How and Why Fasting Prepares Your Hearts for Prayer
If we want God to move, we must first prepare our hearts for Him. We do so through prayer and, sometimes, by fasting. Keep reading to learn how to fast, the different types of fasts, what to expect when you fast, and why fasting prepares your heart for prayer.
Someone once asked if fasting was what we do to show God we’re serious about our prayers. Perhaps so, but I believe fasting helps us know we’re serious, as well. Jesus said, “Some things only come out by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29) Fasting helps us battle the evil one as we pray.
HOW TO FAST: WHAT TO EXPECT
Seasons of fasting do not make us more acceptable to God. We come to Him as sinful, broken creatures who are purified and made new by the blood of Jesus. Isaiah 58 tells us the fast God desires is a fast from sin. Another way to describe this “fast from sin” is to seek first the Kingdom of God, to set our hearts on righteousness. This is the path of discipleship and should be the priority of the disciple’s daily life, whether we call it a fast or not.
Fasts are highly personal, private times of self-denial. They should never be an occasion to gain favor or appear more spiritual. Jesus made it clear that publicizing a fast will be the only reward that the fast receives. Fasts should be private between us and God.
We’ve included information on different types of fasts and what to expect when you fast to help you decide how to fast according to God’s leadership. We don’t usually do a complete fast for 40 days and no one expects you to do so, either. Seek God’s leadership before you decide what and how to fast.
Wondering how to fast if you have health issues? Many people have medical problems, such as diabetes, that limit the kind of fast they can do. They can still fast, but shouldn’t fast all food. Instead, the types of fasts appropriate for someone with medical issues might include fasting a favorite beverage, TV, or other leisure activity, or maybe even a certain food group. (sweets? bread? soft drinks?) Regardless, we should always seek God’s guidance before we make our decision about how to fast, what to fast, and for how long.
When we deny ourselves in this way, we take our focus from the thing we fast and turn it toward the Lord. Let’s use the time to seek His face and His ways, as well as a deeper walk with Him. Let Him prepare our hearts for the work of refinement He plans to do.
Complete (or Esther) Fast:
Eat nothing and drink nothing, not even water. The absolute maximum duration is three days. Two examples are Ezra 8:21 and Esther 4:16. This is a fast of desperation and extreme urgency. Very few people are called to this fast and it should only be undertaken carefully. Medical supervision should be considered.
No food but plenty of water. An example is Jesus in the wilderness for forty days. (Luke 4:1-13)
(Also called the Daniel Fast): Abstaining from certain foods or certain pleasures. Daniel’s decision to eat only vegetables and drinking only water is an example of a partial fast. (Daniel 1:8-16) Possibilities for abstinence are varied and include certain foods, desserts, coffee, soft drinks, shopping, movies, romance novels, etc. This is the perfect fast for the person who has health problems, especially diabetics.
A group of people chooses to unite in prayer and fasting – usually about a specific issue. Examples are Nineveh (Jonah 3:3-10), the fast Queen Esther requested (Esther 4:13-17), Ezra, and King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20)
(Numbers 6:2-21) This is a vow of a limited duration for anyone who desires to be a “sanctified servant.” There are several restrictions, but basically, the Nazirite does not cut his/her hair during the time of the vow and fasts anything made from grapes. At the end of the time, the hair is shaved and there is a special offering to the Lord.
(Isaiah 58:6-14) The people fasted day after day but received no answers to their prayers. They fasted for show only. God told the people the only fast He would accept was a sin fast in which they relinquished their judgmental, critical spirits, and gave freely of themselves and their resources to those in need.
How to Fast: Need help?
Wondering how to fast if you’ve never done it before? Jesus made one thing very clear. Fasts are to be done in private. If you’re new to fasting, however, going without food for a day or more may seem an insurmountable task. Fasting with a friend may make the going easier. The temptation will be to talk about how hungry you are, text back and forth about how much time remains, to focus on the difficulty.
If fasting is difficult, consider a fasting buddy. Set a beginning and ending time for the fast as well as the type of fast. Agree not to discuss the fast until the allotted time has passed and schedule a time of discussion afterward. Instead of texting or talking during your time of sacrifice, take notes about how you feel, what made it harder or easier, and how you resisted the temptation to break the fast. Share your thoughts and experiences with your partner at your planned “debrief.”
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