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Fasting is Regaining Popularity. What are the Best Methods and Benefits for Adventists?

Fasting is Regaining Popularity. What are the Best Methods and Benefits for Adventists?
Story by Sherry English

Fasting certainly isn’t a new concept. It is practiced in nearly every religion in the world, and the Bible records many instances of it. God ordered the Israelites to fast during the Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16:29); Daniel fasted after he saw a vision (Dan. 10:3); Esther fasted in preparation for her mission (Esther 4:16); and Jesus fasted while in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).

Now, however, mainstream culture is catching on. “Fasting is becoming more and more popular,” notes Fred Hardinge, DrPH, associate director of nutrition and media for the General Conference Health Ministries Department.

Indeed, at the end of 2014, Google released its list of the top 10 fad diets searched that year. Among them was the Military Diet, which is a form of intermittent fasting—followers eat less than 1,000 calories for three days, followed by four days off, repeating the cycle. The 5:2 Diet—eating five days and fasting two—was among the top diets reviewed for 2015 by the British Dietetic Association and featured on ABC’s Nightline as the “hot new craze.”

fasting and prayers video What happens when you add fasting to your prayers? Does it make you eligible for bonus blessings? Watch this month’s Columbia Union Story to hear from Miracle Temple church members in Baltimore, who share what they experienced when they tried this ancient discipline.

For Seventh-day Adventists, fasting is believed to be one of the spiritual disciplines, yet one we might practice less frequently. With so many new suggestions and approaches on how to do it, what are some of the best methods? And, how does the practice benefit us?

Approaches to Fasting

According to Hardinge, food fasts are done three ways:

• Total fast, when an individual doesn’t eat or drink anything. “This is not advised,” he says. “Most can go a few days without food; but your body needs fluids.”

• Partial fast, when an individual doesn’t eat high caloric, heavy or junk food.

• Liquid (or juice) fast, when an individual drinks only water, juice, tea or broth. “This was very popular, particularly 20 years ago. It does provide some calories and nutrients,” he notes.
Hardinge says that there are many false claims about fasting, a popular one touting fasting as a weight loss tool. Most medical experts agree, however, that fasting is not a healthy, long-term weight loss option. In fact, going long periods without food can cause metabolic changes in the body, including burning muscle and not fat. And, about the popular European 5:2 Diet, now making its way to the states, he comments that there’s no strong evidence base to support its value.

“Frankly, I’m not a proponent of these types of eating plans,” he says. “And, for some, like a diabetic, it can be dangerous.”

But, didn’t Ellen White fast? According to G.D. Strunk (1979) and W.P. Bradley (1980), who compiled excerpts from her writings on the subject, the Seventh-day Adventist Church co-founder felt very strongly about fasting. As she noted in Medical Ministry, “The true fasting, which should be recommended to all, is abstinence from every stimulating kind of food, and the proper use of wholesome simple food...” (p. 283).

Hardinge suggests the best solution to healthy living is to strive daily to eat “simple food, in the amount we need, from healthy sources.” But, for those who need redirection, he adds, “Any plan taken should be done with careful thought and planning.”

Strunk and Bradley also report that White noted the main benefits of fasting: it fostered heart cleansing and confession, was beneficial for seeking God’s direction in planning and important for requesting God’s help in crises, among many other things.

Bogden Scur, associate professor of religion at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md., agrees. He adds, “Fasting for me is being desperate for God, more desperate than you are to eat good food. When we fast, we say to God, ‘I want you more than I want to eat. I desire Your Spirit and presence in my life more than I desire to eat.’ That honors God and He hears those prayers.”

It Isn’t Just About Food

Christians can gain the same benefits by abstaining from a specific item or activity. “Fasting isn’t just about food,” says Bryant Taylor, pastor of Allegheny West Conference’s Beacon of Hope church in Columbus, Ohio, and conference communication director. “It’s about denying self of something out of control in your life.”

Taylor began fasting when he pastored the Germantown (Ohio) church. “It started as a novelty,” he admits. “We learned, though, how great it can be individually and corporately, especially if you’re praying for a specific purpose.” Members fasted from TV, fast food, chocolate, and cheese, even naps.

“A member who was a law student was taking four naps a day. He’d nap for 15 minutes, get up and go to class,” explains Taylor. “Then he’d sit in class and start thinking about how many minutes until his next nap. He couldn’t focus. He said his naps were out of control.”

Pastor Taylor, on the other hand, decided to fast from TV. “I enjoyed my first 20 minutes of silence; then I was twiddling my thumbs!” he says. To fill the time, he began reading the Spirit of Prophecy, the Bible, the Sabbath School lesson, Adventist Review, anything he could get his hands on—and he enjoyed it. He also reorganized his office, which led him back to photography. “Taking pictures became an opportunity to go outside, meet my neighbors, walk around the neighborhood and see things I never paid attention to before,” he says.

And the napping law student? Pastor Taylor says the student reported feeling more refreshed and alert, once he began to fast.

Armor for the Battle

“When I think about fasting and why, I think about the story of the man who brought his son to the disciples and they weren’t able to heal him of the demon. When they asked Jesus why not, Jesus told them that it could only happen through prayer and fasting,” says Tamyra Horst, communication director for the Pennsylvania Conference, author and fasting advocate. “I think there are instances where the situation or the prayer needs fasting. Prayer is really spiritual warfare, and some battles are bigger than others. For the really tough battles, we need to give it all we have, and one way to do that is to commit to fasting. It causes us to really focus on God and learn to trust Him more.”

Heidi Davis, a prayer warrior at Ohio Conference’s Wilmington church, agrees. She fasts personally and corporately. She recently helped lead her church in a fasting session. In a letter to her fellow members, she shared some ideas of methods that work best for her:

I am by no means an expert at this, but each time I have fasted, I learn more about it. During my fasting times, I do no shopping other than what is absolutely necessary. I fast my time and my eyes. I don’t pick up secular magazines or watch TV or go on the Internet. I feast all I can on God’s Word and work on memorization. Spare time is used wisely without idleness, looking for ways to give of myself to others.

I eat more whole foods so less time is spent in the kitchen preparing food. I leave out pleasure foods, and I stop before feeling full. I also do not do my fasting during Sabbath potlucks, but I eat wisely. Sabbath is a reminder that we aren’t saved by our works but that we rest on Christ’s righteousness. On that day, I focus more on God being in control and standing on His promises and answering our prayers. It’s a hallelujah day.

Davis reports her church had a wonderful response from their session—from significantly increased attendance at prayer meetings to numerous answered prayers, for member and visitors alike.

Horst clarifies, “Fasting isn’t a guarantee that God is going to now answer your prayers exactly as you want. I think what fasting is about, instead, is what it does in us.”

Davis agrees. “Fasting changes our thinking and behavior. I can’t say enough about it. It’s something you must experience to understand. And, the more it is added to your prayer life, the more spiritually enriched you will become.”

5 Tips for a Successful Fast

Horst and Pastor Taylor offer the following suggestions:
• At the beginning, pray and declare to the Lord what you are doing.
• Share what you’re doing with the people closest to you.
• Create a support team, including those who understand what you’re doing.
• Share the experience and encourage others.
• Get creative. Occasionally, Horst and her friends give up sweets every day except one, praying and asking God to show His “sweetness” in their lives. On the off evening, they enjoy a dessert together while sharing how God showed His love throughout the week.



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