A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO FASTING
by Ron Kernahan
The Bible has much to say on fasting. Fasting is usually related to
prayer, and is something Jesus demanded of us. "When you fast ..."
Jesus said, not "If." Jesus Himself practiced fasting and told us that
after His bodily resurrection and ascension to heaven, we were to
fast. Fasting is very important and breaks many strongholds and, as
with everything else we do, it leads us to a closer walk with God.
Many religions teach and practice fasting unto 'god'. Others
teach fasting for health reasons. We are talking about fasting unto
God the Father for His glory. If our fasting is not for the Father's
glory, brought about by the teaching of the Spirit and love and name
of the Son, then our fasting is not at all pleasing to God (Isa.58).
Fasting is a privilege and a powerful tool in our lives, ministry and
spiritual warfare unto God. Come to fasting with an open heart and see
what the Scriptures say to the church today.
PRACTICAL TYPES OF FASTING
There are four basic types of fasts proclaimed in the Bible. They are:
1) The Absolute Fast:
The 'absolute fast' is to do without food or water. It must
not be longer than three days. After two or three days, the body
begins to dehydrate when it has neither food nor water. The absolute
fast is usually done to cast out evil spirits, or for an emergency
situation. Queen Esther, when facing a life and death situation for
both her and her people proclaimed this type of fast. She sent word to
Mordecai and all the Jews saying, "... Do not eat or drink for three
days, night or day...." (Esther 4:16). Ezra fasted without food or
water because he, "Continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the
exiles," (Ezra 10:6). Again we find in Acts that Paul, upon his
conversion, fasted without food and water for three days (Acts 9:9).
The Absolute Fast should not be done for a longer period of
time then three days as the body will dehydrate.
2) The Partial Fast:
This is a simple diet, perhaps only liquids or just one meal a
day, often only of vegetables, potatoes or rice. This type of fast can
be taken anytime and a persons normal activities can be continued. It
is thought that Daniel probably was on a partial fast when he mourned
and fasted for three weeks because he, "ate no choice food; no meat or
wine touched my lips," (Dan.10:2-3). This type of fast is very good as
a stepping stone to normal fasting for people who have never fasted,
or it is good for older folks or those with special medical problems.
3) The Normal or the Extended Fast:
This is a fast with only water and can last from one day up to
40 days or longer. On either a normal or an extended fast, some folks
drink juice or other liquids, although this is not recommended as it
is harder for the body to adjust.
Note: (a) When drinking only water, hunger usually leaves
after three or so days. (b) Headaches and small discomforts will stop
after a week or so and (c) energy begins to return after about two
weeks. (d) Get plenty of exercise such as walking. (e) The body
becomes more susceptible to feeling the cold, so remember to expect to
feel a little cooler.
The normal fast should be a regular part of our ministry to
the Lord and especially when facing new or difficult situations. The
normal fast is very much a part of our weapons of spiritual warfare,
and is healthy for the body, soul and spirit.
4) The Supernatural Fast:
Moses is the ultimate example of a supernatural fast although
Elijah was probably also on one (see 1 Kings 19:8). We are told that
Moses fasted both bread and water for forty days. (Actually he fasted
40 days twice without a break so it was 80 days.) This was a
supernatural fast - without food and water - during which time God
sustained him as Moses was in His presence (Exo.24:18, 34:28,
Deu.9:9,18). This type of fast can only be done supernaturally and
will only happen if the Spirit of the Lord is in control. Do not
attempt this type of fast.
PRACTICAL PURPOSES OF FASTING
(As we go into this, please note that in many examples given in
Scripture, fasting and prayer are linked together.)
The Bible teaches frequently on fasting, much of which ties directly
into Isaiah 58, which is a 'must' for study on this great subject. The
important lesson of fasting from Isaiah is that fasting is not the
giving up of food, but rather fasting is the release of our burdens,
and a loosing of the bondages we have on each other. Giving up food
helps us to remember this, but fasting, like prayer, is a spiritual
principle that leads Godward, and thus is an act of love. Here are
some purposes to help you dig further into the Word of God for more
insight and to make fasting a part of your Christian walk. The
practical purpose of fasting is to bring us to the place of:
The practical purpose of the Christian's walk is to bring
honor and glory to God through Jesus the Son. Fasting brings this
about as it is a ministry to God and is part of our love relationship
with God. Fasting is to be, and be seen by, the Father (Mt.6:16-18;
Zec. 7:5), as service to God exemplified by Anna in the temple (Lk.
2:37), and as worship to God as the early church did (Acts 13:2).
Fasting brings honor to God and should as such be enough of a
practical reason for us to fast.
>> Humbling ourselves before God, thus entering His presence.
Ezra proclaimed a fast so God's children could, "Humble
ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us, our
children and our possessions," (Ezra 8:21). Because fasting brings
humility (Ps.69:10, Isa.58:3), an end result is prayer for others, not
just our own self. Fasting should always lead us first to the Father
in love, and then to others in love. Because fasting humbles our soul,
we can experience more grace (1Pet. 5:5) and thus more intimate
relationship with God (Isa. 57:15; 58:6-9). When we are fasting, our
flesh is humbled, and God resists the proud but gives grace to the
humble (Jam. 4:6).
