Fasting within the context of our relationship with God should serve to bring us closer to him. It should not be for selfish reasons such as losing weight, convincing God to grant us something, or looking more holy than others. When we decide to do a fast, it must be to approach God, listen to his voice and grow in our walk with him.
Fasting is voluntary. We choose to ignore for a time the physical need to eat, drink or something else. We focus on nurturing our spirit and seeking the presence of God in a special way. That is why it is important that on the day of fasting we have our Bible at hand and we are in a quiet place where we can freely speak with God and listen without interruption.
The Bible tells us about different kinds of fasting that we will see below. It is important that before starting any type of fasting, especially the total fast, we discuss it with our doctor and verify that it will not adversely affect our state of health.
Types, Lengths, And Purposes of Biblical Fasts
1. Total fasting
This is the most radical fast we can do. In this you do not eat or drink anything, the body does not receive any type of nutrient. In the Bible we find an example in chapter 4 of the book of Esther.
Go and gather all the Jews who are in Susa, so that they may fast for me. For three days do not eat or drink, neither day nor night. I, on my part, will fast with my maidens just like you. When I comply with this, I will appear before the king, even if it goes against the law. And, if I perish, let it perish!
Esther, her maidens, Mordecai and all the Jews of the city of Susa would be three days and three nights without eating or drinking anything before Esther went to speak with the king. She was going to pray for the life of her people. We see that it is a very radical fast but the critical situation deserved it.
The total fast should be done only for short periods of time, for example, 6, 12 or 24 hours. It is very important not to do this kind of fasting for more than three days. It is recommended to do it under medical supervision since the body does not receive any type of nutrient and can be dangerous for the health.
2. Fasting with water
This is the best known type of fasting. You do not eat anything but you can drink water. Allowing hydration can be a bit more extensive than total fasting, but it is also advisable to consult a doctor especially if you plan to stay for more than two days with water only.
It is thought that this was the fast Jesus did for 40 days just before beginning his ministry. The Gospels mention that Jesus stopped eating and was hungry but they do not say that he was thirsty. We read in the Gospel of Luke:
There are people who decide to incorporate fruit juices or water with lemon drops when doing this fast.
3. Partial fasting
Partial fasting consists of eliminating only certain foods. The idea is to eat simply to keep the body functioning without overeating or for pleasure. In the Bible we find the example of Daniel, we see how he practiced this fast for three weeks.
Daniel stopped eating special foods (elaborate or tasty) and meat. He also stopped drinking wine. This fast of Daniel is well known and followed since it is less radical. It is easier for people who have a health condition that does not allow them to perform another type of fasting.
On that occasion I, Daniel, spent three weeks as if in mourning. In all that time I did not eat anything special, I did not taste meat or wine, nor did I use any perfume.
(Daniel 10: 2-3)
This fasting can be more extensive since it eliminates only certain types of food and wears out less the body. There are people who decide to stop eating meat, others leave out desserts, sweets or candy. It is quite common to drink only water instead of juice or soft drinks during this fast.
4. Other types of fasting
The Bible mentions another type of fasting that has nothing to do with food. It is about setting aside for a time things that are not food. For example, Daniel stopped using perfume when he did the three-week partial fast (Daniel 10: 2-3).
In 1 Corinthians 7: 5 we also find the example of abstaining from sex in marriage for a short time to devote to prayer. This must be done by mutual agreement of the couple.
Today we see people who decide to abstain from the use of social networks or television for a few days because they want to use that time to deepen their relationship with God and focus on seeking their will. You can link this type of fasting to a partial fast.
Whatever fasting we choose, the most important thing is to dedicate that time to seek more of God. The emphasis should be on spending time with him, praying, worshiping him and reading his word. It must be a time in which everything else takes second place, we delight in listening to our Father and in receiving what he wants to give us.