Even the thought of fasting causes some people to cringe. I used to be one of those people. Family and friends would remind me to take a bite of my “just in case” granola bar as we shopped, seeing the signs of deterioration of my mood and disposition. As my last mealtime lost it’s blood sugar-leveling effectiveness, I became less and less of a pleasant person. For decades I discounted fasting, due to my hypoglycemic dependence of food.
I remember my first attempt at fasting. I planned to go on a juice fast for 3 days. I had young children, and I remember my husband coming home from work on day 2 of the fast. I was lying on the couch, the kids playing on the floor beside me, my head throbbing. I was feeling dizzy and too weak to sit up. I was absolutely determined to make it. As I became unable to lift my head from the intense pain, my husband convinced me to have a piece of toast. Within a few minutes I felt physically better, but demoralized because I had failed. I did not try to fast anything again for quite some time.
This is not to discourage you! This is to give testimony that even with that sad start, I have since lived many years with fasting as part of my spiritual walk. How tragic it would have been if I gave up there! I didn’t, because over time I learned that God doesn't always require us to follow Jesus’ example by heading for the desert to fast for 40 full days. That is the optimum fasting scenario, not the ordinary fasting experience. Even Jesus needed angels to attend Him for such an endeavor;
“and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:13)
It’s established that many of us can’t do what are called “complete” just-water fasts. But most of us can do “partial” or “modified” fasts. Really, they are personalized fasts.
Daniel’s fast provided enough food that he and his comrades ate heartily enough to become "healthier and better nourished" than their peers;
“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.’
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, ‘Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.’ So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.”
Boasting about fasting is one thing. Encouraging one another is another thing.
Old Testament examples are given of “group” fasts. Like Daniel, Esther also led a corporate fast. Esther 4:16 says, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." Fasting with companions, especially in a crisis, is powerful and if you agree together in your prayer, it can yield amazing results. Esther did not perish. She was used of God to gain victory for her people as a result of this more extreme form of fasting.
Even partial food fasting can take some getting used to. My first Daniel Fast was awkward. I went to a church picnic, and people questioned by dressing-free raw vegetable plate, sans hamburger or hot dog. I thought it was a safe place to confide that I was doing a Daniel Fast. No one at my table had a clue what I was talking about, and one person was amused that I would attempt such an apparently “lame” fast. I was not encouraged by this exchange.
I did not experiment much with creative vegetarian stews and energy bars, like some modern Daniel Fast enthusiasts do, but I varied my veggies, nuts and grains enough to make it though a long 21 day regiment (I had combined two fasts that Daniel had done as told in Scripture, extending his diet from 10 to 21 days).
Within 3 months, most of my primary 5 item prayer list was realized! I saw tremendous results. Fasting seemed to add "punch" to my many long-standing, unanswered prayers. While fasting isn't a magic formula to get our ways, any more than prayer is, God does call us to do it as part of a mature spiritual walk. Jesus said "when you fast," (Matthew 6:16), not if you fast.
I have since gone on several modified fasts and always, always, always realize revelation, spiritual growth and answered prayers.
So many times I have heard people say, "I have prayed and prayed! God just doesn't answer!" While there are many reasons for unanswered prayer, I sometimes ask, "Have you fasted?" People sometimes respond like I have suggested a radical, non-Biblical obstacle course to complete. They say things like "Fasting is too hard for me." One person told me it was harder for him than it was for me. His implication was that it was easy for me, and if it was actually hard, like it was for him, I wouldn't do it. Fasting is challenging, and sometimes hard, but we do it to please our Savior.
Jesus fasted. We want to be like Him. When we fast, we do what He has done. If water fasting is too hard, or medically unsafe, we can modify fasting and include food, to whatever degree God leads us to do. Everybody can fast. Not everybody will.
Here are some examples of fasts that God has led me to do, all successfully. This is to encourage you! One friend, in particular, encouraged me to try to defy a religious mindset while I fast. Rigidity can be a sign of a religious spirit. God is creative and flexible! He has certainly been creative as He has led me to give things up, in order to put some action and determination behind my prayers.
These are all meant to broaden your horizons in how the Holy Spirit may lead you to personalize your own fast;
1. No solid food except for supper and an late evening snack each day (for 5 days). I drank smoothies for breakfast and lunch, lots of water, and some tea and coffee. Then I had regular meals after 6 in the evenings.
2. No lunch on Mondays for 10 straight weeks. Again, God led me to do this. I did, and I knew it made a difference in my spiritual growth that particular summer.
3. No sweets for 40 days. This was early in my fasting experience. It was hard, but when I was done, candy no longer appealed to me. It was good for me, body and spirit.
Daniel Fasts don’t need to be 21 days. They can be for 3, 7, 10 or 14 days, too. Whatever you can handle, whatever God leads.
5. Just juice for a week. Careful if you haven’t fasted. Juicing increases your body’s detoxification process, which can bring on headaches, muscle aches, bad breath, significant fatigue, a stuffy nose, etc. If these symptoms become significant, it’s ok to eat a light meal or to cease your fast. Try again, as God leads, with something less stringent for starters. My first juice fast was technically a fail, but I learned a lot from it! Plus, I’m sure God didn’t see it as a fail! Start with a one-day juice fast if you're a beginner, for example. Again, be sure you are medically able to tackle that.
6. No coffee for a week. Beware! I have heard many diehard fasters say that this can be more difficult than any other modified fast. If you drink coffee regularly, withdrawal can be very distracting and can cause headaches, fatigue and irritability. Make provisions for rest if you decide to do this.
7. No food after lunch each day. This is good for people who want to experience saying “no” to food but still have demanding jobs that require energy.
Never underestimate the power of any fast!
Ironically, the same lady that was amused by my first Daniel Fast has since become more serious about modified fasting. Somewhere along the line, I shared with her my thankfulness to God for responding to the fast in my life. Like many of us, she just didn’t know.
God is so pleased when we step out of our spiritual comfort zones and take initiative. Zechariah 4:10 says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” The Lord rejoices, but so will you, when you have successfully completed any fast! Anyone who has never fasted will never know the joy of completing an act of obedience and love before his/her Savior!
I have been very pleased over time at how much fasting has become a natural part of life. When God calls me to fast, when He asks me to give up this, replace that, reduce this, there is always a happy ending. Eventually, I actually even did water fasts! Don't let the enemy keep you from both praying and fasting together. It's a power-packed combo! It's always worth it! It is always His initiative, but we all need to respond when He prompts us. God bless you as you follow His guiding. We are called to pray, but we are also called to fast. God bless your obedience!