Below are a few practical suggestions for how to approach this time of prayer and fasting.
About Fasting with Prayer: A lot of people are fasting these days as a diet plan or for health purposes. The purpose of our fast is not about that. It’s to help us pray.
Prayer and fasting are biblical. Jesus fasted before he began his ministry and gave practical instructions for having the right attitude about it in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul fasted after his conversion. The church in Antioch fasted before sending out missionaries. In the Old Testament, fasting often accompanied repentance, worship, lament and preparation.
1) Fasting is often about choosing not to eat – or not to consume certain things. However, you can fast from anything for which you have an appetite. Usually when I fast, I enjoy (seriously) fasting from food for a day or several days. It’s a little tough at first, but I find it gets easier to keep going. I find these two things help: 1) fasting alongside others for mutual encouragement, and 2) planning ahead how to approach it.
2) Be Creative. Here’s a sample of a plan I put together sometime back. It was a three day fast that included a time of not eating and some other things. Here’s what I did:
Day one – a media fast. No Facebook, news, or TV.
Day two – a fast from sweetness. No cream or sweetener in my coffee. I drink a lot of coffee and I really like it creamy and sweetened. I also avoided sweet snacks and dessert. Nothing sweet to the taste
Day three – a food fast, but with hot tea and water through the day. (The caffeine helps me stay sharp, and the water helps me stay hydrated. It’s easy to become dehydrated while fasting, because many of us take a good bit of hydration at mealtime).
3) Often, people ask, “Do I have to fast from food?” No. That’s a big “no” if fasting would negatively impact your health! You could refrain from eating any food, or you could choose to cut back on certain foods or types of foods. Many people fast from meat one day a week during Lent, for example. You could also fast for portions of each day, like during daylight.
But again, you can fast from anything for which you have an appetite, like media, news or a giving time to a hobby. One time, I did a “transportation fast” and did not drive my car for a week. I walked, rode my bike, or asked for a ride. That required planning, but it was kind of humbling and I learned that I had an appetite for easy travel. Choose what works for you. And please do not fast in a way that jeopardizes your health, creates a spectacle, or puts a burden on the people around you. Better to break the fast.
4) How does fasting relate to prayer? Fasting and prayer work together. Fasting brings a focus to our prayers over a prolonged time. Whenever you feel that appetite for something, let it serve as a prompt to pray. Also, it helps to have a focus in prayer – a breakthrough in a relationship, a struggle your want to overcome, a door you’d like to see opened. At LoveFirst Coast, many of us are using this time to ask God to give us direction for the year ahead. (At the beginning of 2020, we sensed God calling us to depend on him. We had no idea what was coming. That message proved very encouraging and sustaining.) It’s not magic or a secret formula. Fasting does not force God’s hand. However, many of us can testify to simple truth: adding fasting to prayer just helps.
5) Let the fast prompt you to pray. When you want to do whatever you are fasting from, pray instead. In other words, if you are fasting from food, every time you want to eat, pray a short prayer. If you are fasting from social media, every time you want to check your phone to find out what’s happening, pray a short prayer instead. This week, my short prayer will be, “God, show us your direction!”
6) Don’t approach it legalistically or pridefully. If you happen to accidentally break your fast, don’t beat yourself up. Just laugh at yourself for slipping and renew your fast. Also, if you feel like you are going backward while fasting, you may want to stop – and that’s okay. For example, if you are fasting from food and getting cranky and snippy to the people around you, your fast may be doing more harm than good. So stop! Consider a different strategy. If you have a party or a celebration you are scheduled to attend, break your fast around it so that you can enjoy the party.
7) Just do it! Do you know that history took an amazing turn once when some people in a church prayed and fasted? Something about prayer and fasting opened them up to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit calling Barnabas and Saul into a particular type of work. The church responded faithfully, and within a few years, the Kingdom of God was advancing in what is now Turkey, Cyprus, Macedonia, and Greece. Talk about breakthrough! (See Acts 13:1-3 and the stories that follow).
8) Finally, if you choose to fast, if you need breakthrough in some area of your life, may the Lord bless you with a breakthrough! As a missional community, we’ve fasted for a number of things – for our children, for friends who needed work, for marriages that were in trouble, for employers and employees, for businesses to turn-around, for friends seeking freedom from addiction, and for God’s work to advance in our own lives. We want to see God’s Kingdom advance where we are. May God’s Kingdom advance where you are, too!