How to Fast as a Christian
Maybe you’re skipping your meals to lose weight or even because you’re too tired to cook—but that isn’t fasting.
Fasting isn’t a magic ritual to get God to answer your prayers. Nor is it about depriving yourself or harming your body. Instead, fasting is about what you gain from the process: focusing on God. It’s a discipline of abstaining from good things like food, so you can concentrate on your spiritual life and find fulfillment in God.
Fasting can help you get closer to God. So, the decision to fast shouldn’t be motivated by legalism or arrogance. When Jesus taught his disciples on this topic, he said, “But when you fast, wash your face and put oil on your head, so that it won’t be obvious to others you’re fasting, but only to God, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what’s done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18).
What Is Christian Fasting?
It’s abstinence from drinks or food for a specific time while focusing on fellowship with God and prayer.
The Bible has many examples of fasting, including when Jesus fasted for 40 days (Luke 4: 2) and when Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 34:28). During the 40 days, Moses didn’t drink or eat anything while he received the Ten Commandments.
Fasting is giving up all food and maybe drinks. Some Christians choose to give up certain types of food, like meat or sweets.
And others pay attention to when they eat, only eating at specific times. But, again, this practice is common in other religions. For instance, Muslims fast during Ramadan from sunrise to sunset. In addition, Catholics fast during Lent and at different times of the year.
How Do Christians Fast?
Christians have adopted many fasting methods to fit the modern context while still sticking to the Spirit of fasting.
The Bible doesn’t spell out an exact prescription on how to fast: how often, how long, what to say, and how to say it. The same is also true for praying.
Instead of giving legal commands and requirements of how to fast, the Bible shows various examples of fasting.
Thus, read what the Bible says, pray, and consider how to be disciplined during this spiritual time while reflecting on God’s mercy and goodness. Finally, focus on the prize and purpose of fasting: your relationship with God.
This is a water-only fast, where Christians abstain from all food. This is a daunting task but enriching spiritually and physically. And there’s a biblical basis for this kind of fasting.
When the Bible talks about someone fasting, often, we assume it’s a water-only fast. For instance, look at the stories of Ezra, Jehoshaphat, and Nehemiah.
Often, starting a water-only fast is daunting. But after working through the discomfort and side effects, many Christians report feeling more focused and clearheaded.
If you undertake a water-only fast, you must drink adequate water, get tons of rest, and spend most of your time praying.
If you’re new to fasting, start with a liquid or partial fast before venturing into a complete fast.
Or, you can begin with a one-day or two-day complete fast and moderately increase your fasting period in consecutive fasting times. The Bible doesn’t spell out how long people should fast, but sometimes, like Samuel 7:6 or Judges 20: 26, the fasting period lasts more than one day or until the evening.
Another way to fast is through a liquid fast, where you give all food and only consume drinks like fresh juices, smoothies, pureed soups, and lots of water throughout the day.
This is a perfect way for most people to cleanse their minds and body and reset their eating habits. A liquid fast is easier than a complete fast, especially if you don’t drink sugary drinks that can spike your blood sugar.
The goal isn’t to drink frequently throughout the day but to energize your body through healthy drinks at regular intervals.
A juice fast also falls into this category. While there are many readymade options, making fresh juices at home is wise.
Partial fasting focuses on what you eat or when you eat. So, first, limit the time you eat. The common interpretation of a partial fast involves choosing the types of food to eat or give up.
A typical example of a partial fast is the Daniel Fast, which many Christians have adopted. From Daniel’s experience in the Bible, a partial fast involves giving up sweets, meats, and bread while taking water and whole, plant-based foods.
Abstaining from specific foods during the Lent season is another example of partial fasting.
If you’re new to fasting, partial fasting is a great first step; don’t confuse it with a healthy diet plan or dieting. Fasting must involve some amount of sacrifice that challenges your body. And the focus shouldn’t be on what you eat but on getting closer to God and strengthening your spiritual relationship with God.
In absolute fasting, you don’t consume water or food. This kind of fasting is rare and often lasts for a short time.
Going without water for a prolonged period is deadly. However, an average person can go for three days without water, but many factors can reduce that timeframe.
There are a few examples of absolute fasting in the Bible. For instance, in Jonah chapter three, the King proclaimed that no one should drink or eat as people repented of their sins.
In Acts, Saul (later Paul) didn’t drink or eat for three days after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Another example of an absolute fast is when Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. He fasted for 40 days. He was on Mount Sinai with God for 40 days and didn’t eat or drink water. (Exodus 34:28) This was a unique and intense time. Moses remained in God’s presence during that time.
Why Do Christians Fast?
There are very many reasons why we fast:
1. Fasting gives us more time to pray. You can use the time you’d usually spend eating to pray to God. In the Bible, fasting is often connected with prayers.
