21 Days of Prayer and Fasting
Last year revealed all sorts of silliness: We all imagined our hearts to be full of faith instead of fear. We all imagined that we trusted in prayer more than politics; yet, circumstances always reveal what we actually trust in (eg., money, politics, health-care, job-security). As Jesus puts it, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). I.e., when 2020 kicked the bucket of our lives, we all spilled what we were actually full of. (And some of us made quite a mess). But the good news is this: We don’t need to wait for a crisis to discover what’s inside! Indeed, God gives us a powerful discipline called fasting that can completely change our lives.
Of course, nobody HAS TO fast; but, when you understand what the Bible teaches on fasting, you’ll realize that we “get to” fast. It’s actually an incredible opportunity.
“Those who fast get healing” (Isa. 58). Jesus said, “those who fast get power over demonic oppression” (Mk 9). Again, Isaiah said, those who fast will live like kings — You’ll “ride on the heights of the land” (Isa. 58); When Ezra fasted, God gave protection over his kids & possessions. When Daniel fasted, God gave him understanding (Dan. 9). When Abraham’s servant fasted, God gave him a woman! (Gen.24). (Some of you men suddenly started taking notes). When Jesus started his earthly ministry, one of the first things he did was fast. And don’t misunderstand me: fasting won’t make God love you more. You can’t earn your way into Heaven. However, like the author of Hebrews reminds us: “God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
So, why then are people scared to do this discipline? Well, like any discipline, if you do it as an obligation to earn love from God, it will feel oppressive…the exact opposite feeling that God wants you to experience. Don’t get me wrong: fasting is never easy, but it’s a powerful way to discover all of the circumstantial ways we comfort ourselves outside of Christ and His word.
And keep in mind: fasting doesn’t merely mean abstaining from food. You can fast almost anything. In the truest sense, fasting is a process of abstaining from something for the purpose of worship, prayer, and self-discipline. For example, my wife will often fast sweets, desserts and candy. Other people fast movies, social media, or even coffee. (And in 2021, some of you need to serious fast the news).
But here’s why: Fasting is one of the few spiritual disciplines that reveals the truest state of our self-denial muscles. And if that sounds scary, consider your alternatives: crisis and moral failure also reveal this. So, we have a choice: preventative humility vs. humiliation.
So how do I participate? Well, quite simply, pray about what God would have you fast & simply join in, January 10th through the 31st! Spiritual disciplines like this can actually be quite fun when you’re doing it alongside a big group of people.
But allow me to get practical. Every year people ask me for tips on fasting. And for those of you who’ve never fasted before, here are a few tips to make this a fun experience:
(1). Start out with short fasts (e.g., skip lunch): Once you understand how it affects your body, slowly extend them to experiment: When I do 24 hour fasts, I start by eating lunch, skipping dinner/breakfast/lunch… and then break it with dinner the next night. Many people think short fasts like this are harder than extended fasts because, hunger pangs tend to get easier after a few days.
(2). When you fast, do it with Friends! It helps to process your experience with other people. It also keeps you encouraged while you fast!
(3). Give yourself extra margin and rest. Whenever I do a liquid only fast, I always turn into an exhausted zombie sometime in the afternoon. (If you’re an early-bird, its around 2pm; and if you’re a late night person like me, it’s before dinner hour). And if you do a job where you need to be mentally sharp (like a surgeon), then you might need to plan your fast during a down week. To be honest, I actually prefer to be busy when I fast. (Fasting is often most difficult on days-off). But I try to take short naps in these trough-moments when I fast. Also, whenever I do a water only fast, around day 3 or 4, I often experience “keto-flu” (aka., Acidosis). It’s basically a 24-36 headache that occurs when our bodies are relearning how to convert fat into energy (instead of carbs or protein). The good news is that, every time your fast (or diet), your body gets better at switching into ketosis without keto-flu. So, if you’re a newbie… (or you’re over-weight and/or have a terrible high-carb diet), I encourage you to sip a little soup if acidosis gets too bad. Please don’t torture yourself. (I share more tips for beating acidosis in the message here.) Besides, all of the amazing physiological benefits of fasting start kicking in after ketosis. Aside from losing weight, around day 4-5 you’ll experience a sedative affect followed by a huge boost in energy around days 5-6. And trust me: You’ll feel a difference, if you can make it here : )
(4). Drink lots of water: You can’t survive long without water. When I’m doing a water-only fast, I’ll often use electrolyte tablets. (Without electrolytes your body will shut down). Gatorade has a lot of sugar but will work. Or Pedialyte is also a good source of electrolytes.
(5). Can fasting be Dangerous? Potentially. The general rule is, if you have less than 3% body fat, then YES. Many teenagers could reach 3% in less than a week. But most of us could probably go 21+ days (water only) before they got down to 3%! (And some of us could go 50 days! You know who you are haha). So, if you’re pregnant/nursing/diabetic/ or have an eating disorder that gives you a complicated relationship with food, get counsel before any extended fast.
But we could also say that it’s dangerous to NOT fast! There’s a huge body of medical research showing that fasting for 5-7 days has a massive positive impact on our bodies. For example, Fasting boosts stem cells (the cells that cause healing). Thus, people who fast recover from surgery faster. They tend to have less problems with arthritis and joint inflammation. Fasting tends to kill off bad cells (like cancer) and protects young cells — which not only causes chemotherapy to be more effective; but, causes chemo to have less side-effects (like nausea). Fasting decreases histamines in our lungs. A simple 5-day fast can decrease allergies and asthma symptoms by a huge amount. (And if you’re interested in more, check out the Amazon documentary, “Fasting” by Doug Orchard. Or, watch my message on the physiological benefits here).
Obviously, if you’re really worried about sickness, start small! Skip lunch. Perhaps do a fruit & vegetable fast and skip everything else for a few days. But every time I do it, I learn something new about my body.
(6). When fasting, stay in an Attitude of Worship (Isa. 58). It sounds obvious but, remember that you’re worshipping God when you do this. So, if all you do is whine the whole time, you’re defeating the whole purpose! Keep in mind, God responds powerfully when we seek him (Heb.11:6).
The first few times I fasted, I bit off more than I could chew (pardon the pun). I attempted a fast that was way over my head and I was a miserable wretch. The next few times, I started experiencing success. I was impressed with myself. But remember, the goal isn’t pride or penance, it’s Christ-likeness. It’s being more aware of God! In many ways, you’ll know you’re getting good at fasting when, you’re no longer “Self-aware.” Suddenly, you’ll start to experience the type of fasting where God can give you crazy insights about your life and your family (See Daniel 10).
(7). Make a fasting Calendar: I love to have variety when I fast. I almost never do “liquid only” for 21 days straight. Sometimes, I’ll start out hard: do 7 days, liquid only. Then, I’ll do 4 days of fruits and vegetables only (a.k.a., a Daniel Fast); then, back to a juice-only day, then a free day. As strange as it might sound, most fasts start to get easy after 7 days. Your brain will stop throwing fits every time you can’t enjoy [Fill-in-the-blank]. And, if I could be honest, I stop being dependent on God. Ironically, a free-day (where you break your fast) can be one of the best things to jump-start the worshipful aspect of a fast. Trust me, when you indulge in [fill-in-the-blank] again, you’ll worship God for hours. And equally surprising, you’ll be shocked how willing your body will be to go back onto the fast again. So, don’t be legalistic! Mix it up.
Also, having a “free-day” helps if you have some sort of inescapable hosting situation (like a birthday) where you’re making your guests feel awkward by staring at them while they eat. But experiment for yourself. Remember, this should be a fun yet challenging experience.
(8). Ask your family to participate: My kids have participated almost every year. One of them fasted video-games. Another fasted sweets and their precious iPhone. Use this as an opportunity to share your faith with your own family. Share prayer requests and set fasting goals. There is nothing more exciting than watching your family experience supernatural breakthroughs.
But one thing is for sure– This can be your best year yet, if it’s your best year spiritually. So don’t miss out. Let’s do this together!
Ps. Here are some fasting resources that will make it fun:
– First off, I preached a message on fasting at our January 2019 First Wednesday service. You can find that message here.
– If you want to know how to explain fasting to your kids, click here!
– If you want to study the “types of fasts” that many people do, read more here.
– For some Daniel Fast recipes, click here.
– Or if you’re still nervous about how to get started, check this out: How To Get Started on Your Fast
– Other Great churches have more resources too. Here’s a link to even more.