*Adapted from Ten Practical Steps for Conducting a 24-Hour Fast by Jim Leggett
Jesus assumed we would fast. In the Sermon on the Mount, he instructed his followers, “When you fast...” (Matthew 6:16-18). For Jesus, it would be the norm for his followers to fast.
Many people throughout church history have found that a weekly 24-hour fast is a solid spiritual discipline that has enhanced their prayer life, served as a check-and-balance to their flesh, and reminded them tangibly of their hunger for and dependence on God.
Why conduct a 24-hour fast? Because fasting and prayer work! Consider some of the reasons people fasted in the Bible:
1. to intensify their prayers regarding guidance (Nehemiah 1:4), protection (2 Chronicles 20:3), healing (Psalm 35:13, deliverance (Matthew 17:19-21), and success in the Lord’s work (Esther 4:16).
2. during special assignments from God (Exodus 34:28, Matthew 4:1-11)
3. while preparing for ministry (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23)
4. to repent as a nation in solemn assembly (Joel 1:14. 2:15)
5. while worshipping (Acts 13:2)
Ten steps for conducting a 24-hour fast:
Step One: Determine the Goals of your Fast. I agree with Richard Foster when he says, “Fasting must forever center on God. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights – these must never replace God as the center of our fasting.” John Wesley declared, “Let fasting be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.”
With this perspective as your foundation, I believe it is helpful to dedicate your fast for a secondary purpose – to submit your request(s) to God. In the planting of the church I pastor, we conducted a 7 week fast with 98 people taking turns fasting for 24-hour periods. Our central request was God’s blessing in starting this new church.
What is the goal of your fast?
Step Two: Ask the Medical Questions. It is highly recommended that you consult your physician before beginning a fast. There are some people who should never fast: expectant or nursing mothers, diabetics, and those on certain medications. Bill Bright has some good recommendations regarding medical questions in his book The Coming Revival.
Step Three: Schedule your Fast. Pick your starting point and stopping point. If you are conducting a 24-hour fast, then you are committing to miss 2 meals. So, for example, you would eat dinner one night, and then not eat again until dinner the next night, thus missing breakfast and lunch.
Step Four: Schedule Time for Prayer. You do not fast for the sake of fasting – you fast to glorify God and to intensify your prayers. Thus, it makes sense that you would purposely schedule extra slots of time for prayer. Two obvious time slots would be the meal times you are missing. In this example, you could dedicate the time you would have spent eating breakfast and lunch to prayer. As your schedule permits, set aside some additional periods of time for prayer.
Step Five: Determine the type of Fast. Will you conduct an absolute fast (no food or water), regular fast (water only), partial fast (water and juice only), or Daniel fast (vegetables and liquids only, abstaining from “rich” foods)? I would discourage the absolute fast unless you are hearing a clear call from God to do so. It is recommended that you not chew gum or drink beverages with caffeine during your fast.
For those who cannot abstain from food due to medical reasons, you can abstain from rich foods (Daniel fast), television, telephone, people (discipline of solitude), or speech (discipline of silence).
Step Six: Eat Healthily Before and After. During extended fasts (3 days or more), it is important that you eat smaller meals with low-fat and low-sugar prior to beginning the fast and that you break the fast with juices and raw vegetables. A 24-hour fast does not require the same graduations, but it makes sense to eat healthily before and after your fast.
Step Seven: Begin with Confession, Dedication, and Prayer. Begin your fast with confession and repentance. Pray Psalm 139:23-24. Repent of specific sins in your life and identify with the sins of your church, city, and nation by repenting on their behalf (Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 9). Ask God to fill you with his Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, Luke 11:12-13).
Dedicate your fast to God’s glory and to your desire to love Jesus with the same love and passion that the Father himself loves his own Son (John 17:26). Also dedicate your fast to the prayer goals you have determined in step one. Begin your first round of praying for those requests. Carry them with you wherever you go during your fast, praying as often as you can for them. Spend time praising and communing with God. Your objective is not to manipulate God into answering your requests, but rather to grow closer to him. Part of that intimacy is surrendering your desires to him.
Step Eight: Journal. Keep a journal of your prayer and fasting time. Writing letters to God is a great way to communicate with a close friend. Spend some of your prayer time just listening to God. Journal the things you think you are hearing from him.
Step Nine: Expect Side Effects. Different people will react differently to going 24 hours without food. Some common side effects include headaches, bad breath, decreased energy, irritability, and hunger pains. Some of these are signs that your body is doing some work. Because your digestive system is resting, your body is able to purge itself of toxins (thus the bad breath). Use the hunger pains as a reminder of your hunger for and dependence on God (Matthew 5:6).
Step Ten: End with Thanksgiving. As you break your fast, thank God for the communion you had with him. Thank him for the things he taught you. By faith, thank him for the prayers he will answer through this time of fasting.