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The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast
By Kristen Feola
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Kristen Feola
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTypes of Fasts
When most people think of fasting, the first image that usually comes to mind is of a person going without food for several days and drinking only water, broth, and juice. Although fasting comes in a variety of forms, there are basically four types:
2. Supernatural absolute
An absolute fast is a fast from all food and liquids for a few days, which is what the apostle Paul experienced after the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). Another example is when Queen Esther sent a message through Mordecai, asking the Jews to fast with her before she went to see the king. She said, "Do not eat or drink for three days" (Est. 4:16).
A supernatural absolute fast requires refraining from eating and drinking for a greater period of time than the absolute fast. It is referred to as supernatural because the length of time involved is medically impossible to survive without the divine empowerment of the Holy Spirit, such as when Moses went without food or water for forty days on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments from the Lord (Exod. 34:28).
A liquid fast involves eliminating food for a period of time and consuming only water, fruit juices, and vegetable juices. The Bible does not mention a liquid fast specifically, but it's an option that many people choose, especially when fasting for more than two or three days. This type of fast is not quite as taxing on the body as an absolute fast, and there is typically no danger of dehydration if adequate liquid is consumed.
On a partial fast, certain foods are removed from the diet for a specific length of time. The prophet Daniel chose to undergo a partial fast when he sought the Lord. His fasting experiences form the basis of the Daniel Fast.
The Daniel Fast
Participating in a Daniel Fast requires eliminating commonly enjoyed foods for twenty-one days as an act of worship and of consecrating oneself to God. Foods that are allowed are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oils. Restricted foods include dairy, meat, sugar, all forms of sweeteners, yeast, refined and processed foods, deep-fried foods, and solid fats. (For complete lists of foods to eat and foods to avoid, see p. 63.)
You don't have to be a spiritual giant to do a Daniel Fast. It's for anyone who is hungry for a deeper connection with the Lord and who is also willing to make a three-week commitment to the spiritual discipline of fasting as a means of pursuing that connection. Because it is a partial fast, as opposed to an absolute or liquid fast, participants are able to eat a wide variety of foods. For this reason, the Daniel Fast is a good entry-level fast. However, if you have a medical condition or any health concerns, you should consult with your physician before beginning any type of fast, including the Daniel Fast.
The guidelines of the modern-day Daniel Fast are based on the fasting experiences of the prophet Daniel. We follow his example not so much because his diet is worth emulating as because his heart is worth emulating. In the book of Daniel, chapters 1 and 10, we discover how Daniel's passion for God caused him to long for spiritual food more than physical food, which is the ultimate desire of anyone choosing to participate in a fast. As we take a closer look at what he did, it's important to remember that we're not trying to duplicate Daniel's menu, but we do want to imitate the spirit in which he fasted.
Daniel 1: The Ten-Day Test
The book of Daniel begins with a conquest. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has besieged Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, taken King Jehoiakim captive, and ransacked God's temple. As part of incorporating this new acquisition into his kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar brings a group of young Israelite men from their homeland to serve in his palace in Babylon but not as prisoners or slaves. Nebuchadnezzar wants talent. He chooses the best young men from wealthy, influential families, who are handsome, intelligent, and strong, with great potential for leadership and success. Nebuchadnezzar puts his chief official in charge of these men and commands that they be trained for three years before entering the king's ser vice. Daniel is one of the king's young men, a captive Israelite brought to live in a pagan palace.
Each day the men receive a set amount of food and wine from the king's own table. However, Daniel resolves not to defile himself by partaking of the royal food. Most commentaries agree that the menu probably included food that had been sacrificed to idols and meat from unclean animals, such as pork, both of which were forbidden by Jewish dietary customs. Daniel wasn't being rebellious or obstinate by refusing to eat such food. He was simply unwilling to violate his convictions.
Daniel requests permission to eat only vegetables and to drink only water. The king's chief official is sympathetic but is afraid of the king's wrath if Daniel's limited diet causes him to look worse than the other men. Daniel then approaches the guard appointed to care for Daniel and three of his friends and proposes a test: "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see" (Dan. 1:1213). The guard agrees.
