In the book, Guiding Hand of God, the author tells of a father in Oxford, England, many years ago who was caused one evening to pray for his soldier son, who was away on service in the South African War. Under this strong urge, he continued in prayer all night until the morning broke. Then came relief, and he went to rest. It came to be known just a short time later that just at that time in the distant land, his critically wounded son had been brought into the hospital. The doctor had at first declared there was no hope but yielding to the nurse’s pleading, they had together fought throughout the night to draw that precious life into safety, and at dawn the crisis had passed. It was in that same hour that his father had felt that he could cease his intercession.
Prayer, when it becomes a reality and we carry burdens on our hearts for those we love – our family, friends and acquaintances – opens our eyes and directs them to the Unseen. The secrets of the Lord become ours. When we think of fervent prayer, we should also think of fasting, because the true fast is the denial of ourselves for the good of others, just as this father denied himself for the good of his son.
This faithful, concerned father denied himself a whole night’s sleep, because he felt the Spirit’s urgent insistence on behalf of his son. And this was truly a fast in the broadest definition of the term – denying oneself for the benefit of others. The Bible defines fasting as abstaining from certain kinds of foods, especially harmful or stimulating foods, or abstaining from food altogether. It can be the denial of oneself a certain pleasure or gratification in order to gain spiritual victories for oneself or for the purpose of pleading intercession for others. Please see Daniel 10:2; 1 Corinthians 7:5.
Every Christian has the great privilege of confessing the word of God. It shows us the way to live and the way to die – especially to die to one’s own animalistic nature. Galatians 2:20. And with that, the Christian can reckon himself to be truly dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Romans 6:11.
Many, however, wonder why there is so little power in them to overcome sin, the world and the devil, why “the greater things than I do,” which Jesus said we would do, are not evident in life? Too many Christians long for the life of Jesus to be more fully manifested in their own lives, and yet in many areas the flesh remains uncrucified. Let’s be clear on one thing; every Christian has three enemies: A. The flesh, (the lower, or animalistic nature of man as compared to the spiritual nature that can appreciate and enjoy truth, beauty and love). B. The world, (pride in all that man has and does in his own strength). C. The devil, (the tireless instigator of evil that desires every one to be destroyed – spiritually, mentally and physically.)
All three of these the Lord Jesus overcame for us on the cross at the end of His mission here; and perhaps more importantly in this context, He overcame them at the beginning of His ministry during His fast on our behalf. The degree to which we overcome these three will be the degree to which Jesus can live His life through us. Since we must overcome by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus for us on the cross, in which He gave us perfect victory over the flesh, the world and the devil, it is evident that what needs to be strengthened and increased is our faith. He has commanded us to be strong in the power of His might. One of the strongest, most effective Biblical methods that God has given to increase faith is fasting and prayer. That concerned father spent the whole night in fasting and prayer for his beloved son. He denied himself his momentary physical need for his son’s welfare and, yes, his very life.
Why Should I Fast?
Fasting is a Biblical principle taught by Jesus in both word and example. He gave it to us for the purpose of our Christian growth. There are areas of victory in your life which will never be realized except through fasting and prayer. Matthew 17:21. Jesus does not ask us to fast, He tells us to fast. Jesus did not say if you fast, He said when you fast. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught three spiritual exercises as necessary in the disciplined life of every Christian disciple (notice the similarity between those two words). These three indispensable spiritual principles are:
The purpose of this lesson is to show the importance these three things have in our personal fellowship with and obedience to God. (And as we have seen in the last lessons, our personal obedience to natural law is key to our healing – body, mind and soul.) Jesus taught that they can be done in a right way or they can be done in a wrong way.
Giving should never be directed by man or to man, but Biblical giving should be as unto the Lord and directed by the Lord. Prayer should never be directed by man or to man but should be offered to God out of a heart filled with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, fasting also should never be directed by man or to man, but should be a ministry to God out of a heart full of love and thanksgiving for what He has done for us on the cross of Calvary.
It should be noted that God does not need our giving. We are the ones who need to give, so we may be transformed into the image of the Great Giver, who gave His only begotten Son to die in our place. Also, God does not need prayer as an information service – we need prayer to bring us up to the level of Christ and to learn to commune with the Eternal One. Furthermore, God does not need our fasting. We are the ones who need fasting. Through these things we have fellowship with Christ and learn about true self-denial and willing obedience.
No matter what spiritual exercise we do, all the power flows from Jesus.
The Type of Fast
Everyone is different, and many people have hidden diseases in their bodies which begin to be cleansed through fasting, so the reactions will be as varied as people. Usually, the more suffering during your fast, the greater was the need for you to fast. If you have lived many years with dependence upon nicotine or caffeine as a stimulant, you will probably have strong reactions the first couple of days, until the withdrawal symptoms are over. When you fast, the body reaches into its “hidden corners” and expels toxins in concentrated form. This is why many have strong reactions when they fast.
Before you begin your fast, you can help alleviate these adverse effects by cleansing your colon with an herbal laxative or an enema. This is especially necessary if the fast is to be sustained for any length of time. The reason for this is that any fecal matter which is left in the colon during the fast (because there is no more food coming down the alimentary canal to push it out) will putrefy and be reabsorbed through the colon wall, causing distress such as weakness, headache, nervousness or shakiness. (For this reason, it is ideal to take an enema at least once a day during prolonged fasts.) Also, those who are in any way ill or infirm should consult their physician before beginning a fast for more than two or three days. (This is especially true for advanced diabetics, those with weak hearts, anyone over 60 or those on medication of any kind.)
Physiological Effects and What to Expect
“Fasting is the oldest therapeutic method known to man. Even before the advent of the healing arts, man instinctively stopped eating when feeling ill and abstained from food until his health was restored. Perhaps he learned this from animals, which always fast when not feeling well.” (1)
“During a prolonged fast (after the first three days), your body will live on its own subsistence. When it is deprived of needed nutrition, particularly of proteins and fats, it will burn and digest its own tissues by the process of autolysis, or self-digestion. But your body will not do it indiscriminately! In its wisdom – and here lies the sacred and extraordinary effectiveness of fasting as curative and rejuvenative therapy! – your body will first decompose and burn those cells and tissues which are diseased, damaged, aged or dead. In fasting, your body feeds itself on the most impure and inferior materials, such as dead cells and morbid accumulations, tumors, abscesses, fat deposits, etc.” (2)
“The best, safest and most effective method of fasting is juice fasting. Although the old, classic form of fasting was a pure water fast, all the leading fasting authorities today agree that juice fasting is far superior to a water fast…Vegetable broths and herb teas result in much faster recovery from disease and more effective cleansing and rejuvenation of the tissues than does the traditional water fast…The water fast exerts severe physical and emotional stress on the patient and therefore results are often unsuccessful.” (3)
All juices whenever possible should be freshly made in your own juicer or blender. They should be raw. The sweet ones (orange, grape, grapefruit, etc.) should be diluted with water 50-50.
“Vitamins, minerals, enzymes, trace elements and natural colouring of fresh, raw vegetable and fruit juices are extremely beneficial in normalizing all the body processes, supplying needed elements for the body’s own healing activity and cell regeneration, and thus speeding the recovery. These juices require no digestion and are easily assimilated directly into the bloodstream….” (4)
Breaking the Fast
When breaking a prolonged fast of three days or more, it is wise to accustom your body to solid food in a step-by-step way:
The first step should be fruit (not more than 2-3 kinds at a meal) and at the next meal, raw vegetables, then at the next meal, lightly steamed vegetables and finally brown rice. For every three days fasted, take one day in readjusting your body to solid food. All food should be taken sparingly and well chewed (this is especially important in the first steps of breaking the fast).
It is also important to restore the body’s intestinal flora (natural, essential “friendly” bacteria in the colon and small intestine) by taking acidophilus in capsule form (available in the health food store) or by eating “active culture” foods such as yogurt or kefir.
“Fasting affords a physiological rest to the digestive, assimilative and protective organs. After fasting, the digestion of food and the utilization of nutrients is greatly improved, and sluggishness and further waste retention are prevented.
“Finally, the fast exerts a normalizing, stabilizing and rejuvenative effect on all the vital physiological, nervous and mental functions. The nervous system is rejuvenated; mental powers are improved; glandular chemistry and hormonal secretions are stimulated and increased; the biochemical and mineral balance of the tissues is normalized.” (5)
There is a parallel between the physiological effects of fasting and the improvement of our spiritual health: as we all need our physical bodies regenerated from within (as for example, through self-denial in fasting, the morbid matter is converted to something good and useful), so we need by our faith in the love, grace and self-denying sacrifice of Christ to be regenerated spiritually. Only thus can God take us, who were lost in the morbid matter of sin and regenerate us into something good and worthwhile. And thus we come back into harmony with our Creator and His laws that govern our being.
The True Purpose of Fasting
Let’s look at some God-given reasons for fasting. In Joel 2:12,13, NKJV, we see a dramatic message of why we need to fast.
” ‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”
After quoting the above text, Ellen G. White gives this explanation: “To prepare a people to stand in the day of God, a great work of reform was to be accomplished. God saw that many of His professed people were not building for eternity, and in His mercy He was about to send a message of warning to arouse them from their stupor and lead them to make ready for the coming of the Lord.” (6)
Let us compare the above text on fasting with the one chapter in God’s word that most clearly gives us the importance of fasting – Isaiah 58. The first five verses are on how NOT to fast. The next verses are on how to fast and the benefits of fasting. Beginning in verse 6 we read :
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘here I am.’ ” Isaiah 58:6-9, NKJV
“Isaiah was sent to present heaven’s message of reconciliation and peace. To a backsliding and hypocritical people He gives instruction as to what repentance involves, and what is essential before the promised blessing may be realized. A call to repentance cannot be effective unless it sets forth clearly what men must do about sin in their lives. A call to reformation is a call to decisive action.” (7)
Medical missionary work is truly putting into practice these inspired words of Isaiah. We are to seek God’s face in our spiritual lives that we may bless others practically as well as spiritually.