“While they worshiped and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Set aside for me Barnabas and Saul for the work I’ve called them.” So after fasting and praying, they placed their hands on them and set them off.” (Acts 13:2-3)
2. Fasting shows the depth of your desire when you pray for something. It shows you’re serious enough about your prayer requests. God honors praying in faith and deep desire.
“Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all those who live in the land to the house of God, and cry out to the Lord.” (Joel 1:14)
“Even now,” declares God, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and mourning and weeping.” (Joel 2:12)
3. Fasting releases God’s power. It’s a tool you can use when there’s opposition to God’s will. Satan likes nothing better than to cause discouragement, division, depression, defeat, and doubt among us. So Christians always use fasting and prayer to deal a decisive blow to the devil!
“So we fasted and prayed about these needs. And he listened.” (Ezra 8:23)
God says, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)
Examples of Fasting from the Bible
Often in the Bible, Christians fasted immediately before a miracle, a significant victory, or an answer to their prayers. This prepared them for blessings!
Moses fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments.
“Moses was there with God for forty days and forty nights without drinking water or eating food. And carved on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34:28)
The Israelites fasted before a significant victory.
“Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the sea. It’s already in Hazazon Tamar.” Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire from God, and he proclaimed a fast for all of Judah.” (2 Chronicles 20:2-3)
Daniel fasted to receive guidance from the Lord.
“So I turned to God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3)
Nehemiah fasted before starting a major project.
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days, I mourned, fasted, and prayed before the Lord.” (Nehemiah 1:4)
Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness in the New Testament.
“For forty days and nights in the wilderness, he was tested by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up, he was hungry.” (Luke 4:2)
What If I Can’t Go Without Food and Water?
Fasting is when you willingly give up food intake. Religious groups across the world have practiced this ritual for thousands of years. Nowadays, fasting has become a common way to lose weight.
Absolute or dry fasting restricts both liquid and food. It doesn’t allow any beverages, including broth, water, or tea, which differs from many fasts, which allow water intake.
There are many healthier ways to fast. For example, you can do dry fasting using any of these healthier methods:
- Alternate dry fasting: You can do this every other day. It’s a type of one-day fasting.
- Intermittent fasting: This type of fasting cycles between eating and fasting. Most people practice the 16/8 method, which allows you to eat food within eight hours and prohibits food intake for 16 hours.
- Periodic fasting: This type of fasting involves restricting food intake for a specific number of days, like a 4-day fast once a month.
- Eat-stop-eat: For this type of fasting, you fast twice a week or for 24 hours.
Substantial evidence proves fasting has benefits like slower aging or weight loss.
However, absolute fasting is dangerous. Since you aren’t supposed to drink water or eat any food, you may get dehydrated or experience other complications.
Like all other types of fasting, absolute fasting has many side effects, including:
- Fatigue: You won’t have enough energy if you don’t drink water or eat food. You’ll feel dizzy, tired, and weak.
- Persistent hunger: Hunger is always a prevalent side effect of fasting. For example, not drinking water can make you hungrier because water increases satiety.
- Headaches: Limiting nutrients, like carbohydrates and caffeine intake, can cause headaches.
- Irritability: As hunger levels build up, you’re likely to feel cranky.
- Decreased urination: Restricting water intake will cause you to urinate less. If you get dehydrated, your urine will be smelly and dark.
- Poor focus: When you’re hungry and tired, concentrating isn’t easy.
If you fast for prolonged periods without food or water, you may experience severe complications, so please—don’t fast for too long!
Spiritual Purpose and Benefits of Fasting
Of course, there’s more to fasting than restricting food and water intake. Thus, if you’re entirely new to this practice or already fast for health benefits, adding a spiritual dimension to your fasting regime may be the extra push your body needs.
Fasting Strengthens Your Resolve
If you’re struggling to make a decision or trying to answer the ever-present question, “Where is my life heading?”, blending fasting with prayers will help you dissolve distractions in your life. You’ll be more mindful and clear-headed by denying your body- little things like food or water. This puts you in a better mental capacity to be in touch with your spiritual needs, ultimately making you more confident in your decisions.
St. Basil the Great stated, “Fasting is a great safeguard for your soul; a faithful companion for the body, a gymnasium for athletes, and a weapon for the valiant.” Fasting can also help you defeat temptations in war and teach you to be still.
And it’s in that stillness that you find the clarity you want so desperately.
Fasting Makes You Disciplined
Today, many Christians are completely obvious of the spiritual benefits of fasting and see it as an afterthought—or even an annoying inconvenience. The thing is, fasting offers you an excellent opportunity to master discipline over your desires and life.
Thus, if you want to start fasting, consider fasting on the designated days in your church because you’ll tap into a community that’ll guide your meditation and prayer life—and this instills discipline.
