Fasting is a spiritual discipline centered on prayer and the Word of God. We see it throughout the entire Bible in the Old and New Testaments. While the body of Christ is well aware of worship, prayer and reading the Bible, in this day and age fasting is sort of seen as a relic or as a tradition reserved for the most spiritual of saints. The intent of this outline is to answer your questions on fasting. It is our hope that after reading this FAQ, you will have a biblical understanding of fasting and will understand the importance of incorporating this significant spiritual discipline into your life. We hope that that you will join us and we look forward as to what God will do in us as we do a churchwide fast from February 3 – 23, 2014.
1) What is fasting?
At its basic form, fasting is abstaining from food. What makes the act of fasting effective as a spiritual discipline for the Christian is the motive and intentionality that propels the act of abstaining from food. The ultimate motive for fasting is God himself. Fasting is an expression of our longing for God through your physical hunger.
2) Is fasting commanded in the Bible? How often should I fast?
Fasting is not commanded to be done regularly in the Bible. In the New Testament there is no commandment to fast but Jesus assumed that His followers would fast. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “When you fast…” He doesn’t say, “If you fast.” In Matthew 9:15, after being asked why He and His disciples don’t fast, Jesus replies, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Richard Foster points out that Jesus is the bridegroom and when He is taken away, after His crucifixion and ascension to heaven, His disciples will fast in the present church age when He is gone. As believers in Christ, the gospel frees us from fasting out of duty. Instead, we fast out of delight. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:13 that we were called to freedom, but we are not to use that freedom as an opportunity for our flesh. Therefore it is biblical to practice the discipline of fasting in our lives.
3) Are there different types of fasting?
Fasting biblically is abstaining from food. Moses fasted twice with no food for 40 days. Jesus fasted once from food for 40 days. These are considered to be absolute fasts. Paul fasted from food and water for 3 days after his conversion as well. There are also fasts abstaining from certain food such as meat and eating only vegetables and water (“Daniel Fast” – See Daniel 1:12). This is a partial fast. A popular fast is not to eat food and only drink water and/or juice for a determined number of days. There are many other options you can do. You can abstain from solids from sunrise to sunset and eat dinner, or skip breakfast or lunch every day. You can skip a meal for 6 days and then do a total fast from food and water on the 7th day. There are many options.
4) What is the primary purpose of fasting?
The purpose of fasting must ultimately be God. By shutting off our stomachs from physical food, we ask God that our hearts would be turned on and that he would give us fresh and deep hunger for him, and that He alone would satisfy that hunger. Abstaining from food in and it of itself brings no benefit. We must be intentional in our fast to spend time with the Lord as we physically hunger. If we need physical food three times a day, how much more does our soul need God, his manifest presence and his Word? When we fast we are declaring to God that we are physically hungry, but our souls long for him more than our bellies long for bread. We fast because God is our reward.
5) Are there any secondary purposes of fasting? If so, what are they?
Yes. When we grasp the ultimate purpose of fasting – God himself, we can appreciate other secondary purposes for fasting. Genuine and purposeful fasting can bring blessings to our lives. One of the things you will most likely find from fasting is that it will reveal idols in our hearts. Fasting will remind us that we are sustained by “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Fasting will reveal how we have allowed less important things to become more important. Our prayer life will be strengthened, we will yield to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and we may find deliverance from bondage to sin and may also find physical healing. We fast to humble ourselves before God, to express love and worship, and to overcome temptation in our lives. We do not seek God in fasting to change God; rather we seek God in fasting so he can change us.
6) Should fasts be done individually or with a group of people?
Fasting can be done individually and with a group. The Mosaic Law prescribed public fasting to be done on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23-27). Sometimes group fasts were called due to national emergencies (see Joel 2:15, 2 Chronicles 20:1-4, Ezra 8:21-23, and Esther 4). It is important that as a local body we are of the same mindset in regards to this fast. Fasting with a group can be beneficial since it provides accountability and will foster encouraging one another as you face your struggles through your fast with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
7) What is the purpose of our church wide fast?