“The 58th chapter of Isaiah contains present truth for the people of God. Here we see how medical missionary work and the gospel ministry are to be bound together as the message is to be given to the world… Medical missionary work is to be bound up with the message, and sealed with the seal of God.” (8)
“Outwardly the nation of Judah professed to follow the Lord, but inwardly they were far from Him. They held to the external forms of religion, but neglected its basic principles. They fasted and prayed, observed the Sabbath, kept the sacred feasts, while they engaged in every form of iniquity. They professed to love the light, but chose to live in darkness. They wanted all this world had to offer – and heaven too. They thought to enjoy the privileges of obedience, but were loath to shoulder its responsibilities.”
” ‘Wherefore have we fasted?’ they said.”
“These hypocrites thought to make themselves acceptable to God by undergoing various forms of bodily affliction. Fasting, they believed, would atone for iniquity. Their darkened minds failed to realize that God is righteous and that He required righteousness of His children. They forgot that the essence of true religion is the exercise of justice, mercy and humility. These hypocrites fasted because they thought thereby to earn God’s approval. They did not grasp the spiritual meaning of such things as fasting and Sabbath observance, and thought that adherence to the forms of religion gave them license to gratify their own passions and to oppress the poor and the helpless.”
“Verse 6 – To loose the bands.”
“True fasting was designed to purify the motives and refine the life. The true purpose of religion is to release men from their burdens of sin, to eliminate intolerance and oppression and to promote justice, liberty and peace.” (9)
Jesus, as Creator, gave the Sabbath to mankind to be a memorial of creation. It was to call to our minds His benevolence and ability to provide for all our needs – mentally, spiritually and physically. In fact, the first full day of Adam’s existence, (the Sabbath) was spent in worshiping his Creator and communing with Him. And thus our hearts are drawn out after God and His blessing on the Sabbath. And knowing these blessings, it’s the most natural thing in the world to want to share them with others.
As we commune with those around us, we cannot help but notice things that bring them into distress. Problems with health, emotional insecurity and mental anguish plague many people today. Almost always these problems can be traced back to an incorrect manner of physical, mental or moral life. Yes, we can say that sin is a state of disharmony that upsets the resilient, delicate human machine.
But even though a person’s own habits may have been at the root cause of their difficulty, we are to think no thoughts of condemnation, nor waste time in recrimination, for this only “rubs salt in the wound” and makes the wound bigger. We are to lovingly, yet earnestly seek to point them away from their wounds to the sin-pardoning Redeemer. As they see Him lifted up on the cross of Calvary, they will begin to understand at their own pace, what the horrible penalty for their sin was, and step by step we can point them to true solutions.
Fasting is a great blessing to gain insight into oneself (and examine motive and appetite in the light of the cross). It is also a spiritual responsibility which Christ put on an equal level with prayer. As these two great spiritual weapons are combined by the grace of God, we can win wondrous victories over self, sin and Satan.
As the Sabbath is both a privilege and a responsibility, so fasting is also. In the Sabbath we deny ourselves the worldly cares and problems to draw close in fellowship to Jesus. In fasting, we deny ourselves the cares of appetite and the problems involved with planning, preparing and consuming food so we can draw close in fellowship to Jesus and especially to share His blessing and bounty with others.
As the Sabbath is a good time to visit the sick, fatherless and lonely, so while fasting we may plan special projects of giving and sharing, as Christ did. We are to be Reformers on the Sabbath today by being repairers of the breach made in God’s law and restorers of the godly paths in which to dwell. Just like that concerned father who prayed all night, denying himself sleep to intercede for his son’s life, we are to give ourselves to this same type of intercession and experience. This self-denying work can be compared with everything in Christ’s ministry, for we are to have the faith of Jesus. (Please see Isaiah 58:12-14 and Revelation 14:12)
The work of reformation is to extend into every part of our lives. Fasting is a God-given way to share in Christ’s experience of self-denial. We are to have fellowship in His suffering so we also may be partakers of His joy. To reform is to seek for the pathway of God to the heart. Once God walks down the pathway of our heart, we will want to walk with Him into the hearts of others.
(1) Dr. Paavo Airola, How to Get Well, p. 216. Health Plus Publishers, P.O. Box 22001, Phoenix. Arizona 85028.
(2) Ibid., p. 215. (4) Ibid. (6) Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 311. (8) Ellen G. White, Evangelism, pp.516,517.
(3) Ibid., p. 219. (5) Ibid., p. 216 (7) S.D.A. Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 305. (9) S.D.A. Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pp.305-307.