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  • Rev. Annie McMillan

Spiritual Practices: Fasting

What is Fasting

Fasting is choosing to do without something for a period of time. The most common type of fasting is fasting from food, which can be done for many reasons and in various ways, including:

●       Intermittent Fasting (IF) which means having periods of time during the day or week when you eat and times when you do not. A common pattern is to eat normally for 6 days and fast for 24 hours on one day of the week.

●       Time-restricted eating which is eating daily but only during a set window of hours, then fasting the other hours. One common pattern is 16:8 which means to fast for 16 hours and eat during 8 hours of each 24 hour period.

●       Water fasting means drinking only water during the period of fasting, with no other liquids and no food. A total fast (not even liquids) is not recommended unless under the supervision of a doctor. Water fasting should not be done for more than 24 hours without medical supervision.

●       Fasting for weight loss.

●       Fasting for healing or cancer treatment. Research is showing positive health benefits to fasting that may aid in relieving symptoms and promoting healing for different diseases.

●       Fasting for medical procedures or blood work. Often, medical procedures and surgeries require that you fast beforehand.

●       Daniel Fast – Based on a book by Rick Warren, this is not a true fast but a vegan, whole food eating plan based on biblical principles. While not a strict fast, any eating method where you give up certain foods or types of foods is challenging.

Fasting from items other than food is practiced as well, including:

●       Fasting for spiritual reasons, such as during Lent. These fasts can be from food, certain types of food, or non-food items.

●       Fasting for a time of prayer and spiritual breakthrough. When you are in need of God’s help with a specific problem, fasting for a time of prayer can provide direction.


What Does Fasting Do Spiritually?

To understand what fasting does spiritually, you have to know that there is a difference between fasting for weight loss however and spiritual fasting.

●       Fasting for weight loss: giving up food for a time in order to achieve a scale goal.

●       Fasting spiritually: giving up something you seek satisfaction from in order to seek God for help in your life.


Spiritual Fasting and Spiritual Awakening

If you wanted to create a “spiritual fasting definition” you could say: Spiritual fasting is seeking awakening from God while abstaining from the things of the world used to dull your senses. Spiritual fasting is powerful because of humility. When you choose to give up something you seek satisfaction from, you are humbling yourself before God.

This doesn’t mean you have to give up big things to find that breakthrough and awakening. The most powerful times of fasting can be small fasts, like giving up social media for a week or TV for a day to instead spend that time to seek God. When you turn your time and focus over to God, God shows up and moves in powerful ways.


[1]  From various resources by Sara Schultz Borgstede at and Tiffany Montgomery of; “Fasting in the Bible and Reformed Tradition” from PCUSA Office of Theology and Worship

What Does the Bible Say About Fasting for God?

Most Biblical fasting does refer to food. Food gives us nourishment, and energy to get through the day and can reach a place of satisfaction for most of us. In Biblical times, they would have spent a great deal of time preparing food.

Biblical fasting was focused on giving that time back to God – in prayer and worship. That would have been a lot of time for all of their meal prep and eating. They also would have allowed the hunger pangs to remind them of their dependence on God and drive them deeper in prayer. If you lived then and were learning how to fast and pray you would have given up food for a period of time.

Fasting in Scripture

●       Moses fasts for forty days on Mount Sinai when he receives the law from God (Exodus 34); here, fasting is a way of preparing oneself to receive God’s Word.

●       During the war with the Philistines, Samuel calls the people of Israel to fast at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7), as a way of seeking God’s will and protection.

○       Later, when Saul is killed by the Philistine army, the people of Israel fast for seven days at Jabesh, as a sign of mourning.

●       Elijah fasts in the wilderness for forty days after fleeing for his life from Ahab and Jezebel, and before hearing the voice of God in the silence that followed the wind, earthquake, and fire (1 Kings 19). Again, fasting is preparation to receive God’s Word.

●       Nehemiah fasts and prays when he learns of the destruction of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1), as a way of expressing his grief.

●       The people of Ninevah announce a fast when they hear Jonah’s warning. The fast involves everyone, “great and small,” including the king, and even the animals (Jonah 3). Here, fasting is a sign of repentance, of turning toward God and away from evil.

●       The prophet Joel proclaims a fast for the people of God in a time of trouble. But Joel calls for genuine repentance and lamentation, not merely outward displays of penitence. (Joel 2:12-13)

○       Similarly, the prophet Isaiah berates those who practice fasting as a show of religious piety, but do not attend to the demands of justice and the needs of the poor. The fast that God chooses is to do justice, to liberate the oppressed, to feed the hungry, to give shelter to the poor, to provide clothing for the naked and not to hide ourselves from our own human family (Isaiah 58).

●       Daniel receiving visions to answer deep spiritual questions (Daniel 10:3)

●       Esther receiving favor from the King leading to salvation for her people (Esther 4:16)

●       The prophet Anna, who greets Jesus in the temple in Luke 2, is known for her faithful worship and vigil, including prayer and fasting. Anna’s fasting seems to be a form of preparation to receive God’s Word—in this case, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

●       Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to fast for forty days (Mt 4, Mk 1, Lk 4). The gospels characterize this as a time of testing, as Jesus prepares for public ministry.