>> Personally repenting.
The Bible speaks of a fast and mourning over personal sin and
failures which leads to revival within ourselves when done right.
Fasting will often reveal the root of a problem or the root of the sin
within us because the flesh is humbled. Confession must then be made
of our sins so repentance can happen. See 1Sa.7:6 and Neh. 9:1-2.
Comfort comes when we mourn and repent and humble ourselves before God
>> Repenting on behalf of the churches, national and worlds sins.
When the Holy Spirit has dealt with our own hearts and sins,
He next wants to show us the "Sins of our forefathers," so we can be
completely broken of the curses of sin (Deu. 28). Perhaps the most
well known example of this fast is found in Daniel 9. As you read
Daniel you see that true fasting always leads to "my God," (Dn.9:19).
Fasting that does not lead to our God is false. Fasting leads to
repentance and thus changes churches, nations and turns the world
upside down (Ezra 10:6). See next example.
>> "Changing" God's mind.
Though God always declares His intentions of judgment to His
prophets and men of God, His mind can be changed! How? By fasting and
prayer. Read how David fasted on behalf of the child in 2Sa. 12:16.
Take note of what David says in verse 22. Again, God declared great
judgement on Ahab, but then said that because Ahab fasted and humbled
himself, judgement was deferred till the days of his son
(1Ki.21:27-29). God in fact says, "If I announce I will uproot a
nation or kingdom, and if that nation I warn repents of that evil, I
will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned!"
(Jer.18:7-10). If we the church will tell the nations prophetically
and scripturally their sin and God's announced ensuing disaster, and
if that nation repents and fasts and prays, God will relent! We can
change God's mind and change the course of history by speaking about
God's fasts and humility. We have been given a way via fasting and
prayer to change history. We must stop and consider and act in the
role and authority and responsibility we have as born again
Do you still doubt? Joel, which has much teaching for the
church in our day, said God will relent from sending calamity if we
the church do our part (Joel 2:12-14). And again, there is the
teaching of Jonah. Jonah preached God's message, the people fasted and
prayed, and the whole population of Nineveh was saved. God deferred
His judgement upon that great city at one mans preaching (Jonah
3:5,10). Judgement finally came, but not till much later. Fasting has
the purpose of changing God's mind.
>> Freeing the way for a new task.
When the Lord gives us a new task, vision or the next major
step in our personal walk and ministry in Him, we can fast and pray
that the work will go forth unhindered. As an example, Ezra was given
the task by God to go up to Jerusalem and dedicate the temple. Ezra
had been given people, gold, money and everything necessary for the
job. But Ezra, knowing the will of God and the Word of God (Ezra was a
scribe), still sought the grace of God for the task by fasting and
prayer (Ezra 8:21-23). This in fact is the same thing Jesus did. He
was baptized in water, then in the Spirit, then God announces and
declares that Jesus is His Son, in whom He is well pleased. In yet,
after all that, Jesus, led by the Spirit, goes into the wilderness to
fast! This, if you like, is a reaffirmation of our consecration unto
God (Mat.4:2). When people enter ministry or church duties like
counselling, being a deacon, elder, Sunday school teacher, or the
like, they and the church should fast. Our practical example is
provided by the early church in Acts 13:2-3 and 14:23.
>> Persisting in fasting and prayer to God.
The children of Israel wept and fasted unto the Lord because
they had severely lost a battle. They drew near to God and prayed and
persistently sought His face, and God told them to fight again, and
they won (Jud 20:26). God is always telling us to draw near to Him, to
come and to persist in fasting and prayer. That is God's will for us
(Jer 29:12-14, Joel 2:12). Another example is that of the Apostle
Paul. When he was converted, he fasted without food or water for three
days (Acts 9:9). Some verses down Ananias is told to go and minister
healing to Paul because of his persistent prayer and fasting (Acts
9:11). Persist in both fasting and prayer and the Lord will answer.
>> Breaking bondages.
God has proclaimed that the type of fasting He has chosen is
to loose chains of injustice, to untie cords of the yoke, to set
captives free and to break every yoke! (Isa.58:6). Jesus demonstrated
this in the well known story of the demon possessed boy who had
seizures. Jesus disciples could not drive out the demon, though Jesus
had no problem at all. However, when the disciples asked Jesus
privately why they could not, he said, they had little faith, and,
"This kind does not go out save by prayer and fasting" (Mt.17:14-21;
Mk.9:14-28; Lk.9:37-42). Some bondages can only be broken by fasting,
and it is important to wage this type of spiritual warfare by fasting.
Some Christians continue losing battles because of the lack of
knowledge of this type of fast or the persistent type mentioned above.
