By Phil Scovell
Note: by Rev Jack Barr
We read about fasting in the Bible, and wonder about it. Some ministers tell us that we should fast often. Some tell us the fast should be short, long, days. weeks, hours. Some tell us that we don't need to fast at all but can if we want to. Others tell us that the Bible tells us that we must fast. That is a question that I will leave between YOU and God. I personally believe in fasting. I believe that the Bible indicates that we should.
This article will answer some of your questions, including "how to fast" and "how to end a fast". May God be with you and Guide you in this matter.
Rev Jack Barr
Now here it is
TABLE OF CONTENTSFORWARD
Often I have heard confessed by those who have fasted for prolonged periods of time "There's nothing to it. After the first two or three days, hunger isn't even a problem. It has never been true for me. I have never enjoyed fasting nor found it easy. As I write this, I am concluding the last two days of my second twenty-one day fast in less than sixteen months. I find the last two days just as discomforting and difficult as the first. "Then why do it?" As you will see, there are spiritual benefits to be gain by fasting in the proper way. "Easy?" No! "Fun?" Nope! "Convenient?" Arc you kidding? "Worth it?" Yes and amen! "Should I do it?" I trust the balance of this booklet will answer that question for you. If you plan to fast, be sure to bear spiritual fruit by following God's Word.
Over the years I have fasted on numerous occasions for various reasons, but I never liked it. When the Holy Spirit, therefore, began urging me to consider a twenty-one day fast, I quickly dismissed the idea as fleshly I fasted once, as a young preacher, for ten days; but that was many pounds and years ago and the results had been negligible How could I now successfully fast for twenty-one days? After more than three months of deliberation, I was convinced that it was truly the leading of the Holy Spirit and thus submitted myself to the leading of the Lord and prepared to favor God for twenty-one days without food.
Picking up the telephone, I called two friends in the ministry, and requested prayer. I had three major problems:
First, "Was this really of God?" Until being filled with the Spirit in August 1982, I had lived my Christian life primarily by rule and regulation. I did not now wish to be fooled by my flesh for the purpose of self-glory.
Secondly, my attitude was poor. I had always fasted before to obtain greater spirituality; thus to be more acceptable to God. Additionally, I had always needed something from God and fasting seemed to be a good arm-twisting exercise to get God's attention.
Thirdly, "Could I do it?" I had many good reasons why I could not successfully negotiate, spiritually or physically, a twenty-one day fast. I had failed many times before at fasting; setting a one or two day goal and never achieving even the first few hours without diving into a bag of potato chips and fishing a burrito out of the freezer to toss into the microwave. Plus, I was over weight! In fact, I was more than sixty pounds over weight! Surely God could not, would not, place my life in jeopardy by asking me to fast.
To complicate matters, there seemed to be no real reason for the fast. Sure! I had lots of personal needs worthy of God's consideration, in fact, I was facing some of the most spiritually difficult times of my entire Christian life. Somehow, though, my problems did not seem related to the fast. Then, of course, there was the most prominent, certainly the most legitimate, reason why I should be excused from this fast; "I did not want to do it!" All of these concerns I shared with my brethren and less than a week later, I began my fast.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
There are some important things to think about before you begin a fast of any length: For what are you fasting and why? How long will you fast; Until you receive an answer? What would be your attitude toward God if, after the fast, your prayers are still unanswered? What happens if you break your fast prematurely? Do not even consider a lengthy fast until you are certain of the answers to these questions.
For most Christians, fasting is like the dedicated swimmer who runs out to the swimming pool and leaps in without ever first testing the temperature of the water. In many cases, without proper spiritual preparation, you may discover the pool has been drained for cleaning.
THE PURPOSE OF FASTING
Like most, I generally fasted for all of the wrong reasons. I either wanted to be more spiritual or I was in desperate need of a miracle from God. I even secretly hoped I could testify, brag, some day of my great accomplishments for God through fasting. Fasting, without Scriptural knowledge of its true nature and purpose, is nothing more than a glorified diet; and a mighty poor one at that.
