When it comes to the spiritual discipline of fasting the practical question of how is a big issue. Unlike Bible reading and prayer, we are typically not as familiar with the practice of fasting. So our first helpful hint is quite practical – I simply want to recap what we talked about on Sunday and add some extra thoughts. Begin by answering three questions: why, what, and when.
First, why are you fasting? What is it that motivates the fast? There is something to be said for being intentional about why you are going to fast and focus on God. Is there a particular need? Are you burdened by something specifically? Are you desperate for guidance? Or maybe it would be to simply hunger and feast and to grow with God. Why are you going to fast! What is the hunger that makes you want to feast on God? Answering this why question before you start is important in the midst of the fast.
Second, what are you fasting from? If fasting involves intentionally abstaining from something, what are you going to give up? You can’t change the boundary posts half-way through. Generally, you want to pick something that is an important and normal part of life. Something that is going to be a loud reminder that you are intentionally going without it. Food is the typical suggestion. Food is such a normal and necessary part of life that it works just fine. But it doesn’t have to be food [remember Daniel 10:3]. Technology, facebook, chocolate, coffee – they can all serve the same purpose just so long as it presents an interruption and a challenge. That being said, I would strongly suggest that you try food; it has been the staple fast for centuries.
Third, when will you fast? Again, you need to decide this before the outset. If you begin by thinking you would like to fast for one week but you will see how you go, then you will most likely end up exiting before that week is up. There are no rules for how long a fast has to last, it is simply choosing an appropriate length that will test your ‘hunger’. It is worth starting small. If fasting from food, you could fast 24 hours from lunch time to lunch time [starting at lunch only misses two meals]; taking a whole day generally ends up being 36 hours [dinner the night before till breakfast the next day]. Start simply. Just make sure the length of time is appropriate for your situation – what you can sensibly handle, the motivation for the fast, and what you are fasting from [fasting from chocolate for one day probably isn’t that much of a test]. Remember, if you are fasting from food, even though it might feel like you are starving, for most people it would take a few weeks before you actually started starving to death. Most importantly, make the decision before you start rather than playing it by ear.
The following ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ tool may be helpful to get you started.
I am fasting and praying towards _____________________ (spiritual renewal, guidance, revival, problem resolution, special grace to handle a situation, finances, ministry, family, salvation of others, etc.)
So I am fasting from (foods, meals, media etc.) ________________________.
I plan to fast on _________________________ (day, date) for ___________________ (morning, daylight, 12/24 hours, number of days)