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Question 43

Q: Over the years, I’ve heard so many different ways of fasting.

Some say you can’t eat or drink anything during your fast, others say you should drink water. And how long should a fast be? What are the technicalities of fasting? What does it look like? What is the biblical way to fast?

Asked by: Tommy

A: Well Tommy, I want to thank you for your question because there are many Christians today who never fast, and some of us fast only very rarely.

It is certainly something that has fallen to the bottom of our “to do” list.

We need to take notice of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:16. He said, “When you fast”—He assumed that believers would fast.

Believe it or not, there’s physical value in fasting. No question about it. If you were to fast for a week or longer, there would be pain in your body. The reason is because the body would be, in effect, healing itself. Fasting can cleanse the body.

But the real reason for fasting, the spiritual reason, is that as we are hungry, we begin to think of our need to be hungry for God. The power of the flesh is broken during the fast. Fasting in the Old Testament especially was a sign of desperation; it was the people’s way of saying that we are concentrating totally on God. Fasting is a full body response to God. Of course it can become a legalistic ritual, but for the devout it can be helpful in seriously seeking and waiting on God. 

Now for a couple of practical details. First, absolutely, you should drink water. Moses and Jesus were able to go without water, but you’re not Moses or Jesus, and neither am I. Drink lots of water.

Also, the evening before you begin a fast, don’t eat steak. Don’t eat a heavy meal. Eat something very light. Have some cereal. Let that be your dinner because when you wake up, you won’t be as hungry. If not, you’re going to wake up very, very hungry and your first day is going to be very difficult.

Lastly, how long shall you fast? Well, if you’ve never done it before, try it for 36 hours, which is what I do from time to time. But maybe you’d like to go several days. The first few days, I can tell you from experience, are very, very difficult. Afterwards, it becomes easier and easier.

Begin gradually, do it a few times, and then increase the length of time that you fast. Remember, the Bible does not turn this into a ritual by giving us the details of when, how long etc to fast. This is a matter of individual conscience. If you have health issues that make fasting unwise, don’t feel guilty about it. Seek God with a full stomach.

I hope that these ideas have helped you, Tommy, and I hope that my answer inspires others to seek God with all of our being.

Scripture references

  • Matthew 6:16

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