Fasting is the abstention from food for a period of time. Various forms of fasts are possible. First of all, there is what I call the absolute fast. The absolute fast is one in which the person fasting eats no food whatsoever and drinks no water and no other drink for a certain length of time. Moses underwent two absolute fasts for forty days each. During that time he neither ate food nor drank water.
His were supernatural fasts spent in the immediate presence of God. Although I know people who have had absolute fasts of up to fifteen days, I do not advise anyone to go on absolute fasts of more than ninety-six hours. It is risky and I do not think that the risk is necessary.
There is also what we call the complete or total fast. This is the withdrawal from all food and all drink except water. In a complete fast, a person drinks water and water only. No juice, tea, milk, or anything else is allowed. This is most likely what the Lord Jesus underwent for forty days; for we are told that after the fast He was hungry, but we are not told that He was thirsty. I consider this the normal fast—nothing taken in but water.
There is also what may be called the partial fast. There are many forms of this. One common type is to take one meal every twenty-four hours. The one meal should be light and not the size of three meals, which would be gluttony. Another type of partial fast is to live for some days or weeks only on fruit juice or milk. Another type of partial fast is the one described by Daniel. He said: “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks” (Daniel 10: 2-3). Some brethren have had a partial fast during which they ate only bread and drank only water for a period of three weeks. They were blessed.
As we have said, the normal practice is to abstain completely from food, that is, a complete fast. The spiritual benefits are greater. I have never had an absolute fast of more than seventy two hours, and so I cannot say much about absolute fasts from personal experience. I have some experience of long and short complete fasts and of a number of three-week partial fasts. Partial fasts are only recommended for people who have health problems that prevent them from undergoing complete fasts. A case for partial fasts may be made for people in job situations that make long complete fasts impossible.
A definite advantage of a partial fast of, say, three weeks, is that one is strong enough to do the normal duties of life. I remember one time when I had a three-week partial fast during which I had only bread and tea. I was strong enough to work fifteen to eighteen hours a day on the book I was writing at that time.
If your experience of fasting has been limited to partial fasts, then this is the time to make progress. Stop going on partial fasts and begin to go on complete ones. Maybe you ought to start next week. You may begin with a forty-eight-hour complete fast and two weeks afterwards go on a seventy-two-hour complete fast. You will see the impact of that fasting on your spiritual life and be glad.
There was a time during which I backslid in my fasting life. I stopped complete fasts and only took to partial fasts. I gave the excuse that it was because I was too busy with other aspects of the ministry. When I realized that I had backslidden, I repented and decided to go back to normal fasting. It was difficult. I even found a seventy-two-hour complete fast very difficult, and a cou ple of times I broke a fast that I intended to go on for seventy two hours after only forty-two hours. I cried to the Lord for mercy and help. He heard my prayer and healed my backsliding. I was then able to fast normally again.
Fasting is not only abstention from food. It is concentration on the Lord—His holiness, His Kingdom, and His will. Normally, when a person is full of food, the desires of the physical body are very strong, as well as the desires of the soul—that is, the will, the mind, and the emotions. During fasting the desires of the body are greatly reduced and the spirit rises and soars, controlling the soul. This means that spiritual reality is more easily discerned by a fasting person than by one who is not fasting. At the height of a long fast, which may be between the twenty-fifth and the fortieth day, the things of this world become absolutely meaningless. For example, I found that the following were absolutely meaningless to me during such a period:
- my looks,
- my educational qualifications,
- my job,
- the presence of human beings (in fact, each one had a detestable odour),
- any accomplishment in the world,
- et cetera.
On the other hand, God was near, and thoughts of heaven possessed me. I was anxious to walk in perfect holiness. I wanted to obey the Lord in everything. I wanted His companionship. I wanted to hear His voice. Although I did not have much strength to pray, I felt that I was in direct communion with my God, and my short prayers that were uttered as short phrases throughout the day and night seemed to go right to the heart of God.
As I read the Word, God seemed to speak more clearly, and spiritual illumination was received readily. Fasting brings spiritual power. When those who are unsaved fast, they release spiritual power that is of the Enemy's kingdom and that goes to strengthen it. That is one reason why it is impossible for believers who are given to food and pleasure to make any headway in the winning of Muslims and Buddhists to Christ. The reason for this is obvious. Because these people fast extensively and pray extensively, they release a lot of spiritual power that insulates their spirits from penetration by the Gospel. Penetration is only possible when ministry to them is carried out by people who also have spiritual power released through fasting in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Fasting is also a form of mourning. It is mourning because the Lord Jesus is away and the believer misses him and wants him back. It is mourning because of the believer's poor spiritual condition when God has given him so much in Christ. It is mourning because of the worldly condition of the Church and her impotence against the Enemy. It is mourning over the multitudes that are passing into a Christless eternity. Fasting is a heart's cry to God to act. He does act when people fast. You are invited to the ministry of fasting. You can actually begin tomorrow. Do not postpone it. Start at once, and may the Lord bless you.