- What spiritual benefits can I anticipate?
Hard to say, but here are some that people attest to: a deeper sense of God’s presence, more focused prayer, a deeper love for Jesus, greater faith, fresh revelation, new victories in areas of defeat, displacement of apathy with fervency, a greater ability to identify with the needs of others, a clearer mind to do the agenda.
Two testimonies from church members where I was pastor: Betty came into my office all excited after a ten-day fast, seven of which were with water only. She said, “It has been so spiritually and physically invigorating. I didn’t get tired until the eighth day. That’s when I went on light juices. I woke up every morning with a different song on my heart.”
June, a young mother of six, went on a three-day fast, because she was concerned for an older son. She awakened the second night with something like a vision of an angel wrestling with Jacob. This gave her confidence that God would be victorious in her son’s life after a time of struggling. Time confirmed the vision.
- Are fasts normally planned in advance?
In the Old Testament, people often began fasting spontaneously as the result of mourning or of need. More typical in the New Testament are times of premeditated abstinence. When Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman, the disciples returned from town to offer Him some food. He responded, “I have food to eat that you know not of” (John 4:32). They thought that someone might have slipped Him a sandwich. Not really–He had gotten caught up in His Father’s business and did not want to stop for eating.
At the end of His forty-day fast Jesus told the devil, quoting from the Old Testament, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Some fasts may be directed by the Spirit, even though they are not written on the calendar. The practice of regular fasting prepares us for the unplanned ones.
- Could I damage myself if I fasted for a long period of time?
It is unlikely. Wallis says in his excellent book God’s Chosen Fast, “During a prolonged fast the body is living on surplus fat, and at the same time it is acting like an internal incinerator, burning up the waste and the decaying tissues of the body. Only when this refining process is complete does it commence to consume its sound living cells, and that is when starvation commences.” This phase comes between the third and sixth week.”
- How is fasting related to other forms of abstinence?
God-directed abstinence from any pleasure brings positive results. Fasting is the most common form of physical denial. Paul recommended sexual abstinence by married couples as another way of strengthening a prayer focus (I Corinthians 7:4). Abstaining from talking can be an effective way to correct bad speech habits. One woman observed that she was critical of other women, especially beautiful ones, so she decided to refrain from makeup and to wear only plain clothes until the problem was resolved. It worked. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself…” (Luke 9:23). Self-denial, fueled by the Spirit, releases grace.