[If you have a serious medical condition, you should consult a doctor before fasting.]
For those new to fasting, please read through these few ideas I’ve learned over the years to make it an easier and better experience.
Make Your Peace With Hunger
First things first, prepare yourself mentally and make your peace with the fact that fasting means you will be hungry. Hunger pains are uncomfortable, but remember it is temporary and for a worthy purpose. Consider it your sacrifice of pleasure, in order to seek the Lord about something vitally important. Hunger is a necessary part of the process.
Know that the benefits of fasting are not just spiritual. The medical and health community has begun recognizing the physical benefits of fasting in recent decades. Among other things, it is actually very good for your brain!
Sunset to Sunset, a Simple Schedule
If you are fasting 24 hours, I suggest you fast from sunset one day to sunset the next. After the sun sets on the second day, have a light meal. This is a wonderful schedule and you never go to bed completely hungry.
Note, if you instead choose to fast one calendar day (i.e., skipping breakfast, lunch and dinner, and not eating until the next morning at breakfast), you are actually fasting something like 36 hours, not just 24. The sunset to sunset fast is shorter and less stressful on the body.
Pray During Mealtime
Whatever the length of your fast, spend the time you would normally spend at mealtimes in prayer and fellowship with the Lord. Read His Word. Talk to Him about the issue for which you are fasting, as well as for your needs. Pour out your heart to Him. Give Him praise for His blessings. Love on Him and in turn receive His love for you.
Share the food you would normally eat with someone hungry. This is a principle right out of Isaiah 58. God wanted the Israelites to be charitable during the fast, to share their food with the hungry, to meet the needs of the poor. If it is not possible to immediately find someone in need, then give something extra to charity during your fast. You are saving money and food by not eating, so share what you are saving with others. This is what God intended, and the blessings are immeasurable.
While fasting, dress normally, act normally, go to work or school. In a private fast, don’t announce to those outside your home you are fasting. The fast is between you and the Lord, a humble thing, not something to boast about for personal glory. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others 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. (Jesus in Matthew 6)
If you have a family, especially children, feed your family. Provide food for them as normal. Don’t ignore the needs of your house because you are fasting. This is also an instruction right out of Isaiah 58.
Bottom line, go about your life as normal during a fast. Do your chores, work or homework. Just spend meal times in prayer and give something extra, whether food or resources, to an individual in need or charity.
Types of Fast
Humans cannot avoid food and water, together, more than a few days, so extended fasts must include at least water. There are also other ways to exercise discipline, and I’ve seen God bless mightily through them also. The Bible does not command us to fast, so how to fast is not a command either!
In Isaiah 58, in fact, the Lord challenged the people by saying, do you think I WANT you in sackcloth and ashes, afflicting yourself? Then, He told them a better way as mentioned above: take care of your family, be charitable, give your food to the poor while fasting.
As shown above, Jesus said, wash your face (i.e., no ashes needed!), do not look or act to the world like you are fasting! That means, in principle, God wanted personal discipline mixed with humility, grace and kindness. In other words, He wanted us to demonstrate HIS character. Okay, on to some ideas:
Solid food fast
In this fast, you avoid solid food, but still take liquids such as juice or tea. In my novice days of fasting, this was my most common method. It is a good beginning and still trains your body, preparing you for more rigorous fasting down the road.
For coffee drinkers, have your cup of tea or coffee in the morning to avoid a disruptive caffeine headache, but skip the sugar and cream. Remember, the point of fasting is to set aside your own pleasure to seek the mind and heart of God.
If you have physical issues where you become weak or ill without some nutrition, then adjust accordingly. If you feel you are going to faint, then take some juice or milk to sustain you through the fast. God is gracious and will still use your sacrifice of pleasure for His purposes. Baby steps.
Water only fast
This is the next step for those whose physical needs don’t prevent it. During this fast, you take nothing except water.
I know it sounds difficult, but from experience, it was no harder than taking juice or broth every day. In some ways, cutting out all except water seemed easier. I was surprised, but for an extended fast, my body adjusted more quickly to water only.
Use your judgment. God will honor every effort!
Prepare yourself mentally and choose the best schedule for you. Remember, the point of fasting is to set aside your comfort and pleasure to seek the Lord with your full focus. In my experience, it is amazing how not thinking of what food or beverages you are going to consume next changes your ability to focus on Him.
Make your fast fit your personal needs and the needs of others in your life. Meet your obligations at home and elsewhere, give what you are saving during the fast to someone in need or to charity.
The Lord will bless your efforts, and remember, He is gracious. Do what you can, but don’t push beyond what is reasonable. If you are becoming faint or ill, then stop the fast. If you are brand new to fasting, start slow and increase your fast the next time. Your body will adjust to it and you will find it easier when you know what to expect.
Above all, God bless you for daring to take this most precious and powerful step in your spiritual life! Enjoy your time with Him, and watch Him work in mighty ways in you as a result!