The Discipline of Fasting is the third Inward Discipline described by Richard Foster. I will begin with a disclaimer that this is not one of my strong points, so I am relying on what I have learned from others.
Also, some people have medical conditions that may counter-indicate to being able to Fast, or to limit the level of Fasting the person should engage in. If this might apply to you, please consult with a qualified professional.Back to top
What Biblical Fasting is
In the Bible, and the traditions from Biblical times, the term “Fasting” is only used for periods of abstaining from Food, both Food and Drink (which tends to exclude water), or in very special situations an "Absolute Fast (no Food, Drink incluidngpossibly water), for a period of time of at least the period of Daylight for a given day, or longer (I think the longest is 40 days). It is also not “Just” the forgoing of Food (and possible drink) for that period, but a time which has been dedicated to God.
What Biblical Fasting is NOT
Biblical fasting is NOT going on a limited diet. Some point to the period of Danial forgoing the “Choice Food” provided by the king, and eating meals of just fruits and vegetables, but this is never described in the Bible as a “Fast”, but an act of dedication of himself to God. (But see section near the end about "Alternate Fasts"
Biblical fasting is NOT just going without food, and a number of passages point to the futility of going through the motions without having the right heart.Back to top
What is the purpose of Fasting
Fasting is a way to learn to depend on God
What is NOT the purpose of Biblical Fasting
Biblical fasting is NOT a “Sacrifice” to show God that we “deserve” something from him, to somehow try to “pay” for a favor. (Note, it can be a heart felt response to dedicate ourselves to trusting him, the difference here is the attitude)
It is also not something to do for "show", to impress others of your devotion to God.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. -- Matthew 6:16-18
It is also not something done for physical health. There ARE "Fasting" regimenes designed for health purposes (like interment fasting), but if the Fasting periods aren't being done with a spiritual focus, it really isn't a Biblical Fast.Back to top
How to Fast
When starting to practice fasting, one should begin with a series of shorter fasts, typically 24-hour fasts
First a "Short Fast" is NOT "Fasting" from breakfast to lunch by not eating in between, as (unless you are a Hobbit) there was no "meal" missed.
Perhaps the shortest thing that is actually thought of as possibly a Fast, is the refraining from Food for the period of "the Day", typically having a "Breakfast" before the day starts, and then breaking the fast with a dinner after the sun sets. This type of fast is short enough that it really doesn't provide the normal benefits of a longer fast, but might be an option for a beginner, or someone with conditions that make longer fasts infeasable.
If doing this, make special care to put a strong focus on replacing the meal with spiritual activity, especially prayer.
It can sometimes be an option if doing a series of connected fasting days, though the 24-hour fast is more commonly done. The Muslim Month of Ramadan is filled with a month of Day-Time fasting.
A 24-hour fast is what it sounds like. You start the fast at after some meal (typically Dinner), and do not eat again until it becomes that mealtime again, 24 hours later.
Full Day Fast
A "Full Day" fast is one where you skip a whole day of meals. Typically starting at dinner of one day, and continuing to the following breakfast, though sometimes starting after "lunch", skipping Dinner, then breakfast and lunch of the next day, and ending with a dinner eaten after sunset.
When starting to practice fasting, perhaps start with a day fast, or go straight to a 24-hour fast, and practice that with a single fast for one day a week for several weeks.
After a couple of days of fasting (about 4), the body starts to adapts to the condition and you will find that the feeling of Hunger begins to diminish. This procoss continues till about day 10 to 14, when the hunger has largely gone away. During this period, as the body switches to using the reserves, you will start to release the toxins that were stored in the fat, and perhaps experience strange feelings, This is just a normal part of this period of fasting.
One reminder, if fasting for more than a day or two, water should be taken, even if you are omitting other drink.
A long fast is when we fast significantly past that point when hunger goes away. The most important point I will make, is that after a while, hunger will come back, perhaps very strongly, and that is your sign to end your long fast, as the body has run out of reserves and is starting to eat itself.
You should break the fast gently eating simple foods which provide the needed basic nutrition.
A point worth noting, is that in the Bible, "Long Fasts" are very rare, the only ones I can think of are the 40-day fasts of Jesus and Moses, and those were special fasts with the direct support of God.Back to top
At the start of this article, I pointed out what a “Biblical Fast” was, and that just eating a limited assortment of food was not a “Fast” by that definition. I will now go back are remind the reader, that the purpose of the disciplines is NOT to be good at doing the Discipline, but to draw closer to God. If for some reason, it does not work out that you are able to do a “real” Biblical Fast, but you can do something lesser, but with a heart that is seeking to know God better, I would encourage you to do it. If you have some condition that makes it too hard or unsafe to do a true Biblical Fast, God will look well on the attempt to do what you are able to do.
This does NOT mean that if you feel an call to Fast, but don’t want to sacrifice the comfort of your meal, you can just choose to do a lessor fast, that is not honoring God.
On the third hand, this doesn’t mean that an “Alternate Fast” is only for those with an inability to do a “normal” fast. A “normal” person might do an “Alternate Fast” to be able to dedicate a longer period in the “Fast” then they could with a “Proper” fast, or do a modified fast based on some symbolic relationship to a goal, and are using it as a method to help focus their mind on an aspect of God. The key here is they are not “deceiving” themselves into thinking that they are Biblically Fasting, and maybe even intersperse periods of “real” fast into their time of dedication to the alternate fast.
The key concept for an "Alternate Fast" is to voluntarily deny yourself of some otherwise normal function, for the sake of some deep spiritual activity and purpose.Back to top
A question that often comes up is can a diabetic person fast. The simple answer is to talk with your medical practitioner for advice, as there are some significant and potentially serious issues that can arise. The biggest of which is that fasting greatly increases the danger of a low blood sugar condition, as the bodies natural regulatory systems aren’t working correctly, and often the treatment is designed to relieve the more normal high blood sugar state they are fighting.
Normally, the biggest precondition for a diabetic person to attempt fasting is that they are able to monitor and keep their blood sugar levels under reasonable control by adjusting their medication/treatment. This means they have a chance to adjust when they change their routine by fasting to try to keep things in check.
It is also important for them to realize that if the blood sugar level gets low, they will need to “cheat” at the fast and take in some “sugar” to fix the condition.
It also may make sense to start with some “alternate”/modified fasts that perhaps exclude solid foods but still allow nutritious liquids that can help maintain blood sugar levels, to learn how to adjust their medication/treatment before attempting a “full” fast.Back to top
One habit that has many good reports is to establish a habit of regular and consistant fasting. One big thing remember when doing this is to remember it is a CHOICE you have made, and to keep it focused on God, and not trying to measure "success" in following the regimen.Back to top
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