by Dr Gavin Williams

Since earliest times 'fasting' has been a spiritual discipline associated with the worship of the 'Living God'. Records from the Old and New Testament tell of God's people setting aside food for a time to make way for seasons of intense prayer. (1 Samuel 7:6, Ezra 10:6, Matthew 4:1-2, Acts 12:12). Throughout the history of the Christian Church, fasting has been recognised as a spiritual discipline for those determined to seek God in a special way.

What is Fasting?

Fasting is choosing to abstain from food for a period of time in order to meet with God in prayer. It is usually done with the idea of seeking to know God in a deeper experience (Isaiah 58). Fasting may be associated with times of confession (Psalm 69:10), times of seeking a deeper prayer experience or of drawing near to God in prevailing, intercessory prayer for a specific issue (Ezra 8:23, Joel 2:12). When the early church wanted to know the mind of God, there were times of prayer and fasting.

From our human perspective, fasting is a choice to give priority to the things of the Spirit over the things of the flesh. It can also be a way of saying to God that we are very serious about the matters we are bringing before Him in prayer. Some people see benefits of fasting as a spiritual discipline and others for certain beneficial physical effects. Fasting is an important weapon in the armour of the spiritual warrior. There can be little doubt that fresh dimensions of spiritual authority are available when prayer and fasting are involved.

However, it is important to realise that fasting is not a way to twist God's arm and guarantee blessing from God. We must not use it as a subtle way of demanding that God do what we want. Neither is it a place for pride in our spirituality. Fasting is a discipline that must be undertaken with a spirit of true humility and submission to the Lord, with the priority on seeking His face.

Guidelines for Fasting.

Fasting is a matter of calling and choice. We are encouraged and exhorted rather than commanded toward the discipline of fasting. Longer fasts are usually undertaken in response to a specific call of God. In this case, He gives the grace necessary to accomplish the fast.

The choice of how long and the style of your fast is a matter between you and God. Some Christians set aside one day a week when they choose to miss one or two meals and give the time to specific prayer. Longer fasts of 7, 14, 21 or 40 days may be undertaken as a matter of personal choice or sense of direction from the Lord. Fasts may be total (water or fruit and vegetable juice only) or partial (missing one or two meals each day).

An important thing to remember is that fasting is not an end in itself. On days given to fasting, set aside specific times for prayer. Prayer and fasting are joint disciplines.

Always drink plenty of liquids during a time of fasting. Water and fruit juices are great. Avoid stimulant drinks like tea and coffee.

It is important to have a clear purpose in mind for your fast. It may be to enable you to seek the Lord over a specific, point of deliverance or intercession. Fasting becomes a strengthening strand in your prayer.

Above all, remember that the choice to undertake a time of fasting is an act of love and submission to the Lord. It is to be done before the Lord in the privacy of one's own pursuit of God. (Ex 34:28, 1 Samuel 7:6, Matt 6:17) There is no other valid motive.

Practical Tips for Fasting.

Drinking lots of water and fruit juices helps during a time of fast. If you have a juicer, freshly juiced vegetables (carrots, celery, beetroot) and fruit (any juicy fruit) are better nutritionally than packaged juices. Vary the kinds of drink at different times of the day.

Some writers suggest a pure fruit diet on the last couple of days before you start a fast. This lets the body down gently.

In the first few days of a fast, some people experience hunger pains, dizziness or headaches. This is just your body getting used to being without solid food and cleansing itself of many of the toxins which build up in the system. This will pass after a few days. Medical reports indicate that times of fasting can be very beneficial so long as they are managed carefully.

Avoid tea and coffee. Herbal teas and perhaps herbal coffee substitutes can be a replacement. Avoid peppermint herbal tea. It is an appetite stimulant.

A helpful book: God's Chosen Fast - A spiritual and practical guide to fasting by Arthur Wallis. Published by Kingsway Publications.

People with significant medical difficulties ought to consult a medical practitioner before commencing an extended fast. Many medical people will try to discourage people from extended fasting, so you need to prayerfully consider their input.

At the end of a fast, do not return immediately to solid food. The longer the fast the slower that solid food should be introduced to the diet. Soups and soft foods should come first and only when the system has begun to readjust, more solid foods like meat.

June 13th 2002.