Learning to Fast

Jesus said that his disciples would fast when the bridegroom had gone. As believers, we should have a lifestyle of fasting. This is a guide on learning how to fast.

Learning to Fast
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Scripture References: Daniel 1:12; Daniel 10:3; Isaiah 58

I haven't always fasted. It took desperation to push me into fasting so that I could hear from the Lord. I needed him close to me, so I drew near to him. I desired his presence more than ever before and wanted to give him everything, so I removed whatever hindered me from full devotion and seeking him, even food.

During this particular time, I would spend hours in the Word daily and sit in a closet for prayer purely out of my distress. I had never fasted before and had no idea how to do it. I began to learn and to study how to fast, and over months I grew into it. I wanted to document parts of my journey and what it took to learn.

There are two primary fasts that I have learned and still use regularly. I do a water-only fast every week, and I'll do a longer Daniel fast every few months. Once you have these fasts under your belt, you can begin to fast whenever you are led.

This will be a journey that will take weeks or months to learn and grow into. There will be many challenges along the way, including peer pressure, understanding your body's response, knowing how far you can go, handling spiritual warfare, and deciding when to stop.

We'll cover all these challenges and more, and you will learn how to handle them when they happen to you. However, as with every journey, there's always the first step. Let's get started!

Step 1: Skipping a Meal

Skipping one meal may sound like a simple thing to do. However, there's much to consider. For instance, I mentioned peer pressure and spiritual warfare earlier. Even with skipping a single meal for the sake of consecrating yourself to the Lord, you will meet resistance.

This resistance can come from many sides, either from roommates, coworkers, family, spiritual attacks from the enemy, etc. It's important to build resolve for why you are fasting from the beginning because the longer you fast, the more resistance you will encounter.

Handling spiritual attacks

Do you have an answer as to why you want to fast? Is it to draw closer to him? Is it because you desire him? The answer to why you are fasting needs to be grounded in Christ and not yourself because when resistance comes, you need to look to him as the reason for it.

Think about the attacks or accusations the enemy will send your way. If you have never read Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, I highly encourage you to read it. It will give you some insight into recognizing the enemy's attacks.

When the enemy begins to attack you for fasting, they will interrupt your time with the Lord to attempt to dissuade you from fasting more. You may have thoughts like these:

  • "God is not honored by giving up a meal."
  • "You call this a sacrifice?"
  • "Imagine what others will think."
  • "Your reputation is at stake."
  • "Do you really want to be thought of as a Christian?"
  • "What will <insert name> think?"
  • "You could lose your friends."
  • "You are not doing it right. It has to be perfect, or it doesn't count."
  • "Remember that time when..."
  • "You think God cares that you are fasting?"

All of these are examples of spiritual attacks. It's important to recognize when the enemy attempts to influence you and that you have a response. If they can convince you that your sacrifice is not honored or does not glorify God, that he is not worth it or that your reputation is more important than your relationship with God, they will win in discouraging you from pursuing Christ.

This is why you must anchor yourself in him and him alone. You need to hold on to his nature, character, and value because it will all be attacked to undermine your spiritual act of worship.

Handling peer pressure

This first meal can help you understand the difficulties you will face when learning how to fast for longer periods of time. For instance, if you live with other people, they will ask what you are doing. Do you have an answer? Are you going to tell them you are not hungry? Are you going to lie to them? Are you willing to tell them you are fasting?

The devil and his angels will always cause fear to abound when you are testifying as a believer. Make no mistake; you will be afraid when asked these questions. You must push through the fear and tell the truth.

The person you least expect may give you respect for standing up for what you believe. Do not rob yourself of a chance to be a witness by lying about the reason for fasting.

If you are the cook for your family, they will ask you why you aren't eating. Are you going to tell them the truth? If they are non-believers, they may push back on you. Are you willing to tell them that you are giving this meal to the Lord?

I once spoke to a young man in high school about fasting, and he began to fast, but his mother would not even let him skip a meal because she did not understand. She would force him to eat with the rest of the family. If you are convicted to fast, then find a way to honor the Holy Spirit's leading by fasting.

Nearly everyone will experience some pushback from others because you are changing how you behave, and it's new to them. They may not understand. You may be surprised by their response when you tell them the reason for going without food. Even believers will sometimes push back on you.

You need to think about this beforehand. What is your witness going to be? Have you decided?

Which meal should you skip?

Choosing your first meal to skip is not extremely important, but the meal with the least resistance helps. For example, Thanksgiving lunch or dinner may not be the best choice!

If you never eat breakfast and decide that's the meal you will skip, how is that a sacrifice unto the Lord? Are you actually giving up anything? What is your spiritual posture? Are you skipping the meal because it's easy?

If you have family coming over tonight, this may not be the best meal to start fasting. Rather select a time when you can be alone with the Lord and enjoy his presence with a glass of water. Don't forget to supplement your hunger with water.

