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-- © GodSpeak International 1999 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

Author: Teresa Seputis <ts@godspeak.net>
Editor: Paul Cummins

Prayer-School Course #5

A Spiritual Checkup For Intercessors

Lesson 8

Physical and Spiritual Aspects of Fasting
By Teresa Seputis

There are a lot of different views on fasting. Some people feel that it is not really a fast unless you take ONLY water. Others feel it is OK to take in any non-nutritive foods (such as sugar-free soda, tea and/or decaf coffee (as long as you only use artificial sweetener and fake cream in it). Others feel it is fine to include juices. Others find it OK to have a glass of non-fat milk per day on long fasts, as long as you stick strictly to liquids. Pretty much everyone agrees that things like milkshakes and other liquid desserts are NOT valid for a fast.

But the opinion which should really count is the Lord's opinion... I recommend not doing a long fast unless the Lord has called you on one. And if the Lord does call you on one, then ask Him which type of Fast He is calling you to. My first ever fast was a 10 day fast (I don't recommend that you fast that long for your first fast unless God expressly calls you to.) I took nothing but water on that fast. I had no clue about guidelines for breaking long fasts and broke it with two doughnuts and a cup of coffee. It was only by the grace of God that I did not get extremely sick.... sometimes God protects us from stupid mistakes when our heart is in the right place. But I would not presume on His grace by fasting (or breaking the fast) unwisely.

Remember that the point of the fast is to obey and honor the Lord and to draw close to Him. I find that on long fasts, I am able to discern His voice more clearly than when I'm not fasting. Not everyone has that experience. Some feel only tired and irritable and even further from God on a fast, but find that place of intimacy after they have completed the fast. It is important to have the right motives when fasting. Please do not view fasting as somehow spiritually twisting God's arm and obligating Him to answer your prayer. It does not work that way. God is NOT very prone to being manipulated. Instead, view the fast as a time to separate yourself unto the Lord, to put seeking Him above satisfying your bodily needs, with the intent of allowing Him to touch and change you. Look at the fast as getting yourself more in tune with Him rather than as getting Him to do something for you.

It is very important that we do not get our focus on the fast as through the act of fasting is of merit in and of itself. Rather, try to keep our focus on God and drawing more into intimacy with Him, of being able to hear His heart on a matter. But you will be aware that you are not eating... your flesh will start to cry out for food. It will try to consume your attention. On my first 40 day fast, I dreamed that I was eating and it was a very realistic dream. When I woke up, I thought I'd broken the fast and started repenting to God for doing so. He told me it was just a dream and I had not really eaten anything. Your mind and your body may crave food. It might even play weird tricks on you. You might find it advisable/necessary to take this to the Lord and ask Him to help you with it. He is usually willing to help you (give you strength and will power to fast) if He has called you to do so. As in all spiritual things, "without Christ we can do nothing" (John 15:5b).

The physiology of a fast goes something like this... the first 3-5 days you get really "hungry" and start feeling weak. Then your body begins to switch over to consuming energy form stored fats. (Unfortunately, it also breaks down non-fat tissue... so this is a terrible and unhealthy way to diet. Don't fast to lose weight. You will probably gain it all back and a bit more when you start eating again.) After a while your body stabilizes and you feel more energy and also don't feel hungry. A rather unpleasant side effect is that you will usually have diarrhea for several days as your digestive system shuts itself down and then you won't have any stool type of activity. Note that what I described is for the total types of fast -- water only or water and non-nutritive liquids. If you take juice or skim milk, you will find the first few days easier, but will tend to stay hungry longer. Your body will probably switch over to burning stored fat (as in the water fast) but it make take longer to do so. In one sense you stay stronger by putting the sugar from the juices into your system, but in another sense you get weak because you don't switch over to the burning-fat-store type of energy as fast. The tradeoff on this effects different people differently, depending on their metabolism.

It is not uncommon to get dizzy or light-headed on a long fast, especially if you end up getting up rapidly from a sitting or laying position, or if you are exerting yourself physically too much. This is often an sign of dehydration.. that you are not getting enough fluids into your system and the best thing you can do in that case is to increase your water intake.

You will find that you get cold easier -- in fact, sometimes I can't stay warm on a long fast, even if I turn the thermostat up to 80 degrees (where my non-fasting husband is literally melting). I find that it is unwise to consume cold things while fasting... especially things like chewing on ice cubes. If you do that, you do get a bit of a sensation of eating, but you also end up getting so cold that you can't get warm again for a long time. Drinking hot liquids seems to help... even if it is just hot water.