At the end of the ten-day test, Daniel and his friends look healthier and better nourished than the other young men who dined on royal food. From that point on, they are no longer forced to eat the king's food and have permission to eat only vegetables. The Bible says that to those four men who courageously stood up for their beliefs, God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. The Lord also gave to Daniel special insight and the ability to understand dreams and visions (v. 17).
What strikes me about this passage is that, despite the fact that Daniel was held captive by his enemies, he did not become a slave to fear. He knew that refusing the king's food might result in serious consequences, yet Daniel remained true to his convictions, demonstrating an unwavering trust in God. Although this particular experience wasn't technically a fast (since those foods most likely weren't part of Daniel's diet anyway), it's important to take a look at how he handled the situation so that we can better understand the man behind the fast mentioned in chapter 10.
I imagine too that the king spared no expense in what Daniel and the other men were served at mealtimes. The royal spread was probably unlike any food they had ever eaten the best of the best. After all, Nebuchadnezzar was investing time and resources in training the men, and it was to his benefit that they be healthy and strong. Was Daniel tempted by the tasty food placed in front of him? Probably. The Bible doesn't say, so we can't know for sure. What we do know, however, is that if the king's food was a temptation for Daniel, he resisted it.
Just as Daniel faced trials in following the Lord, you undoubtedly will encounter challenges as well. The devil is outraged that you have committed to this fast, and he will find ways to place temptation in your path. To keep from being enticed into bondage by the enemy, you must prepare yourself for battle. As 1 Corinthians 16:13 advises, "Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong" (NLT).
I want to encourage you to make time to be with the Lord over the next twenty-one days. I know, I know. You're busy. We all are. There are many people and things vying for your time, and sometimes it seems you can't fit them all in. Remember, though, that this is a fast, and fasting involves sacrifice.
Do all that you can to immerse yourself in the Word during your fast, and cling to God's promises. As you do, you won't become enslaved by anxiety, doubt, discouragement, or fear. You will walk in God's perfect peace, guarded by his truth. After all, it's the truth that sets you free, and if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36)!
Daniel 10: The Vision
Many years have passed since Daniel was a young man in King Nebuchadnezzar's palace. Daniel is now around eighty-five years old, and the Lord continues to reveal his purposes to him through dreams. In Daniel 10, Daniel receives a vision from God that disturbs him so greatly that he enters into a state of mourning, or fasting. God allows Daniel to foresee the many calamities that will befall the Jews for their sins, especially for destroying the Messiah and rejecting his gospel. Daniel is utterly distressed and sorrowful for his people and what they will have to endure.
The Bible says that he ate no choice food and had no meat or wine for three weeks (vv. 23). In the Hebrew text, the words translated "choice food," chemdah and lechem, indicate that Daniel refused himself foods that were desirable. Most commentaries agree that such desirable foods probably included bread and sweets. In the English Standard Version, Daniel 10:3 says, "I ate no delicacies," and another translation puts it this way: "I did not eat any tasty food" (NASB). Daniel ate simple foods, taking in only what was necessary for sustenance.
During his fast, Daniel was not focused on himself or his needs. He was broken and grieved in his spirit for the people he loved. We would do well to adopt this posture of prayer in crying out to God for our family and friends as we fast. Like Daniel, we have been given knowledge of what is in store for them if they continue to reject God's gift of salvation. That thought alone should cause us to fall on our faces before the Lord in fervent intercessory prayer.
A Biblical Perspective on Fasting
You won't find, "Thou shalt fast," anywhere in the Bible. However, there are a number of Scripture passages in both the Old and New Testaments that seem to imply that fasting will be a regular part of our lives.
Jehoshaphat declared a fast for all of Judah when he received word that their enemies were planning to attack them (2 Chron. 20:14). Ezra proclaimed a fast and prayed for a safe journey for the Israelites as they made the nine-hundred-mile trek to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:2123). Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed when he learned that Jerusalem's city walls had been broken down, leaving the Israelites vulnerable and disgraced (Neh. 1:14). Queen Esther asked all the Jews in Susa to fast and pray for her before she approached the king without an invitation from him, which could have resulted in her death (Est. 4:1517). Anna, a prophetess, worshiped the Lord day and night in the temple, fasting and praying regularly (Luke 2:3637). Finally, Jesus himself fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert before beginning his public ministry (Matt. 4:111).
