the good way


Session 4 • Simplicity & generosity • Activation

What is Fasting?

Fasting is the practice of giving up something we normally consume (usually food) in order for us to focus more on God. We read about fasting in both the Old and New Testament as a practice of God’s people. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about fasting alongside prayer and giving. In Matthew 6:16, we read:

“When you fast…”

In saying this, it seems that Jesus expected that this would be a familiar practice to those listening. When we go without food, we are expressing our dependence on God, indeed, as Jesus said during his time of fasting in the wilderness in Matthew 4:

“…Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

People may choose to fast privately, as individuals, or sometimes churches may invite a whole community to fast together, as a symbol of unity in prayer. In the Bible, corporate fasting was often done in times of particular need or desperation, such as when the children of Israel were repenting on behalf of their nation. In the New Testament, when the disciples were confronted with demonic activity, Jesus told them that this type of deliverance only came through fasting and prayer. Mysteriously, fasting and prayer can bring about spiritual breakthrough. In the early church, the apostles and prophets fasted and prayed together in order to seek wisdom. (Acts 13)

Jesus said this to his disciples and the invitation also extends to us: (Matthew 16:24-26

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

Fasting is a form of self denial and causes us to become more aware of any undisciplined impulses that we have. It is also something we can choose to do, as a discipline, if we become aware of any undisciplined impulses in our lives. For example, if you know that you are addicted to your phone, then fasting phone use for a period of time would be recommended. If you notice any unhealthy dependencies on caffeine, or sugar, or spending; these too can be fasted. Jesus wants us to live freely and lightly and to trust that as we seek first his Kingdom, he will provide for all of our needs.

Personal Reflection:

If you are considering engaging in some form of fasting, you may want to reflect on these questions:

  • Is there something I’ve been praying about for a long time but I have not yet experienced spiritual breakthrough in that area?
  • Is there anything that is complicating my life and leaving me feeling less whole, less satisfied, less free?
  • Is there any particular area in my life where I am regularly giving in to undisciplined impulses? (Food, caffeine, shopping, binge watching TV, sexual habits, alcohol, phone use etc) Could I engage in a form of fasting related to this compulsion?

How do I fast?

The idea is that when we crave whatever it is we are fasting, we allow it to turn our attention towards God, to receive his grace, and to use the moment as an opportunity to pray for God’s deepening life in us.

The first thing is to decide what you are going to fast. You may decide to fast all food, or a particular type of food. You may decide to abstain from specific food/drink - alcohol, coffee, sugar etc.

Perhaps the kind of fasting you will engage in will be related to social media, phone use, entertainment, shopping or even talking!

However you decide to fast, make that choice prayerfully. Here are some ways that you can prepare for your time of fasting:

  • Mark the day that you will be fasting on your calendar, or set a clear intention for how long or how exactly you will fast.
  • Commit the time to God and invite the Holy Spirit to move freely in your life, bringing transformation through this discipline.
  • As you move through your day, pay attention to the attitude of your heart. What is God revealing to you?
  • Expect to feel frustration or discomfort, it is normal for you to feel resistance when denying yourself something that has become a source of comfort, or compulsion. Surrender your desires to God and express your dependence on him.
  • If you are abstaining from something because you’ve noticed an unhealthy dependence, or undisciplined impulse it’s best to enlist accountability and support from a pastor, leader or close friend.
  • Go through your day prayerfully and in worship. Use the Prayer resources as a way to guide your prayers throughout the day.

Fasting Food

If you are planning on fasting food, there are various different food-related fasts that you can do. (You may want to check with your primary care doctor ahead of time if you are unsure.)

  1. You can give up food entirely for a short period of time, by skipping 1-3 meals, and only drink water.
  2. You can go on a liquid diet - have smoothies, juices, broth or soups when you would usually eat meals.
  3. You can opt for what’s known as a Daniel fast - which is consuming only fruits and vegetables.
  • If fasting food, drink plenty of water the day before and throughout the time of fasting.
  • When fasting food, try not to fill your day with activity. Create space to intentionally seek God in prayer.
  • Expect to feel some hunger pangs and discomfort - use it as a prompt to turn to God in prayer and admit your dependence on him. Take time to remember those who regularly go without food, as a result of poverty.
  • Try to avoid anything strenuous that would put you or others at risk.
  • If you are fasting food, ensure you break your fast with a light, healthful meal. Try to avoid heavily overeating or overindulging in sugary/fatty/fried foods.

You might want to watch Sam’s video story about his experience of fasting.

Eating Mindfully

Even if you are not fasting food, you can practice mindful eating. You can begin by asking, is this food going to nourish my body the way that I want it to? Try to be intentional about eating more slowly. Enjoy your food; take in the tastes and textures. Practice gratitude.

View other resources for this session