The Proper Approach to Fasting
Wesley gave some helpful guidance about the right way to fast:
First, let it be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father who is in heaven; to express our sorrow and shame for our manifold transgressions of His holy law; to wait for an increase of purifying grace, drawing our affections to things above; to add seriousness and earnestness to our prayers; to avert the wrath of God; and to obtain all the great and precious promises He has made to us in Jesus Christ.5
Types of Fasts in the Bible
In the Bible, the most common fast lasts for one day, from sunup to sundown. It involves refraining from all food but not from water. Most people in good health can do this fast with water, but those with problematic health conditions, are pregnant, or are taking any kind of medication should check with their physicians first.
A variation of this fast runs for twenty-four hours or more without food, but involves drinking plenty of water. Examples of three-day and seven-day fasts are found in the Bible. Determining the length of time to fast like this depends on circumstances and the Spirit’s leading.
Another fast, which is more intense in nature, lasts for up to three days and involves forgoing both food and water, as with Paul (Acts 9:1–19). This type of fast appears to be reserved for especially difficult and challenging situations. It is wise to check with your doctor before undertaking such a fast, especially if you have issues with heart, blood pressure, kidneys, or diabetes.
Less intense but of longer duration is a partial fast—a reduction in the amount of food eaten each day and possibly a modification of what is consumed. This first appears in the life of Daniel, who observed a partial fast that lasted for twenty-one days. For unspecified reasons, perhaps for reasons of state, he could not abstain from all food and improvised by observing a partial fast, during which, “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks” (Dan. 10:2–3).
Moses, Elijah, and Jesus observed forty-day fasts. In the case of Moses, he took no food or water during two successive fasts of forty days with no eating between them. This was clearly done by supernatural enablement, as human beings cannot live eighty days without food. Thirty to forty days is the maximum according to medical professionals. And normally people can live only three or four days without water, and in any case no more than a week. Elijah’s fast seems to have been of supernatural enablement as well. Jesus ate no food but apparently did drink water in his forty-day fast. This type of fast is possible for people in good health but should be undertaken only if clearly directed by God and confirmed by a mature, godly pastor or elder, and a physician.
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