What comes to mind when you think of fasting? Maybe it’s being alone on a mountaintop with no food or water. It could be giving up chocolate for 40 days before Easter. Or you may have no idea, and have never fasted before in your life.
There are many scriptures in the bible that reference fasting (check out this infographic with 10 examples). We see fasts that last 3 days and those that last 40. Some specify eating only certain foods while others exclude all food.
One important note: any fasting should be done under the supervision of a medical professional. If you have any health conditions, or for children or pregnant women, it is very important that you are supplying your body with proper nutrition.
A Total or Complete Fast
A total, absolute or complete fast means no food at all! I am not going to refer here to abstaining from water, as that can be very dangerous. On a complete fast, some people will also drink herbal tea and broth in addition to water. Some examples in the bible include Esther 4:16, and Matthew 4:2
A Partial Fast
Partial fasts involve limiting what or when you eat such as:
- Eating only during specific hours of the day or certain meals. For example, only eating between 12-5pm or only eating one meal a day at dinner
- A liquid fast, including juices, smoothies, and blended soups
- Giving up specific foods like sweets, bread, or meat
- A Daniel fast eating only vegetables and plant-based foods
- Intermittent fasting is a popular term that includes different schedules of going without food for a certain period of time as part of a healthy lifestyle regimen
How Long Should I Fast?
Fasts mentioned in the bible range from 3 days to 40 days. There is no exact “right” number of days. The length of your fast should depend on your experience with fasting and the type of fast – don’t attempt a complete fast for 40 days if you’ve never fasted before!
The Media “Fast”
The definition of fasting is to go without food and when fasting is mentioned in the bible it’s in reference to not eating.
Giving up other distractions and luxuries can a very good thing since it allows more time to focus on prayer and time with God. I absolutely believe it’s beneficial to go for periods of time without television, social media or electronics, but this is distinct from fasting.
I would encourage you to shut out other distractions when you enter a period of fasting so you can focus on spiritual things, but I would also encourage you to give up food. Just start somewhere. The first step may be cutting out some foods you’re accustomed to or abstaining from a meal.
I believe two of the most important scriptures about fasting give clarity not on exactly how to do it, but the heart behind it:
“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18
And also Isaiah Chapter 58
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” – Isaiah 58:6