“Do you wish your prayer to fly toward God? Give it two wings: fasting and almsgiving.” St. Augustine
Before giving some practical instruction, I want to look at the Word:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1
We talked about being salt and light a few weeks ago. But if we are supposed to be salt and light, why does Jesus caution His disciples not to “practice righteousness” in front of others? I like how the MSG put it: “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.”
The entire phrase, “practicing your righteousness” is really a Jewish idiom. It’s not an exhortation toward personal conduct. The idiom is about acts of charity. In other words, “practicing your righteousness” is a condensed way of recalling the three required acts of observance – charity, prayer and fasting. Jesus is not telling His disciples to avoid these things. He is warning them that their motivation can’t be governed by public display. This verse is not about the actions. It’s about the manner and motive. To re-look at this verse, Jesus is really saying, “Go ahead and pray, fast and serve without the purpose to be recognized for what you are doing.” Does this mean that we’re to pray, fast and serve entirely in stealth mode? Yes, if that’s what it takes to keep our egos at bay. But no, not if we have already settled the issue of credit. Do everything for the audience of One (my shout out to Big Daddy Weave). Let Him be glorified.
Not once does He suggest praying, fasting and giving are no longer required. They are essential for spiritual growth. Why? Because they put aside our agendas and focus our actions on God’s agenda. Just doing them brings us closer to Him. Jesus addresses the issue of WHY we do them, not IF we do them.
Are you looking to Grow in Christ today? Do you want to do those things that imitate Christ’s character and draw you closer to Him? Then pray, fast and give. It really doesn’t matter how you feel about these three (praying, fasting and giving). Do them no matter how you feel about doing them. Just remember this clear TRUTH: Do them (praying, fasting and giving) for Him.
I will say, one of the best classes I’ve sat through was a year go with Kurt Johnson. His teaching was completely clear, concise, and practical. I’ve asked him for his bullet points to help convey the practicality of fasting.
Fasting requires reasonable precautions. If you have any health concerns, please consult your physician, or other health provider, prior to beginning your fast, especially if you are taking any medication, have a chronic condition, or are pregnant or nursing a baby.
As you prepare to fast:
- Choose a fasting plan that works for you. It’s very important to mention that there is nothing more inherently spiritual about one type of fast as opposed to another. These are simply guidelines and suggestions on different things you can do.
- Do not let what you eat or do not eat become the focus of your fast. Keep the main thing the main thing, which is drawing closer to God.
- Remember, this is a time to disconnect from your regular patterns and habits in order to connect more closely to God.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind before getting started.
1. START WHERE YOU ARE. We are all at different places in our walk with God. Whether you’ve fasted before or this is your first time, start where you are. Your personal fast should present a level of challenge to it, but it’s very important to know your own body, know your options and, most importantly, seek God in prayer and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do. Remember, the goal of fasting is not just to do without food. The goal is to draw nearer to God.
2. GET INTO THE ZONE. While any true fast does involve abstinence from food or at least certain types of food, typically, different fasting combinations work better for different people. The goal to having a successful fast is all about finding what we like to call your Fast Zone, and that is different for everybody.
The best way to describe your Fast Zone is that it’s the place where you feel light and spiritually in tune. Your mind is easily focused on God and spiritual things. You have an increased spiritual energy – you can feel the fast working. Just like runners know what their target heart rate is to see the benefits of their physical training, the Fast Zone is similar in a spiritual sense.
Finding your Fast Zone helps you choose both the type and length of fast. Let’s say you choose to go on a Daniel fast (only fruits and vegetables). Should you eat beans? If you can eat beans and stay in your Fast Zone, go ahead. But for some people eating beans takes them out of the zone. Should you eat peanut butter? Probably not. Peanut butter is more of an indulgence, and not many people can stay in a Fast Zone while enjoying indulgences. Should you completely cut out caffeine? It depends. The great thing is, when you fast, your body automatically craves less caffeine. If you can stay in your Fast Zone with a little caffeine, great. If you are going on a longer fast and want to cut it out of your diet completely, that’s great too. But ease yourself off and make it your goal to be completely caffeine free about two-thirds of the way into your fast.
