What if God is trying to get your attention? What if God is calling your name? What if God is trying to help you take a turn in life right now? In these 21 days of prayer and fasting, it is not only possible but probable that God will speak into your life and use this as a turning point. This season of prayer and fasting will be aided and accompanied by several tools in this document, including a Biblical guide to fasting, different fasting options, and a prayer guide for each of the 21 days that includes a central Biblical passage, a brief devotional thought, reflection questions, and a prayer. We eagerly await what the Lord will do for us, in us, and through us during these very special 21 days.
The power of prayer deepens our dependence on Him and sharpens our faith. When we pray we choose to put everything in God’s hands knowing that His hand will show up in every aspect of our lives and in those around us.
The act of prayer is what creates our intimacy with God. We can practice the spiritual habit of prayer knowing that our requests go to a God who hears us and who invites us to be intimately involved in His plan. For this reason, we pray in confidence knowing that our prayers are powerful and can bring about change in any circumstance.
There are no levels to this. We all can enter prayer with a posture of trust, openness, and faith, believing that God can do far more than we could even ask or imagine. It’s not about our circumstance, it’s about our heart stance.
1. Prayer sharpens our faith.
2. Prayer creates deeper intimacy with God.
3. Prayer is powerful and brings about change.
Fasting is the ancient practice of choosing to abstain from food for a certain period of time. It is a spiritual discipline, the purpose of which is training to become more like Jesus. The motivation of our fasting is to draw closer to the heart of God. Fasting is a Christian discipline to break the power of the flesh in our life – our desires, sins, and cravings – and to feed on the Holy Spirit.
“Fasting helps us to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain the Kingdom of God.” – Scot McKnight.
In summary, fasting is not about getting from God but it is about getting to God.
1. Fasting is a Christian discipline to break the power of the flesh in our life.
2. Fasting is not about getting from God, but rather getting to God.
3. Although the motivation is the same, there are various methods to fasting.
Biblical fasting involves abstaining from eating (and/or drinking) for spiritual purposes.
In the Old Testament, Israel celebrated certain annual fasts, the most prominent being the Day of Atonement. There were also occasional fasts tied to specific historical events, sometimes individual and sometimes corporate.
Here are a few of the occasions for fasting: at a time of grief (I Sam. 31:13; Nehemiah 1:4), at a time of repentance (I Sam 7:6; I Kings 21:27), as an expression of humility (Ezra 8:21; Psalm 69:10), and as an expression of a need for God’s guidance and help. What all of these fasts share in common is that they were an expression of dependence on God.
Several New Testament passages give us insight into fasting.
Fasting teaches us to that God’s Word nourishes us:
Matthew 4:1-4 records the only example of Jesus fasting, just prior to His being tempted in the wilderness. He faced temptation with these words, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3-5 which talks about the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness, depending daily on manna to sustain them. He says that God humbled them and let them be hungry in order to teach them to depend on God’s Word to sustain them. By His example of fasting, Jesus reminds us that food alone can’t sustain us. We need to be nourished by God’s Word.
Fasting teaches us that doing God’s will sustains us:
John 4:31-35 records Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. When the disciples return, they encourage Jesus to eat. He responds by saying, “I have food to eat that you know not of.” Then He adds, “My food is to do the will of the Father.” Again, Jesus reminds us that food alone is not enough. We are sustained by doing God’s will.
Fasting teaches us that Jesus Himself sustains us:
In John 6:48-50 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” We see this pictured symbolically in the bread and the cup of the Lord’s supper. Jesus is the source of eternal life. Fasting is feasting on Jesus. Jesus assumed that fasting would be a part of His disciple’s spiritual life. In Matthew 6:16-18, He says, “when you fast,” not “if you fast.” He warns us not to fast to impress people, but to be near to the heart of God.
What is the purpose of fasting?
Fasting is designed to intensify our dependence on God by weakening our dependence on food and other things. How does it do that?
Fasting reveals and heals our dependence on food (and other things) to fill the discomfort caused by low self-esteem, unfulfilling work, unloving relationships, uncontrollable circumstances, etc. It removes the false peace derived from the pleasure of eating.
Richard Foster says, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.”
Fasting teaches us that we can go without getting what we want and survive.
Fasting can free us from having to have what we want. Therefore, fasting can teach moderation or self-control, not only in relation to food, but in other areas as well. It teaches contentment. (I Timothy 6:6)
Fasting expresses and deepens our hunger for God.
Richard Foster says, “Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God:” (Matt. 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, “All things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Therefore, in experiences of fasting, we are abstaining from food or other activities and feasting on God’s Word. Fasting must always, first and foremost, center on God. It must be about Him.
Fasting must always, first and foremost, center on God. It must be about Him.
Step 1: Clarify the purpose of your fast
Why are you fasting? Ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His leading and objectives for your prayer fast. This will enable you to pray more specifically and strategically. Fasting is God-led and God-initiated. That means that He fuels a desire to fast and pray. He loves it when we fast.
Step 2: Specify the kind of fast you will do
Pray about the kind of fast you should undertake. Jesus implied that all of His followers should fast. (Matthew 6:16-18; 9:14,15) For Him, it was a matter of when believers would fast, not if they would do it. Before you fast, decide the following upfront:
- How long you will fast – one meal, one day, one week, several weeks, certain days (beginners should start slowly, building up to longer fasts)?
- The type of fast God wants you to undertake – discussed in the Types of Fasts section below.