Fasting breaks the yoke and bondage. Fasting of this type is also very
useful when trying to free someone from an addiction. For example,
drug addicts can be freed by the power of the Holy Spirit and by
>> Gaining revelation and wisdom concerning God's will.
Through the reading of the prophecy of Jeremiah, Daniel knew
it was time for the Jews to be restored to Jerusalem. However, most
Jews were settled in Babylon and had little or no burden for their
nation. So Daniel fasted and prayed that the Lord would move so that
the prophetic word might come to past. Today, through Biblical
prophecy, preaching and teaching, we know we are in the end times, in
the time of great revival. But it will not come to pass automatically.
We must seek after the Lord that His word be fulfilled and that the
church awake and receive revelation and wisdom. (Dan.9:2-3,10:1-3.)
By fasting we are to understand the revealed will of the Lord
and to have wisdom to do His will (Isa.58:5,6,11). The priests
(spiritual leaders) in Joel's day were challenged to seek the Lord by
fasting and prayer. Then the Lord promised to pour out His Spirit.
This has much teaching for our church today. (Joel 1:13-14,2:12,15.)
As another example, the early church gathered and worshiped the Lord
and fasted, and then the Holy Spirit spoke unto them His will, and
said, "Set apart (separate) for me Barnabas and Saul for the work ..."
(Acts 13:2-3). A practical purpose of fasting is that we might gain
revelation and wisdom and know the prophetic word of God for our day.
>> Disciplining our bodies.
Self-control can be achieved through fasting. Because the
flesh is humbled, it can be brought into the place of submission to
the headship of Christ (Ps 35:13; Ro. 13:14; 1Co.9:27).
When people have bad habits (even in their thought life) that
normal prayer and counselling cannot solve, they should be counseled
to fast and pray for a period of time till the root of the problem
shows itself. Then it can be dealt with. Further more, self-control
will be the end result. The people of Ninevah were very wicked in
their habits. But fasting brought about total repentance, a total
turning away from the habits of sin that God had promised would
destroy the people (Jonah 3:5-10).
Sometimes people come in the church for various other reasons
than to serve the Lord. They may not be aware of this. If they are
taught to fast early in their Christian life, they will search their
hearts and learn to serve God from pure motives. Again, many people
have been taught to fast and pray to receive something (power,
healing, etc.). But this attitude is not what we should have. We know
our bodies are 'living sacrifices' offered to the Lord and we can thus
spend time in worship and praying in the Spirit. When we fast and
pray, our natural appetites (desire for food, sex, pleasure, etc.)
will lessen and our spiritual desires will strengthen. Our body is
self-disciplined and controlled, and we can have a closer communion
with God when we exercise our rights to fasting.
>> Preparing for the Bridegroom.
Jesus told His disciples that a time was coming for the
bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they would fast. Jesus
was speaking of His bodily ascension to heaven, where He now sits at
the right hand of the Father interceding for us, and because He left
physically, He sent us the comforter, the Holy Spirit (Mt.9:15). This
we know. But why should we now fast? Fasting relating to the return of
the Bridegroom for His bride is a collective culmination of the above
10 points and is a sign of the believer's longing for the Lord's
return. It is also a sign of preparation for Christ's coming
(preparing the bride). It is most certainly a sign of mourning of
The bridegroom is not here, but the church is being prepared as a
bride for the return of the Bridegroom, who is the Lord (Rev. 21:9).
We are taught to think of Christ's return as imminently possible and
to "Watch and pray," (Mar.13:33; Luk.21:36). We are watching for Him,
and watching each other to keep one another pure and blameless against
that day. And it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to be pure and to
know Christs suffering and His soon return. It is also the Spirit who
gives us power to witness so that the Gospel can be preached in all
the world and then the end can come. Indeed, it is both the Spirit and
the bride who say "Come Lord Jesus," (Rev.22:17). As we fast and pray,
we prepare ourselves as the Body and Bride of Christ for His soon
return. This practical type of fast brings us to the place where we
While we wait for the Lord to come for us or to take us home, we are
to be in prayer and fasting unto the Lord and to the glory of God.
Fasting is normal and our example is given in by the Old Testament
saints, our Lord Jesus, and the early church, all of which serves to
teach us to fast and pray.
Fasting brings honour to God, humility in us and in the church,
repentance, both personal and for the whole body, thus changing God's
mind and bringing revival, God's work unhindered, a solid foundation
laid, ministry to the Lord, power, bondages broken, revelation,
self-control and is taught in relation to the soon return of our Lord.
Fasting makes these things happen first in our own lives, and then in
the lives of others. Fasting is just one more rich blessing the Lord
has given for those who will hearken and hear and do.
Jesus is coming quickly, watch and pray.
Born in N. Ireland, Ron Kernahan now lives in Germany. He is the
founder of Branch Ministries International and is part of the
leadership team of the European Prayer Link (EPL) and Hope for Europe
(HFE) Communications Director.
EPL - A Developing Fellowship of National and International Prayer
Movements and Networks.
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Article # 8 (as on our Web pages)