Perhaps one of the most descriptive passages about fasting, though, is found in Isaiah 58. In this chapter, the Lord is speaking to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah, responding to the people's complaints about God's apparent indifference to their sacrifices: "'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'" (v. 3).
Up to this point, the Israelites are doing everything by the book. They deny themselves food. They pray. And yet the Lord is not pleased. Where did they go wrong? What was the problem? The Adam Clarke Commentary suggests that God severely reproved the Israelites, calling their fasting hypocritical, because their behaviors in every other area of life were unjust and they exhibited no true repentance. In other words, they go through the motions of fasting but miss what it's all about. While they seem eager to know God and to follow his commands, they nevertheless continue to do as they please, exploit their workers, and quarrel among themselves to the point of getting into fistfights (vv. 24). God's response to their behavior is, "You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high" (v. 4).
We should heed this warning if we want to fast and pray in a way that is acceptable to the Lord. The Israelites were fasting for all the wrong reasons. The mechanics of their fasting were right, but their hearts weren't, and it showed in how they lived their lives. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the Israelites, we need to ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal any impure or selfish motives before entering into a fast. When he shows us, we must cry out to him in confession and repentance. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary says of fasting, "A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express true sorrow for sin, and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast."
Whole books have been written about the riches in Isaiah 58, but I want to summarize some key themes that have particular relevance not only for the Daniel Fast but also for understanding the foundation of a biblical perspective on fasting. If you haven't already, I encourage you to take a moment to read Isaiah 58 on your own. Read it slowly and prayerfully. Then, continue to review it over the next three weeks. As you consider the following themes, reflect on how you can apply them so that your Daniel Fast is a true fast in God's eyes.
Acknowledging our sin to the Lord at the beginning of a fast is crucial. As we've seen in Isaiah 58, just because we fast and pray doesn't mean that God is pleased with our sacrifice. If our hearts are not right before him, any fasting we do will be meaningless and in vain. The Bible says, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19). When you are truly sorrowful over your sins, you lay the the foundation for God to restore you. The Lord will renew a right spirit in you, making you ready to undertake a fast that will be acceptable to him.
God is disgusted by hypocrisy in our lives. A hypocrite is someone who puts on a good front, pretending to be someone that he or she is not. When our lives reek of that type of deception, we really turn God off. The Bible says that when we cherish sin in our hearts, the Lord does not hear our prayers (Ps. 66:18). Such insincerity is why the Lord chastised the Israelites. On their days of fasting, they weren't focused on God. They were angry, argumentative, and violent. They were full of selfishness and guilty of manipulating others. Rather than submit to the Lord, they chased after their own desires. As a result, God rejected their fasting.
If you want your Daniel Fast to be pleasing to the Lord, begin by drawing near to him "with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb. 10:22). Examine your motives for beginning this fast, and ask the Lord to purify you from any unrighteous attitudes or behaviors. When the Lord sees that your genuine desire is to honor him and to live a godly life, he will come near to you in return.
Crying out to God for our own needs during a fast is important, but our prayers will be incomplete if we fail to intercede for others. Being able to pray with and for people is an honor and a privilege. In my opinion, it's one of the greatest joys of fasting. It's also commanded by the Lord: "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results" (James 5:16 NLT, emphasis added).
When the Lord challenges us in Isaiah 58:6 to "loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke," I believe he is calling us to cry out for those held captive by sin. According to the Forerunner Commentary, the purpose of fasting is "to free others from their sins, to intercede with God for their healing, to help provide for their needs, and to understand his will. Fasting is a tool of godly love we are to use for the good of others, and any benefits we derive from it are wonderful blessings!"
Excerpted from The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast by Kristen Feola Copyright © 2010 by Kristen Feola. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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