Over the past few years, we have placed greater emphasis on prayer and also fasting, as led by the Holy Spirit. Many times we receive questions about fasting.
Unfortunately, people have been led to believe that Biblical fasting can be giving up chocolates, social media, or just certain types of food. Or, people have also been led to believe that fasting can be like the religious fasting of religious Jews or Muslims (a partial fast during the day with meals at night). This article seeks to dispel those misconceptions which can actually be detrimental both spiritually and physically.
Please note that pregnant and nursing mothers and people with health conditions should only fast under advisement from their doctor.
A true Biblical fast, whether 1 day, 3 days, 7, days, 10 days, 21 days, or 40 days is when someone abstains from all food (including in liquid form). Also, a day is a full 24-hour period, not just 12 hours, not just from sun up until sun down. This is why the Bible specifies that when Jesus fasted, He fasted 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:2).
As Christians, Jesus is our primary example. When He fasted, He abstained from all food and only drank water. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we should fast, just as we should pray and give. He did not say "IF" we fast; He said "WHEN" we fast. He taught us not to make a show of fasting. And, He taught His disciples that they would fast once He was no longer with them. However, when Jesus taught on fasting, He did not teach how OFTEN to fast or how LONG to fast. So fasting is to be a part of our Christian lifestyle. And since the Lord does not tell us how OFTEN to fast or how LONG to fast, in this we are to be led by the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, fasting (צוֹם; tsoom) refers to the practice of self-denial. In the New Testament, fasting (νηστεύω; nestea) is total abstinence from food. In fact, the Greek word, nestea, comes from the word nea, which means not, and estea, which means “to eat.” So nestea means not to eat, to eat not, that is, to abstain from food.
FASTING FROM A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE IS REFRAINING FROM FOOD FOR A SPIRITUAL PURPOSE.
Remember, fasting is NOT for show. Fasting is for spiritual power and breakthrough! So when you fast, you should count a day as 24 hours. Why? Because you are fasting to get Biblical results! You are not fasting for show!
It has become common in America for people to do all sorts of things and to call it "fasting," but what is the point if you are simply lying to yourself? What is the point if it doesn't result in any answered prayers or spiritual breakthroughs? In America, it has become common for people to "fast" until the evening meal and then to pig out at dinner time, to basically eat 1 meal making up for the entire day. When you do that, not only are you not fasting, but you are actually abusing your body, eating in an unhealthy manner. Only in America do people "fast" and gain weight! Or, people say they are "fasting," and basically lie to themselves and consume meals via liquid, drinking all sorts of juices, smoothies and protein shakes. Once again, what is the point of doing something if we are lying to ourselves, if it is Biblically false, and if it yields no results?
In the first century and during the early church period, some believers fasted two days per week, typically Wednesdays and Fridays. Many of the early church fathers (in the 2nd and 3rd centuries) embraced this practice. With this type of fast, on the day before, believers would eat the evening meal around 6 pm, and then they would fast until the next day's evening meal. They would then break the fast with the evening meal around 6 pm. This fast was nearly a 24-hour fast. Note too, that with the evening meals at 6 pm, that believers in the first or second centuries would have eaten a meal very different than how Christians in America might eat today. Some in recent years have misunderstood how believers in the early church fasted by claiming that they only fasted from sun up to sun down. This is incorrect. It is also important to understand how the practice of fasting twice per week originated. Before Christianity, some sects in Judaism fasted two days per week. Once Jews were saved and became Christians they continued these practices. It was this practice of fasting two days per week that the early Methodists embraced during the first Great Awakening in America and the revivals in England. John Wesley and Charles Wesley embraced fasting two days per week during their years at Oxford, where they formed the Holy Club. Both Wesley brothers believed in the importance of fasting and prayer. John Wesley later came to the conclusion that no man should be ordained for ministry unless he fasted two days per week. The Wesleys though did not really do a true, 24-hour fast. As in the first century, they would begin their fast AFTER the evening meal (the day before) BUT then they would only fast until about 3 pm the next day. This had to do with their schedule as students at Oxford. This is how some believers today have embraced a practice of fasting where they skip breakfast and lunch but then eat dinner. This poses a problem for us as Americans because this is actually an unhealthy form of eating. It should also be noted that when the Wesleys would break their fast after 3 pm with an evening meal that they would have had some broth with a slice of bread. They were not gluttons! This is WHY it's important for us to understand history but to also do things the Bible way!