The purpose of our churchwide fast is God, specifically, that we would be happy and satisfied in Him. We want to spend 21 days where we seek the Lord and ask Him to give us desires that only He can satisfy. As John Piper often states, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Our happiness and satisfaction as a chosen people is in the glorification of our King Jesus. Our happiness and satisfaction as God’s children is in the glory of God our Father. It is our prayer that after 21 days of humbling ourselves before the Lord through fasting, our eyes will see Him in new ways and He will manifest Himself in our lives in new ways that make us happy in Him more than anything else. Being happy in God seems less spiritual than some other purposes but the implications of being happy and satisfied in God are great for our lives. Asking God to make us more happy in Him and that our true source of joy will be Him will most likely display to us various idols in our lives that get in the way of our being happy in Him. Being happier in God means; we treasure Him above our bodies, our food, our possessions, our comfort, our insecurities, our fears, our health, our wealth, and our very own lives. He is to be treasured in our heart above everything else! Being happy in God means we do not settle with our sin because only He can truly satisfy us more than the temporary pleasures sins in our lives may appear to bring.
8) What type of fast will I be doing? What will I be doing while I’m fasting?
That is up to you. We recommend you do one of following three:
i. Juice fast – 21 days with no food only consume only water/juice
ii. Daniel fast – 21 days with no meat, consume only fruits and vegetables
iii. Media fast (TV, social media, internet, movies, etc.)
It is our hope that regardless of the type of fast you do, that you persevere for 21 days with us. It is important that when you fast, you spend the time that you would normally spend cooking/prepping/eating food or watching/listening to media and replace it with prayer, Bible reading and worshiping God. The pastors of CityLights Church have also prepared daily resources for you such as prayers, scriptures to read and meditate on, music and sermons. For some of us, the Lord may impress us to also abstain from other things in addition to food during our fast such as all types of media, hobbies, and for marital relations for married couples (see 1 Corinthians 7:5). Consider fasting from talking on the phone socially, browsing the internet and personal e-mail (unless work/homework related), reading the news, playing videogames, hanging out with friends, etc., and use that time to devote yourself to God.
9) Are there spiritual warnings we should heed when we fast?
Yes, before we begin a fast, we should understand what it is and what it isn’t and steer away from the following:
i. Manipulating God – We don’t fast to get something from God. We fast to get God. We already have every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
ii. Impressing God/People With Fasting – We don’t fast to impress God. God is not impressed with how hard our fast is. He is concerned that our hearts hunger for him. Jesus specifically cautioned us in Matthew 6 to not be like the hypocrites who fast while craving and desiring the approval of man.
iii. A Test To See How Strong/Spiritually Mature You Are – These are not found in how long your fast lasts. In fact, fasting will mostly likely reveal your weaknesses and lack of spiritual maturity.
iv. A Religious Thing To Check Off – Fasting in it of itself brings no spiritual benefit. We must fast with purpose and be intentional as we fast; otherwise, we are just going through the motions.
10) Are there physical warnings we should heed when we fast?
Yes, before you begin a fast, you should take some precautions.
i. Train/Plan For It – Wean yourself off from food slowly as you approach your fast. Start to pray for your time in the fast and ask God to prepare your heart for it. Decide how you will fast for 21 days.
ii. Talk To Your Doctor – Your doctor can give you helpful tips as you approach your fast since he/she knows your health better than your pastor.
iii. Your Health Is Important – Do not hurt your body above the usual side effects of fasting (hunger pangs, headaches, tiredness). Look out for unusual signs in your health and consult your doctor if you suspect something is wrong. Don’t hesitate to end your fast if you become ill.
iv. Don’t Feel Guilty If You Must Break Your Fast – If you cannot physically last the original period of time you assigned for your fast, don’t feel bad. God is not concerned about how many meals your stomach missed as he is about how much your heart missed and longed for him!
11) What are some physical side effects of fasting?
