Before I get started, let me say: I’m not trying to be controversial. I’m not trying to start a debate. I don’t want to offend anyone. And I don’t want to argue. My intent is to share my experience and what I’ve found and possibly get you thinking too.
I want to talk about fasting. I want to question the standard. I want to probe a bit.
For me, the questions and probing started honestly. After years of disappointing fasting experiences, I wanted to really understand what the purpose of fasting was and what it was supposed to accomplish. Because, if my experience was the true experience of fasting – then I was done with fasting. It didn’t seem like anything more than a useless ritual. But – if there really was something to this, then I wanted to find out what I was missing.
And as I probed and questioned, I discovered I had it all wrong. Here’s the three things I learned.
First: Fasting is about FOOD. It’s not about giving up TV or Facebook or secular music or anything else.
Second: Fasting is about ALL food. It’s not about modifying your diet by leaving certain foods or food groups out.
I learned this by looking up the meaning for the word fasting in the Hebrew and Greek. In Hebrew, the word is tsom and the literal translation is “not to eat”. In Greek, fasting is nesteia and it means the voluntary abstinence from food. The literal translation means “no food.”
So fasting is voluntarily abstaining from food. Problem # 1.
This spurred me on to more digging. If by definition fasting is “not to eat”, then what about the Daniel Fast? And here’s what I found.
A little background on Daniel: Daniel was an Israelite and a devout follower of God. As a devout follower, he was committed to following the Law. And the Law contained dietary guidelines. That meant there were certain foods he was to abstain from. So when he was taken captive by the Babylonians and forced to serve in the king’s court, that meant he had to eat the food provided by the king. And that put Daniel in a moral dilemma.
His response to this situation is found in Daniel 1:8 But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. Daniel’s intent was to avoid compromise and follow God’s instruction for eating as closely as possible, so he asked for permission to eat differently than the king’s household. In verse 12 we see he asks, “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water.” Veggies and water were all the king offered that was acceptable for Daniel to eat. Nothing else met the dietary laws God had given His people to follow at that time. Daniel was simply trying to eat as he always had, meeting the dietary guidelines of the Law.
In Daniel 10:2-3 we also see where Daniel made a diet modification. When this vision came to me, I, Daniel, had been in mourning for three whole weeks. All that time I had eaten no rich food. No meat or wine crossed my lips, and I used no fragrant lotions until those three weeks had passed. Here we see that Daniel was mourning – he was distressed or troubled – and because of this he chose to alter his diet.
In both of these passages, the Hebrew word tsom is not used. This is why translators did not put the English word “fasting” anywhere in these passages. So in my humble opinion, you can’t take these passages and call what Daniel did a fast.
BUT – in Daniel 9:3 we do find that Daniel did fast. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. The word that is translated as fasting is the Hebrew word tsom – which means Daniel did not eat any food. No diet modifications. He did not eat.
So I think that what Daniel did in Chapters 1 and 10 would be better labeled as the Daniel Diet – not the Daniel Fast. And there’s nothing wrong with Daniel’s Diet. It’s good to eat better and care for our bodies – but to call it a fast, in my opinion, is misleading.
In Matthew 4:2 we also see that Jesus fasted. For forty days and forty nights He fasted and became very hungry. The word fasted here is the Greek word nésteuó, which is the past-tense of the Greek word I mentioned earlier, nesteia. When Jesus fasted, He did not eat any food – that’s why He became very hungry.
AND – in Matthew 6:16 where Jesus said: And when you fast,……He used the Greek word nesteia, which means to abstain from food. So His instruct is when (not if) you abstain from food….
So by the Biblical definition – fasting is only about food and it is about abstaining from food.
Third: When you fast, you replace meal time with prayer. When you would have been eating, you pray. You’re adding more prayer time to your day.
So instead of eating, you’re praying. Problem # 2.
No wonder I found the experience disappointing. I was either not eating and avoiding the hunger pains by staying busy. OR – I was modifying my diet but still eating normal times, never feeling hungry. And on neither occasion did I add more prayer.
So in recent years I have made corrections. When fasting I do not eat at designated times. (nor do I load up before or after to compensate for the missed calories) I spend the time I would have eaten being with Abba. I am still, I worship, I read the Bible, I listen. I am just with Him. And when my stomach growls or I develop a headache, I turn my thoughts toward Him – even if just for a second.
And this makes all the difference. Not once have I been disappointed. Every time – without fail – I have encountered Abba in a new way. Whether at some point during the fast or after its completion, I have experienced revelation, clarity, renewal and a deepening of my relationship with Him. I always walk away with something wonderful.
It’s not fun. You will get hungry. You will have a headache. You may get nauseous. You might feel tired. But be encouraged – it will be worth it in ways that are immeasurable!!
So maybe you want to try this for your 21 Day Fast this month. Whether it’s one meal a day or abstaining between sun-up to sun-down, or not eating between 9am and 5pm, try not eating and praying during the time you would normally sit down to eat. And keep your regular prayer time. Who knows what amazing things you’ll walk away with.