Nearly all major religions have been practicing fasting for thousands of years. In Christianity, people abstain from food, drink, or sexual pleasure to attain a deeper spiritual connection. This article explores fasting in Christianity, the different kinds of Christian fasts, the purpose of fasting according to Christianity, and guidelines for observing a fast.
Different Types of Christian Fasts
There are generally three types of Christian fasts — regular fasts, partial fasts, and full fasts:
- One may choose to observe a regular fast by abstaining from all food for 24 hours and drinking only water and juice.
- A partial fast involves abstention from only certain types of foods or skipping meals. For example, one may choose to give up lunch or eat only vegetarian food for a fixed period of time.
- A full fast involves complete abstention from food and drink, which should be done with caution and only for short periods of time.
The Bible also mentions supernatural fasts as in the case of Moses who miraculously fasted for 40 days without food and drink.
Why Do Christians Fast?
While fasting is not commanded by Christ or required by Scripture, it’s encouraged in Christianity as a method for strengthening your faith and attaining spiritual growth. All fasts don’t necessarily have to be focused on abstaining from food. Abstaining from anything you like for a period of time, such as watching television, to focus on God can be considered a “fast.”
The main reason behind fasting is to temporarily disengage from materiality and get closer to Christ. The attitude and sincerity with which one approaches fasting are said to be of utmost importance in Christian fasting.
As per Christian beliefs, fasting is acceptable only when done for the right reasons. One should not fast out of obligation, to receive the admiration of others, to compensate for deliberate sin, or to be commended by God. Fasting for weight loss, medical reasons, or because of the unavailability of food are also not considered Christian fasting.
In the Bible, people fast to seek help from God, to prepare their bodies to carry out God’s will, to show humility, to mourn the death of a loved one, and to repent for past sins.
How to Observe a Christian Fast
Define the purpose of the fast
Christian fasts require a clear purpose to maintain focus, such as seeking God’s blessing. There is no prescribed amount of time for fasting in Christianity, so you shouldn’t feel pressured to fast in the exact same manner as someone else. You can choose the duration of your fast depending on your age and health.
Those who are new to fasting may find it easier to start with one meal and work their way up to a daylong fast. This gradually accustoms the body to the idea of fasting. Always drink two to three liters of water to avoid dehydration.
While it’s important to decide the duration of your fast before you begin, don’t be too rigid. You may have to adjust your fast duration depending on your health condition. Most healthy people can maintain a daylong fast without much difficulty. Mild symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue, are common. However, if you experience severe discomfort or pain at any time during the fast, stop immediately and seek medical help.
Prolonged fasts are generally not recommended. Any fast over 24 to 72 hours should only be done under medical supervision. Fasting too frequently can also cause nutritional deficiencies. The goal of Christian fasting is to connect deeper with God, not to inflict self-punishment.
Prepare your body for the fast
Cut down on caffeine and reduce your calorie intake in the days leading up to the fast. A vegetarian diet with no fatty or sugary foods will help reduce cravings throughout the fast.
Make a plan
Plan out your fast to avoid any disturbances to yourself and others. Carve out plenty of time to worship and study the Bible. If you regularly eat your meals with friends and family, let them know about your fast in advance.
Many use the time otherwise used to cook and eat meals to pray and meditate on God’s word. People who observe Christian fasts recommend keeping a journal to jot down any ideas, thoughts, and emotions that arise. You can also engage in an act of service for the poor and needy.
Break the fast safely
Breaking the fast also requires careful planning and consideration. The longer the fast, the more time your body will need to get back to normal. Restrain from eating a heavy meal immediately after a fast. Break your fast with a glass of fruit juice and then gradually introduce easy-to-digest foods, such as soft-cooked vegetables and soup, into your diet.
If you’re planning to try fasting, remember to get approval from your doctor before you begin. People with medical conditions and eating disorders, children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women are usually advised against fasting. If you fall into this category, you may choose to observe other forms of “fasting” such as cutting down on television or restricting a specific type of food from your diet.