Fasting has been an ancient form of discipline common to all religions since the world began. It is generally practiced by Christians and nonchristians alike for the same reason: To bring the physical body into the spiritual subjection of the human spirit. For the Christian, however, the human spirit has been regenerated, (recreated), and made compatible with the nature of God and has been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within this newly created human spirit as an administrator of the nature and power of God. (See Tit. 3:5-6).
Jesus was questioned in Mark 2:18-20 by those who were concerned that the disciples of John and the Pharisees fasted while the disciples of Jesus seemed to ignore the practice. Jesus replied to these inquiries that there was no need for His disciples to fast because He, the Bridegroom, was still with them. When He was departed, then they should fast. Thus, Jesus taught that fasting was for His disciples and was to be practiced as a discipline until His return.
The Old and New Testament terms for "fasting" are simply translated (without food). Fasting, therefore, is going without food as a form of physical discipline in light of the Lord's return. It is a discipline of love for the Lord and a desire of His fellowship and for the purpose of spiritual edification. It is a physical expression of a spiritual desire.
Jesus also taught on what our attitude should be when we fast in Matthew 6:16-18:
"Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face. That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: And thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
Until this instruction was given by our Lord, fasting was harsh and dramatic with the wearing of sackcloth, going unbathed and unshaven for days, and lying in beds of ashes. Jesus taught that we should fast with dignity. It is to be both personal and private and practiced without public recognition.
Scriptural evidence for the purpose of fasting seems to be mainly for discernment and spiritual insight as well as direction from God. This was certainly the case with Daniel upon concluding his twenty-one day fast recorded in the tenth chapter of the book of Daniel. The angel of the Lord which appeared to Daniel was an answer to his prayer because he, Daniel, had "Chastened" himself before the Lord; (Dan. 10:12). Moses, on two occasions, stood before the Lord for forty days without food as he received the ten commandments as well as other related instructions concerning the governing of the children of Israel. Esther likewise fasted for wisdom and guidance to prepare the way to go before the king to request her people be spared. Clearly, therefore, fasting is used in Scripture by those seeking spiritual discernment in matters of grave importance.
Daniel was informed by the angel that he had been dispatched as soon as Daniel had begun to pray. The angel confessed, however, that he had been inhibited for three weeks by Satanic forces. He finally received assistance from Michael, a chief archangel. (Dan 10:13), which then made it possible for him to gain victory and thus to appear before Daniel.
Jesus also fasted for forty days and nights and was tempted of the Devil in the wilderness according to Matthew 4:1-1 1. So severe was the Lord's spiritual conflict with Satan that angels from Heaven were sent to minister to Him following the fast.
Another indication of spiritual activity in the supernatural realm as a result of fasting is found in Matthew 17:14-21. A demon possessed child was brought before the Lord for deliverance. The Lord's disciples had already tried to cast the demon out earlier but had failed. They questioned the Lord afterward as to the reason why they were unable to do so. Jesus responded that they could have done so if they had only believed but He added, however, that "this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
From these three examples, it should be evident that fasting, for some unknown reason, has a definite effect in the spirit realm. Ephesians 6:10-18 also confirms spiritual warfare occurs when we pray. Thus as Christians, when we fast, we need not only to be aware of the spiritual activity which takes place but we also need to be spiritually prepared. There should be little doubt that Daniel's fast somehow made spiritual forces come into play for his benefit as he sought the truth concerning his people. Would the same results have been possible without his fast? It is unlikely. Some demons are likewise unable to be cast out without the aid of prayer and fasting together. Fasting therefore is a tool, which, when associated with prayer, will place one into the supernatural realm with power and authority. Fasting must therefore be considered serious business and should not be practiced without prayerful consideration and the knowledge of Scripture. We should never forget that our Lord, when tempted by the Devil for forty days, always answered with God's Word. Satan was even commanded by our Lord to "Depart" by the authority of God's Word. Thus, know the word if you plan to fast.
