What Is Fasting?
Fasting is a discipline that God’s people have practiced in both the Old and New Testaments and throughout church history. Mentioned in the Bible more than 70 times, the first example of fasting in Scripture is in Exodus 34 – “Moses was on Mount Sinai with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights. He didn't eat any food or drink any water. The Lord wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant. Those words are the Ten Commandments.” Why did Moses go without food and water? Was it to humble himself before God? Was it to prepare his heart to hear from God? Was it that He was so caught up in God’s presence that he forgot to eat? Probably all of the above. Although we are not specifically told why he went without food and water, it is significant that during this time God revealed Himself and His will to Moses for His people.
In the original languages the word fasting simply means to shut, refrain and/or abstain. Although the majority of references to and examples of fasting have to do with abstaining from food, liquids, or both, abstaining from any type of creature comforts can constitute a legitimate fast. Some good definitions of fasting are as follows:
- Fasting is turning my attention from the pleasures of this world so that I might more fully focus my attention on Christ and find my greatest pleasure in Him.
- Fasting is sacrificing something I value to pursue something God values for and/or through me.
- Fasting is denying myself what I desire as a way of putting my desire for God first.
- Fasting is setting aside less important things to seek the most important.
- Fasting is the discipline of putting God’s eternal purposes before my temporal desires.
- Fasting is reserving the time, energy, and resources normally given to an activity to pursue God and His will.
- Fasting is disconnecting with the world so I can make a deeper connection with God.
(Before you go on, take a minute and ask yourself: Which of the above definitions is the most meaningful and motivating to you?).
There are many reasons to fast; but the motive in a fast cannot be that God will find favor with you because you gave up your favorite candy bar. The motive must be the realization that the world has crowded in around you and you need to withdraw yourself from some of these things to focus more of your time, attention, and desire towards seeking a deeper relationship with God and commitment to His will. It all comes down to the intent of your heart.
Fasting has the potential for significant impact in our lives. Through fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit can transform your life personally and God can speak to you in new and dynamic ways.
Fasting and prayer can also work on a much grander scale. According to Scripture, when God’s people fast with a proper Biblical motive—with a broken, repentant, and contrite spirit—God will hear from heaven and heal our lives, our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world. Fasting and prayer can bring about revival – a change in the direction of our nation, the nations of earth and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This will be an emphasis in this particular 21 Day Fast.
The Bible gives examples of God's people combining fasting with prayers so as to stir up their zeal and renew their dedication and commitment to Him, which is called personal revival. King David wrote that he "humbled [him]self with fasting" (Psalm 35:13). Fasting is a means of getting our minds back on the reality that we are not self-sufficient. Fasting helps us realize just how fragile we are and how much we depend on things beyond ourselves.
The Bible records that great men of faith such as Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus, Himself, fasted so that they might draw closer to God (Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8; Daniel 9:3; Daniel 10:2-3; 2 Corinthians 11:27; Matthew 4:2). Jesus knew that once He was no longer with them in the flesh, His disciples would need to fast at times to regain and renew their zeal to serve Him (Mark 2:18-20).
James tells us, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Constant prayer and occasional fasting helps us to experience this.
Here are some other facts about fasting …
- Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
- Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of our “first love” for Christ and result in a more intimate relationship with Him. (Revelation 2:4-5).
- 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. (Psalm 51).
- The Holy Spirit will quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you! (Nehemiah 9:1-3).
- Fasting and prayer opens our hearts and minds to receive wisdom and guidance from God. (Ezra 8:21, 23).
- Fasting and prayer is a way we minister to, honor, and worship God. (Luke 2:37, Acts 13:2).
- Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience. (1 Corinthians 7:5, Acts 13:2).
- Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life – and make you a channel of revival to others. (Isaiah 58:6-7).
- When you fast, 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 special blessings from God. (Nehemiah 9:1-3).
- Through fasting and prayer and seeking God’s mercy, He has promised to spare nations (our nation?) from His wrath and heal them of their wickedness. (Jonah 3:5, Joel 2:12-13; 2 Chronicles 7:14).
- God uses fasting and prayer to grant favor with those in authority (even unbelievers) so that His will can be accomplished through them. (Esther 4:15-17).
- God uses fasting and prayer to supernaturally protect His people. (Ezra 8:21-23, Esther 4:16; 5:2).
- God uses fasting and prayer to call out, commission and empower spiritual leaders in the church. (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23).
- There is a special power in fasting when combined with prayer and faith. God chooses to do through fasting and prayer what prayer alone will not.
