06. Fasting Rules

Freedom abounds when it comes to the rules of fasting. Instead of rules, consider these guidelines or helps. Your experiences may be different so feel free to explore and discover your own methods and preferences.

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There’s nothing magic about how many days one should fast. 7, 14, and 21-day fasts are common simply because they fit the measurement of weeks. The 40-day fast is popular because of the fasts of Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The late Bill Bright helped many (maybe hundreds or thousands), including me, to consider a 40-day fast.

The single-day (from sun-up to sundown, or a 24 hours day) and three-day fast is also common. I have fasted a day a week for a month or longer, at certain times in my life when I had a particular prayer focus on my mind.

Even a single meal (or even snack) fast can be effective at shifting attention away from food, and toward needed prayer.

How do you determine the length of a fast?

In my experience, there are two ways to select a fasting course. I call them Open Fasting and Obedience Fasting.

In an “Open Fast,” I enter the fast with no clear timeline. I might set out with a three-day goal, then evaluate along the way and extend it to five. Or I might set a five-day course and then break it at three. An “open” fast is a form of “freedom” fast, where I sense the freedom to set the pace and seek the Lord each day.

An “Obedience Fast” is when God puts a specific fast calendar or duration on my heart. In that situation, my choice is to obey and not mess with the schedule.

[Click here for pros and cons of Open and Obedience Fasting]

Must I have a specific purpose for fasting?

Sometimes I have a specific focus for prayer, or a collection of prayer concerns. Other times my purpose is more general (I’ve drifted from time with God and need a fast to redirect my focus).

Sometimes I’ve simply come off a season of feasting and I can sense my body (stomach) is due for a rest. I have learned that gaining control over food and shedding pounds is an acceptable reason to launch a fast. It almost always results in a return to spiritual focus as well.

What do I do during a fast?

You’ll notice you have more time available – time you don’t have to prepare or wait for food, or to eat meals. With this margin, set aside time to pray, read the word, journal your thoughts, take a prayer walk.

Be intentional to use your time and emotional margin to feed your soul while you are not feeding your stomach.

How can juicing be helpful?

Juicing allows you to continue feeding nutrients to the body, without triggering the hunger process. Juicing also provides an emotional lift during the fast by offering something to do and look forward to. For those concerned about losing too much weight during an extended fast, juicing can help to slow weight loss and extend the fast duration.

How can juicing be unhelpful?

 I have seen fasters get overly excited about juicing. The fast can more about the juice diet and not the spiritual process at hand. Also, one should caution against drinking too much juice or too much of certain kinds of juice.

When I juice, I usually consume no more than a single glass, three times a day (and often just once or twice a day).

Consume juice in moderation.

What kind of juice is recommended?

Avoid smoothies, food blends, or anything not 100% juice. Food content (even just pulp) or other additives will awaken the hunger system. Remember, you want the stomach to stay asleep.

Personally, I rely on a very simple set of juice formulas. My favorite is apple-grapefruit in the mornings, and in afternoon and/or evening an all-carrot or carrot blend (with most anything green – celery, broccoli, kale, parsley, etc.). And for fun, I’ve learned some beets, a lemon (peel and all) and a few pears makes a yummy, eye-pleasing treat.

I usually avoid pure orange juice (but I love orange-carrot blend) as highly acidic juices can get the stomach growling.

There are websites and resources that specialize in juicing and offer recipes and formulas for cleansings, detoxes, etc. While the guidance can be helpful, the focus is often on health and nutrition and not spiritual fasting. Feel free to explore, but again don’t let it distract you from the purpose of the fast.

Can I exercise during a fast?

The general rule is, sure – try it! This is an area that you can explore and adjust with trial and error. Whatever exercise you’re accustomed to, factor in a lighter routine. Walking is most always refreshing.

For a single, two or three-day fasts, consider skipping exercise to focus on the fast. But for longer (3-7 days) or extended fasts (ten days or more), explore what works for you.

Is rapid weight loss good for the body?

No diet, including fasting, is good for your body if you repeatedly allow your weight to swing like a yoyo.

However, if your body is in need of tune-up and you’ve just come off a season of heavy holiday feasting, the idea of a New Year fast may sound appealing. It’s a very easy and natural way to drop considerable weight.

I have encouraged many to consider a fast as a way to eliminate excess weight. And they love the results. Most found the motivation and inspiration necessary to resume a much healthier eating lifestyle as a result of the fast experience. And more importantly, they discovered the spiritual benefits, too.

Does fasting apply to things beyond food?

Technically, the word fast means to cover the mouth. So biblically speaking, fasting applies specifically to abstaining from food.

Practically speaking, anything you do (or abstain from) that helps you to shift attention to prayer can be effective. For example, a “media fast” might involve limits or abstaining from radio, TV, internet, etc. Usually when I fast from food, I set media limits as well (no radio, music, podcasts, etc.).

But I believe these other forms of discipline (media limits, etc.) should not be confused with the discipline of fasting (again, from food). The fasting examples from scriptures all involve food and it is because of this form of physical self-denial, coupled with prayer, that God’s power is unleashed in special ways.

Can everyone fast or are there limits for some people?

Everyone can fast in some way, even if fasting only from certain foods (as practiced during Lent season, etc.). It may be fasting from sweets, or caffeine, or meat, etc. (These would be called “partial fasts”.)

Some have practiced what’s called the Daniel Fast, eating only fresh fruits and vegetables (again, a partial fast). The principle is the same – by removing something from the stomach, you have opportunity to shift attention to prayer.

Total food fasting is not for everyone. My wife experiences physical challenges (weakness, headaches, the shakes) to fasting. I have never suggested she “try harder.” That’s not the spirit of fasting. Instead I protect her by affirming that she doesn’t need to fast this way. If the body seems highly resistant to fasting, don’t force it unnecessarily.

I often experience some degree of headaches early in a fast but am able to push through that phase. I’m also the type that may go few meals or a full day without eating because I’m too busy (or lazy) to stop and eat. While there is some grit and determination required in fasting, I don’t believe the inability to fast is a test of will or ability.

Everyone should approach fasting based on their unique physical abilities and comfort zone.

Diabetics who require certain blood-sugar levels and others who have specific nutritional intake needs must certainly not try full fasting. And those on medication should absolutely seek out medical guidance before fasting.

What about breaking the fast?

The longer the fast, the more critical the “break-fast” routine will be. For fasts of five days or more, a return to eating will disrupt the system (your body). Return slowly.

As the fast lengthens, the stomach will shrink to some degree. Your body will appreciate a slow return, starting with eating just fresh fruits and veggies. (Some recommend breaking fast with a full day of fresh foods for every three to five days of fasting.)

For a 20 to 40-day fast (or more), a very disciplined return to eating is critical. Not only will your body appreciate it, but your spirit will too. A rush to eating will wreck your emotions if you dive back into normal eating. An extended fast softens the spirit and nourishes your soul in deep ways. A rushed return to eating gives shock effect to your emotions and can even leave you feeling dissatisfied and depressed.

Respect the journey you have traveled. Although breaking the fast, remain disciplined and continue the “spirit of the fast” by eating smaller portions, limiting to fresh produce, and continuing to pray and thank God for the experience. The break-fast is very much a part of the fast experience.

As you resume eating fresh foods in moderation, treasure the taste of food again. Tastes of bites from a fresh salad or a small piece of fruit are very rewarding after a fast. You’ll return to full eating soon enough.