THE PRINCIPLES OF FASTING
The principles of fasting are not physical in nature. It is not the number of days chosen to abstain from food nor whether one decides to drink water or not. The principles, rules, are spiritual and thus Scripturally discerned.
A conviction is a belief More literally, it is what you believe. Jesus said, when questioned by His disciples about their inability to cast the demon out of the child, it was because of their "unbelief,"( Matt. 17:20). They simply did not believe. What do you believe about fasting and what do you believe will happen when you fast? If you are uncertain, do not consider fasting.
A Biblical conviction is something to be lived by. It is that which is decided upon because it has been Scripturally proven. This is when the knowledge of God's Word plays an important part. Without knowing the Word of God, convictions are not possible. The promises of God's Word are given that we might be established even in our daily life: (II Peter 1:3-4). If His promises are unfamiliar to you, fasting will be harsh and unproductive. If you feel unprepared to fast because of a lack of familiarity with Scriptural promises, refer to my little booklet entitled:
"God's Three Steps To Answered Prayer." I have written this booklet with an easy-look-up format which allows the reader to choose by subject the various promises needed when petitioning God. Biblical convictions can only be settled upon through the knowledge of God's Word and you must believe God before attempting a fast.
One further note on the subject of Bible convictions. There is a difference between a personal practice, something done as a routine for personal benefit, and a Bible conviction. The difference is fruit. A Bible conviction, when lived by faithfully, will always produce spiritual fruit. A practice, on the other hand, may be beneficent; but does not necessarily produce spiritual fruit.
After establishing Scriptural beliefs, (convictions to live by), it is necessary to make a commitment. Many Christians confess their belief in the Bible as God's Word but few are truly committed to their beliefs. A commitment is a promise or an agreement. Such words have little meaning in today's society but once they carried authority and absolutism. A marriage, for example, is a commitment; but one out of every two marriages in America ends in divorce. So much for commitment! What is a Bible commitment?
While preaching in Montana a number of years ago, I stayed with one of the ranchers in the church for several days. One day he brought out some rattle snake tails and dropped them in my hand. He confessed that the thing he hated the most about ranching was mending fences. He calculated that he had over twenty miles of fence around his land. "I hate snakes!" he confessed. "That's why I don't like to mend fence and it always seems like the fence is down somewhere."
He continued by telling me that it was necessary to dismount his horse, wade down into the thick brush, strip a small tree to be cut down for the fence post, and then attach the fallen fence.
"You can't see the snakes in the tall brush," he said with a frown, "and I guess that's what I fear the most. Somebody has to do it and at least I've never been bitten; thanks to those little rattles," he concluded pointing to the rattles in my hand.
Years later I recalled this conversation and realized that this was an illustration for commitment. The Christian life has Scriptural boundaries. The commitment we make to God, on the authority of His Word, is the Christian's fence. I have had many people confess to me, "I would come to God but I just don't think I could be committed."
If they are Christians they confess, "I just wish I could live a committed life to Christ."
You become a committed Christian by putting up the Scriptural fence; thus saying, "1 won't cross over and nothing will be allow in." What happens if the fence falls down? You just put it back up again.
"But I'm afraid of the Devil?" "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." (I John 3:8). Your fence is going to fall but we have the responsibility of restoring that commitment made when we confessed Jesus Christ as Lord. Without such commitment, beliefs, (conviction), is only head knowledge. James taught that faith without works was dead, (See Jam. 2:14-26). Agree with God before you fast concerning both your petition and your faith in Him regardless of the outcome.
After the disciples failure to cast the demon out of the young child, Jesus instructed them that it had been a result of their unbelief, that is, a lack of commitment to His Word, but added that prayer and fasting were often necessary in certain cases. Although prayer takes on many forms, Jesus was referring to prayers of petition in this case. Prayer, or communing with God, is the sharing of mutual interests intimately. How intimate are your prayers? Fasting will not necessarily improve spiritual intimacy alone; but it will cause us to focus on God as the one who hears and answers our prayers. Fasting becomes counter productive if we focus on the problem rather than The Provider. If you find yourself focusing on the problem as you fast, be quick to discipline yourself to return your thoughts to God's Word and His promises. In another words, be committed to an attitude of "Thus saith the Lord."
