When someone asks me if they should fast, I usually say, "It depends". Whether or not you should fast depends on what you want to accomplish. Since most who ask are merely interested in healing, my answer is often, 'no'. It isn't necessary to fast before you can heal the sick.
Jesus gave his disciples authority over all the power of the enemy and this authority encompasses healing and was not dependent on fasting. Having said this, the next question is whether or not fasting has any benefit to the believer. I believe it does, and there may be a benefit to those who operate in healing, but first let’s examine some misconceptions about fasting.
Fasting has developed a bad reputation in some circles. Many people who operate successfully in healing are strongly opposed to it. Others believe it’s essential to spend time fasting before the sick can be healed. Beliefs about fasting have been taken to extremes in both directions. Personally, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The biblical narrative on fasting isn’t crystal clear, which accounts for some of the disagreement. You could support almost any view using the right verses.
Some teach that fasting was part of the old covenant and as such, it has no application today, because we live under a new covenant. Their objection is that fasting, because it is done as a ritual in order to keep the law, can become a form of legalism. In this assertion, they are correct. If we believe that fasting or any of our acts will impress God we are mistaken. (See Rom. 3:28) Keeping rules and performing rituals will never make us righteousness. Fasting that is done to maintain or earn a righteous standing with God is useless. But this isn’t the only reason for fasting and God is always interested in the motives behind our actions.
Fasting could be seen not as an attempt to keep the law, but as a spiritual principle used to accomplish certain things. There are principles taught in the scriptures that are eternal, spiritual principles, which bear fruit to those who desire their benefits; and I believe fasting is one of them. Moses, Elijah and Jesus all spent long times of fasting. They heard God’s voice more clearly than anyone of their day and collectively, they worked countless miracles. Jesus performed no miracles until after he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. (Matt. 4:2)
Fasting can be done for health benefits but for the believer interested in healing, one advantage of fasting is that it helps put to death the flesh. The ‘flesh’ is a biblical term for our bodily desires. Our spirit and our flesh are constantly at war with each other. (Gal. 5:17) When we’re hungry, we eat, which feeds the body and keeps our flesh happy and in control of things. When we fast, the goal is to decrease the dominion and power of our bodily desires (the flesh) over the life and power of our spirit man. When we do this – our spirit man becomes stronger and more dominant. A stronger spirit is more aware of God’s presence and that creates greater faith and confidence in what He wants to accomplish through us.
The western world seems to be wedded to a lifestyle of eating. How do we deal with the problem of meals at work? Some of us eat at the nearest café, some carry containers of food to work and many of us forage on whatever we can find in break rooms. I’m as guilty as anyone. The hospitals where I work put out free chips, sandwiches and cookies in their EMS rooms. Some provide free meals for us in their cafeterias. Our skylines are littered with fast food joints screaming for attention. For some of us, eating is no longer a means to provide fuel for our body. It’s become an obsession, a ritual, and an expensive lifestyle.
We need an awareness of our lifestyle if we ever hope to make changes to it. The apostle Paul said we shouldn’t be conformed to the world’s ways, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Rom. 12:2) If we are to grow and develop a lifestyle of healing, we must consider our present way of living and admit two things; few of us actually hear God as often or as clearly as we’d like to. And few of us consistently see the kind of victory over the enemy that we’d like to.
In the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. Immediately following this, he taught them how to fast:
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Mat. 6:16-18)
Jesus taught his disciples how to fast in this passage, but according to the disciples of John the Baptist, they didn’t make a habit of fasting. (See Matt. 9:14) The disciples were able to heal the sick and cast out demons without fasting; that is, until they failed to heal the boy with seizures. When they asked why they failed, Jesus said it was because of unbelief. He then said their unbelief (or lack of confidence) resulted from their failure to spend time in prayer and fasting. (Matt. 17:21) The implication of His comment is that if the disciples had obeyed his teaching and spent time in prayer and fasting, they would have had the faith needed to cast the demon out.
