Prayer & Fasting – Two Articles

I. Prayer And Fasting

Prayer and Fasting – A Definition

Prayer and fasting is defined as voluntarily going without food in order to focus on prayer and fellowship with God. Prayer and fasting often go hand in hand, but this is not always the case. You can pray without fasting, and fast without prayer. It is when these two activities are combined and dedicated to God’s glory that they reach their full effectiveness. Having a dedicated time of prayer and fasting is not a way of manipulating God into doing what you desire. Rather, it is simply forcing yourself to focus and rely on God for the strength, provision, and wisdom you need.

Prayer and Fasting – What the Bible Says

The Old Testament law specifically required prayer and fasting for only one occasion, which was the Day of Atonement. This custom became known as “the day of fasting” (Jeremiah 36:6) or “the Fast” (Acts 27:9). Moses fasted during the 40 days and 40 nights he was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God (Exodus 34:28). King Jehoshaphat called for a fast in all Israel when they were about to be attacked by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:3). In response to Jonah’s preaching, the men of Nineveh fasted and put on sackcloth (Jonah 3:5). Prayer and fasting was often done in times of distress or trouble. David fasted when he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed (2 Samuel 1:12). Nehemiah had a time of prayer and fasting upon learning that Jerusalem was still in ruins (Nehemiah 1:4). Darius, the king of Persia, fasted all night after he was forced to put Daniel in the den of lions (Daniel 6:18).

Prayer and fasting also occurs in the New Testament. Anna “worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” at the Temple (Luke 2:37). John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18). Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before His temptation by Satan (Matthew 4:2). The church of Antioch fasted (Acts 13:2) and sent Paul and Barnabas off on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:3). Paul and Barnabas spent time in prayer and fasting for the appointment of elders in the churches (Acts 14:23).

Prayer and Fasting – Required or Recommended?

The Word of God does not specifically command believers to spend time in prayer and fasting. At the same time, prayer and fasting is definitely something we should be doing. Far too often, though, the focus of prayer and fasting is on abstaining from food. Instead, the purpose of Christian fasting should be to take our eyes off the things of this world and focus our thoughts on God. Fasting should always be limited to a set time because not eating for extended periods can be damaging to the body. Fasting is not a method of punishing our bodies and it is not be used as a “dieting method” either. We are not to spend time in prayer and fasting in order to lose weight, but rather to gain a deeper fellowship with God.

By taking our eyes off the things of this world through prayer and biblical fasting, we can focus better on Christ. Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, 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 men 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.”

Prayer and Fasting – What Does it Accomplish?

Spending time in prayer and fasting is not automatically effective in accomplishing the desires of those who fast. Fasting or no fasting, God only promises to answer our prayers when we ask according to His will. 1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” In the prophet Isaiah’s time, the people grumbled that they had fasted, yet God did not answer in the way they wanted (Isaiah 58:3-4). Isaiah responded by proclaiming that the external show of fasting and prayer, without the proper heart attitude, was futile (Isaiah 58:5-9).

How can you know if you are praying and fasting according to God’s will? Are you praying and fasting for things that honor and glorify God? Does the Bible clearly reveal that it is God’s will for you? If we are asking for something that is not honoring to God or not God’s will for our lives, God will not give what we ask for, whether we fast or not. How can we know God’s will? God promises to give us wisdom when we ask. James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

II. How to Start Fasting

QUESTION: How to start fasting – Where do I begin?

How to start fasting is a common question. Begin by preparing your mind, heart, spirit, and body. It is important to have a clear purpose for fasting and what you hope to gain from your fast. Perhaps you are praying about a specific life decision, asking God’s blessing, or requesting revival in your life. The best way to develop your purpose is to study why people fasted in Bible times.

Secondly, pray to the Lord and ask Him to reveal the motives of your heart, any unconfessed sin, and areas in your life that He desires to change. In Isaiah 29:13, God says, “…These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 59:2 also instructs us to come before God with a clean heart: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

To prepare your spirit for your fast, draw close to God through prayer and worship. Let God reveal Himself to you and why He is taking you through this time of fasting. The key to any spiritual preparation is intimacy with Jesus. John 15:7 says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”

Finally, your body can be prepared for fasting through pragmatic considerations and planning. A few days before your fast, get your body ready by reducing your food intake, eating raw fruits and vegetables, and avoiding foods high in sugar and fat. Also, develop a schedule of how long you will fast, what type of fast you will be doing, and how you are going to adjust your activities to ensure that you will persevere through the fast.