I often find it more difficult to pray during a fast. The fast itself actually becomes a distraction and my mind just does not focus on the spiritual as well. If you experience the same when fasting, do not become alarmed or feel as though you are not doing your job.
"And He that searcheth the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit," (Rom. 8:27).
Fortunately there are multiple forms of prayer. Even our thoughts, as we meditate, are prayers to God. You are not necessarily fasting to facilitate more time for prayer but rather to demonstrate commitment and discipline. Learn to pray before you fast or learn to pray as you fast.
THE PRACTICE OF FASTING
The practice, or regulation, of fasting is simple: Abstain from food and pray. Fasting is a practice which we exercise in order to execute discipline. Our attitude toward fasting should never be "Practice makes perfect," but rather one of spiritual conformity to God's perfect will.
Our relationship with God is uniquely personal. Although we learn and receive from others, we are individually responsible for our relationship with God. Fasting is an individually exercised discipline. We may fast collectively with a common cause and thus amplify the spiritual agreement factor in prayer; but fasting is singular in nature.
It should, if conducted Scripturally, sharpen our personal awareness of the dimensions of God. The fast displays our willingness to become personally involved to the extreme of going without food. It allows us to again focus on God and not the problem and thus shows our willingness to be totally dependant upon God.
Fasting also unveils spiritual authority and you will find it necessary to exercise such authority repeatedly during any fast. The unholy and unseen forces which seek to oppose us will do so relentlessly during a fast because we have entered the supernatural realm with a specific cause. Maintain your Biblical authority throughout the fast. Perhaps the most beneficent factor, certainly the most personal, of fasting is the spiritual intimacy it brings. Abstaining from food displays our spiritual desires to harmonize with God's perfect will, thus, it will afford us spiritual depth and intimacy with our Lord. This may not be experienced during the fast itself, but if you remain faithful, it will occur. Keep in mind, however, that the Devil will war against any such spiritual intimacy; thus the absolute necessity for Scriptural familiarity.
Most of us have experienced the negatives of fasting but it is to be a positive experience in our lives. The physical hunger, the lack of answers to prayer, and the spiritual frustration often experienced during a fast, all circumscribe any positive effects for most of us. It is, however, to be something spiritually positive. Jesus said we were to fast until the Bridegroom cometh. That is a positive statement because it reminds us of the return of our Lord. A fast should be conducted in light of such revelation. Additionally, our Lord implied that if His disciples would first believe and then fast and pray, the demon would be cast out. That likewise is a positive promise. Confidence can and should be experienced during a fast from the awareness of these promises. God has likewise promised to hear and answer our prayers repeatedly in His Word. If fasting becomes negative, we are not listening to His Word.
It can be unwise to fast without definite direction from the Holy Spirit. In the case of my twenty-one day fast, I was encouraged by the Holy Spirit for a number of weeks before beginning my fast. If you choose to fast for a day or more without any such spiritual direction you would, of course, certainly be Scriptural in doing so. We need to finish what we start, however. Whether self-determined or holy Spirit led, never fast without commitment to the end; unless, of course, you receive some definite spiritual indication during the fast to end prematurely. Be prudent and exhibit faith.
THE POWER OF FASTING
Fasting reveals and releases power. when we begin to fast and pray, we suddenly step into the supernatural world where Satan exercises dominion and has for millennia. It should not be surprising, therefore, that we would experience discouragement and often defeat when we begin a fast. At the same time, however, the power of God becomes prodigious and angelic forces activated accordingly. We need to be keenly aware of both God's power and the Devil's when we fast.
