On this blog, I’ve shared many insights drawn from a rigorous fasting discipline over the years. Fasting has myriad benefits and we have an entire section dedicated to it on this website. I initially began fasting to heal. I wanted to test whether this ancient prescription could give me better results than my health clinic. It did. However, there are a number of reasons why people fast that my experiences do not adequately capture. A big one of them is spirituality. Fasting is common in the Buddhist, Islamic, and Judeo-Christian traditions. Many of the great prophets– including Moses, Jesus, and Paul–fasted for extended periods of time in the interest of spiritual development. Last month, I interviewed John David Contreras to get his perspective on the issue. Contreras has been featured elsewhere on this site elaborating on his colorful experiences in the United States. Contreras is a University Professor of English in his native Colombia and a Christian Pastor. He has served in ministry for 13 years and has preached at numerous churches in Colombia as well as the US. The following is an account of a live 60-minutes interview on WhatsApp.
How did you first get involved in the fasting business?
I was raised in a Christian home with Christian principles and values. Christian activities were normal to me, and fasting was one of them. In my hometown church, we would fast every Saturday until noon. I participated at a young age and so fasting is something I’ve been familiar with for a long time, but it wasn’t a big thing in my life until much later. I used to do it only because it was a requirement of serving in the church. That changed when I turned 15 or 16 years old. God started using me in a big way and I learned the spiritual benefits of fasting. Spirituality has always been my only motivation for fasting. I didn’t know until later that people do it to improve athletic performance and for physical healing.
Is fasting a regular discipline in your life or more of an occasional thing?
I fasted every Saturday during the last few months because I was going through a tough time. I was also a season of spiritual change and I wanted to accelerate the process. Now with work on Saturdays I have to create a new routine, but the goal is that fasting will always be a regular thing in my life. I want more of the Lord always, not only on special occasions.
Do you fast for general spiritual growth or with particular aims in mind?
I’ve fasted to break generational curses, for an increase in spiritual perception, for family and friends, and in preparation for events. I also fast to better align myself with the will of the Lord. There are general and specific reasons, and I don’t always distinguish between the two.
There are a few types of fasts mentioned in the Bible. They involve not eating [water fast]; not eating and drinking [dry fast]; and eating mainly vegetables [the “Daniel fast” as it is commonly known]. Which kind or kinds of fasting do you practice?
Normally I do no food and water. Recently I did a fast lasting two days where I drank water, but I’ve never done a partial fast like the Daniel fast you mentioned. I’m not saying it’s not from God–it undoubtedly works for some people–but I haven’t been led to do one yet.
How do you spend your time while fasting?
Prayer. Worship. Reading the Bible. Meditation. Watching sermons that speak to my life. Sometimes I sleep. The Lord often uses my dreams to speak to me while I’m fasting. If you’re fasting for spiritual gain, and you don’t pray, read the Bible, or do some other activity, then at the end of the day you’re just starving. The idea is to trade your natural food for spiritual food. And seeking God is the only way to get spiritual food.
What spiritual benefits do you attribute to fasting?
Fasting, combined with prayer, increases the power of God in my life. It sharpens my spiritual awareness, and it empowers me to die. The Bible talks about killing the flesh. Everything that does not bring pleasure to the Lord. As I already said, the Lord often speaks to me in dreams while fasting. That doesn’t mean the Lord will speak to everyone this way. God can speak through prayer, worship, and the reading of the Word. These three things are the foundation of the Christian life. But to answer your question, overall I would say the opportunity to better hear from God whatever way he chooses to speak.
When I was in college, I would go to my hometown for vacation. I fasted until noon for three days and God moved powerfully. I remember ministering in a church and I could feel God’s presence during the sermon and in worship. A few months ago while fasting, God led me to read a chapter in Ezekiel–Ezekiel 1. All of a sudden God allowed me to experience the glory of the Lord in that chapter. My spiritual eyes were open, and I could see wheels within wheels like Ezekiel was describing. It was like an explosion of fire. I can visualize it in my mind right now. I had never seen anything like it. That experience increased my confidence in the Lord and the power of God in my life.
If there are so many spiritual benefits to fasting, then why do so few Christians fast? Many Christians seem to think that fasting isn’t that important or something that only prophets and superheroes of the faith are called to do. What would you say to these people?
