Since my message on the spiritual discipline of fasting this past Sunday, I’ve had several people show quite a bit of interest in beginning a fast. As a result, tons of people are asking me the question, “how do I get started.” This post is my answer to that question.
Below are a series of decisions to make BEFORE beginning your fast. It’s really important that you clarify everything about your fast before you begin. Fasting is hard work and you will be tempted to renege on your commitments if you have not clarified them first.
PRAY FOR GOD’S DIRECTION
If this thing is really about God, then start the entire process with prayer. The goal is to connect with God, so why no get Him involved from the very beginning?
DECIDE UPON THE LENGTH OF YOUR FAST
Before beginning, decide upon the length of your fast. This is key! You will be tempted to shorten your fast if you have not committed to a predetermined timeframe. I always mark my start and end dates on my calendar.
Here’s some advice: don’t forget to look at the calendar before committing to a fast. You don’t want to commit to fasting, and then realize that you’ll be fasting over a huge celebration like Thanksgiving. This seems like a no-brainer, but believe me, I’ve done it. It really stinks to be fasting over the Super Bowl or on your birthday. You might not think that this is a big deal, but kind of temptation certainly tests your resolve.
DEFINE WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE AND WHAT IS NOT
Before you begin your fast, make a clear set of rules for yourself. What is acceptable during your fast and what is not? Is it okay for you to drink twelve milkshakes a day, or will you limit your intake to juice? Are milk products okay? What about smoothies?
There are really no rules for this part. The goal is to make a decision and follow through. Just try to keep in mind that you can consume more than a day’s calories with two Chick Fil’A milkshakes. The goal is to reduce your caloric intake to almost nothing.
Here’s my advice: On most extended fasts, I tend to drink fruit juice or V8 juice and water. On longer fasts, I might even make a smoothie with fruit, juice and ice. On one or two day fasts, you could limit your intake to just water and be fine.
The key is to define your commitment BEFORE the fast.
DETERMINE YOUR REASON FOR FASTING
Here are a few biblical reasons to fast:
To repent of sin – If you find yourself continuing in the habit of sin, you might need to make your repentance to be more than just saying “sorry” in a short prayer. Maybe you need to make a bigger deal of your sinfulness and respond with a fast. Scripture is littered with examples of this; from Israel to Ninevah. People historically fast to underscore their repentance to God.
To welcome a new season of life or to embrace a life-altering event – Even Jesus fasted 40 days before beginning his public ministry. You might want to consider fasting before a new season of life or before a huge life-altering event. For example, maybe you should fast before your wedding, before prom, before taking that new job or before moving. Every huge event of your life is an opportunity to seek God through fasting.
To petition God – Maybe your fast is a petition to God for action. Daniel fasted when he petitioned God to not bring disaster upon the nation of Israel and Israel fasted before Esther approached the King. Maybe you really want God to move in a certain area of your life: fast.
To clarify a calling – Typically, I use fasting to clarify my calling; almost like a scheduled tune up for my car. It’s really important that I am completely aligned with Christ. Fasting for me provides an intentional opportunity to check my alignment. If are a christian who feels a little out of step, you might need to consider a fast.
CREATE A PLAN FOR ACCOMPLISHING YOUR FASTING GOALS
You don’t want your fast to simply become a season of starvation instead of a moment of deep spiritual connection to God. If you are not intentional, your fast will be fruitless. Again, before your fast, create your spiritual plan. Maybe you can read a section of scripture, perhaps you could read a devotional book. Maybe you want to dedicate scheduled time to pray.
Again, there’s no right or wrong here. Just use the momentum of your hunger to motivate you to accomplish your fasting goals.
COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR FAMILY THAT YOU’RE FASTING
Your family needs to know why you’re grumpy, tired and not eating. You need your spouse to become your biggest cheerleader during this time. So, make sure that you have the full support of those closest to you, or you’ll never make it.
On extended fasts, I always sit down to dinner with my family and nurse my cup of V8. I don’t want my children to assume that seeking God means rejecting them.