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A beginner’s guide to fasting

2.25.2020 • 1 Comment

Want even more content on fasting + prayer in general? Check out my new book, Pray Confidently and Consistently!

Fasting and prayer go hand-in-hand as we read through the Bible, but in our modern 21st century, it can seem a bit archaic and even confusing at where to start. Last summer, I started digging in more and this year, I made it a goal to fast one day a week. Today I wanted to share what I’ve learned from the experience along with some really practical advice getting started and even some Q&A’s from our Insta friends. 

Here’s where I started: 

  • I searched to find every story in the Bible of someone fasting.
  • I looked up verses that just talked about fasting in general.
  • I read a book on fasting. It was a really murky search for a good book on fasting because they can make it sound so “If you do this…you get this…” I felt this one was pretty solid but this is why we start with Scripture first, so we can discern books better. 
  • Based on the book, I’ve been starting with skipping breakfast and lunch and breaking the fast for dinner. If you eat around 6 the night before, this is essentially 23 hours. 

I’ll share lots of answers to specifics at the end of this post, but first I want to share what I’ve learned through fasting that I hope will reveal just how transforming it can be.

1. Food is referenced in the Bible for a reason 

I always get asked if we can fast from other things. What we fast from is important but our heart matters most. If you’re pregnant, have a health issue or struggle with an eating disorder, I won’t sit here and tell you what it needs to look like. I think there will always be exceptions but in general, if you’re wondering where to start, just see what Scripture reveals and food will inevitably stand out. There are different ways even within just food to fast. It can be the two meals or if you’re pregnant, it may be fasting from your favorite food (more on this below) and not necessarily skipping meals. What I will say, is after fasting from food, I’m seeing how different it is from my fast from social media, TV or whatever else I’ve fasted from in the past. There is a hunger in me and dependence on the Lord I’ve never experienced giving up something else. The most important question to ask is what’s my reason for not choosing food? Is it a valid reason like the ones mentioned above or an excuse to give up something less important? It reminds me of the story of the widow in Luke 21. 

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’”

Don’t be like the person giving the least amount when they could really give more.

2. It’s humbling me and has me running after God

You intermittent fasters are probably laughing that skipping breakfast and lunch could have such a spiritual impact but I’ll just tell you. This girl doesn’t skip a meal and when she does, her belly cries out. I’ve been so convicted by where I really put my security when it’s taken away. You’d be surprised how much my joy and energy to keep going on a hard day depended on chocolate and not at all God. 

3. I think about people who are starving around the world

I’ve gotten weepy just thinking that sooo many people around the world live like this every single day and to a much more extreme extent. Truly comprehending hunger by feeling it in your very body makes it impossible to ignore. It’s increased my gratitude and grown my heart for giving to those who are hungry. 

4. I’m more motivated and selfless on fasting days

This has been an odd benefit but I’ve noticed on that one day a week, I have extra energy to clean the house and a more willing heart to serve my husband and kids. It’s no coincidence. It’s a day spent almost suspended in air, closer to heaven than earth. That sounds really weird but it just means, it’s a day I more continually have an eternal perspective than I think like the world. 

5. It’s such a cleansing experience

I always* feel like I had a very therapeutic crying session where I was washed clean of me and filled up with the Lord. Not eating food forces me to be more thoughtful and aware of my actions. It’s not about just spending the meal time praying, although that’s a great idea. It’s a totally different posture of submission. Because food is such a big part of our days, I think this is why it’s so powerful. 

* I should clarify, this has become the norm but I’ve had plenty of mundane days of fasting too. I think as I do it more and increase my commitment to connecting with the Lord in this way, He has blessed that obedience with more of Him. 

6. It slows me down

My new book on prayer has a whole chapter on fasting!

As it’s time to break my fast, I notice myself slowly and joyfully putting together dinner, feeling the food in my hands and not rushing to break the fast since I’m starving, although that’s how it totally was in the beginning. I’m not just barreling on to the table. Now I take a minute to appreciate the hunger and realize what’s been true all along. I need Jesus to satisfy me. And this hungry belly is a constant reminder.