●       Finally, the church at Antioch fasted and prayed in preparation to lay hands on Paul and Barnabas, and commission them for ministry (Acts 13.1-3). In turn, Paul and Barnabas taught Christian communities to pray and fast as they appointed elders for leadership in the church (Acts 14.23). Fasting is again a way to discern the will of God and to prepare for ministry.


So how do you fast spiritually? When fasting is done with a humble heart and an open mind ready to hear whatever God wants to say. Biblical fasting is about the heart in the same way circumcision was about the heart. Spiritual fasting is giving up something earthly that satisfies you (like food or Facebook) for a time so that you can be satisfied by God. Fasting is humbling yourself before God, pouring your heart out to God, seeking God more than anything else.


Different Types of Fasting and their Meanings

1. A 40 Day Complete Fast (No Food or Water):

A 40 Day total fast is extreme. Examples of an absolute fast are Jesus and Moses who took things to the extreme. No food or water for 40 days. (Exodus 34:28; Matthew 4:2).

Be sure you talk to a doctor before giving up all types of food for this long.

2. The Complete Fast

A total fast or complete fast could last from part of a day to an entire day to several days or weeks. (Esther 4:16; Joel 2:12; Ezra 8:21-23; Jonah 3:5-9; etc)

3. A Partial Fast (also called a 3 day spiritual fast):

In one example we see that God’s people ate fruit, veggies and drank water for 10 days of prayer and fasting. In modern times you might use vegetable juices supplemented with protein powder to keep your strength up while seeking God.

●    Daniel and the three used this fast to honor God while in captivity for 10 days.

○       Dan  1:12

●    Others used this partial fast as a way to consecrate themselves for a day or a few days before feasts or holy days.

4. The Daniel Fast

No meat, no tasty bread, no wine, no oils for his skin (for 21 days) (Daniel 10:3; Daniel 9:3)

These types of food would have been things that satisfied Daniel, good food and relief from dried skin (Daniel was older by then and living in a hot dry land).

A word of caution: many seek out the Daniel fast for weight loss and health benefits which are good reasons to start the practice of fasting for your physical body. However, for a time of successful fasting for your spiritual life, you must seek spiritual renewal from God above physical change.

1. A Non-Food Fast

In our culture, where food preparation takes far less time, it makes more sense to fast from non-food things to help create space in our schedule to humbly connect with the Lord.

Here are ways to practice a non-food fast with God.

2. A fast from Oils

Daniel is our example of this as well (Daniel 10:3; Daniel 9:3). He refrained from using oils. In our times it may be perfume or make up or something else that you use on your body for pleasure.

3. A fast from things that satisfy you or entertain you

Fasting and prayer are about the posture of your heart seeking satisfaction from God alone. So, it makes sense that you could give up things that satisfy you like a Spiritual atomic bomb to cultivate humility! In modern times this could be:

  1. Social media

  2. TV or Netflix

  3. Gossip

  4. Complaining

  5. Worry

  6. Swearing

  7. Music in the car (use time for prayer)

  8. Snooze button

  9. Spending with a credit card

  10. Bragging

  11. Dressing up or changing clothes

  12. Going to certain places


Why Do Christians Give Up Something for Lent?

Typically Lent has been a time of fasting and self-denial, especially in Catholic traditions. It is important to note that fasting or other traditions do not earn you extra blessings from God. Romans 5:17 says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Grace is a free gift through Jesus. You do not earn God’s good favor.

The Bible also says that fasting should be done privately. Matthew 6:16-18 says, “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.”

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is between you and God.


50 Things You Could Give Up for Lent:

  1. Meat

  2. Fast food

  3. TV viewing

  4. Elevators

  5. Swearing

  6. Sugar

  7. Social Media

  8. Shopping

  9. Snooze Button

  10. Texting

  11. Coffee

  12. Caffeine

  13. Make-Up

  14. Warm Showers

  15. Debt

  16. French Fries

  17. Cell phone

  18. Gossip

  19. Working overtime

  20. White lies

  21. Last bite

  22. Junk food

  23. Complaining

  24. Music in the car

  25. Chocolate

  26. Snacking

  27. Being late

  28. Arguments

  29. Taking credit

  30. Hurtful words

  31. Movies

  32. Artificial sweeteners

  33. Bragging

  34. Going first

  35. Plastic bags

  36. Bottled water

  37. Clutter

  38. Starbucks

  39. Cookies

  40. Candy

  41. E-mail

  42. Holding grudges

  43. Road rage

  44. Iphone apps

  45. The last word

  46. Procrastination

  47. Alcohol

  48. Sarcasm

  49. Smoking

  50. Soda


Some choose to add something in during Lent instead of taking something away:


10 Things You Can Add In During Lent

  1. Donate a food items to a food pantry for each day of Lent (40 items).

  2. Do a random act of kindness each day.

  3. Complete a Lent Bible reading plan, reading a Bible verse each day.

  4. Read a Lent devotion each day.

  5. Post a Bible verse on social media each day for 40 days.

  6. Post something you are grateful for each day for 40 days.

  7. Clear out clutter and donate 40 items.

  8. Spend 15 minutes each day decluttering. Pray and thank God for your blessings of abundance.

  9. Make a monetary donation to a charity of your choice, perhaps $1 or $5 for each day in Lent.

  10. Write in a journal to reflect on all you have learned during the season.


For helpful Prayers during Fasting, check out the free resource: 

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