From this, I would conclude that fasting is neither essential, nor useless. Fasting should be seen as optional for the believer interested in healing. It wasn’t required for the disciples to heal the sick and cast out most of the demons they encountered. Likewise, most of the healing and deliverance we’ll do can be done without fasting. But there are certain adversaries that require greater faith to conquer. That level of faith comes only through prayer and fasting. If healing a few people once in a while is your goal, it probably isn’t necessary to fast. But if you plan to do warfare against demons on a regular basis, it may afford you an advantage.
Jesus didn’t create a long list of rules about fasting. He kept it simple; when you fast, don’t make a public show of it and don’t be a hypocrite. Fasting isn’t about looking spiritual or impressing anyone. It’s between you and the Father. He left the specifics up to them.
Looking at scripture, it’s apparent that fasting was done a couple of different ways. Some people seemed to fast once or twice for a long period - typically forty days. Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted this way. (See Ex. 34:28, 1 Kings 19:8 and Luke 4:1-2) Daniel fasted for 21 days before receiving a vision of future events from the angel Michael. (Dan. 10:3) But not everyone followed this example. Some made a habit to fast on a regular basis, and seemed to fast for shorter periods of time. The apostle Paul, the disciples of John the Baptist, Cornelius and Anna, the woman who served at the temple all fasted routinely and for shorter periods of time. (See Matt 9:14, 2 Cor. 11:27, Acts 10:30 and Luke 2:37)
Many instances of fasting are recorded in the Old Testament. They generally had to do with the death of a beloved person, times of prayer and intercession for approaching military conflicts and for divine guidance in personal and public affairs. Fewer are recorded in the New Testament, but fasting was done when decisions were made concerning the appointing of elders (Acts 14:23) and when the disciples were instructed by the Holy Spirit to send out Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey (Acts 13:2).
Now I’d like to share my personal experiences. I’ve had about as many failures as I’ve had victories in this area. But with every fall, I learned something about myself and about God, and I haven’t regretted any of it. Fasting is a very personal thing. Your experiences will be different from mine. The value in this discussion is to share the positive things I’ve experienced to give you hope that you’ll see some of them, too. My assignments, gifts and calling are different from yours. What you get out of fasting will depend on what God has called you to do.
I first tried fasting years ago during a difficult time of my life. I felt like I needed to hear God’s voice during a time of testing and trials. My first fast was for 1 day. It didn’t seem that difficult. Since then, I’ve talked with others who felt they were going to die just trying to go 1 day without eating. Everyone is different. I may have had an advantage; I’d been working 24 hour shifts as a paramedic for about 20 years. I’ve often been so busy running calls while on duty that I didn’t have time to eat. My mind may have received some prior training that helped me with the discipline of fasting.
My second fast was for 3 days. That was a lot more difficult, but I made it, drinking only water. The hardest part was ignoring my stomach, which grumbled continually. At the end of the third day, I did feel slightly less earth-bound, and I began to sense God’s voice a little more clearly. A week or so after this, I fasted for 6 days, eating no food; only water and some juice. As I progressed further into the time of fasting, God’s voice became easier to discern and the tug and pull of the cares of the world grew faint. After 3 days, the sensation of hunger left. Resisting the urge to eat on days 4, 5 and 6 was easy. I spent some time alone on day 6, asking things of God and listening for answers. When I was satisfied I had all the information I needed, I began eating again. Most people agree that hunger seems to dissipate after 3 days.
I didn’t fast again for a couple of years. I hadn’t felt a need for it, but God did. He tried in different ways to alert me to the need for fasting, but I was unaware of it. He finally got my attention and I began once again, gradually working my way up to longer periods of fasting. That’s one of the points I’d like to suggest. Begin with a reachable goal and after you succeed – go a little longer the next time. I found that doubling the length of time was a reasonable goal for me. I began at 3 days, then 6 then 12. The longest I’ve fasted so far is 19 days.
