Fasting & Prayer
Fasting isn’t about getting some of God’s attention. It’s about God getting all of your attention!
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. – Daniel 9:3
In a broken world full of pain, suffering, and chaos, all of us need strength we don’t have on our own. We live in a culture obsessed with self-reliance and self-gratification, but neither of these things actually helps us overcome the obstacles in front of us. In the Bible, God’s people are consistently invited into fasting and prayer as a way of connecting more deeply to God’s heart and learning to rely on his strength, power, and fullness in the places where we are weak, insufficient, and empty.
Here are some tips & tricks to help you engage the spiritual discipline of fasting and prayer and experience the breakthroughs God has for you!
4 Things Fasting IS and ISN'T
1. Fasting is not a REQUIREMENT, it’s a REWARD.
Fasting is never something God demands of us. It’s not a box that’s required to be checked or a hoop that’s required to be jumped through in order to be “spiritual” or be good with God. Instead, it’s something God invites us into so we can intentionally enter into a space where we get a bigger, better vision of who he is, who he made us to be, and how he’s at work in the world. And he actually promises there are blessings for us to experience through it! In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, 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 others 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.” Fasting is never a requirement, but Jesus promises that it does come with a reward!
2. Fasting is not about what we’re abstaining FROM, it’s about what we’re abstaining FOR.
It’s easy – and natural – to think about what we’re giving up when we fast. Food is a pretty major part of our lives, and it’s not easy to give it up for a day or a week or more. Which means our default response to fasting is to be really focused on what we’re fasting from. But the point of it isn’t just skipping food, or just self-denial, or just developing grit by suffering. Not at all! The point is that we are fasting for breakthrough, for revival, for a deeper connection to God, for a better sense of our reliance on his strength, and more! Focus on the FOR!
3. Fasting is not a spiritual DEPOSIT available for immediately WITHDRAWAL.
It’s difficult, as self-centered humans, not to get caught up thinking that any time we do something obedient to God then he must owe us what we want on the back end (like a kid who thinks they deserve a treat because they cleaned up the crayons they left out on the table). It’s critical for us to go into fasting understanding, it isn’t transactional! It’s not: “I’m doing this for you Jesus, so now you have to _______.” Sometimes I wish God worked like a magic genie, but he doesn’t. It’s easy – and I’ve done it before – to convince yourself during a fast that you’re making such a big spiritual deposit that you’ll immediately see fruit, that God will give you a huge breakthrough in record time (certainly by the end of the week). But this isn’t how it works. At all. And it can be disillusioning and disappointing to go in expecting that it will. We need to remember that the benefits of learning to rely on Jesus more than ourselves are recognized far more deeply in the long term than in the short term.
4. You CAN pray without fasting, but you CANNOT fast without praying.
Prayer is the goal of fasting. You can pray and not fast but you can’t fast without focusing in on prayer. The goal isn’t pain or suffering or being hungry. It’s allowing the hunger we feel to remind us – repeatedly and more frequently than we’re reminded when we’re not fasting – that we have an emptiness that can only be filled by Jesus and that our real and desperate hunger is for him because he is the bread of life that sustains our souls. As he says in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
5 Simple Steps to GET STARTED with Fasting
1. Set an OBJECTIVE
Pray about what God might want you to fast for, and decide what the main focus of your prayers during the fasting period are going to be focused on. Will it be spiritual renewal, guidance and discernment from God, revival in your city, physical health, salvation for lost people, all of the above. As you move into fasting, ask God to line your heart up with his.
2. Make a PLAN
Answer a few basic questions: What kind of fast am I doing - will I be doing a water fast or including juice/carbohydrate-filled beverages?, With whom am I going to fast (if anyone)?, When am I going to begin and when am I going to finish?, & Who is keeping me accountable to this fast? Once you’ve decided on those things, write down your plan and move to Step 3.
3. PREPARE yourself!!!
This step is key! To do a fast well in a way that is spiritually beneficial and medically healthy, it’s important to prepare your mind, body, heart, and community.