It is very unwise to exercise strenuously while on a long fast. Many people find that the can continue working the duration of the fast if they are careful to curtail most physical activity. When I'm on a long fast, I cut back my walking as much as possible and drive more. By all means do not do any exercise types of activity like jogging or playing volleyball or going dancing during a fast unless the Lord has explicitly spoken to you to do so. Some people wisely curtail their activity and still find that they need to take some sick days to just rest in bed during a long fast. Again, different people seem to handle this differently, based on their constitution and such. I can usually work the whole time I'm doing a long fast if I am very careful to curtail all other physical activity, but I usually get very tired. (I also usually take juices and a glass of non-fat milk on a long fast, which helps me with the physical endurance.) I will often go to be very early when I'm fasting. Sometimes I get into a phase where God will wake me up in the middle of the night to pray. Usually I don't feel much like praying when He wakes me up... I feel more like I have insomnia. I am often groggy when this happens and it takes a while to figure out I'm supposed to be praying. After I pray on whatever topic(s) He has on His agenda, it becomes easy to get back to sleep again. But if I don't pray through His agenda, I usually have a great deal of difficulty getting back to sleep.

Sometimes the level enemy attacks and spiritual warfare goes way up on a long fast. In fact, on both of my first two 40 day fasts, I came under a much greater degree of spiritual warfare than I usually experience. It was almost as though the enemy was trying to wear me down and get me to give up on the fast. Another common thing that happens when we fast is that we subconsciously expect God to give us special privileges because we are fasting... things He does not necessarily plan to do. For example, one time when I was on a long fast, I was trying to park somewhere where it was very difficult to find a spot. Since I was weak from my fast, I expected God to give me a close parking spot and was miffed with Him when He did not do so. I was complaining to Him and He set me straight by asking me why I thought that I merited special privileges just because I was fasting. Also, I expected Him to protect me from enemy attack. It was a real eye opener to me on my first 40 day fast when I had more severe bad things than usual happen to me... such as my car being broken into and my favorite coat being stolen, the diamond being stolen out of my wedding ring by a dishonest jeweler, and on and on. I was so overcome that I started to have attitude problems and God had to give me a little lecture on having a pure heart... trust me, you don't want to get that type of lecture from Him! It is not fun, especially when He is right and you know you are in the wrong. So, watch your expectations during a fast and guard your heart and your attitude. Expect that spiritual warfare and enemy attacks will be higher than usual when you fast. Don't be disappointed if the fast is not the ultimate spiritual experience where you are walking on cloud nine and on the mountain top. There will be times like that, but there will be lots of times that are not like that. In fact, during some parts of a long fast, you may feel "father away" from God than when you are not fasting. This is not unusual.

Finally, be careful on breaking a fast. Many find the breaking of a fast harder than the fast itself, because your digestive system turns back on and you start getting really hungry. You have to eat wisely and in small quantities. This is hard to do... you want to stuff yourself. But if you do that, you will probably get very sick. I usually break fast with plain bread types of food, gradually adding back in fruits and vegetables and eventually regular food. Personally, I do very well with milk or cheese in breaking a fast, but many people get sick from that. Also, be advised that you will may experience some diarrhea as your digestive system begins to turn itself back on. This is fairly normal and should not be a cause for alarm.

There is a weird spiritual dynamic that seems to happen around breaking a fast. Lots of times you feel so close to God by the end of the fast that you don't want to come off of it. There is sometimes a bit of a fear that you might loose the spiritual ground you gained or loose that ability to discern His voice. Remember that God created us to eat, that is part of how He made us. Even Jesus broke His 40 day fast and went back to eating. God does not expect us to fast indefinitely. He wants to be Lord of our fast, including Lord of breaking our fast after the prescribed time period has ended. Be sure to invite Him back into your eating just as you invited Him into your fasting.

Finally, don't assume that 40 is the magic number. The Lord has called me to a lot of 2 and 3 week fasts. I have only ever fasted more than 3 weeks on six or seven occasions. Be sure not to set a goal of fasting longer that the Lord has called you to fast. It is much better to check in with Him and set a 14 day fast as per His calling than to assume you will fast 40 days when He has only graced you for 14.

As with any other area of your life, be sure to invite Him into the fast. Ask Him to lead and guide you and empower you and teach you and speak to you on the fast.

[Please Note:
This is intended as a discussion series. Please feel free to send your discussion (comments or questions) to prayer-school@godspeak.net. We will have online discussion each week. These discussions will NOT be put on the course WWW page.]

-- © GodSpeak International 1999 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

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