“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” Matthew 6: 16-18 (NIV).
When we met last, I gave an overview about the discipline of fasting in the life of a Christ follower. As I said previously, fasting isn’t for everyone at every time in their life, so please discuss it with a medical doctor before deciding if fasting is right for you at this stage in your life. I’m not a medical doctor and I’ve never played one on TV either.
The most important part of fasting, in my opinion, is to be led by the Holy Spirit. I’ve struggled with food issues my whole life. Therefore, I have to be very careful when I decide to fast, making sure I’m not just looking for a quick starvation diet or a way to jumpstart a weight loss program. That attitude or mentality doesn’t please God.
I’ve been led twice in my lifetime to fast for forty days. The types of food and how much food have been different each time, but have always been a true sacrifice. The last fast I participated in was liquid only. Each time I’ve fasted has been a different experience, usually for a different request, and therefore God has asked me to give up different things. The above fasts have occurred after I felt a strong urging by God to pray and fast for specific things.
I was inspired by a person who fasted one day a week his whole life and great things happened in his family as a result. I want great things to happen for my family as well, not for personal gain but for blessings to affect my children, their children, and so on for generations to come. This past school year, I declared a one-day fast every week. For those fasts, I would fast from after dinner the night before until dinnertime the following day. That has been easiest for my schedule and for my body.
God tells us clearly in the Bible that when we fast we are to do it in secret. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t fast together with your church family, your spouse, or even include your children. (Although, due to health reasons, children should fast from processed food or dessert or snacks rather than not eating any food. Again, please check with a doctor first especially if there are preexisting conditions.). It just means you shouldn’t go around telling everyone what you’re doing and how much you’re sacrificing. If you’re fasting, it should be between you and God, or you and whoever is fasting with you and God. It’s not a time to complain about your stomach growling (and it will for the first day or two before it realizes you aren’t going to give in) and not a time to ask for sympathy.
If you think about it, the reason you’re fasting is to bring a request, in faith, to God while expecting miracles to happen. When you focus on the potential rewards that could come from fasting, what’s there to be upset about? Sacrificing a little food for deliverance from a debilitating illness, financial concerns, or for a better job isn’t something to avoid. And, I’ve found in my own life, sometimes the best reward that results from fasting is the closeness I feel toward God afterward versus anything material He chooses to bless me with. More often than not, when I’ve completed a fast, I miss the intimacy I experienced with my Heavenly Father.
Another area I’m working on in my personal life is deciding how to introduce the discipline of prayer and fasting to my children. I think they’re old enough, even the littlest, to declare a fast from a particular food…more than likely their favorite treat. I would never force fasting on them as I believe it’s a personal experience between God and each individual, but I would encourage them to talk to God themselves to see what God wants them to do and when He wants them to start this discipline. If nothing else, I want to introduce them to the topic of fasting so that as they grow into adults, they see it as a part of being a Christ follower and have already learned the basics.
When it comes to the actual discipline of fasting, I’m still considered a child. I didn’t grow up fasting and I really didn’t start practicing it until I was in my 30s. Even then, it was a few years ago when I started participating on a regular basis. I didn’t realize the importance of fasting, but now that I have, it’s something I enjoy giving to God. When I first started, I didn’t go on a water-only fast. In fact, I’ve never yet participated in a water-only fast. I haven’t felt led to at this point, but I do know I’m growing stronger in the area of fasting. I’m willing to give up more and more for Him each time as I see the blessings He provides. And, I have felt the closeness that comes with obedience to God in this area. No food, not even my favorite, compares to that. He gives me so much all the time – to give Him some of my food for a short timeframe in order to grow closer to Him or have Him help break through areas of my life that need an extra amount of divine intervention is a privilege, not a chore.
Something I do which helps me keep the perspective is, before I start, I write down my commitment to God. After spending time quietly with my Father, making sure I hear His voice regarding how long and what He wants me to fast, I write down the specifics. That way, especially in the beginning when I’m hungry and going through withdrawal, I can’t manipulate myself. It’s too easy to conveniently “forget” what I promised I’d give up. Was it coffee with creamer or just creamer? Was it all processed food or can I eat pretzels? Each fast I’ve participated in, the circumstances have been different and I’ve given up different foods. When I write down specifically what I’m giving up as well as the length of time, it’s much easier to keep my commitment.
During my second 40-day fast, I took it one step further and began a blessings journal. Every day I wrote down a praise or blessing I received from God during those forty days. I have to say, especially toward the end when it’s easy to say, “one french fry won’t hurt” going back and rereading that journal along with all the blessings God provided was enough motivation to keep me obedient. I didn’t want to stop early and possibly miss out on some great blessing God was waiting to give me. I spent time rereading the journal today, a few months after my fast, and it’s amazing how many of those blessings I had forgotten about already. I was blessed again by rereading all He chose to do for me.
Sometimes the breakthrough I’m praying and fasting for doesn’t happen during or even immediately after the fast has ended. I’ve read countless stories about people who have fasted and their answered prayers, but sometimes they don’t arrive until days, months, or years later. That doesn’t mean the time of fasting and prayer wasn’t fruitful. It’s during the waiting when we need to continue to thank God for the answers He has provided and wait patiently to see the miracle happen.
One word of caution: If you are fasting as a way to manipulate God; if you’re harboring anger or unresolved conflict with someone in your heart; or there are areas in your life where you’re deliberately disobeying God, it says very clearly in His word God won’t hear your requests. He wants us to come to Him with a clean heart, not for selfish reasons or to make requests that go against His Word and His beliefs. He wants us to come and present our concerns before Him, laying them at His feet, believing in faith He’ll provide the right answer. He listens to the cries of our heart, wants us to share with Him what bothers us, but ultimately, He wants us to have faith that He’s big enough, powerful enough, and smart enough to provide the best answer for each and every circumstance.
If you’re interested in learning more about fasting, there are some great books out there that will go through the discipline of fasting step by step. Below I have listed the names of three books that have helped me through my journey to fasting, answered questions I had, and encouraged me during the process.
When we present our requests to God, through prayer and fasting, expecting in faith great things to happen, God always comes through. The way He does that is usually bigger and better than anything we can imagine ahead of time. But, if you fast without the element of prayer to our Heavenly Father, and don’t surrender your will to His, then it might as well just be called a strange diet.
Books I Have Read Regarding This Topic:
The Miracle Results of Fasting by Dave Williams
Fasting by Jentezen Franklin
The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast, by Kristen Feola
© 2013 Cheri Swalwell