7. I desire the world less and seek God more

I’m on a big food journey right now so though this doesn’t specifically have to do with fasting, it does have to with sacrifice and our bodies. Just last week, I suggested we pick up Popeyes for dinner. My husband was obviously on board. But then I started to think, I don’t need that. I can eat a big salad and be satisfied. But y’all, I’m not a monster and wasn’t about to tell Tyler “Sorry Charlie! I changed my mind!” So I headed to Popeyes alone with my prayer journal to pick up dinner and read Romans 12:1 before I took off. That verse made me feel like I could say no in the drive thru. To be honest, I really assumed I’d give in when I saw that chicken sandwich but filling my mind with that truth gave me the desire for something that would nourish my body more than the pleasure of that sandwich. I was actually able to think rationally about the fact that it would be gone in 15 minutes and I’d been feeling better health wise and knew this wasn’t worth the setback. And more than the health stuff, I just wanted to choose God over the sandwich. That doesn’t mean we can’t eat fast food but I knew the power it had over me and knew I needed to break the chains it had me in.

8. My dependence is not truly on the Lord

Through this process, I’ve realized just how much I live for different things that aren’t God. One? My daily ritual of a Waterloo and dark chocolate in the carline. Literally, I don’t think I’ve gone a day within the last year without some sort of sweet, the majority this dark chocolate. I’ve literally had a chapter in BOTH my books (The Finishing School and Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday) about chocolate so you know this is an issue that resurfaces in my life. : )  I remember fasting bringing this to my attention and realizing I needed to fast from the midday chocolate treat. I decided on 7 days. Then I remember a book I bought last year that could help me through the 7 days. What I failed to remember was that it was called 40-DAY Sugar Fast! In that moment, I felt really open to the idea that I needed to do 40 days. This was not me. Trust me when I tell you, in my flesh, I would have figured out a way to keep it at 7, but I felt the Lord prompt me through this book, so I committed. I’m about two weeks in and I’m just mind-blown at the transformation that is happening in my heart as I keep surrendering things to the Lord and realize this is the only way I want to live. Not the no chocolate for life, but just surrendered. 

9. I’m recognizing the bondage instead of seeing the temporary pleasure

What hit me the other day too was that I didn’t see chocolate as life-giving in the form it had been before. I saw it as me as a slave to it and it wasn’t appealing at all. So often we can jump back into slavery because it looks appealing and I feel like my eyes were opened to the reality of Galatians 4:6-9. When I do eat chocolate again, I want to do so with such a surrendered heart that is not ruled by it. 



(Lately I’ve been polling and asking y’all a lot more as I research content ideas. Follow along if you want to share input!)

What is the best way to start?

First step? DON’T overthink it! I had so many questions on specific details and I think we can get really bogged down in the details feeling like we have to fully understand it. Knowledge is good but trust the Holy Spirit that’s at work in you. Commit to skipping a few meals and do so prayerfully. That’s the simplified version. 

What does a fast actually look like?

I still drink my supplement drink in the morning of collagen, ACV and Vitamin C. I also drink tea. If I were climbing a mountain (for instance ; ) and fasting, I’d likely do a green juice or smoothie. If you aren’t climbing a mountain, I think you’ll be fine without it though. 

What fasting routine has worked for you and how did you make it a regular thing?

At the beginning of the year I committed to one day a week. I had already done one once or twice a month since June and found it so good for my relationship with the Lord that I wanted to commit to something regular.  There have been a week or two I totally forgot so I mark it in my calendar now ahead of time.

How do you prepare for it?

If it’s not my weekly fast or before I started doing that in a committed way, I would always journal a prayer SAYING I was committing to fasting. It’s too easy to eat when that friend calls for lunch or change your mind if you can convince yourself you didn’t say you DEFINITELY were going to fast. It was just an idea. Writing it down makes it real! Otherwise, just having some purpose for the fast in mind. Ronnie Floyd says to have a goal in mind, like something you are specifically praying about. I’ve also fasted doing this. Truly the biggest benefit I’ve noticed so far hasn’t been in specific answered prayers but a radical heart transformation. 

Am I required to fast? Called to fast? Or Led to fast?

This is such a fascinating question! I think all three can apply. Does God force us to fast? Of course not. But Jesus did say “when” you fast, not “if”. It may not exactly be a command, but an assumption that it will be a part of our life. Our church has called us to fast as we pray for a new pastor. And I’ve felt led to fast as I read Scripture and just feel a prompting to do it.

Is it ok/healthy to think about weight loss when fasting or is that a sign you shouldn’t?

I don’t think it’s a sign you SHOULDN’T do it. I think it’s ok to think about that as a part of it but if it’s the main reason, I think it’s honestly probably something to fast about and let the Lord shape your heart about. We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices and I think that includes making healthy choices which for the most part lead to weight loss, so it’s tied. One of my big goals for the first three months of the year was to lose weight and not gonna lie, this weekly fast has helped and I even recognize before I fast that it’s likely to show up on the scale but the Lord has done SOOOO much with the fast. Not sure if that makes total sense but just remember, it’s not just what you bring to it. God’s gonna go to work in you.

How do you keep your mind stayed on God and don’t distract yourself with other things?

This is going to sound odd but every bathroom break through the day has been when I find myself praying most. It’s when I step away from the computer or kids and am reminded of my hunger most. And since I’m drinking so much water, it seems to be more frequent. As far as distractions, just recognize why you are doing things and if it’s to avoid the hungry feeling. I wouldn’t turn on the TV during the lunch time or make yourself extra busy so the time flies. I’ve done this before though and still feel like God breaks through!! Just another reminder that to fast doesn’t require us to do something perfectly, but to make ourselves available to the Lord. 

How does fasting relate to sabbath or does it?

I think it does! Sabbath is a day of feasting and celebrating. I think they are two sides of the coin. We can’t live our whole life fasting. There’s a season for everything and if I’ve learned anything from fasting, it’s that when I feast, I’m more grateful for it!

How do you develop a fasting practice safely especially with a history of disordered eating?

I have zero qualifications to speak to this so definitely talk to a professional. If it’s possible to fast from a specific food that doesn’t trigger thoughts, that’s an option but I’d only consider food if there’s been enough time removed from it and you have serious accountability or even supervision with it. 

Does fasting have to be food?

I’ve kinda already addressed this but this question came up so much I want to make sure to cover it well! I think unless there’s a medical reason not too, I would choose food. When it comes to Scripture, the imagery of God as the Bread of Life, the Last Supper and Him as our sustainer is too beautiful to miss out on if we’re say, fasting from video games. Literally all the heroes of the Bible fasted from food in some way. Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Esther, David, Jehoshophat, Nehemiah, Israelites, Ezra, The Ninevites,  JESUS, Paul, Anna, church in ACTs, should I keep going? The big question comes back to why you wouldn’t choose food. If it’s a real reason, by all means choose something else, but if it’s out of fear it will be hard or a sacrifice, that’s 100% the point. It will be hard. It will take sacrifice, but it will be worth it. 

What should be the motives behind fasting?

We see lots of different motives in the Bible. People fasted for guidance, lamenting, healing, provision, humbling or protection and simply to draw near to the Lord. My personal motive for fasting is to learn to live surrendered and fully dependant on Him (essentially humbling) but I also pray about specific circumstances as well. 

I could go on and on about fasting. In fact, I recently wrote a whole chapter on it for a future book on prayer so keep an eye out for that! 😉 

Any other questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in Insta stories tomorrow, Wednesday!

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[…] in as much as there is a lot of good material available to help, I’m glad I came across this article by Valerie Woerner on a beginner’s guide to fasting. I’m glad I came across it for it offers to support people not just at the beginning but to […]