Carefully examine the account of our Lord's forty day fast recorded in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin: (Heb. 4:15). During the fast, Satan assaulted our Lord by challenging His identity as the Son of God, the ability of God's Word to protect Him from harm, and His authority in this world. In each case Jesus responded with Scripture that is, with God's eternal Word. As we fast, we likewise will be challenged in similar areas of doctrine. "Are you really a child of God? Who gives you the right? What authority do you have?" Many Christians become discouraged during a fast because they have thought such things. We generally fail at fasting because of a lack of Biblical knowledge.
I think it important to mention at this point that a lack of Biblical knowledge should not keep you from going ahead with a fast; especially if you feel led to do so. You may even consider a fast for the exact purpose of learning more from God through His Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In such a case, however, consider a short fast and remember; discernment is certainly a key factor in any fast. Rely upon the Holy Spirit for the Scriptural guidance you need both before, during, and after any fast.
"Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: And He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: And He will show you things to come." (John 16:13).
The discipline of fasting testifies of our identity with Christ. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God: (Rom. 8:16). As we fast, we bear witness of this identity. As I mentioned, Satan will challenge us in this area. Our power in fasting lies in our witness. This is why Jesus said that prayer and fasting often go together. Satan will, without question, attempt to break down our witness as the sons and daughters of God during a time of fasting and prayer. Prayer is needed to quench this fiery dart: (Eph. 6:11-18). If we will learn to pray in the Spirit during our fast, Romans 8:26-27 promises that the Holy Spirit will "make intercession for us." The Holy Spirit is the great Witness of God in our behalf and such power is released in the form of authority in the spiritual realm as we fast and pray.
According to Matthew's account of our Lord's forty day fast, Satan attempted to get our Lord to worship him. Fasting is a definite act of one's will to focus on God; thus, it is a form of worship or (oneness with God). Jesus responded to this attack in Matthew 4:10 by commanding Satan to depart for only God allow, Jesus confessed, is worthy to be worshipped. Thus, acknowledge God during your fast and worship Him. In this way you will be resisting the Devil and drawing nigh to God; (Jam. 4:7). Spiritual power is thus released. Exercise discipline by perpetually acknowledging God and His power and worthiness to be praised and worshipped. Ignore Satan, minimize your problems, and worship God over circumstances.
THE PROMISES OF FASTING
For the Christian, fellowship with God is confirmed by His promises. Beyond salvation, we are promised eternal life, spiritual liberty, answers to prayers, grace, righteousness, Heaven, and the Holy Spirit; just to name a few. Fasting has promises as well.
Jesus confirmed reward for those who fast: "And thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly," (Matt. 6:18). The two words "reward" and "openly" are translated (given) and (publicly). The same word for "reward" is also translated as (perform, repay, restore), and (yield) elsewhere in the New Testament. It is often used when concerning the payment of money owed. "Openly" on the other hand, is also rendered (known, manifest), and (outwardly). Its root means (luminous) and comes from our English word (phosphorescence). From these two words, therefore, Jesus revealed fasting will perform for the Christian in the natural realm what has been accomplished in the spiritual realm. Thus, it becomes luminous - visible.
Perhaps less obvious, but certainly as forceful in its revelation, is the awareness that our fasting and prayers are recognized by the holy Father: "And thy Father which seeth in secret." Fasting takes us directly into the supernatural realm where all prayers are spiritually conceived. It is in this place of unseen power that God looks for our petitions; "seeth in secret." In my opinion, fasting amplifies this recognition because it is a physical manifestation of a spiritual desire. "And if we know that He heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him," (I John 5:15).
The Heavenly Father desires to honor our prayers and fastings because we have an established relationship with Him through His Son. Jesus confirmed this by saying, "And thy Father which seeth in secret." God is our Father by spiritual birth. Fasting therefore is done out of love; and our father responds to our prayers and fastings out of love for His own.
THE PRODUCT OF FASTING
The test of any Biblical principle, Scriptural practice, or spiritual conviction is its fruitfulness. Fasting is not a doctrine but is a Scriptural principle thus it is available for the producing of spiritual fruit in the Christian life.
Fasting is an act of obedience just as prayer, giving, and praise are. Any time we acknowledge God's Word through agreement, either in word or deed, we demonstrate obedience. Obedience is the quickest way of getting God's attention. Fasting gives evidence to Biblical obedience.
