What Length and Type of Fast Are Right for You

Dr. Bill Bright

If you have never fasted before, I am so glad that you are seeking to learn more about it. Though it is seemingly countercultural today, this discipline has been a major emphasis in the lives of many of the great spiritual leaders throughout history.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, fasted every Wednesday and Friday and required all of his clergy to do the same. Effective ministers of God from the apostle Paul to Martin Luther to John Calvin made fasting a continual part of their walks with God. And there are numerous Christian leaders today, such as Tim Keller and John Piper, who relish and teach of a deepening hunger for God through fasting.

Though convinced of its great value, none of these men had a formula for fasting that they considered to be the only right way. Fasting is about the condition of the heart, not the number of days. Each time that I have fasted for forty days, it was because I felt impressed by God to do so.

So, start slowly. Fast for one meal a day or one day a week or one week a month. Build up your spiritual muscles so that you will be prepared in a period of several months to fast for an extended 40-day period.

Types of Fasts Described in the Bible

A partial fast is described in the book of Daniel. Although the water fast seemed to be the custom of the prophet, there was a three-week period in which he only abstained from “delicacies” — meat and wine (Daniel 10:3).

The two primary types of fast mentioned in the Bible are the “absolute” and “supernatural absolute” fasts. These are total fasts — no food (solid or liquid) and no water. Paul went on an absolute fast for three days following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). Moses and Elijah engaged in what must be considered a supernatural absolute fast of forty days (Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8).

I strongly advise you to drink plenty of liquids as you fast. Obviously, if God leads you to undertake an absolute fast, you should obey. If so, be certain, to the best of your ability, that God is leading you.

[Editor’s note: If you are new to fasting, never undertake an absolute fast before consulting both a spiritual mentor and a medical professional. If you have questions about what it means for God to lead you, see “How to Do a Biblical Fast.”]

Water-only fasts that last for more than several days need to be undertaken with complete rest and under medical supervision because of the extreme danger of over-toxification, breakdown of vital body tissues and loss of electrolytes.

I personally practice and recommend water and juice fasting, especially if you are going to fast for an extended period of time. This type of fast will provide you with more energy than absolute or water-only fasts and still lead you into the humbling experience of denying your desire for solid food that you can chew.

When it comes to making your final decision about what type of fast is right for you, the best advice I can give you is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. He will guide your heart and mind as to what is best for you. Remember, the most important consideration in fasting is your motive. Why are you fasting — to seek something personally from God’s hand or to seek His face in worship, praise and thanksgiving?

Next: How to Prepare Yourself Spiritually and Physically

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