Matthew 17:19-21 NKJV
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast this demon out?" 20So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21However, this kind does not go out except by prayer AND fasting."
(Although some translations omit “and fasting,” it is my belief - and that of many scholars - that this passage makes little sense without these words. The disciples prayed when they attempted to cast the demon from this boy. Prayer alone was not enough. What was missing that had the God-appointed capacity to give a greater power to their prayers? Fasting!).
Types of Fasts
Pray about and decide up front the type of fast God wants you to undertake and how much time each day you will devote to prayer and reading His Word. Making these commitments ahead of time will help sustain your fast when physical longings and life’s pressures tempt you to quit.
It is important to fast in a way that works for you. The goal is that you choose a fast that will be challenging for you but will work in your circumstances. You should choose a plan that will cause you to make a significant sacrifice so that you will have to rely on God to succeed. Before starting any kind of food fast or adjustment to your diet, be sure you are healthy enough to do so. Having certain conditions like diabetes, hypoglycemia, etc., mean these types of fasts are not for you!
Here are some ways you might consider fasting:
- One meal each day. The fast is not about only giving up food, but also includes using the time that is normally given to preparing and eating the meals, to instead praying and reading your Bible (about one hour?).
- From sunup to sundown. This was actually the most common practice of the Jews when they fasted. (For some reason, this type of fast is especially popular in the winter months—especially in Alaska).
- Sugar and sweets. Put down the donut, drop the Butterfinger, walk away from the shake. Let your cravings drive you to develop your hunger for Christ.
- The Daniel Fast. Based on Daniel chapter 1, this fast involves giving up meats, desserts, and snacks and eating only the food that Daniel most likely ate (Veggies and grains).
- Liquids only. Usually this involves water and juices only. Puréed bacon double cheeseburgers is probably cheating!
- Give up television. That’s right … for a time at least, nix Netflix, give up Supernatural to be supernatural, tell Dr. Oz to go back to Kansas, close up Bob’s Burgers, and bow no longer to American Idol. Turn off the tube and pray, read the Word or a good Christian book, and if you still have time, spend it with your family—play a board game, go for a walk, shoot some hoops, help the kids with their homework, etc.
- Give up certain recreational activities. Give up your bowling league, golfing, fishing, movies, etc. for a season and use the bulk of this time to deepen your relationship with God.
- Give up pleasure reading. Beyond what you must read for your work or preparing for teaching the Word of God, pleasure reading could be turned into a time to read and study the Word of God or a good Christian book and to pray.
- Restrict listening to all but Christian worship music. You will likely be surprised at how this practice will change your overall thought patterns and moods. Try it!
- Facebook and other social media. Spend less time updating your status and posting selfies and get on your face before God.
Or go a step further and …
- Restrict smartphone and computer use. I double dog dare you to do this one - disconnect from the Cloud! While some of these communication devices are necessary for school and work, they are serious time robbers that could be set aside for spiritual purposes. Nothing over the past several years has robbed us of intimacy with others and with God more than smartphones and tablets. Do you have the guts to use them for 21 days only when absolutely necessary? If you do, you are guaranteed to see how dependent you have become on these devices and how much of an idol they are! Consider how much time you spend on these that could be used to deepen your relationship with others, with Christ, and in service to Him.
- Other and any combo of the above. There may be something that the Holy Spirit brings to mind that you could set aside for a season while you focus on more prayer.
Getting the Most Out of Your Fast
1. Set aside time every day to pray and journal using this booklet. Read and meditate on the Scripture passage(s), answer the questions and complete the exercises. Along with the daily readings there are some additional bonus activities to stimulate passion and growth in your walk with God.
2. Attend all of the worship services. If you miss one, watch it online: getrealchurch.org/media or on the MPCC App (download for free from any app store)
3. Get plugged into a Community Group to discuss what you and others are learning, get answers to questions, share struggles, and pray together. If you are not currently involved in a group, call the church office for information on one that will best fit you and your schedule: 575-524-7658.
4. Join us for our Prayer Nights. (Days and times - TBA).
Check our Facebook page: facebook.com/mesillaparkcommunitychurch and/or our webpage getrealchurch.org/events for updates on these and other church ministries.
Remember, God’s blessings and answers do not come from our private prayers alone, but also from our corporate prayers together.
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Study history and you will see that true revival never came solely from the pleadings of a single person in his prayer closet, but by the collective prayers of a few that grew into many.