MIND: Fasting is a mental experience just as much or more than it is a physical one. Begin by asking God to prepare you for the mental toll of the hunger you will experience. Ask him to help your mind turn to your need for him when you’re feeling empty.
BODY: No matter what kind of fast you’re doing or how long, it will affect your body in some powerful ways, so it’s important to prep. Make sure to drink plenty of water before you begin (and during the fast), get rest leading up to the fast, and also eat vegetables and low-calorie/high-satiation foods in the day or couple days leading up to the fast. Do not overload on food the day before or eat a huge last meal. It won’t kill you, but it’ll make the first 24 hours feel a whole lot worse!
HEART: Be sure to prepare your heart. Remember, fasting is about your commitment to God. It’s about making sure that he has all of your attention. I usually find that it’s helpful to enter into fasting with a time of confession – just being raw and honest with God about my failures and about the ways in which my self-reliance and self-gratification have cut me off from him. I ask him to purify me and check my motives as I enter into a time of fasting.
COMMUNITY: Letting people close to you – especially your family – know that you’re fasting is not at all what Jesus was telling us not to do in Matthew 6 when he told us to fast in secret. Back in his day, some of the religious leaders made a big show of it so that everyone would think they were super holy. That’s problematic and stupid. Don’t do that. But do let people know so that they can support you and pray with and for you. Also, let’s be real: sometimes the only way to make it through is accountability with other believers! It’s always been important for me to find some of that in prolonged seasons of fasting.
4. Just DO IT
It won’t be easy or simple, but as Zig Ziglar said, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” As you fast here are a couple important things you should expect:
a. Expect that you’ll need to be OK with not feeling OK. The first 24-48 hours, especially, will feel kind of crummy as your body adjusts. After that, it will shift into a restorative and cleaning mode of autophagy and you’ll feel better with just kind of a constant undertone of hunger. But you’ll be tired and grumpy and starving for a bit. Ask God to help you with that!
b. Expect to be tired. We use food for fuel. Without the fuel we feel less fueled. You’ll be tired after a few days without food. Make sure to clear out space for rest, and plan to go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Also, if you love exercise/working out: expect to shift your routine during the fast. For me this simply looks like a downshift in the intensity: walking instead of running, and lifting very heavy with very low reps (i.e. max weight, 2 sets of 3-5, 3-4 exercises then quit for the day). Email me if you want more in-depth thoughts/explanation.
c. Expect God to move. You may not feel it right away. You may not even feel like you had a breakthrough at all over the course of the fast. Full disclosure: I did a 4-day fast recently because I felt like I was on the edge of burnout and needed a breakthrough. And I didn’t get that at all during those 4 days. But a few weeks later I noticed that my soul truly had been refreshed – like way more than I realized at the time – by the deeper and more intentional connection to God. When you’re focused more on God than usual, big things happen. Trust that he’ll move and ask him to help you see the world through his eyes.
5. BREAK your fast
At some point, it’s over. And you eat again. It usually feels pretty good. But here are 2 things to be aware of as you do: 1. You don’t have to quit praying as regularly just because you’re not fasting. In fact, it would be a bummer if you did! One of the greatest benefits of fasting is training our minds to focus more of our attention on God more frequently during the day. Keep on doing that. And 2. Don’t break back in with a giant, greasy meal. Maybe the worst “day after fast” of my life happened many years ago when I decided to break a 10-day fast with the Large Combo from my favorite taco joint in the Quad Cities. I got a massive Coke, chips & salsa, a beef and bean taco, a ground beef enchilada, and a cheese covered shredded beef burrito, and I slammed the whole thing in about 10 minutes. The next 10 hours were unkind to me. My best advice: ease back in with fruits and veggies and lean meat (think the outside of the grocery store rather than the aisles) because that stuff will fill you up quicker and ease your metabolism back in.
Let’s GO! #revivalinDSM #revivalinourhearts