Physical and Spiritual Aspects of Fasting

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-- © GodSpeak International 1997 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <> --

Physical and Spiritual Aspects of Fasting (Sept, 1997)

by Teresa Seputis

This is a writeup I did on fasting a while ago (with a few minor updates to reflect my most recent 40 day fast: July 28 to Sept 5 of 1997). Some people have found it helpful. Since questions have come up about fasting again, I am sharing this writeup again. Apologies to those who've seen it before. I hope those of you with questions about fasting find it a little helpful....

There are a lot of differnent 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 sweetner 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. Most people agree 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 gettting 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 advisiable/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 physology 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 loose weight. You will probably gain it all back and a bit more when you start eating again.) After a while your body stablizes and you feel more energy and also don't feel hungry. A rather unpleasant side effect is that you will usually have dierraha 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-nutrative 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 metaboloism.

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 exherting yourself physically too much. 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 strenously 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 explicitely 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, differnet 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 ususally 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 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 priviledges 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 priviledges 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 jewler, 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 disapppointed if the fast is not the ulitimate spiritual experience where you are walking on cloud nine and on the mountian 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 usaully 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 dierraha 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 indefinately. He wants to be Lord of our fast, including Lord of breaking our fast after the perscribed time period has ended. Be sure to invite Him back into your eating just as you invited Him into your fasting.

There is another weird dynamic, which can happen on breaking the fast. I did not experience it on my first two 40 day fasts, where there was so much warfare during the fast itself. But on my 3rd fast, the enemy came at me like a storm in the first few days where I was eating again. I was attending a prophetic conference and broke my fast with a communion with some of my friends. That day was a spiritually awesome time for me. But the next day, Sunday, I ran into something I did not expect and which almost "took me out". It had been an exhausting conference and we used the Sunday afternoon break to take a nap. When I woke up from the nap, I started to pray and read my bible... I landed in the part of Jeremiah that laments the fall of Tyre. I started hearing all sorts of crazy things about San Francisco being Tyre and the city will be totally destroyed by the end of the year (1997) which would put me out of a job because I work in SF's Financial District, etc. It was hard to tell if it was the Lord or my immagination or the enemy... though when I later sought confirmation from the Lord on this, He did not confirm it. Then that evening at the conference, I recieved some "improper ministry" which left me feeling full of termoil. I started feeling like God had abandoned me and I began to cry out to Him for all I was worth... and He did not meet me at all. My mind began playing tricks on me and I began to wonder if God's word was really true, if He really took care of His children, etc. I ended up having a tanthrum with God and really told Him off. After an hour or two, I "calmed down" and was horrified by what I'd said to the Lord. Then the enemy came in again and started messing with my mind again.. that I'd committed the unforgivable sin and that God would never speak to me again.. and on and on. God eventually met me and cleared things up and got me back into a right relationsship with Him... but I had a really tough 12 hours or so. In debriefing with some of my "mentors" they felt it was a combination of enemy attack (after all Satan came to tempt Jesus AFTER His 40 day fast was complete) combined with the phisiology of breaking a fast and how that can cause some emotional/mental things to trigger in the first day or two. Our thinking/emotional responses to things can be clouded by the physiology of starting to eat again. So if you hear anything weird the first 2 or 3 days after breaking a fast, hold onto it and seek the Lord for confirmation after your body has had a chance to get used to eating again. An don't be totally startled if your emotions do weird things when you first start eating again or if the enemy comes and tries to attack just AFTER the fast is over.

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 done 5 fasts that are longer than 3 weeks. 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 7 day fast as per His calling than to assume you will fast 40 days when He has only graced you for 7.

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.

I hope this info is helpful. I am not an expert on fasting, but this is what I've learned from my experiencs doing so, plus a bit of teaching and advice I've picked up from others in the process.



-- © GodSpeak International 1997 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <> --

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