Almost every time I fast for several days, I am asked by someone to go to lunch or invited to go to dinner with them. There's always an event with food that comes up unexpectedly. This is almost guaranteed to happen.

You need to have an answer for the situation. Sometimes you may feel like you could still go and drink only water, other times you may feel led to take a raincheck and spend the time with the Lord.

From my experience, telling people you are fasting is the best approach, even if you go to eat with them. They expect you to keep your word if they know beforehand that you are fasting. They may even ask you why and then you can tell them.

If you are fasting from sundown to sundown, you can eat later in the evening, so keep your commitment to the Lord. All of these things will come up regularly when you begin to live a lifestyle of fasting. It's important to be aware of the challenges you will face.

Spiritual posture

If you fast without having a humble and contrite spirit unto the Lord and your attitude is not postured toward him, how can you call it fasting? It might as well be a diet at that point...

Consider the Lord's response to your gift. Are you acting like Cain or Abel? Do you know the reason you are fasting? Is it actually for Him? Or are you trying to lose weight? Are you consecrating yourself before the Lord?

Can you be alone to pray? Do you have your Bible? When you skip a meal for the Lord, it's important that your heart is right before him. I would encourage you to get away and pray and read the Word instead of eating.

Go before the Lord and speak to him humbly and offer him this meal as a sacrifice. Part of this growth process is learning to thank God in much and in little. Can you still thank the Lord when you are hungry?

There will be times when you have decided to fast but cannot be alone. It's important to take time with Jesus in these moments. We need to enjoy him and know how to come into his presence when others are around and to quiet our souls in busy environments.

Seek his presence and give your time to him as an offering. Begin to do this outside meal times, so it becomes a lifestyle of walking with him. Experiment with skipping different meals or with different groups of people. Notice how you respond to the pressures of not eating because of your flesh and others.

Step 2: A Daniel fast

A Daniel fast can be an intermediate step before going a whole day without food. One large benefit of a Daniel fast is that it prevents you from eating what you desire. It can be a large weapon in your arsenal once you begin a lifestyle of fasting.

If you search "what is a Daniel fast" on Google, you will find all kinds of answers. However, looking at the scripture, there's a fairly clear understanding of what kind of food Daniel ate during his fast.

After being captured and brought to Babylon, Daniel did not want to defile his body with the food from the king's table. So instead, he convinced the palace overseer to allow him and the other Israelites to not eat from the king's table but rather only vegetables and water.

“Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink" — Daniel 1:12

This is not the only time we see Daniel fasting. It is also recorded in Daniel 10.

I had eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, and I had not anointed myself at all for the full three weeks. — Daniel 10:3

So what can I eat?

From these two passages, we see that Daniel severely restricted his diet. When deciding what you should eat during your fast, you can follow exactly what Daniel did or modify it slightly. Skipping one meal is much easier than disciplining yourself over longer periods of time. Developing personal discipline is crucial to a fasting lifestyle.

Personally, I combine the two verses when considering what to eat. When I fast for longer periods of time, I generally choose this type of fast with vegetables, fruits or berries, and nuts with only water to drink.

Why do I choose these foods? Looking back at the verses above, notice that nothing else is mentioned besides water to drink, and meat is expressly called out as something Daniel did not eat. However, in the first reference to this diet, Daniel did not eat any dairy or bread, and from the second verse, he did not eat any rich (or pleasant) food.

Salads are not uncommon in the modern Western diet. However, most people will also add dressing or a sauce for flavoring. Does this count as "pleasant" food? 🤔

Some would say yes, so I generally do not add dressing to my salad if I am fasting like Daniel. Also, just as a tip, if you include fruit in your fast, make sure you balance the fruit with other vegetables during your meals. If you don't, a fruit-heavy diet may cause digestive issues.

Spiritual posture

When you fast, you should always take time to meet with the Lord. Consult with him during your day and bring your fleshly desires and hunger to him. Is it a sacrifice to eat only salads for a day when you add toppings to make them taste good? Is it the best you can give the Lord if you do what you want and eat what you want?

In my experience, Daniel fasts are an excellent way to determine your dependence on food for pleasure and comfort. When I began fasting, I noticed that I wanted to eat even when I was not hungry. I ate for comfort, pleasure, and enjoyment rather than for sustenance.

In many ways, food had replaced my relationship with the Lord. I ran to food instead of the Lord when I had a bad day or felt down or depressed. Some would say that I had made food, my god. It's crucial to understand your spiritual dependence on food. You may be surprised by what you find.

I have talked with several men and women over the past couple of years about fasting; they have all had the same experience. For every one of them, there was a moment of realization that completely opened their eyes to their relationship with food. To some degree, we all found comfort in food rather than the Lord and needed to repent for it.

I'm not saying this will happen to you, but you will need to consider during these times of fasting what things have drawn you away from the Lord. It may be a dependence on food that you need to repent for.

Notice when you are drawn to food instead of prayer; when it happens, acknowledge it and talk to the Lord instead.

