The following blog was written by Amy Etheridge — wife of Aaron (our Cannery Campus Pastor) and mom to three kids: Elijah, Toren, and Dahlia — they are currently in the process of adopting a baby girl!. We hope this blog can be an inspiration and provide some practical tips whether you have fasted many times before or if this is your very first time fasting!
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The first time I ever fasted was during the Fall of my senior year in college. I had been a devoted follower of Jesus for 4 years. But on this one night in particular God was starting something new in my heart. While reading my Bible in bed one night and praying I felt the Spirit tugging at me that I needed to fast. I had never, ever, had that interest before. So I asked God to make it clear if this urging was from Him, and the next morning it was burning in my heart more than before. I hadn’t studied anything specifically about fasting, but I decided I would fast for the next three days. I was scared and excited and bewildered.
Over the next three days I found myself confessing sins and declaring my full devotion to God. It was amazing! God truly blessed me during this time and in the days that followed. He changed my longings, dreams, and priorities. He anchored me and spoke to me and shattered the box that I had been confining Him to. This first fast was a huge God moment for me and I can confidently say that it changed the trajectory of my life.
In the 13 years that have passed since that first fast, I have fasted for different reasons, lengths of time, and in numerous different ways. All have been different, and some “better” than others. I would like to share some very practical considerations especially for those of you who may have never fasted before. Hopefully, you can avoid some possible frustrations and focus your mental energies on higher things.
BEFORE YOU START: It is important to prepare your mind, body and heart before you set out. Planning and preparing are keys to sustaining your fast.
DETERMINE WHY YOU ARE FASTING: If this isn’t clear, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead and convict you. I encourage you to write everything you are feeling, sensing, hearing down in your journal. I love the promise God makes in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Confession of sin is a great way to begin. I have found that God often brings clarity after spending considerable time confessing sin and acknowledging my need for His will to be done in my life.
COME UP WITH A PLAN.
Be sure to consider the following things...
- When will you begin the fast?
- Have you looked over your calendar to find a time that your schedule is clear?
- What is your plan for things to do during these times?
- Consider any medications or chronic illnesses that you may have and adjust your fast accordingly. (You may need to seek out medical advice!)
DECIDE WITH GOD WHAT TYPE OF FAST YOU WILL DO.
There are several ways to fast during Ethos’ 30 days of prayer and fasting. Some ideas include:
- Fasting for one day during the first week. Fasting for 2 days during the second week. Three days on the third week and so on. This is a good way to start off and build up and participate throughout the designated 30 days.
- Fast for one day a week each week during “Fast Forward”. (Pick the day that you usually have the least amount going on.) My husband Aaron did this for a season a few years ago, he would eat dinner on Sundays and then not eat again until dinner on Mondays. It was really powerful to have a scheduled set apart routine over a length of time.
- If you want to try for an extended fast (7 or more days) but you aren’t sure your body can handle it, consider a mix of a partial fast, full fast and then partial fast. The “Daniel Fast” is a plant based fast based on Daniel’s decision to abstain from the king’s royal foods. (For more info, see Daniel 10:2-3 and search “Daniel Fast” for guidelines)
- Drinking fruit/vegetable juices, full or diluted, or sipping on warm vegetable broths are other ways to receive some nutrients during long periods` without eating meals. So for example, start off the fast with three days of only juices and water, then go a set length of time with only water and then finish off with a few days on the Daniel fast.
- Dave’s ebook is a great starting place, as well as Jana Ogg’s blog post with a list of scripture for preparing for an encounter with God.These are both full of verses to help prepare our hearts before setting off on a fast. Take time to read these resources before fasting!
THE WEEK BEFORE YOUR FAST
Here are some practical suggestions:
- Rest! You are about to enter into something very rewarding and powerful…but also difficult!!! Rest and clear your schedule as much as possible for the upcoming week.
- Increase your intake of water! Increase your intake of nutrient rich foods. Going into a fast with a healthy and hydrated body will serve you well. So drink some water and eat some bananas! This is especially important the last 48 hours before you begin the fast.
- Reduce your intake of certain foods. Caffeine withdrawals, for example, can ruin a fast. To avoid terrible headaches, slowly reduce your intake of caffeine leading up to your fast. Our bodies can also have adverse effects from sugar, wheat, unhealthy fats, alcohol and junk food. Because of this, you may want to really monitor what you eat the week before you fast.
- You might want to clean out your refrigerator and cupboards of all foods you are abstaining of during the fast. (At least as much as you have control over.) If you live with others this may not be possible, but you can look through your car, purse, office drawers or anywhere you may have snacks or candy hidden.
- Stock up on whatever foods/drinks you plan to eat during the fast if you are doing a partial fast or juice fast. Going to the grocery on a fast isn’t ideal, so plan ahead.
A FEW THINGS TO BE AWARE OF...
During normal life our cells, certain tissues and organs work together to filter and clean and maintain equilibrium inside of our bodies. When we stop eating, during a fast, two things start to happen.
At first, our bodies begin to work double time and because no more energy is spent digesting food, more energy is spent cleaning or purging. Depending on how much there is to clean, it can get ugly! You may experience all, some, or none of these physical discomforts initially in the first 48 hours of a fast: pain, dizziness, headaches, weakness, cramping, tiredness, confusion, anger, gas, digestion issues, diarrhea or vomiting. This is all in the realm of normal. I tell you this so that you will listen to your body should it happen to you! Rest and drink water whenever you need to. (If you feel that your symptoms are beyond normal, consult a medical professional!)
After the cleaning and filtering phase is over, depending on the type and length of your fast, your body will switch to the second phase, restoration and healing. This phase is a lot easier and much more life giving! Our bodies slow down the digestion system for the most part and on a cellular level begin renewing, restoring, rebuilding and healing! As long as you aren’t over active you shouldn’t experience any of the above symptoms during this phase. (This is also why I will advise you to slowly reintroduce foods if you are planning to fast for more than 7 days. Your digestion system has been asleep and won’t appreciate being thrown into action).
Sometimes, it can be just as difficult emotionally. There are times when we have fasted that my thoughts have felt like what I’ve described above. The thoughts that have been purged from my sinful heart during a fast have at times been overwhelming. Bitterness, cynicism, jealousy, and just simple unkindness are just a few things we have experienced during a fast. The best thing I have found is to confess with someone who loves you and combat it with payer and scripture.
LET'S GET PRACTICAL
These are just recommendations, not rules! So figure out what works for you, and go for it.
- Reduce your exercise, but enjoy taking short walks when possible. This is helpful during your lunch hour especially. This helps reduce “noise,” clear your mind, and to refocus on God.
- Rest and take naps if you need to. Listen to your body.
- Change up your routine and avoid unhealthy habits. The more time you spend being intentional during this time the more meaningful it will become!
- Spend time with God!!! This is not a week of starvation with a sprinkle of Bible verses here and there! This is an opportunity to put everything on the back burner and run fully into the embrace of the Almighty! Here’s a list of things in which to immerse yourself:
- Prayer (Alone and with others)
- Worshipping by singing (alone and with others)
- Serving others
- Praying for others
- Bowing to God
- Writing letters to loved ones
- Reading scripture
- Listening to scripture
- Memorizing scripture
- Meditating on scripture
- Copying scripture
- Writing out your personal testimony
- Praising and thanking God
- Encouraging brothers & sisters in Christ
- Going on prayer walks (alone and with others)
- Being creative/making art/playing music/writing
- Spending time alone outside
- Reading for pleasure and for spiritual growth
- Making amends with people
- And the list goes on. Be intentional to give God all of your attention and affection. To Him be the Glory!
- Avoid chewing gum. The act of chewing begins the digestion process. Salivating activates digestive acids in the stomach and that my friends tells you that you are hungry!!!
- Avoid getting on the scale to check your weight. Losing weight is not what a spiritual fast is for!
If you do start to get hungry, try not to dwell on it. I know that is easier said than done. But really, that makes it a lot harder! If your mind wanders to food, hunger or focusing on how miserable you feel, just tell your self, “No!” Actually say the word ‘no’ to your stomach or mind! Try different things to help you get your mind off your hunger. Go back to your intentions that your wrote down initially. Reread why you are fasting, what is your plan and your purpose. Talk to God, tell Him how you feel, He’s big enough to handle your honesty, and ask Him for help! If you really cannot shake the thoughts out of your mind, try repeating phrases over and over. For example: “All to Jesus, I surrender” - “To God be the glory, forever” - “Not my will, but yours be done” - “unto Jesus” - “It is well with my soul” - “With God all things are possible” - “Give me Jesus” - “Come Holy Spirit, Come”
BREAKING YOUR FAST
This will look different depending on the type and length your particular fast.
- For 24-48 hour major fasts, take it easy for your first meal. Start off with a small portion and try things like simple salads, plain baked potatoes, oatmeal, rice or fruit smoothies. See how you feel for an hour or so after eating and listen to your body. You should be fine after that initial meal.
- 3-5 Day total fasts need a bit more gradual introduction to foods. I recommend fruit or vegetable juices at first. Start off diluted with water if you haven’t eaten anything for the duration of the fast because you may get sick from the strong taste or smell. Apples are very easy on the digestive system as well as oatmeal, avocados and rice. Start with fruits and vegetables on day one after the fast, and see how you feel before introducing meat, dairy, nuts, legumes and wheat back into your diet.
- I am guessing if you fasted from all foods for 7 or more days, you have probably fasted before so try to remember if anything triggered painful symptoms. If you are fasting for the first time for 7 or more days, just take it very slow as you introduce foods back into your diet. Be especially careful to avoid caffeine, alcohol or heavy foods like steak or ice cream. Remember that your digestive system has been resting and if you haven’t eaten in over a week it is not a good idea to stuff yourself with complex and rich foods. It may take a few days before you feel like you can eat normally again.
- If you did a partial fast for any length of time, start off with small portions for your first meal and eat slowly. You should be fine to resume normal eating habits after your fast is over.
I am sharing all of this, not to overwhelm you, but to encourage you. Like I shared in my story from 13 years ago, I fasted and knew none of this and it was an amazing time of growing more in my walk with God and self-discovery. Please hear my heart in all of this, you can do this! Whatever the next step that the Holy Spirit is calling you into, I encourage you to take that leap of faith. It is one you won’t regret. We love you and are cheering you on as you pursue God and grow into all that He has made you to be. To God be the Glory, forever!