Remember, fasting is about focusing on Jesus, not about abstaining from food.

Things to consider before starting a fast

A. Before a fast

1) Fasting isn’t for everyone. Although fasting for short periods is generally considered safe, the following populations shouldn’t attempt to fast without consulting a medical professional:

  • People with a medical condition like heart disease or type 2 diabetes
  • Women who are trying to conceive   
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding 
  • People who are underweight 
  • Those who have experienced an eating disorder
  • People who have problems with blood sugar regulation  
  • People with low blood pressure
  • Those who are taking prescription medications
  • Woman with a history of amenorrhea
  • Older adults 
  • Adolescents

2) Limit your diet 1 to 2 days before fasting. This is when you really want to make sure that your body is prepared and this is why people can’t just jump into a fast without preparing ahead of time (or if they do, they have a much harder time during the fast itself). Consider eating only fruit and vegetables, because they will cleanse and detoxify your body in preparation for the fasting period.

3) Drink lots of liquids. Drink only water, fruit and vegetables juices made from fresh, raw fruits or vegetables. You’ll need to up your liquid intake during the pre-fast to help keep your system hydrated and prepare it for being only on liquid for awhile.

4) Get moderate exercise. You don’t want to do too much exercise, but you definitely will need to do some to make sure the lymphatic fluid keeps moving and the keep the vascular system is working properly. Do some slow yoga, or go for a moderate walk. You’re going to feel tired, even on the pre-fast diet, so be aware of that, but don’t worry about it. Just adjust your normal levels of activity to accommodate that tiredness.

5) Get lots of rest. Whether you get enough sleep and rest is going to determine how well you do on the fast and how well you recover afterwards. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep at night and make sure that you’re taking it easy during the day. This is why it’s best to plan ahead for a fast, instead of jumping in headfirst. You’ll need time to recover and to rest and so you’ll need to make sure that you aren’t having a super busy schedule.

B. During a fast

1) Stay hydrated. Mild dehydration can result in fatigue, dry mouth, thirst and headaches — so it’s vital to drink enough fluid on a fast. Most health authorities recommend the 8×8 rule — eight 8-ounce glasses (just under 2 liters in total) of fluid every day — to stay hydrated

However, the actual amount of fluid you need — although likely in this range — is quite individual. Because you get around 20–30% of the fluid your body needs from food, it’s quite easy to get dehydrated while on a fast. During a fast, many people aim to drink 8.5–13 cups (2–3 liters) of water over the course of the day. However, your thirst should tell you when you need to drink more, so listen to your body

2) Go for walks or other mild exercise. Avoiding eating on fast days can be difficult, especially if you are feeling bored and hungry. Any activity that’s calming and not too strenuous would keep your mind engaged. Some people find that they are able to maintain their regular exercise regimen while fasting. However, if you’re new to fasting, it’s best to keep any exercise to a low intensity — especially at first — so you can see how you manage. 

Low-intensity exercises could include walking, mild yoga, gentle stretching and housework. Most importantly, listen to your body and rest if you struggle to exercise while fasting.

3) Stop fasting if you feel unwell. During a fast, you may feel a little tired, hungry and irritable — but you should never feel unwell. To keep yourself safe, especially if you are new to fasting, consider limiting your fast periods to 24 hours or fewer and keeping a snack on hand in case you start to feel faint or ill.

If you do become ill or are concerned about your health, make sure you stop fasting straight away. Some signs that you should stop your fast and seek medical help include tiredness or weakness that prevents you from carrying out daily tasks, as well as unexpected feelings of sickness and discomfort

C. Breaking the Fast

Don’t feast. It can be tempting after a period of restriction to celebrate by eating a huge meal. 

However, breaking your fast with a feast could leave you feeling bloated and tired. The best way to break a fast is to continue eating normally and get back into your regular eating routine.