The more food you abstain from, the more side effects your body will feel. Your body is conditioned to receive food so if you go without any food, you will begin to feel the body releasing toxins. You might experience coating on your tongue and bad breath, headaches, weakness, occasional dizziness. Make sure that you get plenty of rest and sleep daily. In winter, you will feel cold more because your metabolism is not producing normal amounts of heat so wear warmer clothes and put on some extra layers. You may feel hunger if you continue to drink coffee. If you go on a complete fast from food, you will feel hunger pangs. The first three days will mostly likely be the hardest. Usually, as the days go on, the hunger pangs will decrease it may feel easier. If your hunger pangs return days later, consider reintroducing food as your body might be running out of its resources in order for you to function properly. Supplement juices that will give your body the necessary nutrients and if hunger pangs continue or your fear for your health, reintroduce food slowly into your system.
12) What if I’m unable to fast from food due to health concerns? Are there people who should not fast from food? Are there alternatives?
Some people should not fast from food, due to their health. If you have chronic illnesses, speak with your doctor before you attempt to fast from food. Pregnant or nursing women, those who need to constantly monitor their glucose levels (diabetics), those with eating disorders, and those with life-threatening health issues should not participate in a food fast. If you are unable to fast from food, do not feel guilty. See the alternatives laid out in question #8. Whatever you fast from, it is important that you replace the time you spent doing that activity with prayer, reading the Bible and worship.
13) What should I do/say if my co-workers/classmates start to notice I am not eating and ask why? Aren’t we disobeying Jesus as a church based on his warning in Matthew 6?
If your co-workers or classmates start noticing that you aren’t eating and they ask, it is not sin to let them know you are fasting. It is important to note that there is a difference between being seen fasting and fasting to be seen. Jesus is after the heart. The Pharisees were hypocrites because they hungered for the approval of those around them while wanting them to think that they hungered for God. It is not a sin to answer someone honestly who questions you persistently as to why you’re not eating. It should be noted that we can also have pride when we fast in secret. The issue is a matter of the heart and its underlying motivations.
14) Is it permissible to fast to receive something from God?
While fasting may often bring about answers to our prayers as we hunger for God and earnestly bring petitions before him, fasting is not to be practiced primarily to receive blessings from God. The primary purpose of fasting is to hunger for God and seek to be satisfied in him alone, and for his will to be done in our lives, no matter what must take place in order for that to happen. Any blessings received during our fasting are secondary. We are extremely grateful for them, but we seek the Blesser above the blessings.
15) How should I end/break my fast after my fasting period ends? What if I end or break my fast early?
End your fast with thanksgiving and a joyful heart. Thank God for helping you fast. If you have been abstaining from a lot of food, it is not wise to eat a big meal when you break your fast. Just as you slowly got your body used to not eating, you must also slowly get it used to receiving a normal intake of food again. If you break your fast in a moment of weakness/temptation or you want to avoid attention at a party with lots of food, don’t feel guilty. Strive to continue your fast after you slip. It may be beneficial to abstain from things that will tempt you to break your fast, but sometimes you may not have another option (family birthday party for example). Take advantage of the accountability and prayer from your brothers and sisters in Christ during this time.
16) Are there any spiritual benefits from fasting? What are they?
Fasting will do things to us for our spiritual benefit. Fasting can create a deep hunger for God and his kingdom. Fasting will inevitably remind us of our constant need for food and how feeble we are in comparison to who God is. Idols of our hearts are surely to be revealed if we seek God in our fasting. We will quickly learn the effects on our souls when we are physically hungry. How do I react when I’m hungry? Am I irritable? Impatient? Bitter? Angry? Depressed? Fasting can reveal the things that control us that we might not have known otherwise. Donald Whitney in his book, “Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life” gives a few more benefits from fasting. He states that our prayer life will be strengthened. We will become more like Jesus. God will grant us repentance of besetting sins. We will become more receptive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our life. We will depend more on the Scriptures to hear from God. Fasting will help us remember that we do not live by bread alone but by the word that comes from the mouth of God and that our true joy can only be found in God.