Here’s the outline of a talk I gave on the medical and spiritual aspects of fasting for Christians. I gave the talk at the National Day of Prayer’s 2007 National Prayer Retreat at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO, on Saturday, October 20, 2007.
This presentation is adapted from: 7 Basic Steps to a Fruitful Fast by Bill Bright.
7 Basic Steps to a Fruitful Fast
- Set Your Objectives
- Make Your Commitment
- Prepare Yourself Spiritually
- Prepare Yourself Physically
- Put Yourself on a Schedule
- End Your Fast Gradually
- Expect Results
1) Set Your Objectives
Why are you fasting?
Spiritual renewal? Guidance? Healing? Resolution of problems? Special grace for a difficult situation? Ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His leading and objectives for your fasting and prayer.
Through fasting and prayer, we humble ourselves before Almighty God so the Holy Spirit will stir our souls, awaken our churches, and heal our land.
“… if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
2) Make Your Commitment
Pray about the kind of fast you should undertake. Jesus implied that all of His followers should fast:
“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)
Then John’s disciples came and asked him (Jesus), “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14-15)
Steps in Making Your Commitment
- How long does God want you to fast – one meal, one day, one week, several weeks, forty days? (Warning – beginners: start slowly, building up to longer fasts.)
- What type of fast does God want you to undertake?
- Food: water only, water and juice only, what kind of juices and how often;
- Activity: no Internet, no TV, etc.
- How much time during the fast (i.e., how much time each day) will you devote to prayer, God’s word, mediation, and memorization?
- Making these types of commitment ahead of time will help sustain your fast when physical temptations and life’s pressures tempt you to abandon your fast.
3) Prepare Yourself Spiritually
The foundation of fasting and prayer is repentance. Unconfessed sin will hinder your prayers.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Husbands, not honoring and respecting your wife will hinder your prayers.
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)
Steps to Prepare Yourself Spiritually
- Ask God to help you make a comprehensive list of your sins.
- Confess every sin that the Holy Spirit calls to your remembrance and accept God’s forgiveness.
- Seek forgiveness from all whom you have offended, and forgive all who have hurt you.
“When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4)
“So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:3-5)
4. Be reconciled or make restitution as the Holy Spirit leads you.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
5. Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit according to His command in Ephesians 5:18 and His promise in 1 John 5:14-15:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
6. Surrender your life fully to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master and refuse to obey your worldly nature.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
7. Meditate on the attributes of God: His love, sovereignty, power, wisdom, faithfulness, grace, compassion, and others.
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. (Psalm 48:9-10)
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’S love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:1-18)
8. Begin you time of fasting and prayer with an expectant heart.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
9. Do not underestimate spiritual opposition. Satan can intensify the natural battle between our sinful nature and the Spirit.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:16-17)
4) Prepare Yourself Physically
Fasting requires wise preparation and precautions. If you are not 100% healthy, or if you are over 50 years old, consult your personal physician first. Especially if you:
- Take medications (Rx or natural).
- Have a chronic condition – HTN, CAD, PAD, heart disease, DM, obesity, COPD, asthma, kidney disease, etc.
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.
- Do not rush into your fast.
- Prepare your body for several weeks or a month ahead by eating smaller portions.
- Avoid or reduce saturated and trans fats and begin to emphasize PUFAs.
- Avoid or reduce simple sugars and caffeine and begin to emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and water.
- Avoid or reduce animal proteins and begin to emphasize plant proteins.
While You Fast:
- Limit your exertion.
- Exercise only moderately (i.e., walk one to three miles per day, if comfortable).
- Rest as much as your schedule will allow. Consider getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night and naps if needed and possible.
- Avoid natural and OTC medications.
- Be prepared for emotional and relational discomforts – impatience, irritability, crankiness, anxiety, and anger.
- Be ready for physical discomforts, especially on the 2nd and 3rd days – hunger pains, dizziness, the blahs, weakness, tiredness, or sleepiness.
- Headaches can come from caffeine and sugar withdrawal.
“The first two or three days are usually the hardest. As you continue to fast, you will likely experience a sense of well-being both physically and spiritually. However, should you feel hunger pains, increase your liquid intake.” (Dr. Bill Bright)
5) Put Yourself on a Schedule
For maximum spiritual benefit, set aside ample time to be alone with the Lord. Listen to His leading. The more time you spend with Him, the more meaningful your fast will be.
- Begin with prayer.
- If married, consider praying with your spouse.
- I begin the day with praise and worship.
- I find a quiet spot to read and meditate on God’s word (especially the Psalms and Proverbs).
- I invite the Holy Spirit to work in me to will and to do His good pleasure according to Philippians 2:13.
- I invite God to use me. I ask Him to show me how to influence the world into which He has placed me (my family, my church, my work, and my community).
- I pray for His vision for my life and the empowerment to accomplish His will.
