In short, fasting is giving up something good to pursue something better.
Some view fasting as simply the act of not eating - fasting is only for those with superior willpower. Others see fasting as an outdated tradition of the past. Still others have felt the heavy burden of legalistic requirements about what and when to eat. Because of these preconceptions, we have sometimes ignored the spiritual power and pursuit of fasting.
Again and again, in the Scriptures, God uses prayer and fasting to work powerfully among his people. As leaders pray and fast and as the whole nation of God's people pray and fast, God chooses to answer in transformative ways. We particularly see his work in the church through prayer and fasting in Acts 13:1-3 and Acts 14:23.
What to fast from?
1. Food or Drink
We are most familiar with this form of fasting. There are degrees of this type of fast. We can fast from a particular food (e.g. no meat, no sugar), a particular meal (e.g. fasting from lunch once a week), or even from all food for a limited time. In choosing what degree of fasting will have the most spiritual benefit, also please take into account your physical health and any medical needs in this time. In addition, there can be a progression to this type of fast. We do not need enter a fast "cold turkey," especially if this is a new spiritual practice. For example, giving up caffeine all at once could be overwhelming and discouraging.
While technology allows our world to be more connected than ever (after all, you are reading this on a website from your home or mobile device), we sometimes neglect to question if all of the technology we use is beneficial to us. As with fasting from food, there are different degrees of fasting from technology. One can fast partially or totally from TV, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, checking your phone, etc. This type of fast frees up time and effort that can be directed towards pursuing God.
While we are not called to become recluses and hermits, there can be advantages to fasting from saying "yes" to every activity and invitation. Setting aside a special time for seeking the Lord in prayer and study. Likewise, guarding a time to pursue God together as a family or as a couple can benefit both your relationship with God and with your loved ones.
How long should I fast for?
How long a fast should last is up to you and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, some fast for one night (Daniel 6:18-24), for seven days (1 Samuel 31:13), for fourteen days (Acts 27:33-34), for forty days (Deuteronomy 9:9; Matthew 4:2), and for other amounts of time.
What is the goal of fasting?
Remember that fasting, to whatever degree, is not ultimately about establishing greater willpower or checking off a spiritual to-do box - it is about nothing less than pursuing the God of the universe. As you make room with your time, effort, and energy, pursue God. This is why prayer and fasting are so often linked in the Scriptures.
What are some other resources?
Here are some suggested resources:
Practicing the Power by Sam Storms (2017) [This book on pursuing spiritual gifts, reintroduced me (Pastor Stoops) to the practical value of fasting.]
In addition to these resources, consider filling out a prayer request on the website, so that your journey can be surrounded in prayer.