I prefer to fast without eating any type of solid food and I generally just drink water. That's just my personal preference. I have a friend who did a 21- day vegetable fast, similar to the one the prophet Daniel did. He had great results and began having visions and powerful dreams during and after the time of fasting. My wife prefers to make a vegetable broth when she fasts. Some people skip one meal a day on a certain day of the week and others fast the entire day. If you work long hours, you might want to fast at work and eat at home. If you feel weak or dizzy while fasting, check your blood sugar. If you have diabetes, liver problems or other health issues consult your doctor before fasting.
I'd like to suggest a few things about listening to God. Be very aware of what He is saying during this time, and be obedient to whatever He asks of you. Drawing closer to God should always be the focus of fasting. Several times while I was fasting, God gave me instructions and I tried to dismiss it as the enemy talking to me.
After feeling like I should take a few mineral supplements to prevent leg cramps, God told me to stop taking them. I didn’t listen. So he gave me a dream about buying mango, pineapple and orange juice at a store. The worship leader, Paul Baloche was working behind the counter. This told me the dream was a dream from God. I stopped taking the supplements and bought juice the next day and never had leg cramps. I’ve also had God tell me to stop fasting before the time I had chosen to stop. Naturally, I rebuked the evil spirit, and continued on my holy quest. Eventually God spoke loudly enough to convince me I was just being disobedient.
Matt Sorger has some good advice on fasting; “Don’t forget to pray – otherwise it’s just a diet.” I was guilty of ignoring God completely while fasting for 5 days. I was busy doing other things. During that fast I never spent more than a few minutes at a time thinking about God or seeking His instruction. It was a waste of time, except that I learned to pursue God more diligently the next time.
God can tell you when it’s time to fast, so ask Him. In March of 2009, He gave me a dream about fasting, which I’ll share. In the dream, I was preparing for a trip. I created a special pillow I made with memory foam. I added another pillow inside the pillowcase. I was telling some friends about it. I also had a water bottle with a removable panel that had two parts to it. Another guy had the same bottle. In the dream, we were washing them. I was explaining to him how to clean the bottle thoroughly. Finally, I was in front of a mirror and I noticed I had really flat abs – no spare tire at all, and I was very tan.”
There were four things in this dream that spoke of fasting. One was the water bottle, because I carry one with me when I’m fasting. The pillow also does because God increases revelation through dreams when I fast. Flat abs speaks of fasting because I lose 1 to 2 pounds a day while fasting and going on a trip symbolizes the spiritual journey we take. The memory foam pillow was the way God prompted me to remember the things I would experience, including journaling my dreams.
Weight loss is inevitable when you fast. How much you’ll lose depends on your metabolism, activity and method of fasting. I’ll warn you – the weight you lose during fasting is even easier to put back on afterward, unless you make it a routine or alter your lifestyle following the time of fasting.
If you’re single, fasting can be done independently as often as you choose, with little regard for the needs of others. But I’m a family man and fasting creates issues for families that should be discussed beforehand. If your family has a routine of eating meals together – having one person who doesn’t eat can be a problem. Discuss it with your family and come to an understanding before you start. Having your spouse join you in fasting may be a good option.
I’ll close with this final story. The time that I fasted for 19 days was an incredible experience. After 12 days, I began to hear God’s voice very clearly. After 18 days I heard Him constantly. All day long, wherever I went God was speaking to me as clearly as anyone else. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but it was a clearly discernable inner voice. I had the most amazing dreams and I began to have visions every time I closed my eyes. He gave me a private bible study from a couple of different chapters. The first one was in Genesis. He spoke to me about how before the fall, He and Adam had a relationship like I was experiencing during the time I fasted. He told me that this was how our relationship was intended to be from the beginning. He went on to explain that it was my choice to enter into this experience, and I could go as deep in it as I wanted to. There were many other things He told me that morning as well. I’d like to encourage you to consider spending some time fasting. You’ll grow in the spirit of wisdom and power, and the secret things of God will become yours