There are three different types of fasts recorded in Scripture: the absolute fast, the normal fast and the partial fast. An absolute fast is extreme and should be done only for very short periods of time. On an absolute fast, you take in nothing—no food, no water. Depending on your health, this type of fast should be attempted only with medical consultation and supervision.
On a normal fast, you typically go without food of any kind for a certain number of days. You do drink water, and plenty of it! Depending on the length of the normal fast, you may also choose to take clear broth and juices in order to maintain your strength.
And then there is the partial fast. A partial fast can be interpreted many ways. The way it cannot be interpreted is to include the time between about 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.—when you’re sleeping! A partial fast usually involves giving up particular foods and drink for an extended period of time.
The most common example of a partial fast in the Bible is found in the book of Daniel. In the beginning of his captivity in Babylon, Daniel and his three companions refused to eat the choice meats and sweets from the king’s table, asking instead to have only vegetables and water. They did this for ten days to prove that at the end of the fast, they would be just as healthy as the king’s men. Later, in chapter 10, grieved over the plight of Israel, Daniel began another partial fast, taking no sweets, no meat and no wine for three weeks, during which time he was focused on prayer. At the end, his prayer was answered by an angel.
The duration of fasts can vary. We find significant numbers in the Bible, including three days, seven days, 21 days and 40 days. But there are also references to half-day fasts and 24-hour fasts.
There is no set formula to help you determine which type or length of fast is right for you. The length of time you choose to fast should depend on your circumstances, but don’t get bogged down in the details. Begin with one day from sunrise to sunset. You will be amazed at the difference even a one-day partial or normal fast will make in your life.
As a teenager, I would fast all day on Sunday until after church. It made me so much more sensitive to the Lord. I would be so spiritually tuned in that it didn’t matter if anyone else got a blessing that day or not—I sure did!
Don’t bite off more than you can handle. There is no need to be heroic and attempt a forty-day fast if you have never fasted a day in your life. Just start. Once you discover the benefits, you’ll be on your way to making fasting a life practice.
There are times when the Lord may impress you to go on a longer fast, but for most folks, a three-day fast is very practical. A “Daniel fast,” eliminating meat, bread and sweets for 21 days, is a fast just about anyone can handle as well. Some may think eliminating only those three foods from your diet for three weeks is no big deal. But if it means something to you, it will mean something to God. After all, when was the last time angels were released to speak mysteries to you as the archangel Michael spoke to Daniel?
On longer fasts, I drink water, juice and even broth when I feel I need a little extra strength. The local Chick-fil-A has grown so accustomed to the annual fasts at our church, Free Chapel, they now readily strain their chicken noodle soup so we can buy just a cup of broth!
The Bible records many different circumstances, types and lengths of fasts. Joshua fasted 40 days, and Daniel partially fasted 21 days. The apostle Paul went on at least two fasts: one for three days and one for 14 days. Peter fasted three days, and, of course, we know that Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness. All these fasts were undertaken for spiritual purposes and bore great fruit in the individual character’s lives—just as fasting will in yours when you make it a regular part of your faith journey.
Excerpted from Jentezen Franklin’s book Fasting (Charisma House, 2007).