- I spend time listening to and singing hymns.
- I return to prayer and God’s word (especially the Gospels).
- I try to take a prayer walk.
- I spend time in intercessory prayer for my family, my community, my nation and its leaders, and for the world’s unreached millions.
- I may listen to more contemporary Christian music.
- I get alone for an unhurried time of seeking His face.
- I may meet with others for prayer (others who are fasting or supporting my fast).
- I fast from television, the newspaper, magazines, and other distractions that may dampen my spiritual focus.
- Pray with your spouse.
- Review your Scripture memory.
Consider a diet routine (this one is from Dr. Julio C. Ruibal):
5 – 8 am: Fruit juices, preferably freshly squeezed or blended and diluted in 50% distilled water if the fruit is acid. Apple, pear, grapefruit, papaya, watermelon, or other fruit juices are generally preferred. If you cannot juice, buy juices without sugar or additives.
1030 am – noon: Fresh vegetable juice – Dr. Ruibal recommends juice from equal parts lettuce, celery, and carrots.
230 – 400 pm: Herb tea with a drop of honey. Avoid caffeinated tea.
600 – 830 pm: Broth made from boiling potatoes, celery, and carrots, with no salt. After boiling about half an hour, cool, pour water into a container, and drink.
- Drinking fruit or vegetable juice will decrease your hunger pains and give you some natural energy.
- In cold weather, you may enjoy warm vegetable broth.
- Avoid gum or mints – they stimulate digestive action in your stomach.
6) End Your Fast Gradually
Breaking your fast: When your designated time for fasting is finished, you will begin to eat again. But how you break your fast is extremely important to your physical and spiritual well-being.
The key to successfully breaking your fast? End your fast gradually. Begin eating gradually.
- Do not eat solid foods immediately after your fast.
- Suddenly reintroducing solid food to you stomach and digestive tract may have negative consequences.
- Try several smaller meals or snacks each day.
- Consider slowly adding the BRATS foods:
- B = bananas, watermelon, pears, melons.
- R = rice, wild or brown and mixed greens.
- A = applesauce, apples, steamed veggies.
- T= toast, crackers, baked/boiled potatoes.
- S = soups – vegetable, not creamy or spicy.
Use your fast to improve you nutrition:
- Consider future avoidance of saturated fats, trans-fats, simple sugars, corn syrup, processed foods, food additives, soft drinks, and animal protein.
- Consider future avoidance or reductions in screen time (TV, video games, Internet time, cell phone time, etc.)
- Consider continuing whole grain foods, fresh or organic foods, healthy seafoods, PUFAs, extra virgin olive oils, teas, plant proteins and sterols.
- Consider continuing or starting family meals, family worship, family walks or exercise, family talks, daily quiet times.
7) Expect Results
Bill Bright wrote: “If you sincerely humble yourself before the Lord, repent, pray, and seek God’s face; if you consistently meditate on His word, you will experience a heightened awareness of His presence (John 14:21).
“The Lord will give you fresh, new spiritual insights. Your confidence and faith in God will be strengthened. You will feel mentally, spiritually, and physically refreshed. You will see answers to your prayers.”
Dr. Bright cautioned: “The single fast, however, is not a spiritual cure-all. Just as we need fresh infillings of the Holy Spirit daily, we also need new times of fasting before God. A 24-hour fast each week has been greatly rewarding to many Christians.”
Bill Bright wisely advised: “It takes time to build your spiritual fasting muscles. If you fail to make it through your first fast, do not be discouraged. You may have tried to fast too long the first time out, or you many need to strengthen your understanding and resolve. As soon as possible, undertake another fast, until you do succeed. God will honor your faithfulness.”
How to Experience and Maintain Personal Revival
- Daily, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any unconfessed sin in your life.
- Seek forgiveness from all whom you have offended, and forgive all who have hurt you. Make restitution where God leads.
- Examine your motives in every word and deed. Ask the Lord to search and cleanse your heart daily.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to guard your walk against complacency and mediocrity.
- Praise and give thanks to God continually in all ways on all days, regardless of your circumstances.
- Refuse to obey your carnal (worldly) nature. (Galatians 5:16-17)
- Surrender your life to Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Develop utter dependence on Him with total submission and humility.
- Study the attributes of God.
- Hunger and thirst after righteousness. (Matthew 5:6)
- Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. (Matthew 22:37)
- Appropriate the continual fullness and control of the Holy Spirit by faith on the basis of God’s command (Ephesians 5:18) and promise (Colossians 3: 16).
- Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
- Read, study, meditate on, and memorize God’s holy, inspired, inerrant Word daily. (Colossians 3:16)
- Seek to share Christ daily as a way of life.
- Determine to live a holy, godly life of obedience and faith.
- Fast and pray.
- Start or join a home or church Bible study that emphasizes revival and a holy life.
- Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness …