Since this summer, the Lord has really been calling me to learn about prayer fasts. From books I was reading to YouTube Sermons to recently starting a prayer fast in our home church, I was being bombarded with the idea of prayer fasts in every direction.
The idea of fasting for spiritual reasons intrigued me because I never did prayer fasts growing up. I had never taken the time to learn about them or take part in them.
I have really felt the Lord asking me to take it a step further in my prayer life and faith by intentionally fasting for periods of time. But, I wanted to know what the Bible and Jesus had to say about fasts. I wanted to know WHY I was fasting, how to fast and what to fast from.
So you can join me in my journey through this post as I tried to discover what it means to partake in a prayer fast and how we can implement it in our lives to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I will share about ways you can fast, why we would fast, reasons people in the Bible fasted, and more. I have also asked some of my tribe about their experience with fasting, and I am excited to share some of their experiences with you today!
What Is Fasting?
Fasting is giving something up for a period of time to help us focus our thoughts on the Lord. It is an intentional way to focus on spending more time in prayer or in the word. Most people fast from food, but you can really fast from anything that is hard for you to give up, such as social media, sweets, coffee, watching TV, etc.
Are We Called to Fast?
When it comes to the questions of whether or not we are called to fast as Christians, the views are mixed. I really wanted to look and see what Jesus had to say about this.
In Matthew 6:16, Jesus starts off this verse by saying, “When you fast…”. In doing my research, some people seem to think that since Jesus said “when” and not “if”, it is because we are expected to fast if we claim to be Christians. Other’s think that it isn’t expected. I am honestly not sure.
What I do believe is that Jesus and so many people in the Bible fasted to bring them closer to God and received spiritual revelations through fasting. Whether it is expected or not, prayer fasts are a way for us to continue to cultivate our relationship with God and can transform our prayer life.
That is reason enough for me to do it!
Let’s Get Biblical
I loved getting the chance to read about various people in the Bible and how they fasted. I have learned that prayer fasts can be done in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the reasons people fasted in the Bible and a little bit about their stories and revelations.
When Making Important Decisions; For Revelations and Wisdom. In acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted for the elders of the churches before committing them to God’s service. This verse tells us that while they were praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them.
For Health and Safety. In Ezra 8:2, Ezra proclaimed a fast so that “we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our posessions.” In 2nd Samuel, King David fasted and prayed to God while praying for the health of his child.
To ask for blessings or gain victory. In Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah is delivered some rough news. He fell to his knees and mourned and fasted before asking God, “Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” He was the cup bearer to the king, and asked him for time off to go rebuild the walls of his ancestors that had been destroyed, letters for safe passage to get there and resources to rebuild. The king granted all his requests. In the book of Judges, The Israelites had lost 40,000 men in battle in two days. They called to the Lord for help, sat weeping before the Lord, and “fasted that day until evening.” The next day the Lord gave them victory over their enemies. In Matthew 4:1-7, Jesus spent 40 days and nights fasting and praying in the wilderness before beginning God’s work on this earth.
As an act of repentance. In 1 Samuel 7:6, the Israelites had turned from the Lord and began worshiping other Gods. Samuel interceded, and “On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the Lord’.” After Jonah shared with the city of Nineveh that judgement was upon them for their wickedness, the king ordered the people to pray and fast. Jonah 3:10 then states, “When God saw that they did and how they turned from their evil ways. He relented and did not bring the destruction He had threatened.” Daniel also prayed and fasted for repentance for the Israelites. Daniel 9:3-5. “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prater and petition, in fasting and in sackcloth and ashes.” After David completes his prayer while fasting, the angel Gabriel shows up. He tells Daniel, “I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you.”
As a sign of grief or mourning. Nehemiah fasted and prayed after he heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down (Nehemiah 1:1-4). After King Saul and his son Jonathan died, 2 Samuel 1:12 tells us that David and his men, “Wept and fasted til evening.”
To Worship. In Luke 2:37, we hear about Anna, an elderly prophetess who, “Never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
In reading through all these instances of fasting, I learned that there are a variety of reasons we can incorporate fasting into our faith walk, but the overarching theme is that it is a way to deeply connect with God and to hear from Him in ways we might not have if we did not take the time to fast in prayer.
Types of Fasts
There are many types of fasts. A typical fast is when you abstain from all food and drink except for water. An example of this is in Matthew 4, where Jesus fasted from food for 40 days.
A partial fast is when we abstain from some particular kind of food. An example of this is in Daniel 10:2-3, when Daniel fasted for three weeks and ate “No choice food; no meat or wine.” This is where the “Daniel Fast” comes from, in which you only eat fruit, veggies, nuts and drink water.
An absolute fast means you do not intake any food or liquid, including water. Because the body can only function for a few days without water, this can be dangerous, so it is important that it is only for a short period of time. We see examples of this kind of fast in Ezra 10:6 and in Acts 9:9.
You could also choose to fast from a specific food, such as sweets, soda, alcohol, coffee, etc.
Fasting doesn’t have to be with just food. You could fast from social media, TV, secular music, eating out, and even sexual relations with your husband or wife, as stated in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.
How Long to Fast
How long you choose to fast is between you and what you feel the Holy Spirit is leading you to do.