When Jesus fasted, He fasted forty days and forty nights. Jesus did not fast from sun up until sun down, and then go get a meal. Each day counted as the entire 24-hour period. When Elijah fasted, each day counted as a full 24-hour period. When Daniel fasted, each day counted as a full 24-hour period.
True, Biblical fasting is to abstain from all food. So when we fast Biblically, we abstain from ALL food for a period of time, as led by the Holy Spirit. This could be 1 day, 3 days, or longer. Many people receive their answer or breakthrough after fasting only three days!
Many people ask about the Daniel fast. The American church has turned the so-called Daniel fast into a complete farce! In America, so-called “Daniel fasts” are simply the modern "something-for-nothing" routine when it comes to spirituality. In Daniel chapter 1, Daniel and his friends were not fasting! They simply chose to abide by the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament while living in Babylon. In a foreign country with a pagan culture and false religion, they chose to be faithful and obedient to their God, YHWH! They were doers of the Word of God! BUT, in Daniel chapter 1, they were not fasting! In Daniel chapter 10, Daniel then went on a 21 day fast. In Daniel 10:3, Daniel says, "I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled." People have twisted this verse to mean that Daniel was on some sort of diet--that he abstained from meat but ate all the breads and vegetables he wanted. They do this by combining Daniel 1 and 10, but if you read these two chapters carefully and individually, you will see that the Bible never describes what Daniel did in chapter 1 as a fast. Some might ask if it was a diet? And the answer is yes, it was a diet based on the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament. A diet is not a fast, though, and we are just lying to ourselves if we are on some sort of diet but falsely call it fasting. So-called American Daniel fasts are a deception to get people to think they are doing something when in fact they are doing nothing. By saying that he ate no pleasant food, no meat, or wine in Daniel chapter 10, Daniel is communicating the fact that he was on a true, Biblical, God-ordained fast, which means he did not eat at all. Daniel "was on a total fast, not on a diet as some today call a Daniel's fast" (Dake).
Not eating all day, then eating unhealthy at night OR not eating but drinking liquid meals OR eating vegan or vegetarian is NOT fasting. The latter may be dieting but it is NOT fasting! This type nonsense is EXACTLY why the American church is defeated! Unfortunately, many modern American Christians are SELF-DECEIVED!
So when we fast Biblically, we abstain from ALL food for a period of time, as led by the Holy Spirit.
Water is fine and if your body is used to caffeine, you might have a cup of black coffee in the morning or tea. If you are overly addicted to caffeine, you might first need to wean yourself off of caffeine. And if you drink diet soft drinks, you first need to wean yourself off of drinking sodas with aspartame. When fasting, you want to avoid having too much caffeine, which will cause headaches.
Many experience powerful results and breakthroughs with simply fasting 3 days. Remember to be led by the Spirit, and when you start out, you should start out with 1 day, 2 days, or 3 days. Don't do a 40 day fast if you have never fasted before, unless God specifically tells you to.
Also, fasting is useless without prayer so you must set aside additional time for prayer and reading the Bible. Spend more time praying in the Spirit, praying in tongues. Feed yourself spiritually on God's Word throughout the day. Use meal times that you would normally eat alone to spend extra time in the Word and in prayer. Obviously, if you have a family, you should still spend time with your family when they have meals. Most Christians would be better off and would get better results, if they simply prayed and spent time in God's Word every day consistently.
And remember, do not make a show of fasting or your increased time in prayer. Jesus clearly taught on that in the Sermon on the Mount. We do not fast or pray to be seen of men. (Matthew 5-7)
With fasting, we literally deny our bodies of food for a season, but we do it for a spiritual purpose. So we’re not just dieting. It’s the spiritual purpose that makes fasting different. FASTING FROM A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE IS REFRAINING FROM FOOD FOR A SPIRITUAL PURPOSE.
This year, let's be hungry for God to move. Let's pray for God to move. And let's be willing to sacrifice - to fast and pray - to see God move powerfully! Every great REVIVAL in history has been birthed through prayer and fasting!
Important Note: Pregnant and nursing mothers and people with health conditions should only fast under advisement from their doctor.
Here are some additional helpful resources on prayer and fasting:
Kenneth Hagin - The Art of Prayer (PDF)
Kenneth Hagin - A Commonsense Guide to Fasting (PDF)
Franklin Hall - Fasting: Atomic Power with God (PDF) - this book is a Pentecostal classic
An additional resource that is one of the BEST books available on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and praying in the Spirit is Kenneth Hagin's Tongues: Beyond the Upper Room, which is available for Kindle or in book form.