Biblical and Practical Ideas for a Mountain-Moving Day of Prayer and Fasting
by Sharon Gauthier
This Wednesday, August 12, our fellowship of churches in the U.S. and Canada has called for a Day of Prayer and Fasting as we grieve racial injustice and call upon our Father to bring about peace and healing. But how can we make the most of this special day?
If you have been a disciple of Jesus for any length of time, you’ve probably fasted at some point. For me, there have been times when I have fasted and knew undoubtedly that the Holy Spirit was drawing me closer to the heart of God. Then there have been other times when I have ended a time of fasting even more troubled and discouraged than when I began.
So what makes for a “good” fast? Well, I’m no expert. But here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years that have helped me in this important spiritual practice.
1. Decide how you will fast before you fast.
What do you think of when you think of fasting? Water only? Liquids only? Vegetables, but no meat?Likewise, when you hear of a “Day of Fasting,” what does that mean to you? A 24-hour period? Skipping breakfast and lunch only?
There are no specific “rules” that answer any of these questions. The more important consideration is todecide before you fast what kind of fast you will have. Know your plan before the day starts. That way, you won’t give Satan a chance to fill you with temptations or guilt.Consider the general principle set forth in 2 Corinthians 9:7 (even though this verse is about giving; think about the principle):“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
2. Prepare for the fast in advance.
Once you’ve decided what your fast will look like, then it’s time to prepare for the day. Let’s say you’ve decided to have a 24-hour fast of drinking juice only. Well, I can tell you from experience that the day of the fast is not the besttime to go to the grocery store to shop for juice. (Trust me, you’llhear a few non-juice food items calling your name!)
Instead, prepare for your fast the day before. For example, if you’re fasting with water only, then have a nice pitcher of water waiting for you in the refrigerator the next morning. If the details of the day are all set beforehand, then it will free you to focus on the most important part of the fast—devoting yourself in prayer to God.
3. Consider your health and individual situation.
As a young college student, I once fasted for a whole week; water only. While I cherish that experience, my guess is that now as a 50-something, a week-long water-only fast would not be the best choice for my health.
While fasting is, in many ways, a community practice; it is also important to look at your fast from the perspective of yourself as a unique individual. One scripture that always speaks to me in these situations is 2 Corinthians 8:12. Although the verse is specifically talking about financial giving, the principle is valid in many circumstances: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have."
In other words, we don’t need to compare ourselves to others when we fast. Fast according to your own health situation. If you’re unsure, ask your health professional. For example, water-only fasting could be dangerous for those with certain medical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, hypoglycemia, eating disorders, etc. If you have a health challenge, consider other means of fasting. Some have fasted from desserts or maybe eaten only healthy foods during the fast. If the “willingness” is there, your “gift” is acceptable to the Lord.
4. Keep a spiritual focus.
Ok, I’ll confess my sin. There are times when I’m in the middle of a fast and my focus shifts from spiritual thoughts to worldly thoughts: What time is it? When can I eat? I wonder if I’ve lost any weight?
What starts as a time devoted to God gradually becomes a time focused on myself and the strength of my own willpower. The quintessential scripture that reins in my worldly thoughts is Isaiah 58; specifically verse 5:
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Fasting is a spiritual act; thus, it calls for a spiritual mindset. A fast is not about testing our bodies to see how long we can go without food. Rather, it’s about removing the distraction of food from our minds and centering our hearts on our Lord, calling on His name in full devotion. It may be helpful to pray the day before beginning a fast; asking God to help keep us fully focused on Him.
5. Fast as part of a community.
Oftenwhen fasting is mentioned in the Bible, the community fasted as a whole (1 Kings 21:12, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Ezra 8:21, Nehemiah 9:1, Joel 1:14, Jonah 3:5, Acts 13:2). Fasting as part of a community brings unity and power (Matthew 18:20). What better way to cry out to our Lord than as a unified, spiritual body of believers? Through community fasting, we express to God and to each other our commitment and devotion to our Father’s cause.
Even through a pandemic, we can find ways to join together in fasting and prayer. Pray over the phone with another sister. Meet together for a socially-distant time of prayer. Set up a prayer chain. Pray through a group prayer list. The ideas are endless.
6. Make it personal.
Even though we may fast as a community, fasting is also a very personal and individual time with God as well. In the Bible, we see many examples of people fasting in solitude. Consider Jesus as he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2), David as he fasted and prayed for his dying son (2 Samuel 12:16), and Nehemiah as he fasted upon hearing about the condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4).
During your fast—even if it’s a time when the whole community is fasting—spend some individual time with the Lord as well. Look for ways of making your time with God personal and unique to your own relationship with your Heavenly Father. Get creative. Are you an artist? Draw a picture during your fast. Do you love to sing? Sing a song to God. Do you enjoy being outdoors? Walk in nature with the Lord. Connect on a personal heart-level with the One who knows you through and through.
7. Devote the day to prayer.
Part of the beauty of fasting is that it opens up our schedule since we are forgoing our usual mealtimes. Those times often make an ideal opportunity to pray.
Personally, I love keeping a prayer list. It helps me keep my mind focused during my prayers. Part of the preparations for a day of fasting could be to write out a prayer list and know, in advance, what you will be praying about. Consider 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”
8. Devote the day to service.
Isaiah 58:6-7 gives a beautiful example of what a day of fasting should look like:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Fasting is a time when we give of ourselves in service to others. With our schedules a bit more open (remember the missed mealtimes?) we can spend our time serving others. For example, maybe instead of just skipping lunch, take what you would have eaten for lunch and give it to someone in need.
Particularly as the August 12 fast is a day of prayer for racial injustice, we can think of ways to “loose the chains of injustice” and look for opportunities to untie the cords of racism and bigotry in our society.
9. Study Biblical fasting.
The Bible has much to say about fasting. Take some time—especially before you fast—to study it out on your own. Develop Biblical convictions about this spiritual act of worship. Comb the scriptures and come up with your own 10 Tips for Having a Great Fast!
10. Fast for the heart and not the results.
In the Bible, fasting is typically a time of mourning (Joel 2:12, Luke 5:34-35). It is a time of pouring our hearts out to God. The goal is not just to receive an answer to prayer. In fact, in Psalm 35, David describes a time when he fasted for his ailing enemies (Psalm 35:13) and his prayers returned unanswered.
Instead, fasting is about changing our hearts—allowing our hearts to be molded to be more like our Holy God.
As we fast together on August 12, let us mourn the racial injustice and inequities in our society. Let us mourn the systemic bigotry that has plagued our nations. Let us mourn a world that turns away from its Maker. Let us come together in brokenness and humility before our Lord and ask for our own hearts to be revealed and purified. And let us not concern ourselves with the how’s, why’s and when’s of God’s answers to our prayers. Rather, let us yearn even more to offer ourselves to our Righteous Father and, in purity, see the world through His eyes.
Sharon Gauthier serves as a women's ministry leader in the Chicago Church of Christ, where her husband, Darren, serves as an evangelist and elder. They have been in the full-time ministry since 1991, having served also in Champaign, Ill., and Cincinnati, Ohio. They have led the Metro Ministry of the Chicago Church on and off since 1995. Sharon and Darren also serve on the Elders' Service Team for the International Churches of Christ.
Sharon holds a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and worked as a corporate publications editor before entering the full-time ministry.
The Gauthiers have been married for more than 30 years and have a daughter, Camille, who is a part of the singles ministry in Baton Rouge, La., and a son, Carson, who is a part of the campus ministry in Chicago.