Fasting is one of the most misunderstood and, therefore, underutilized spiritual disciplines in the twenty-first century. However, Jesus taught when not if we fast. Then, He linked the practice to an eternal reward.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:16-18
In the Bible, fasting always has to do with eliminating distractions for a spiritual purpose. Fasting is a way to hit the reset button of our soul and renew our spiritual vitality. It also enables us to celebrate the goodness and mercy of God, preparing our hearts for all the good things God desires to bring into our lives. Remember, your personal fast should present a level of challenge, but it is very important to know your body, your options, and, most importantly, to follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do through prayer.
Henrietta Mears says, "Fasting is only profitable as an outward sign of an inward confession of sin. Merely refraining from eating will never bring a blessing. God wants a humble and contrite heart" (What the Bible is All About, p. 325).
Timing of a Fast
In the Bible, people fasted for various lengths of time. Daniel fasted for twenty-one days. Jesus and others fasted for forty days. Most people who are new to fasting start with a single meal, a single day, or three days or more. The timing of your fast is not as important as the strength of your focus on the Lord as you fast.
Your Personal Guide to Prayer and Fasting by Bill Bright
7 Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer by Bill Bright
Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough by Elmer Towns
Ways to Fast
Complete Fast. This fast calls for drinking only liquids, typically water with light juices as an option.
Selective Fast. This type of fast removes certain elements from your diet. One example of a selective fast is the Daniel Fast, during which you remove meat, sweets, and bread from your diet; instead, consuming water and juice for fluids and fruits and vegetables for food.
Partial Fast. This fast is sometimes called the Jewish Fast and involves abstaining from eating any type of food in the morning and afternoon. This can either correlate to specific times of the day, such as 6:00 am to 3:00 pm, or from sunup to sundown. Other ways to partially fast include doing so for a single 24 hours from 6:00pm to 6:00pm. Also, skip one main meal a day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) for a period of time like 3, 7, or 21 days, or fast until the “ninth hour” (3:00pm). This last fast is the one John Wesley practiced (see Acts 10:30-31).
Soul Fast. This fast is common for people that do not have much experience fasting food, that have health issues that prevent them from fasting food, or that wish to refocus certain areas of their life that are out of balance. For example, someone might select to abstain from using social media or watching television for the duration of the fast, and then choose to carefully bring that element back into their life in an orderly fashion at the conclusion of the fast.
Family Fast. As a family, especially with young children, choose to fast media (i.e. television, internet, smart phones, social media, video games, etc.) or some other activity that might distract your time with the Lord. Use the time to meet with God for family Bible reading and prayer.