If you drink coffee regularly, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to fast for one to three days and cut caffeine out abruptly and completely. Please don’t do that or you will spend this time grumpy and in withdrawal instead of enjoying God’s presence.
Mixing things up a bit during a 40-day fast is what typically works best for people. For example, do a fruits and vegetables fast for a week. Then do all liquids for a while. Maybe even mix in a few days of only water if you think you are ready for that. Then go back to fruits and vegetables for a few days.
There isn’t one approach that works the same for everyone. Follow the Holy Spirit, mix it up, find what works for you, and stay in your Fast Zone!
3. CHOOSE YOUR TYPE OF FAST. While preparing, it is important to choose ahead of time what type of fast, or what combination, you will pursue. Not only will this help with making the necessary preparations, but as you commit and know how you’re going to do it, you will position yourself to finish strong.
You may choose to fast all 40 days. Or you may choose to fast several days out of the 40 days, such as three or four days a week throughout the 40-day period. Maybe you will do that and do three to seven consecutive days at the end. This is your personal decision and should be prayerfully considered as it applies to your circumstances.
Different Types of Fasts:
In this type of fast you omit a specific item(s) from your meal plans. For example, you may choose to eliminate all red meat, processed or fast food, or sweets. Most people can incorporate this type of fast relatively easily. It can also prove to be a great solution for people with specific dietary needs or medical conditions that may cause certain limitations. While fasting typically refers to refraining from specific food items, you may also find it extremely beneficial to fast from a regular activity or habit. This might include things such as television, social media, and the like. A media fast is a great fast for kids.
Prayer and fasting are not just about connecting to God but also about disconnecting from the world. Try to tune out some of the regular distractions from your day as much as possible. Replace that time with things that will nourish you spiritually.
The Daniel fast is a great model to follow and one that is extremely effective for spiritual focus, bodily discipline, and purification of the body and soul. It is probably one of the most commonly referred-to fasts; however, within the Daniel fast there is room for broad interpretation.
In the book of Daniel we find two different times where the prophet Daniel fasted. Daniel 1 states that he only ate vegetables and water, and in Daniel 10, while the passage does not give a specific list of foods that Daniel ate, it does state that he ate no rich (or choice) foods, as well as no meat or wine. So based on these two verses, we can see that either of these, or combinations of the two, constitute a Daniel fast.
A juice fast is simply consuming vegetable and fruit juices and water instead of solid food. Many people include whey protein in their liquid plan as well. This is one of the most popular and effective fasts. Even if you choose not to make your entire fast liquids only, substituting one or two meals for liquids is a great alternative.
A water-only fast is the normal fast referred to in the Bible. This is how Jesus and the New Testament church fasted. A water fast is just that – no eating of any food or drinking of any liquids except water.
Periodic water fasts can be very beneficial, but extreme precautions should be taken. For some people it is hard to perform effectively at their jobs and have energy for their families while drinking only water.
We recommend consulting your physician first, and water fasting only for a day or two unless you can get away or your job allows you to really disconnect so you can give your best energy to the fast. Remember, when Jesus went on His forty-day fast, He went by Himself out into the wilderness.
Having said all that, there are some people who can water fast and work, and they function fine without much fatigue and are able to work well. You are blessed if you are one of these people.
4. BEGIN AND BREAK THE FAST WELL
Depending on the type of fast you choose, it is very important to prepare your body ahead of time before beginning the fast. Take a time to transition into your fast; otherwise, you could get sick.
The same principle applies to breaking your fast. When your fast is over, add foods back in very gradually. Please don’t break your fast with a greasy cheeseburger! Because your body is so cleansed and detoxified, you will most likely get sick if you do that.
I’m excited about our start this Wednesday. I’m looking forward to 40 days of seeing Kfirst circling this community and world with prayer.