First of all, there are many reasons why Christians don’t fast. The first is spiritual laziness. Christians don’t want to read the Bible, pray, meditate, or worship. They don’t even want to go to church. I think technology is good, it’s helped get the message of Christianity out to the world, but it’s also a problem. People think they can substitute church attendance with a sermon on a computer. And I think that’s a mistake. The Bible says we should go to church because there’s power when we come together as a people to seek the Lord, praise the Lord, and hear from the Lord. Spiritual laziness is a problem, and it affects all spiritual activity not just fasting.
Another thing is incorrect belief. Many people have been taught that we don’t need to fight because Jesus paid everything on the cross. We don’t need to fast, we don’t need spiritual warfare, we don’t need to make sacrifices because Jesus did everything for us. And that’s simply not true. Jesus was asked why his disciples didn’t fast. He said there would be a day when he (the bridegroom) would be taken from his disciples (the bride), and his disciples would fast in those days. Those days began a long time ago. Jesus also said “When you fast, when you pray,” not “if” [Matthew 6:5-18]. So it’s our duty as Jesus’s disciples to seek his face in prayer and in fasting. Many Christians haven’t been taught that fasting is a normal, necessary part of the Christian life.
And the third thing is spiritual ignorance. The Bible says that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [2 Corinthians 10:4]. They are spiritual. People who do not know how to use those weapons will fall. They will be destroyed by the enemy. So fasting is a spiritual weapon people have to learn how to use. I am a great believer. I believe in the power of fasting. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of giving. But I also know that I won’t solve every problem with fasting. I would compare fasting to an atomic bomb. But if I fast but continue to live in sin, God will never answer. I am wasting my time. So there has to be a balance in everything. Fasting is one of a number of weapons at the Christian’s disposal.
What other Scriptures would you cite to encourage Christians to fast?
There are examples in the Bible where fasting changed the will of God. Take the story of Jonah. God said he was going to destroy the city of Nineveh. And the king of that city repented and declared a national fast [Jonah 3]. It was God’s will to destroy Nineveh. But when the people repented with fasting, God relented.
Moses is another great example. Moses fasted twice for 40 days. The Bible says he didn’t eat or drink on the mountain when he was receiving the commandments from God. And Moses had an amazing relationship with God. The Bible says he spoke to God face-to-face, like a man speaks with his friend [Exodus 33:11]. Not everyone has the same calling as Moses, but everyone can reap the benefits of fasting.
I always say two things are free in the kingdom of heaven–one, salvation, and two, the gift of the Holy Spirit. They are for free. But if you want to conquer, if you want to see God’s promises fulfilled in your life, you have to fight. And fasting is a big weapon on the journey. In the Bible, God promised Israel a land, but they had to fight to possess it. It’s true that Jesus paid for everything on the cross, but we have to fight to possess it. Christians have this idea that Jesus is going to come and solve all their problems, but the reality is he has given us the tools so that we can take action.
What are some of the biggest challenges of fasting for spiritual benefits?
When I normally fast, I isolate myself from the world. I try not to talk too much on my phone. It’s a big challenge because technology can be a distraction. I also try to fast when I am not working, so I can focus on things like praying, worshiping, and reading the Bible. I know many people don’t have that luxury, so what I recommend while fasting is to spend time with God before going to work. And spend time with God during your work breaks.
Talk to me about breaking the fast. What’s going through your mind in that moment?
I like to break my fast with communion and prayer. At the end, I always feel that there is more. I feel that this is something I should definitely do again. As the Bible says in Psalms, “Deep calls out to deep.” [Psalms 42:7] I also meditate on the things things I accomplished during the fast. Issues the Lord brought to my attention, sometimes issues of the heart. And if the Lord gives me homework, I do the homework. Aside from that, make sure you eat something light so you don’t upset your stomach.
What parting words of advice would you give to Christians new to the discipline of fasting?
Jesus had to fast. And you are not better than Jesus, so you have to fast, too. As I mentioned before, Jesus said “When you fast, when you pray,” not “if.” It’s God’s will for you to fast, but follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Many people get excited at first and make plans to fast for 3 days, 7 days or 3 weeks but are unable to finish. Let the Holy Spirit lead you to decide the right timing and length, and He will give you the grace to finish.
Be prepared physically. If you’re doing a long fast, it’s smart to eat healthy in the days leading up. Prepare your mind as well. Before I fast, I communicate with myself, “The fast you are doing is an opportunity. Be ready to receive.” Fasting is not about going through the motions. Our readiness and level of expectancy will determine how much we receive from it.
Someone once said something interesting in the context of fasting. He said “Notice the first sin man committed was a sin of consumption.” Eating can become an idol in people’s hearts. They resort to food for comfort and satisfaction instead of God. Fasting is one of the surest ways to destroy this idol.