Welcome to Getting Started with Prayer & Fasting…
For a number of years we have devoted regular time to praying and fasting together as a church family. To help us remember how and why we fast, as well as some pointers on the practicalities of doing this together, we have created this informative guide. Whether this is your first time fasting, or you have taken part before, we hope this information is helpful.
I have found it greatly encouraging that as New Life Church has been freshly engaging in times of corporate prayer and fasting, there are many other churches and organisations feeling called in a similar way. It should come as no surprise that God has spoken in such a clear way, to so many people, in this nation and beyond.
We could make a long list of great challenges that we see all around us, from our politics and economy to the seemingly increased hardness to the Gospel in our nation. We could grumble and complain, and of course we too are certainly guilty of doing just that.
But we can also choose a different approach, one that brings an authentic confidence that things will be different.
It is because of our hope, our utter confidence in Jesus Christ that we make the decision to engage in prayer and fasting, whether that be during one of our corporate 21 days, happening twice a year, or on different occasions.
I trust that this booklet will be a helpful tool as you take time to consider how and when you might engage with this healthy spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting.
Elder at New Life Church
So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
The Bible teaches us about fasting and gives us examples:
King David and the prophets (2 Sam 12); Israel who fasted on the day of atonement and other times (Joel 2:15); Jesus who fasted for 40 days (Matt 4) and taught on fasting saying presumptuously ‘when you fast’ (Matt 6:16); and the early church leaders and prophets fasted (Acts 13:3).
Church history teaches us that fasting was believed in and practised regularly:
Augustine (4th Century); The Desert Fathers (5th Century); The medieval church (5th Century onwards) where Lent was enforced and taken very seriously; Luther and Calvin (16th Century); and Jonathan Edwards (18th Century).
The health and medical world recognises the benefits that fasting has.
Studies have shown the benefits on reducing blood pressure, regulating insulin, lowering cholesterol and rebooting the immune system. While fasting can be very difficult, knowing the benefits can encourage us that God is not asking us to do anything that is physically damaging, in fact the opposite is true!
Because of the impact it has on our prayer life:
- We take hold of ourselves and our own fleshly appetite.
- It sharpens our senses to listen and receive, and unlocks spiritual intuition.
- It causes us to be dependent and reliant on God in the very core of our being.
- It often generates an internal desire for holiness that is not externally imposed.
- Fasting doesn’t persuade or earn anything from God, it positions us in humility before Him.
How do I fast?
Have the right attitude and accept that for most people fasting is hard (at least initially).
You feel hungry, it doesn’t always feel easier to pray and you may feel stressed or irritable. Remember, this is about reining ourselves in and removing the usual supports.
Start small by perhaps missing a meal or two a week. John Wesley and the Methodist leaders did this weekly. As a church we hold regular Friday lunch time fasts.
Perhaps you can then consider moving onto some longer blocks of fasting. The early stages are often the most difficult, going through a period of detoxing, which can bring on headaches, aches, pains and sleeplessness. Whereas a longer fast takes you beyond this. Reducing sugar and caffeine leading up to a longer fast is helpful and will take some of the discomfort out.
Plan ahead in the diary to assess commitments and workload, as well as family impact. It helps if you’ve already agreed who will be cooking, at the dinner table or doing certain jobs.
Is longer fasting always best? Not necessarily. There might be practical or medical reasons why it’s not viable. You’ve got to work this out before God according to your own faith and conscience. However many have pressed into this to great effect and continued to work at a manageable pace.
Franklin Hall said, ‘most folk would be far better off if they would pray and fast at least one day a week, they would be stronger physically and deeper spiritually.’
Working together to support one another in fasting and involving the whole family is vital.
One of the things that is so important to us during times of corporate fasting is for us to join together as a community, fasting as families, friends, Life Groups and as a whole church.
Here are some steps to help you fast together:
Talk to each other about fasting, why is it important to you, why is it important to God, why do you do it. We all have our own experiences with fasting (from those yet to try it to those who are well experienced) and sharing those with each other is so helpful.
There is a time for fasting in secret, but there is also a time for leading by example. We choose to fast corporately to encourage and be encouraged by one another. Let your families and children see you fast at home.
Do it together:
Try to find a time where you can all pray together as a Life Group or family, for example committing to certain days in the 21 Days calendar. It is probably not appropriate for most children to fast food, although older children may choose to – you can decide if that’s right for you as a family. However there are many things they could fast from that would be a sacrifice for them.
Can you stir each other to fast in a new way? Is there something meaningful you can set a goal to pray for in your Life Group or family? Perhaps a new job, healing, provision etc. Share this with each other and seek God together for it.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Breaking a fast
When you are coming out of a longer fast, it is important to ease your body back into the process of digesting regular foods.
Overeating or ingesting certain foods too quickly may cause you to experience health problems such as nausea, stomach aches, or diarrhoea. Introducing regular foods slowly and sensibly will help you break a fast safely, without too much disruption.
Steps to breaking a water only fast:
Focus on drinking diluted fruit or vegetable juice. Supplement this with vegetable or bone broths. You must give your body adequate time in between foods because you don’t want to overload your system. If you fasted for a couple of weeks or longer it’s worth continuing this diet for a number of days.
Introduce raw fruit into your diet. Some of the best fruits are: melons (especially watermelon), grapes, apples and pears as these are easy on the system. Avoid citrus fruits (that can cause discomfort) like lemons or oranges, and fibrous fruits (that are harder to digest) like pineapples. You can also add in unsweetened* yogurt.
Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked, and you could even make vegetable soup, but avoid store bought soups as they have a lot of added sugars and salts that won’t help.
If your stomach is processing the vegetables and fruits without problems (like cramping, nausea, etc.), then you can start eating the more difficult-to-digest foods. If it’s been a struggle up until now, stick with the foods that have caused you the least trouble so far.
Eat small portions and go slowly. Gradually you will progress towards larger meals as your body adjusts to more food.
How to divide up these steps:
Most often, the length of the fast will determine the length of the time spent breaking the fast. Depending on how long you have chosen to fast, please spread these steps over the number of days suggested below:
If you have fasted whilst drinking juices, you can resume eating earlier than with a water only fast.
When breaking your fast avoid bread, sugar, dairy and processed foods.
*Processed sugar (not the kind that’s in fruit) will make you feel worse.
There may be good reasons why fasting would be inappropriate for you, for example due to medical reasons. Please always seek the appropriate advice before fasting.