Straight Talk about Fasting
by Adam Wittenberg
Fasting is scary for most of us—if we’re honest—but it doesn’t have to be.
Why would the Bible tell us to go without food for a time? What is the benefit? And is it optional for Christians, or should it be a normal part of our walk?
Jesus, our Lord and Savior, said “when you fast,” not “if you fast,” indicating this is to be a normal part of His followers’ lives (Matthew 6:16). It’s a hard truth, but God is emphasizing fasting in His Body today—and extending the grace to do it.
(Lou Engle has called a 40-day Jesus Fast from March 1 to April 9, 2020 that Mike Bickle and other ministry leaders have endorsed. Join in as you are led!)
Dieting or Fasting?
Fasting is more than changing your diet—it’s giving up the legitimate pleasures of food to “feast” on the Lord and His delights. Doing so will change how we live and walk, which is what God wants (see Isaiah 58:3–12).
So how do we fast in our food-obsessed culture? Can we do it with a plate full of studies, work, and duties at home? What if we play sports or have to eat to take medication? Is there an “exemption” from fasting?
It may surprise you to know that the Lord will help all who are willing to fast.
Just like God doesn’t force us to pray but invites us into it, the same is true of fasting. Ask the ones who are most experienced in fasting, and they’ll tell you it’s become an essential part of their spiritual walk and discipline.
“The fear of fasting is far worse than the fasting itself,” says Mike Bickle, director of the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, and co-author of The Rewards of Fasting, an excellent resource this topic (see the free ebook link below).
Those who try fasting with persistence and regularity often end up loving it. It’s getting started and believing that it will work that’s usually the biggest hurdle.
It’s important to remember that the word fasting means to abstain from food. While doing a media fast or similar discipline is helpful, food fasting is what the Bible calls us to.
The most important thing is to agree with God’s heart for fasting and to press into it. Fasting is about gaining confidence that you can abstain from food and learning to turn your hunger toward God. Fill the time you would have spent eating with worship, prayer, Scripture study, and God-oriented activities—otherwise, you might be doing little more than dieting.
Fasting is best done regularly. Try setting aside one day per week to start. If you become accustomed to that, pray about adding a second day. Keep an open heart if God calls you to a longer fast, or, on rare occasions, shortens your fast.
Our advice is to pray, choose a method, and get started. It can be hard at first, but breakthrough—and confidence—will come. Don’t give in to the temptation to quit. Invite a friend to pray for you, or even fast with you, to give you strength in numbers.
With that in mind, here are some great ways you can begin—even if you are scared, weak, or intimidated. This is probably true for most of us when we’ve not fasted before or have tried and struggled. God grants grace, and He rewards all that we do for Him (Matthew 6:18).
On-Ramps to Fasting Food
- Eat one meal per day. If fasting for a whole day intimidates you, try eating just one meal that day. Many people fast during the day and break it at dinner. Others prefer to eat breakfast or lunch. Find what works for you and stick to it. This works well for people who have to eat to take medication or need energy for sports.
- Daniel Fast. Try eating a limited diet that avoids animal products (meat and dairy), as well as alcohol and sweets. You’ll still have energy and strength, and you’ll feel less full, though satisfied physically, which can help drive you to God. In the Bible, Daniel did at least two 21-day fasts like this and received significant revelations from God!
- Juice Fast. Fasting does not have to mean drinking only water. Fruit and vegetable juices—especially if they are raw and unpasteurized—can help you maintain energy while still allowing your body to cleanse. You can juice fast for a day, a week, a month, or more and still be vibrant.
- Sweets Fast. Sugar is a huge dependency in our culture, and fasting is a great way to break an addiction, that is, anything of yourself you are withholding from God. Stopping sweets (and added sugar) will teach you to live dependent on God and help you to appreciate sweets as delicacies. And every time you get a craving, that’s an opportunity to pray and seek God.
- Snack Fast. Snacking has become endemic in our culture. Food is everywhere, and we like to eat what we want, when we want it, anywhere we want it. A fast where you don’t eat between meals will help curb this habit, rein in your appetite, and allow you to give a new part of your day to the Lord. Fasting is about learning to say no to food so that you can have more of God, and not snacking is a legitimate fast.
These “on-ramps” are meant to help you start fasting in a way that’s attainable for you. The Lord rewards all fasting, and it’s not about judging whether your fast is as robust as someone else’s. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Using these tips, you can soon be on the way to saying like Job, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).
Blessings as you encounter the Lord through the grace of fasting!
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice; please check with your doctor first if you are pregnant or have any health issues or concerns. Minors are discouraged from fasting food and should always ask their parents before doing any fasting.
For additional resources, you can read Mike Bickle’s book The Rewards of Fasting (free ebook download) and IHOPKC’s Fasting Guidelines as well as listen to teachings about fasting on Mike Bickle Teaching Library.
A Detroit native who was raised in Vermont and Connecticut, Adam worked as a newspaper journalist until 2012, when he moved to Kansas City to complete the Intro to IHOPKC internship. Afterwards, he earned a four-year certificate in House of Prayer Leadership from IHOPU and is now on full-time staff in the Marketing department at IHOPKC. He also serves in the NightWatch (overnight prayer hours) and is active in evangelism. He, and his wife Stephany, have a vision to reach people everywhere with the good news of Jesus Christ.