In Part I of this series, we looked at the miraculous health benefits of fasting in an effort to remove the “I don’t fast because it’s unhealthy” roadblock. Today, in Part II, we’re going to focus on practical tips to help you fast successfully. By successfully, I mean that you actually finish the fast without wimping out, you do it focused on God instead of on how “hungry” you are, and you come out of the fast edified, uplifted, and feeling closer to God than ever.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of tips, but a mere sampling of what really has helped me through nearly a decade of regular fasting. You may discover something else that helps you, or you may not approach the fast in the exact same way, and that is perfectly fine.
1.) Specify a specific length for the fast. Generally speaking, don’t just start and see how long you can go. You won’t make it very far. Set a definite, Spirit-led goal (probably a small one at first, like 24 hours, or a more ambitious one, like 72 hours), and then begin to “gear up” (next tip).
2.) “Gear up” mentally and spiritually for the fast. It really helps me to be mentally and spiritually prepared. Make up your mind long before the fast starts that you are going to finish the fast unless you end up at the hospital in critical condition (that won’t happen, by the way). Try to anticipate before the fast starts what your weaknesses will be, or the times when you will feel the worst or feel most tempted to eat. Pray that God will give You the strength you need, when you need it, and He will.
This is kind of like an athlete’s preparation for a big game. They mentally and “spiritually” (whether in a divine or human sense) prepare for the showdown before it takes place, visualizing the challenges and getting themselves “pumped up” or “jacked up,” even whipped into a frenzy! After this process, they’re mentally and “spiritually” ready for the tremendous challenge ahead of them.
3.) Eat very little in the days before a fast. This tip speaks more to physical preparation. Eating lightly shrinks your stomach, and will reduce the annoying hunger pangs during the first day or two of your fast. Hunger pangs are temporary and extremely misleading. The body can survive easily without food for several weeks, depending on the individual. So you’re not really going to be “hungry” during the fast so much as craving food. Eating little before the fast will keep your stomach from nagging at you to give it what it’s preconditioned to have, and you will be much more comfortable overall. Also, it’s a good idea to eat cleansing foods (raw fruits and vegetables) before the fast, to give your body some powerful tools to work with during the fast.
4). Drink LOTS of water during the fast. The great thing about fasting is that you get all the water you can drink! Drinking plenty of water (you can also drink diluted juice or raw, organic apple cider vinegar if you’re a beginner or want to feel more comfortable) will significantly reduce your hunger pangs and discomfort. If you feel hungry while fasting, just guzzle a half-gallon of water, and that hunger will be GONE instantly. Paul Bragg once said, “You’re not hungry, you’re thirsty,” and he was right. Again, your body can function comfortably for weeks without food, but only a few days without water, and most Americans are chronically dehydrated but overfed. You’re not hungry, you’re thirsty.
5.) Pray during the fast. Your connection to Christ will feed you at a deeper level than you’ve ever imagined. You’ll find yourself more dependent upon and more connected to Him. I’ll write more later on in the series about how fasting adds power to prayer, a concept seen throughout Scripture.
6.) Read the Bible during the fast. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). There are many passages of Scripture that compare God’s word to food for a reason. It feeds our souls at the very deepest level.
7.) Politely decline all dining offers. What makes fasting extremely difficult in our culture is that everything revolves around food. We are a food-worshipping, food-obsessed culture, even in the church, and somehow we’re proud of it. Now, I love food, and it’s a wonderful gift that we should enjoy and praise God for in the proper times and seasons, but my God is not my stomach. When I’m inevitably invited to lunch or dinner with someone, or have unwanted food placed in front of me, I simply use these magic words with a polite smile: “No thanks, I’m not hungry.” By using that simple phrase, I excuse myself from the social obligation to eat, I keep my fast a secret, and I’m still telling the truth. I’m truly, actually, not hungry. I’m feeding on the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Trust me, I’m doing just fine.
8). Think positively about what the fast is accomplishing. Think about the mastery your spirit is gaining over your flesh. Think about the positive effects occuring in your body as the toxins are being purged. Think about how God is purifying and sanctifying you for His purposes. Like Paul said in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” It will get you through the rough patches.
9.) Learn to discern between being hungry and craving food. Actually, once you become more experienced with fasting, you won’t experience many hunger pangs at all. I barely experience any hunger pangs during my weekly fast. If you are going on a long fast, the hunger pangs will usually subside within the first couple of days. Beginning on days 3-4, you actually start to feel very good (a natural “high” as euphoria kicks in), and after somewhat of a healing crisis in days 5-6 (your breath starts to turn foul, your tongue gets a weird coating, and things get uncomfortable for awhile), you’ll hit days 6-10 and beyond, which many find to be the most enjoyable days of the fast, during which you feel like you could fast indefinitely (I know this seems totally crazy to some of you. How could anyone not know this? What do you think I’ve been asking myself for the past nine years? :)).
The point is, hunger pangs are deceitful and not worth paying attention to until you feel genuine hunger coming on many days into a fast (believe me, you’ll know the difference). The biggest struggle with your fast will not be battling hunger, which won’t actually exist for a long time, but with craving food. It’s driving by Qdoba around your usual dinner time and wanting that burrito in your mouth. Learn to tell yourself that you’re not hungry but craving food, and staying true to your fast will be much easier.
10.) Have a spiritual focus for the fast. I saved the most important tip for last. Whether it’s praying for someone specific or just seeking intimacy with God, having a spiritual focus for the fast will keep you divinely motivated and fed by your Source.
Well, that’s all I have for fasting tips today. If you have some of your own that help you, please do pass them along. Remember that everything we do as disciples of Jesus is to be done for God’s glory. What glorifies Him more, a fast that is miserable and cut short by that misery, or a fast in which we are vibrantly satisfied in Him?
In the next installment of the series, we’ll look at the importance of fasting to spiritual formation. Is it essential to significant spiritual growth, or merely optional? I think you’ll be surprised (well, maybe not :)) by the answer.