Step 3: The water-only fast

After a few weeks of being able to skip various meals or perhaps a few days of Daniel fasts, consider a water fast for your next step. These fasts can be particularly difficult to start doing as it completely restricts your diet.

Obviously, water fasts mean that the only sustenance you consume for the entire day is water. You definitely do not want to start here until you have gained some discipline to refuse food.

  • One step you can take before going all water is a liquid-only fast.
  • Liquid-only fasts may help prepare for moving to water only

Water-only fasts will push you to rely on the Lord when you are hungry. And you will get hungry, especially if you go for more than one day. It takes time to build up to this and should not be rushed. It took me weeks to work up to going several days with only water.

How to eat without getting sick

Choosing your first meal is very important when you have decided to end your water-only fast. If you decide to eat a large meal, there's a good chance it might make you sick.

From my experience, a small snack is much better and will give you energy until you eat your next meal. And depending on how long you fasted, some food may be entirely unappetizing.

Basic meals with one to two ingredients may be best when resuming your regular diet. For instance, eating a bagel in the morning instead of a large breakfast with eggs, bacon, cereal or oatmeal, etc.

Bread or less greasy foods have helped me when coming off of a fast. Greasy meats or proteins, such as bacon or hamburgers, have caused me problems. Even salads may not be the best choice.

However, even with that advice, it's important to listen to your body and what makes you nauseous. You may be surprised.

Spiritual posture

Your spiritual posture should not be any different from the previous fasts you've done. However, your reliance on prayer and reading the Word should definitely increase due to the physical strain you will experience.

When you are hungry, fill a glass of water and get alone with the Lord. He enjoys it when you come to him and seek his presence. Jesus himself would go be alone with his father often to pray. Follow his lead.

Medical Considerations

Depending on your circumstances, your body may be unable to do this. For instance, if you are a diabetic and need food to balance your insulin levels, water fasts are probably not for you. Or perhaps you are taking medicine that cannot be taken on an empty stomach. If so, water-only fasts may not be good for you.

You must take stock of your bodily needs when doing a water-only fast. You may not be prepared for it yet. You may feel light-headed. Generally, this means you may be dehydrated. If you have other symptoms, your body could be telling you to eat.

General tips, etc.

The most important thing I can say is water, water, water. Drink water and plenty of it. When you are hungry, drink water. A tall glass of water will do wonders for a hungry stomach.

The second most important thing I can say about fasting is to maintain a posture of prayer throughout the day. Continue speaking to the Lord as if he is your friend. You cannot call him a friend if you do not speak to him.

Likewise, it's not a conversation if you do not listen to him. Take time to listen and sit at his feet like Mary of Bethany. Learn to enjoy his presence without needing to say a word. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak and wait until you hear him. Prayer is not a one-directional conversation. It requires you to listen.

Other considerations

There are several other things to consider, such as when to start and end your fast. For daily fasts, some will go from sundown and sundown; others may fast from morning to morning. It's completely up to you what times you want to give to the Lord.

There will also be times when you are invited to eat with friends, and you completely forget you are fasting. It happens to everyone. If you accidentally eat a cookie, it's ok. You don't have to start over; talk to the Lord about it.

Another type of fast I often do is what I call a Communion fast. It is exactly what you think it is. It's primarily a water-only fast with an added morning communion.

I take communion in the morning when I am alone with the Lord and consecrate the day to him. Usually, I will only do one-day water fasts, but occasionally I will do up to three days. I enjoy communion alone and cherish these times in fellowship with the Lord.

Progression and Growth

So I've outlined a few different types of fasting, but it will take weeks to master with several failures. The failures are needed so you can learn how your body reacts to being without food.

To grow in your ability to fast, you'll need to mix the different types and methods to become comfortable with fasting regularly. For instance, here's a possible outline.

  • Skip a meal during the week
  • Next week, skip 2-3 meals
  • Then, try a 1-day Daniel fast
  • Maybe try a 2-day Daniel fast next
  • Take a break and reflect on what you are doing and why
  • Try a 1-day liquid-only fast
  • Can you do 3-day Daniel fast?
  • Are you ready to do a 1-day water-only fast?
  • Can you do a Daniel fast for the entire week?
  • Perhaps take another break.
  • If you can do a 2-day water fast, maybe try for three days.
  • Can you combine them? What about a water-only fast for the start of a longer Daniel fast?

Once you can successfully complete one type of fast, you can move to something harder. There's no shame in failing to complete the fast. Just start again in a few days. There will be fasts that you will not complete. It's ok. The Lord knows your heart.

Once you can complete various fasts and grow in your walk with the Lord, challenge yourself to fast for longer periods of time. Sometimes you may want to fast and pray for a certain topic or event, or breakthrough; other times, you may choose to have no focus but to give the time to the Lord. Either is ok, but give him the time and sacrifice.

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. — Luke 5:35

Jesus said his disciples would fast when he was gone. Perhaps we should start moving towards a lifestyle of fasting out of a love for the bridegroom until he returns.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus!