A discussion on prayer would not be complete without including
a subject that is an important companion to prayer in the Bible:
Combining fasting with prayer can result in a spiritual atomic
bomb that pulls down spiritual strongholds and releases the power
of God in your life and the life of your church, its pastor, its
leaders, and its members.
Down through the centuries, godly people who have done mighty
things for the Lord have testified to the necessity of prayer
with fasting. John Wesley, who shook the world for God during
the Great Awakening, which gave rise to the Methodist Church toward
the end of the eighteenth century, is representative of such great
John Wesley so believed in this power that he urged early Methodists
to fast and pray every Wednesday and Friday. He felt so strongly
about fasting those two days a week that he refused to ordain
anyone in Methodism who wouldn't agree to do it.
The roll call of other great Christian leaders who determined
to make prayer with fasting a part of their lives reads like a
hall of fame: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Jonathan
Edwards, Matthew Henry, Charles Finney, Andrew Murray, D. Martyn
Lloyd-Jones, and many more.
Why were they so convinced of the need for fasting and prayer?
And how does fasting cause the fire of God to fall upon the life
of the individual and the Church?
OUR NEED TO FAST
The writings of Scripture, the church fathers, and many Christian
leaders of today offer several biblical insights into the spiritual
need for fasting:
IT IS A BIBLICAL WAY TO TRULY HUMBLE ONESELF IN THE SIGHT
OF GOD (PS. 35:13;EZRA 8:21).
IT BRINGS REVELATION BY THE HOLY SPIRIT OF A PERSON'S TRUE
SPIRITUAL CONDITION, RESULTING IN BROKENNESS, REPENTANCE, AND
IT IS A CRUCIAL MEANS FOR PERSONAL REVIVAL BECAUSE IT BRINGS
THE INNER WORKINGS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT INTO PLAY IN A MOST UNUSUAL,
IT HELPS US BETTER UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD BY MAKING IT
MORE MEANINGFUL, VITAL, AND PRACTICAL.
IT TRANSFORMS PRAYER INTO A RICHER AND MORE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
IT CAN RESULT IN DYNAMIC PERSONAL REVIVAL--BEING FILLED WITH
THE SPIRIT AND REGAINING A STRONG SENSE OF SPIRITUAL DETERMINATION.
IT CAN RESTORE THE LOSS OF ONE'S FIRST LOVE FOR THE LORD.
Throughout the Old and New Testament eras and during the last
two thousand years, fasting was a primary means of humbling oneself
In Isaiah 58:5, the prophet describes fasting as a "day for a
man to afflict his soul" (NKJV). And in Psalm 69:10, David says
he "chastened" his soul with fasting (NKJV). And in Psalm 35:13,
he says he "humbled" his soul by abstaining from food.
Humility is an attitude of the heart. The Scripture says, "A broken
and contrite heart--these, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm
51:17 NKJV). God will hear us and respond to our cry when we come
before Him in humility and brokenness--acknowledging and repenting
of our sins, and asking Him to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus
and to fill us with His Holy Spirit.
HOW DOES FASTING HELP?
Fasting is also a primary means of restoration. By humbling
our souls, fasting releases the Holy Spirit to do His special
work of revival in us. This changes our relationship with God
forever, taking us into a deeper life in Christ and giving us
a greater awareness of God's reality and presence in our lives.
Fasting reduces the power of self so that the Holy Spirit can
do a more intense work within us. It also helps in other ways:
IT BRINGS A YIELDEDNESS, EVEN A HOLY BROKENNESS, RESULTING
IN INNER CALM AND SELF-CONTROL.
IT RENEWS SPIRITUAL VISION AND FAITH.
IT INSPIRES DETERMINATION TO FOLLOW GOD'S REVEALED PLAN FOR
The discipline of fasting made a powerful impact in the life
of Andrew Murray, who wrote, "Fasting helps to express, to deepen,
and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice everything,
[even] ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God."
FASTING BRINGS POWER
The early church recognized fasting as a means to obtaining
spiritual power. In his book God's Chosen Fast, Arthur
"Fasting is calculated to bring a note of urgency and [persistence]
into our praying, and to give force to our pleas in the court
But over the years, Wallis continues, "as spirituality waned and
worldliness flourished in the churches, the power and gifts of
the Spirit were withdrawn."
This same spiritual erosion can and does occur in the life of
the believer today. But God's Word declares fasting and prayer
as a powerful means for causing the fire of God to fall again
in a person's life.
This fire produces the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
(Gal. 5:22)--but especially the fruit of righteousness and spiritual
power over lusts of the flesh and the lies of the enemy of our
In is book Fasting, author and teacher Derek Prince describes
fasting as "a tremendous lesson in establishing who is the master
and who is the servant. Remember, your body is a wonderful servant,
but a terrible master." And, according to Galatians 5:17, the
flesh, or carnal nature, always strives to be in control.
As fasting and prayer bring surrender of body, soul, and spirit
to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, they also generate a heightened
sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit; they create a fresh,
clean joy and a restored determination to serve God. In short,
they bring personal revival. Our spiritual power does not lie
in money, genius, plans, or dedicated work. Rather, power for
spiritual conquest comes from the Holy Spirit as people seek God's
face in consecrated diligent prayer with fasting.
FASTING IN GOD'S WORD
As revealed by just a cursory look at any concordance, fasting
is mentioned frequently in God's Holy Word. Often it is associated
with weeping and other acts of humility before God. In Joel 2:12-13
the Lord commanded:
Return to me with all your heart, With fasting and weeping
and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return
to the Lord your God.
In the Old Testament, fasting was the way individuals and the
people humbled themselves (Ps. 35:13; 69:10; Isa. 58:5). God's
people have always fasted to humble themselves, to receive cleansing
of their sins by effective repentance, for spiritual renewal,
and for special helps. Ezra called a fast to seek God's protection
for the Jews returning from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21).
Concerning Ezra, Edith Schaeffer writes in The Life of Prayer:
This serious fasting and prayer, bowing humbly before God with
repentance and concern for His mercy, took place in the context
of practical need--for protection and guidance, for help in choices
and for the supply of material things.
In the New Testament, Luke records the account of a prophetess
named Anna who in her eighties "never left the temple but worshipped
night and day, fasting and praying" (Luke 2:37).
Jesus set the example by fasting forty days after His baptism.
For Jesus it was a matter of when believers would fast,
not if they would do it. He spoke in these terms: "When
you give to the needy...when you pray...when you fast" (Matthew
Prophets and teachers fasted at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), and Paul--who
wrote much of the New Testament--said he was "in fastings often" (2
Cor. 11:27 NKJV).
For believers, then, the question is not "Should I fast?" but " When
will I fast?"
WHEN TO FAST
Some teach that you should fast only when led or prompted
by the Holy Spirit to do so. But being led by the Spirit and hearing
the Spirit involve a highly subjective, personal area of the Christian
life. Believers do not always hear accurately, especially if God
is asking them to do something they do not want to do.
The flesh will surely try to override inner promptings to abstain
from food. God may be calling you to fast, but the flesh may be
saying, "That's just your imagination. How is fasting going to
get you out of this situation?"
Once you learn the purpose and benefits of fasting, you are free
to proclaim a fast whenever you sense the desire to draw
close to God in a dynamic way or feel the need to seek special
help from Him.
Those who consistently practice fasting know instinctively when
to do so. They recognize certain spiritual conditions and life
circumstances as the signal to "bear down" spiritually. I try
to live according to Philippeans 2:13: "It is God who works in
you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
In his book Fasting: A Biblical Historical Study, by R.D.
Chatham tells of a pastor's wife who kept a diary of her fasts.
She recorded how she and her husband were changing pastorates
and felt overwhelmed by their new responsibilities and realized
they needed God's help. Together they fasted for ten days. She
said that if she had not fasted--and as a result received special
strength from the Lord--she would have "gone under."
Of course, the still, small voice of the Spirit, always consistent
with the Word of God, will tell us what to do if we will only
listen. There are times when the Holy Spirit will prompt
you to fast. On another page in her diary, the pastor's wife reported, "Monday:
I awoke feeling the need to go on a fast." Such prompting of the
Holy Spirit can come anytime, anyplace.
It is particularly important to receive a leading of the Lord
before beginning an extended spiritual fast. If you undertake
a long fast simply on your own, you may run into difficulties.
But if the Lord leads you into a protracted fast, He will give
you the strength to carry it out.
In 1994 God impressed me over a period of several months that
He wanted me to fast for forty days. But I was not sure I could
fast for that long. Even so, I began my fast with the prayer, "Lord,
I will fast as long as You will enable me. I am looking to You
to help me. I am claiming Your promise recorded in Isaiah 40:31, "Those
who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount
up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they
shall walk and not faint" (NKJV). God was faithful to His promise.
That fast was the greatest forty days of my life spiritually up
until that time.
I have since fasted with great blessing for forty days in 1995
and again in 1996. In 1997, as I write, I am beginning my fourth
forty-day fast. My wife, Vonette, is joining me in this adventure
to seek God's face.
CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR
I strongly recommend that you consult your doctor before fasting.
Unfortunately, however, many doctors have not been trained in
this area, so their understanding is limited.
In writing about fasting, the subject of doctors is a chief concern.
Author Lee Bueno, who conducts seminars on the physical and spiritual
benefits of fasting, makes a strong statement about the attitude
of doctors toward fasting in his book Fast Your Way to Health:
All but one in a thousand doctors react negatively to the subject
of fasting. They have never fasted, know little about the subject,
and respond only to bizarre stories that they've heard. Lack of
understanding creates unnecessary fear and results in unfounded,
imaginary dangers and the use of scare tactics by doctors to [make
you] avoid fasting.
My experience has been similar to Bueno's. Even so, I encourage
you to consult with your physician before beginning an extended
fast. And I strongly suggest that you arrange for a physical exam
to make sure you are in good health. You may have a physical problem
that makes fasting dangerous and unwise. But be forewarned: Even
if you are in good health, your doctor may try to discourage you
from fasting. If this happens, you may be faced with a dilemma
similar to mine.
Over the years, I have fasted many times--often from one to four
weeks at a time--without consulting a physician. Since my first
forty-day fast was beyond anything I had ever undertaken, I called
several Christian and secular doctors for their advice. They either
knew nothing about fasting or tried to discourage me altogether,
and I realized that I was on my own. Would I obey the leading
of the Holy Spirit or follow the counsel of unbelieving doctors?
Most fasting authorities believe that if you know that you are
healthy and you fast properly, you will benefit physically as
well as spiritually.
These are certain persons who should never fast without professional
PERSONS WHO ARE PHYSICALLY EMACIATED.
THOSE WHO SUFFER WEAKNESS OR ANEMIA.
PERSONS WHO HAVE TUMORS, BLEEDING ULCERS, CANCER, OR BLOOD
DISEASES OR WHO HAVE RECENTLY SUFFERED MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION.
WOMEN WHO ARE PREGNANT OR NURSING.
THOSE WHO ARE AFRAID OF FASTING BECAUSE THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND
ITS BENEFITS OR WHAT TO EXPECT AND WHO MAY EVEN BELIEVE IT AMOUNTS
TO STARVATION. Fasting is not starvation, but if persons have
genuine doubts and negative emotions--which must be overcome--no
persuasion should cause them to fast until they become knowledgeable
There may be persons with other conditions who should not
fast. The rule of thumb is this: If you have serious questions
about your health, or if you are under a physician's care, you
should consult your doctor before you abstain from food or change
HOW TO FAST
"In Scripture the normal means of fasting involves abstaining
from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water," says Richard
Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline. "From a physical
point, this is usually what is involved in a fast."
The partial fast is described in the book of Daniel. Although
the water fast seemed to be the custom of the prophet, there was
a three-week period in which he abstained only from delicacies:
meat and wine (Dan. 10:3).
Richard Foster describes two other biblical fasts, the absolute and
the supernatural absolute. These are total fasts, meaning
no food--solid or liquid--and no water.
Paul went on an absolute fast for three days following his encounter
with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). Esther called for
a an absolute fast for three days when the Jews faced annihilation
in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:16).
Moses and Elijah engaged in what must be considered supernatural
absolute fasts of forty days (Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8).
But because of dehydration, I do not recommend the absolute or
supernatural fasts. They can be dangerous to your health. I strongly
advise you to drink plenty of liquids, including pure water (preferably
distilled) and vegetable and fruit juices. Obviously, if God leads
you to undertake an absolute or supernatural absolute fast, you
must obey. However, I strongly encourage you to be certain, without
doubt, that God is leading you.
HOW TO BEGIN AND CONDUCT YOUR FAST
How you begin and conduct your fast will largely determine
your success. Permit me to suggest steps to take that will help
make your time with the Lord more meaningful and spiritually rewarding,
while at the same time enhancing your physical health.
Set an Objective
The first step is to set a specific objective. Why are you fasting?
Is it for spiritual renewal, for guidance, for healing, for the
resolution of problems, for special grace to handle a difficult
situation? Keeping your goal in focus will help you sustain your
fast when physical desires and life's pressures tempt you to abandon
I personally believe the Holy Spirit has given all believers
an urgent call to humble ourselves through fasting and prayer
so that He may stir our souls, awaken our churches, and heal our
land according to 2 Chronicles 7:14. I urge you to make personal,
local, national, and world revival and the fulfillment of the
Great Commission your primary purpose for fasting.
Lay a Spiritual Foundation
The second step is to prepare yourself spiritually. The very foundation
of fasting and prayer is repentance. Unconfessed sin will hinder
your prayers. In Scripture, God always requires His people to
repent of their sins before He will hear their prayers.
As you begin your fast, I encourage you to confess every sin that
the Holy Spirit calls to your remembrance. Include the obvious
sins and those not so apparent, such as leaving your first love
for the Lord, worldly-mindedness, self-centeredness, and spiritual
indifference--being unwilling to share your faith in Christ with
others, unwilling to help at church, unwilling to spend time in
God's Word and prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal anything
in your heart that is not pleasing to God and claim the promise
of 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just
to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (NKJV).
Make Physical Preparations
The third step is to prepare yourself physically. Do not rush
into a fast. If you plan to go without food for several days,
you find it helpful to begin by eating smaller meals before you
abstain altogether. This sends your mind a signal that you have
entered the time of the fast, and it helps to "shrink" your stomach
Some health professionals suggest eating only raw foods for two
days before starting a fast.
Preparing yourself physically makes a drastic change in your eating
routine a little easier. Then you can turn your full attention
to the Lord in prayer.
Ask God for Guidance
The fourth step is to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the kind of
fast God wants you to undertake. Does He want you to go completely
without food, consuming only water? Or only water and juices?
Is He asking you to fast one meal a day, one day a week, or several
days or weeks at a time? Is God leading you to undertake a forty-day
fast? Inviting the Holy Spirit's guidance in this matter will
make your time with God more meaningful.
Token fasting, such as giving up chocolates or lemon pie or some
other favorite food, may be commendable, but it does not allow
the Holy Spirit to do the inner work necessary to bring about
real changes in your spiritual life. Nor does it persuade God
that you are serious about revival for America and the world and
the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
As I pointed out earlier, the biblical fast usually calls for
water. I have conducted many strictly water fasts for a day or
several days at a time with special blessings. However I strongly
suggest adding vegetable and fruit juices to your intake, although
some advice against orange or tomato juice because of acid content.
Once you know how to fast, short fasts of one to three days require
no more than water. Christians who fast regularly often go ten
days or longer on water--even up to forty days--with beneficial
effects, both spiritually and physically, under the daily supervision
of one who is knowledgeable about water fasting. You have more
food reserves stored in body fat than you realize, and most of
us would be more than happy to give up the fat.
However, until you build up your "fasting muscles," or if your
are undertaking a long fast, you may want to add vegetable or
fruit juices (preferably without sugar or sweeteners) to your
The fifth step is to limit your activity level. Exercise moderately.
Rest as much as your schedule will permit. Short naps are very
helpful. "Resting is not a sin," Dr. Ruidbal explains. "Fasting
in the strictest sense is physiological rest. Your body rests
from the processes involved in digestion and the assimilation
of food to concentrate on excretion."
That is why during the fast you may experience side effects. "Some
people experience headaches, stomach aches, nausea, foul tastes
in their mouth, or a pasty tongue," Dr. Ruibal says. "Their urine
may become darker, and even their perspiration may smell worse
than usual. Vomiting may occur. This is not normal but should
not be cause for alarm. In a prolonged fast, it is not unusual
to experience slight fever. Basically, the body is taking advantage
of the fast to clean and heal itself."
Consider Your Medications
The sixth step is to consider your medications. It is particularly
important that you consult with your doctor before going on a
fast if you are on any prescribed medication.
Plan Your Prayer Time
The seventh step is to set aside ample time to be alone with the
Lord during your fast. The more time you spend with Him in fellowship,
worship, and adoration and the more you read and meditate on His
Word during your fast, the greater your effectiveness will be
in prayer and the more meaningful your fast will be.
Seek God in prayer and as you meditate on His Word each morning
before you leave home or go about your daily routine. Return to
prayer at lunch, and come before Him again in the evening for
unhurried times seeking His face. Of course, you should practice
His presence and continue to have fellowship with Him constantly
as your pray without ceasing throughout the day.
There is not set formula for how to pray when you fast. You may
wish to pray aloud or silently, asking the Lord to grant specific
requests. I suggest you make a list and add to it daily as needs
come to mind. Pray earnestly for your family, your pastor, your
church, your community, and our nation. Pray for revival in our
land and a great worldwide spiritual harvest. Pray for the fulfillment
of the Great Commission.
You may wait before God in quiet meditation as you invite the
Holy Spirit to minister to you and bring to mind those things
He wants you to pray about.
You should go about your daily activities mindful that your are
still fasting and seeking the Lord. Some of my deepest spiritual
insights have come as I continue my ministry responsibilities
while seeking His face and practicing His presence.
If you do not know what to pray for, or you feel "prayed out," wait
quietly before Him. Turn to the psalms or other favorite passages
of Scripture and pray the Word of God back to Him. For example,
pray each verse of Psalm 23 aloud, thanking Him for performing
each of those promises in your life. Worship and praise the Lord.
Tell God how much you love Him and want to serve Him. Invite His
presence into your life in a fresh way.
You may wish to approach God with the Lord's Prayer recorded in
Matthew 6:9-13. Generally, this prayer covers everything we could
possibly ask or say to God. As an introduction to this prayer,
Jesus reminded His disciples that "your Father knows the things
that you need of before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8 NKJV).
Now that you have an idea of how to go about fasting, it is time
to fix your gaze upon the One who sees you and knows you--the
One who delights in you and is waiting for you to come before
HOW TO BREAK YOUR FAST
When your designated time of fasting is finished, you will
begin to eat again. But how you break your fast is extremely important--both
for your physical and spiritual well-being.
If you end your fast gradually, as you should, the beneficial
physical and spiritual effects will linger for days. But if you
rush into eating solid foods--the prospect of food can tempt you
to do that--you may experience diarrhea, sickness, fainting, and
even death due to shock. This is especially true of an extended
fast. Nutritionist Paul Bragg explains in The Miracle of Fasting :
When you have been on a ...fast, your stomach and the thirty feet
of intestinal tract have contracted, and when you are ready to
break a fast, it should be done (with special care).
Suddenly reintroducing solid food to your stomach and digestive
tract always creates defeating effects. You can lose much of your
deep sense of peace and well-being in the space of a single meal.
Even a three-day fast requires reasonable precautions. It is wise
to start with a little soup--something thin and nourishing, such
as vegetable broth made from onion, celery, potatoes, and carrots--and
fresh fruits such as watermelon and cantaloupe.
As your body accepts these foods, advance to a few tablespoons
of solid food such as raw fruits and vegetables or a raw salad
and baked potato. (I do not recommend milk or milk products and
meat because some individuals may suffer adverse reactions to
these after a fast.) Then, several hours later, try another small
snack. The idea is to ease back into regular eating with several
small snacks during the first few days. This requires discipline,
but you will avoid the severe pain and other serious physical
reactions that come from eating too much too soon.
I terminated my forty-day with a cup of soup, followed by small
amounts of watermelon and other fruits every few hours for a couple
of days until I was comfortable to resume my normal routine of
eating. As you can imagine, that cup of soup and first few bites
of solid food were ecstasy. Never had ordinary food tasted so
No two persons will experience the same effects of a fast
because no two persons go into it in exactly the same condition
or with the same needs. But if you sincerely humble yourself before
the Lord in repentance, intercession, and worship and consistently
meditate on His Word, you will experience a heightened awareness
of His presence. Your confidence and faith in God will be strengthened.
And you will feel mentally, spiritually, and physically refreshed...
Most people experience a measure of revival as a result of fasting.
In addition, you will begin to see God's hand move in the situation
that originally drove you to your knees and to fasting, including
spiritual awakening and revival for your pastor, your church,
and your church leaders.
I encourage you to join me in fasting and praying again and again
until we truly experience God's best in our lives, our homes,
our churches, our beloved nation, and our world.