The Bible tells us of fasts that all lasted different lengths. Daniel fasted for one night. Esther and Saul/Paul fasted for three days. 1 Samuel 31 talks about a seven day fast. Moses, Jesus and Elijah all fasted for 40 days. There were also fasts that lasted for one day or only part of a day, as seen in Judges 20:26 when the Israelites fasted from morning until evening.
You could also fast during a certain meal during the day, such as skipping breakfast for the week and instead spending that time in prayer.
Again, how long you fast is really up to you and the Holy Spirit to decide.
Hearing from Women’s Experiences
I asked the ladies who follow me on social media to share how they have participated in prayer fasts, what they were fasting for, etc. I loved seeing the difference in how each of these women fasted and what they experienced while doing it. Let’s hear what some of them had to say:
“I was raised in a church that used prayer fasts to focus on big decisions, prepare for church retreats, refocusing on God, stuff like that. When I left that church and changed denominations there was less of a focus on prater fasts in my new church. I still continue prayer fasts to this day because they are absolutely powerful, intense and heart changing in my life. I didn’t fully understand the line ‘sweetly broken, wholly surrendered,’ until my first prayer fast after my baptism. The length of the fast varies. It really depends on what the Lord lays on my heart, but usually about 2 or 3 days. I take my typical meal times and just spend time, isolated, and get on my knees and pray. For me, it’s taking away the meals that I would normally rely on and put all of my energy and focus and reliance on God.” – Alyssa M.
“Well the first Sunday of every month my church does one. We mainly focus on prayer as well as not eating two meals, and then donate the money from those two meals to a charity to provide food for the hungry and poor. It really depends on what I fast for. It may be for a loved one who is going through a hard time, a personal struggle I am having, or a big decision I am having a hard time making. I’ll also fast if someone is really sick or injured. I think fasting and focusing in prayer is so important. I also like to take it a step further and try to stay off social media during my fast and only so things that make me feel close to God, so I don’t let any worldly things get in the way.” – Christina, Q.
“I’ve done several growing up and it was mostly a family thing. I did it because my parents were doing it. But I’m anemic and have a couple other things going on as well, so not eating for long periods of time is problematic for me! So now, when I do a fast, I usually go for something like a Daniel Fast instead (if I’m fasting food, instead of something like social media) so that my body responds a little better. Usually with my family it was for a specific person we were praying for. A couple times we did a fast along with our church too! When I was in school, one of my ministry classes challenged us to do a fast so I did a Daniel fast, specifically praying for a person's salvation. I think something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that has helped me is that I don’t necessarily have to fast food. It’s good to fast the thing that is hard for you to give up! Whether it be social media or give up the phone all together or watching TV or whatever it is that takes up your time and can be a distraction. And it doesn’t have to be 30 or 40 days! It could be a week. It could be a day. Doing something where you can is better than doing nothing.” – Calen E.
Some Important Things Before You Fast
Fasting should be a personal event. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus tells us, “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.” We are called not boast about our fasting or make it obvious. We should fast gracefully and do it for the Lord, not to look righteous in the sight of others.
If you have never fasted before, it is important to be aware that you might get dizzy or have headaches in the initial stages. This will pass with time, but start out slow. Try fasting one meal a week for a few weeks and then work your way up to a daylong fast. You can also eat fruits and veggies during your fast before weaning yourself off of them. It is okay for your fasting to be progressive. Unless you really feel the Lord calling you to, jumping into a 40 day fast may be too intense for your first fast from food. Take it slow.
Make sure to consider possible dietary restrictions. If you are diabetic or have a medical condition that requires a strict diet, then fasting from food may not be wise for you to do. This is also true if you have struggled with eating disorders. You can always fast from something other than food, like social media.
Have a purpose and plan. I loved a quote I read that said, “Without a purpose and plan, it’s not Christian fasting; it’s just going hungry.” When you have food cravings or desires to go back to whatever it is you are fasting from, it can be helpful to plan out what you will do instead. Identify the purpose of your fast and then use that time to be prayerful about it.
How will it impact others? If you have regular lunches or dinners with your colleagues, family or roommates, think about how abstaining from eating may impact them. It might be important to explain what you are doing to your kids, so that they understand when you aren’t eating with them. There is nothing wrong with planning a fast around important events or meals in your life. Fasting shouldn't replace loving and caring for others.
Are you fasting for weight loss? If this is your end goal, then this becomes a diet plan, not a spiritual fast. Although fasting for weight loss is not necessarily a bad thing, be real with yourself about the reasons you are fasting. If you can’t get away from focusing on the weight loss aspect, then try fasting from something that isn’t food for your prayer fast.
Now I Challenge You
What I have learned through all this research is that there is no one right way to fast. We just have to listen to the Holy Spirit and see what we are being called to fast from, how long to fast, and what we will be praying for. The goal is to connect with God on a deeper, spiritual level.
I want to challenge you to try incorporating fasting into your life. This is totally new for me, so if you don’t have much experience with it, I am right there with ya! So I want to encourage you to pray about it and just start small. It can just be one meal a week. It can be eliminating soda from your diet. Whatever it may be, just make sure that you have a purpose for doing it, and that when you are craving that thing or skipping a meal, to try to spend that time in focused prayer.
I want to leave you with this verse from 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
We may be hungry now, but it is about having a kingdom mindset and keeping our eyes fixed on eternity.
I would love to hear about your experience with prayer fasts in the past, or what it was like if you decided to try it for the first time! Comment below!