There are no specific rules about fasting. There are as many different ways of fasting as there are people. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you as you decide what type of fast to embark on. Here are some different types of fasts:
The Complete Fast
In a complete fast, you do not eat any food or drink any water. However, you should never do a complete fast for longer than seventy-two hours or you will face serious health risks. This type of fast should be extremely rare. It is found in Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, Ezra 8:21; 10:6, Esther 4:16, Acts 9:9, Acts 27:33.
The Normal Fast
In a normal food fast, you stop eating food for a period of time and drink nothing but water. This type of fast is mentioned many times in the Bible. In a variation of the food fast, you continue to drink liquids like fruit juices, but eat no solid foods.
The Partial Fast
In a partial fast, you limit the type of food you eat for a period of time. The prophet Daniel went on this type of fast when he only ate vegetables and drank water, abstaining from all “pleasant meat.” Daniel refused to eat meat because it had been sacrificed to false idols. At first, his Babylonian guard did not want to change Daniel’s diet, but Daniel asked the guard to test him for ten days by feeding him only vegetables to eat and water to drink. Daniel said, “Then compare our appearance with that of the other young men who eat the royal food.” At the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends looked healthier and better nourished than everyone who ate the royal food. “…So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead” (Daniel 1:16). This type of fast is typically called the “Daniel Fast.”
God honors a “Daniel Fast” just as much as he honors a total fast. This fast is a good for those who fight a physical condition like anemia, hypoglycemia, or diabetes. It is also realistic for those who engage in lots of physical labor in their jobs. Other partial fasts include Elijah’s partial fast of meal and oil cakes in 1 Kings 17, and John the Baptist’s fast of nothing but locusts and honey (Matthew 3:4).
The Media Fast
In a Media Fast, you fast from things other than food that distract you from God. In today’s sight and sound generation, everything happens at the speed of light. Often television, music, and e-mail can become overwhelming. A break from these distractions can strengthen our relationship with heaven.
You can tailor a Media Fast to specifically fit your needs. For example, when I was a teenager my family was spending too much time in front of the television so my Dad decreed we were going to fast from TV for one month. The plug was pulled and the TV was turned to face the wall. For one month, we did not fellowship with that ol’ one-eyed-devil, the boob tube. Perhaps you could fast from listening to secular music, or from surfing the Internet, or from reading romance novels, or from watching the news, or stop doing other activities which have the tendency to inadvertently replace God in your life.
The Specialized Fast
In a specialized fast, you take something you enjoy and sacrifice it on the altar to God. You can fast from chocolate, meat, sweets, coffee, soda pop, or other non-essentials. By omitting a few items from your normal diet, you are reminded of your fast each time you crave those items. This will prompt you to pray instead of eating. Use your belly as a spiritual alarm clock.
Many Christians do this every year as they celebrate Lent which is a reenactment of Christ’s forty day fast. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter. During this time it is customary to give up meat, milk products, or other luxury foods. The tradition goes back to the early church who used the fast as a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning. Lent is a time for repentance, reflection, and rededication. My sister, Esther, has been fasting from soda pop for over three years. She decided to go on this specialized fast because she read that the sugar in soda can harm the body in the long run. In the middle of the second year of her fast, I tricked her into breaking her fast by replacing the water in her glass with lime soda when she was not looking. Mad as a hornet, she spit all the soda out of her mouth. She did not think my joke was funny. Now, she watches me closely to make sure I stay away from her cup.
The Fasted Lifestyle
In a fasted lifestyle, you maintain disciplined eating habits over a long period of time. If you do not rule your appetite, your appetite will rule you. Eating a few hundred calories less each day will result in long-term weight loss over the course of a year. Since your body is God’s temple, you should keep it in as good of shape as possible.
The Nazarites lived a fasted lifestyle. They dedicated their lives to God by committing to a restricted diet and made a vow to never drink wine or eat anything made of grapes (Numbers 6:4). You can maintain a fasted lifestyle through self-discipline by taking smaller portions, not finishing everything on your plate, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and avoiding unhealthy, fat-filled, high cholesterol foods.
I think they should call fasting “Christian Anorexia.” When I fasted for forty days, I lost thirty-five pounds! What a wonderful diet! Do you want to lose weight? Stop eating! Guaranteed to work or your money back! Fasting is not actually a good way to maintain weight loss. It is possible to lose large amounts of weight quickly when you fast, but your metabolism goes into starvation mode and when you start eating again your body stores fat in order to prepare for another period of famine. This is similar to the yo-yo effect many experience when going on diets. They lose lots of weight and quickly regain it when the diet is over. The answer to this problem is a fasted lifestyle.
The Corporate Fast
In a corporate fast, an entire congregation or group of people or even an entire nation fast at the same time. There are many examples of corporate fasting in the Bible: Samuel declared a corporate fast of repentance for worshiping false idols (1 Samuel 7:5-6), King Jehoshophat called all of Judea to a fast when enemies were approaching (2 Chronicles 20:3-4), Esther asked her uncle Mordecai to have all the Jews in Suza fast (Esther 4:15‑16), Ezra asked the people to fast for protection before going on a long journey (Ezra 8:21-23), the returned exiles fasted and repented after hearing the word of God read (Nehemiah 9:1-3), Joel encourages the nation to declare a corporate fast of repentance (Joel 1:14, 2:15-15), Nineveh went on a corporate fast after Jonah prophesied to them (Jonah 3:7), all the prisoners, sailors, and soldiers on Paul’s ship fasted for deliverance from the storm (Acts 27:33-37).
Recently, my friend, Pastor Billy Allen asked his entire church to fast and pray for one week. No one was forced to fast and each person made private commitments to God concerning which days he or she fasted. The pastor reported that almost the entire congregation participated and that the church received tremendous spiritual blessing in the weeks that followed the fast.
Another friend, Pastor Dominic Russo asked his church to fast for a period of forty days. Each member of the church was asked to give up something during that time. One church member called Pastor Dominic and reported, “Pastor, this fast has been really good for me. I decided to stop drinking alcohol during the forty days.” Surprised that one of his congregation had a drinking problem, Pastor Dominic could just say, “Well, good for you.”
There are many benefits of a corporate fast. First, corporate fasting helps unify a church for a common purpose. Those who pray together, stay together. Second, corporate fasting facilitates corporate repentance for corporate sins. Third, a corporate fast releases a corporate anointing. Fourth, there is an element of positive peer pressure during a corporate fast. Fifth, everyone who fasts in a corporate fast shares the blessing of the whole. In Matthew 10, Jesus told the story of the laborers in the fields. The ones who worked all day received the same payment as those who only worked one hour. In a corporate fast, some may fast many days and others may fast only a few meals but they will all share alike in the benefits of fasting together.