For instance, in the Catholic church, fasting is centered around the Lent season—the 40 days in spring that Catholics use to prepare for Easter. They give up meat on Fridays during this period, and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days when they observe robust fasting.
Because Jesus died for our sins on Friday, it has been a Catholic tradition to fast on Fridays throughout the year; however, this has become an informal ritual recently.
However, St. Francis of Assis states that going above and beyond and fasting on other days can control our greediness and keep our sensual appetite and whole body subject to the laws of the Spirit.
Fasting Makes You More Humble
With all the crazy distractions in life today, sometimes, we might feel like we’re some sort of gods. You can talk to someone across the world on a whim. Further, with three swipes online, you can buy whatever you want.
Thus, fasting is an essential antidote to today’s crazy, extraordinary technological abilities, as it reminds you of human frailty. Doing it right can remind you that you’re a mortal being who becomes bewildered, weak, and tired and needs God’s steadfast love.
With all that said and done, if you ever find yourself boasting about completing an extended fast, you’re doing everything wrong. This isn’t a competition!
The entire point of fasting recognizes that physical food is nothing compared to your spirituality. Physical food can never satisfy you completely. In a few minutes or hours, you feel hungry and need to eat again. But your spirituality can offer you complete satisfaction. By providing you the comfort of knowing there’s a higher power looking out for you and your needs when you fast, you’ll have the energy and satisfaction to move forward with your life.
Clearly, you’ll enjoy many spiritual benefits if you fast regularly. So, don’t ignore the spiritual purpose of fasting because they go hand-in-hand with the physical benefits.
Physical Benefits of Fasting
Despite the recent increase in popularity, fasting is a spiritual practice that dates back many years and plays a crucial role in many religions and cultures, notably in instances of Old Testament fasting as well as fasting in the New Testament.
Defined as abstinence from all or some drinks or foods for a specific period of time, there are many types of fasting.
Generally, many types of fasting performed last between 24 and 72 hours.
On the flip side, intermittent fasting entails cycling between fasting and eating, ranging from a few hours to a few days at a time.
Fasting has been proven to have many physical benefits, from improved brain function to increased weight loss.
Here are five physical benefits of fasting—all backed by science.
1. Reduces Insulin Resistance, Facilitating Blood Sugar Control
Several studies show fasting enhances blood sugar control, which is helpful for those at risk of diabetes. For example, one study found that short-term intermittent fasting remarkably reduced blood sugar levels.
Another study shows that alternate-day and intermittent fasting limits calorie intake and reduces insulin resistance.
Reducing insulin resistance increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin, facilitating insulin transportation to your bloodstream. Coupled with lowering blood sugar, fasting can steady your blood sugar levels, thwarting blood sugar spikes and crashes.
2. Fights Inflammation and Facilitates Better Health
Although acute inflammation is pivotal in warding off infections, chronic inflammation can adversely affect your health.
Inflammation can cause chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Thankfully, studies show that fasting can reduce inflammation, facilitating better health. In fact, one study shows that intermittent fasting can substantially reduce C-reactive protein levels, an inflammation marker. Another study shows that practicing intermittent fasting for one year effectively reduced inflammation levels and decreased some risk factors for heart disease.
3. Improves Heart Health
Switching your lifestyle and diet is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Research shows that incorporating fasting into your daily routine significantly benefits your heart health. For example, one study found that alternate-day fasting can reduce cholesterol levels and other risk factors for heart disease in overweight people. Another study found that alternate-day fasting can significantly reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.
4. Boost Brain Function
While studies are limited to animal research, several reviews show that fasting can positively affect brain health.
A 2013 study on mice revealed that intermittent fasting for 11 months could improve brain structure and brain function.
Since fasting relieves inflammation, it can also help in preventing neurodegenerative disorders.
5. Promotes Weight Loss by Boosting Metabolism and Reducing Calorie Intake
Giving up all or specific beverages and foods should reduce your overall calorie intake, which could increase weight loss.
Animal research shows that short-term fasting might improve metabolism by increasing neurotransmitter norepinephrine levels, facilitating weight loss.
In fact, one study revealed that whole-day fasting could reduce body weight by 9% and substantially reduce body fat in 12 to 24 weeks.
Another study revealed that intermittent fasting was more efficient in facilitating weight loss compared to regular calorie restriction.
Christian fasting takes various forms. Some fasts are stricter than others, involving complete abstinence from beverages and food for a specific period of time. Other fasts are more flexible, allowing particular types of drinks and foods to be consumed in moderation.
Remember that a spiritual ritual doesn’t need perfect performance, regardless of what kind of fast you choose.
God cares more about your heart and motives. If you fast with a sincere desire to get closer to Jesus Christ, He will answer your prayers.
Don’t worry if you aren’t perfect on your first attempt. Like any other spiritual practice, you’ll learn and grow as you continue.
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