Since Jesus instructed that prayer and fasting go together in certain cases of spiritual discipline, we can experience a more intimate relationship with the Father through fasting. Often, however, the intimacy will not be appreciated until the fast is over; and even then it may be some time before such spiritual intimacy is personally discerned.
Spiritual intimacy occurs through worship. During a fast, you may discover it is easier to worship than to pray because concentration often becomes more difficult when the body is refused nourishment. Worshipping God opens the door for spiritual intimacy and personal awareness of the holiness of God. In another words, we simply become more aware of our oneness with God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in prayer.
We have already noted Daniel's opportunity when he fasted for twenty-one days. The angel confirmed that he had been sent to Daniel the moment he began his petition but Satan hindered him for three weeks. Jesus also informed His disciples upon their failure to cast the demon out of the young child; that prayer and fasting was needed in that particular case for success. These two examples prove opportunity is created by prayer and fasting which may not otherwise be available. We should learn from Scripture that fasting produces spiritual opportunity.
When I fast, I always drink natural fruit juices. Some disagree with my methods and feel the only way to fast is without food of any kind; water being the only form of liquid intake. I have tried fasting that way and find it nearly impossible for me personally. It reduces my ability to concentrate so severely that I find it difficult to function normally in daily responsibilities; So I drink fruit juices. If you plan to drink only water, I recommend that you use distilled water because it causes less stomach irritation and will minimize hunger.
After the first week of my twenty-one day fast, I stopped drinking coffee because of the bitterness and its stimulus effect. After the second week I gave up tea, hot or cold, and by the end of the third week, I was even finding it difficult to drink the fruit juices. I drank them, however, only to avoid dizziness.
If some day you feel led to fast for a number of days. be careful how you resume eating when your fast is concluded. Long fasts should be broken gradually. I suggest you eat nothing the first couple of days following the long fast. Drink soup broth and if you have gone for days with nothing but water, begin drinking diluted fruit juices before attempting any solid foods. After a couple of days of being off your fast, you may try eating small portions of chicken and rice mixed with your soup broth. By the third day you should be able to eat a light meal, depending on how many days you have gone foodless, and within the week, you should be able to return to normal eating habits. Most foods tasted different for several days after I broke my three week fast. I might also add that I did not follow my own advice concerning returning to a normal diet slowly and I paid dearly for my mistake.
There is one additional word of caution. If you fast for a prolonged period of time, although this
could occur even in a short fast, you may experience depression immediately following your fast; or even during the fast. It could even be acute. I anticipated such could be the case at the end of my three weeks and found it necessary to request special prayer.
If you feel led to fast for several days, be sure others have been informed of your intentions so that you will have them praying with you and for you during the fast. The next couple of days following my fast were very difficult and my wife prayed with me concerning my depression. Depression is when demonic forces accuse us in the spiritual realm; thus the need for other Christian friends to be aware of your fast. As has been seen, things begin to happen in the spiritual realm when we pray and fast. Be careful and know how to pray if you plan to fast.
Fasting never seems to be easy for me although I have heard some insist there is nothing to it. Fasting for three weeks was the most spiritually difficult thing I have ever experienced. I know it would not have been possible for me without the direct leadership of the Holy Spirit in my life.
Although I have not fasted often since my three week fast, I do now somehow feel more sensitive to God's direction in the matter. I doubt it would take the Holy Spirit as long to convince me of His leading in this area since I yielded before. I personally believe that this type of an attitude is the real secret to a successful fast and recommend you consider carefully God's will before ever engaging in a long fast. It is not just for the spiritually strong but for those who love God and desire to serve Him even if it means going without food for a period of time.
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4).THE EKKLESIA
end of article.
This article is brought to you compliments of:
HIS BOARD -- **(805) 652-1478 Sysop: Bob Harris
Bible Bulletin Board -- **(318) 949-1456 Sysop: Tony Capoccia
** Phone numbers from 1993 - 1994