- What physical or social activities you will restrict
- How much time each day you will devote to prayer and God’s Word
Making these commitments ahead of time will help you sustain your fast when physical temptations and life’s pressures tempt you to abandon them.
Step 3: Prepare your heart, mind, and body for fasting
Fasting is not a spur-of-the-moment thing. It is planned. We must prepare. The very foundation of fasting and prayer is repentance. Un-confessed sin can hinder your prayers. There are several things you can do to prepare your heart:
- Fasting requires reasonable precautions. Consult your physician first, especially if you take prescription medication or have a chronic ailment. Some persons should never fast without professional supervision.
- Do not rush into your fast. Prepare your body. Eat smaller meals before starting a fast. Avoid high-fat and sugary foods. Eating raw fruit and vegetables prior to your fast is helpful. Physical preparation makes the drastic change in your eating routine a little easier so that you can turn your full attention to the Lord in prayer.
- Prepare your heart and mind: Remember that God is your Father and He loves you and is for you.
- Confess every sin that the Holy Spirit calls to your remembrance and accept God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Seek forgiveness from all whom you have offended, and forgive all who have hurt you (Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4; 17:3,4). Make restitution as the Holy Spirit leads you.
- Surrender your life fully to Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1, 2). Meditate on the attributes of God, His love, sovereignty, power, wisdom, faithfulness, grace, compassion, and others. (Psalm 48:9,10; 103:1-8, 11-13)
- Begin your time of fasting and prayer with an expectant heart. (Hebrews 11:6)
- Do not underestimate spiritual opposition. Satan sometimes intensifies the natural battle between body and spirit. (Galatians 5:16,17)
- Finally, and of deep importance, Jesus instructs us in Matthew to not let others know about our fasting. The strict details of your fast should not be something you constantly talk about to others. It should remain between you and God.
Now that we have explored the Old and New Testament teaching and instruction on fasting, we can proceed to discuss specific kinds of fasting. Let us begin with the helpful words of Richard Foster in his classic, Celebration of Discipline: “As with all the Disciplines, a progression should be observed; it is wise to learn to walk well before we try to run.”
Biblical fasting almost always concerns food. Since the purpose of fasting, as we saw above, is to focus on God, to humble ourselves, and to remind ourselves that we are sustained by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, then the task in fasting is connecting our “going without” to “hungering for God.” This takes time, focus, and prayer in itself. Please do not expect to be an “expert” at fasting right away. Fasting is a discipline that can take a very long time to understand well. Also, do not let this fact deter you or intimidate you.
Fasting is not unlike a beautifully written masterpiece of literature. It is simple enough for a youth to understand and enjoy, and yet magnificently rich enough for the scholar to devote his/her entire life to.
Abstaining from certain types of foods (meat, sweets, etc.) – Daniel 10:3
This type is a good one for beginners to fasting or those with health needs and special or restrictive diets. Choose to abstain from something like bread, sweets, sodas, coffee, or even red meat. Perhaps spend some time reading through Daniel’s fast in Daniel chapter 1 and chapter 10. Stick to only fruits and vegetables like he did or something similar. Determine the timing and duration of your fast and begin. You may choose to go without this specific type of food on only certain days like Fridays, or you may go without during the weekdays only or perhaps every day. Finally, choose the duration of your fast. This fast is 21 days (January 13 -February 3) but that does not mean you must go without for all of the 21 days. Determine the timing and duration ahead of time and stick to it. Rather, pray through it.
Abstaining from all food – Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9
This kind of fast is more difficult but can be broken up by timing and duration. This seems to be the most prevalent of the fasts we see in the Bible. It is also the most intimidating, but refuse to let it scare you. Fasting from all food is not scary if you determine beforehand when you will do so and for how long. Here are some ideas:
- Start slowly. Begin with fasting for only a part of a day (lunch, or lunch and dinner). Do this for one day a week, or perhaps three days a week. You determine the timing and duration. Take a step of faith. Fasting is risky and involves our faith.
- Next, try fasting from food but not beverages. This means that according to your timing and duration, you would not eat any solid foods but only water, juices, smoothies, or perhaps simple soup broths.
- Do this for the first one or two weeks. Devote the time that you normally would eat to Scripture reading and prayer. Focus on Jesus’ statements about food.
- Next, try a 24-hour fast. This means that you get up and eat a good breakfast and drink only water or juice until the following breakfast the next day. Set aside a specific time, during normal meal times if possible, to pray and seek God.
- Finally, you may progress to a two or three-day fast. For some, progression may lead to a multi-day, even multi-week fast. But remember the purpose of your fast.
Abstaining from entertainment – Daniel 6:18
The king’s voluntary “fasting” from entertainment in the time of Daniel helps us further understand yet another type of fast. Fasting from entertainment can be particularly helpful and accessible to kids and teens.
Think of abstaining from television, iPods, video games, all reading except the Bible, music, texting, etc. for the duration of your fast. This can be a very powerful decision even as a supplement to food fasts.
Choosing your fasting plan is a very personal decision. We are all at different places in our walk with God and our spirituality should never be a cause for comparison or competition. There is nothing more “inherently spiritual” about one type of fast as opposed to another. Your personal fast should present a level of challenge to it, but know your body, know your options, and most importantly, seek God in prayer about this and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do. It’s also important to not let what you eat or do not eat become the focus of your fast. This is a time to disconnect enough from your regular patterns and habits in order to connect more closely to God.