to your remembrance and accept God’s forgiveness. Seek forgiveness from all whom you have offended and forgive all who have hurt you. Be reconciled or make restitution as the Holy Spirit leads you.
Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit according to His command in Ephesians 5:18 and His promise in 1 John 5:14-15. Begin to meditate on the attributes of God: His love, sovereignty, power, wisdom, faithfulness, grace, compassion, and others. Then, when you begin you time of fasting and prayer, you’ll do so with an expectant heart.
I need to emphasize that you must not underestimate the spiritual opposition that will come. Satan and his minions can intensify the natural battle between our sinful nature and the Spirit.
Fasting requires wise preparation and precautions. If you are not 100% healthy, if you are over 50 years old, if you take any medications, or if you have any chronic medical or emotional conditions, consult your personal physician first.
Physical preparation makes the drastic change in your eating routine a little easier so that you can turn your full attention to the Lord in prayer. Do not rush into your fast. Prepare your body for several weeks or a month ahead by eating smaller portions. Avoid or reduce saturated and trans fats and begin to emphasize plant-based fats. Avoid or reduce simple sugars and caffeine and begin to emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and water. Finally, avoid or reduce animal proteins and begin to emphasize plant proteins.
Limit your exertion and exercise only moderately. Rest as much as your schedule will allow. Consider getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night and naps if needed and possible.
Be prepared for emotional and relational discomforts – impatience, irritability, crankiness, anxiety, and anger. Also, be ready for physical discomforts, especially on the 2nd and 3rd days – hunger pains, dizziness, the blahs, weakness, tiredness, or sleepiness. Be aware that headaches can come from caffeine and sugar withdrawal.
I have found that the first two or three days are usually the hardest. But as your fast continues, you will likely experience a sense of well-being both physically and spiritually. When you feel hunger pains, increase your liquid intake.
For maximum spiritual benefit, set aside ample time to be alone with the Lord. Listen to His leading. The more time you spend with Him, the more meaningful your fast will be.
Besides having a spiritual activity scheduled, consider a diet routine. I use one during food fasts that is suggested years ago by Dr. Julio C. Ruibal:
When your designated time for fasting is finished, you will begin to eat again. But how you break your fast is extremely important to your physical and spiritual well-being. The key to successfully breaking your fast? End your fast gradually. Begin eating gradually. Do not eat solid foods immediately after your fast. Suddenly reintroducing solid food to your stomach and digestive tract may have negative consequences. Try several smaller meals or snacks each day.
Consider slowly adding the BRATS foods:
Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of CRU, cautioned: “The single fast, however, is not a spiritual cure-all. Just as we need fresh infillings of the Holy Spirit daily, we also need new times of fasting before God. A 24-hour fast each week has been greatly rewarding to many Christians.”
He also wisely advised: “It takes time to build your spiritual fasting muscles. If you fail to make it through your first fast, do not be discouraged. You may have tried to fast too long the first time out, or you may need to strengthen your understanding and resolve. As soon as possible, undertake another fast, until you do succeed. God will honor your faithfulness.”
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2022. This blog provides healthcare tips and advice that you can trust about a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.