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Fasting Day 3: Five Dangers of Fasting

Danger Sign

There are many benefits of fasting. But there are also dangers associated with fasting, and we need to be aware of them.

Five dangers of fasting are:

1. Bodily Harm

The Absolute Fast is a fast where you eliminate all food and water. Fasting in this way can be a dangerous area physically and can lead to extreme consequences. God made the body so that it has to have water—you cannot go longer than seven days without it. Going without water for too long of a period harms the membranes in the brain. And you will probably die if you go longer than seven days without water.

Derek Prince writes:

The only examples I can find in the Bible of people fasting extensively without food or water are Moses and Elijah, who each fasted forty days. However, they were on a supernatural plane—in the immediate presence of God or under some supernatural power. I don’t believe that is a normal pattern for us.

I believe the pattern for the length of time without fluids is found in Esther 4:16. Esther said to her uncle Mordecai, “Go gather together all the Jews that are present in Sushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day.” Three days, night and day is 72 hours and personally I would not advise anybody to go beyond 72 hours without fluids. . . . I would not recommend anybody to go beyond this length of time. To do so, I believe is very dangerous physically. [1]

In Fasting: What the Bible Teaches, Jerry Falwell writes about the danger of the Absolute Fast:

We sometimes hear of a person who has fasted but who has not been properly prepared for a lengthy fast. The person harmed himself by depriving his body of food and water. Most people should fast only for one day, especially if fasting is new to them. Only those who are mature in Jesus Christ and have had years of experience in fasting should attempt to abstain from food and water for a lengthy period of time. [2]

The Absolute Fast can have such serious consequences that I have chosen not to include it in the Types of Fasts page—out of concern someone might disregard the warning, engage in this fast too long, and seriously harm themselves. I strongly discourage the Absolute Fast.

I also strongly discourage fasting with an illness unless you have consulted your physician. Fasting requires reasonable precautions, especially for those with an illness. If you have a chronic illness, or take prescription medications, always consult your physician before you fast. Some people should not fast without medical supervision. People who have an illness or eating disorder, people who take medications, and women who are pregnant or nursing should never fast except under the supervision of a qualified doctor. (For more on this topic, see Fasting With an Illness: Safe Ways to Fast)

2. Spiritual Hypocrisy

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns:

“Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward!” (Matthew 6:16, HCSB)

Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee stood in the Temple, thanked God that he wasn’t like other people and boasted, “I fast twice a week. . .” (Luke 18:12).

When a person calls attention to his fast, he has missed its point. Fasting is not designed to get the eye of the world but to get the ear of God. ~ Jerry Falwell [3]

3. Legalism

Falwell writes,

The abstention from food sometimes becomes a vehicle for doing good works to please God. When a person withholds himself from food, he is doing something to demonstrate the sincerity of his faith. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). When a person places his trust in fasting for salvation, fasting then becomes a work of the flesh. The Bible teaches “Not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5), but “to him that worketh not, but believeth” (Romans 4:5). We cannot be saved by works. [4]

We do not fast to obtain merit with God or to rid of sin. Only the blood of Jesus can do this. Fasting can accomplish nothing with regard to our justification.

“For we have all become like one who is unclean…and all our righteousness (our best deeds of rightness and justice) is like filthy rags or a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6, AMP).

If we were looking to fasting to cleanse of sin, it would be as worthless as a filthy rag. Fasting is a work of man that can never satisfy the demands of a holy God.

4. Trying to Twist God’s Arm

Even if our theology is correct and we do not view fasting as meritorious insofar as our salvation, we can still enter the dangerous territory of believing that fasting earns or achieves something from God. We can secretly believe that by fasting we can twist God’s arm and get Him to do something for us. In this sense, we view fasting as a way to control God and produce the outcome we desire from Him—almost like God is a genie in a bottle, and if we starve ourselves, the genie has to grant our wish.

This is completely false! And dangerous!!

It is imperative that we realize that fasting changes us, not God. We don’t fast to twist God’s arm! Through fasting and prayer, we are the ones who are changed.

Fasting is a way to prepare ourselves, like a farmer prepares the soil for new crop, plowing up the ground to get ready for a new season. Fasting is not making God do something He doesn’t want to do. It is positioning yourself and preparing your heart for what God wants to do in you.

5. Equating Spirituality with Fasting

This is done in several ways. One way is by omitting prayer—confident that abstaining from food is an indication of spiritual maturity, a faster doesn’t spend time in prayer while fasting and allow the Holy Spirit to convict of sin. Believing that abstention is a sign of spiritual maturity in itself exposes the presence of pride . . . and an absence of spiritual maturity.

Jerry Falwell points out another way fasting is equated with spirituality:

Some people want everyone to fast exactly the way they fast. Actually, the Bible does not tell us how long or how often to fast.

I remember a minister once saying, “No one can force his spirituality upon another Christian.” He went on to explain, “Spirituality comes fro teh heart and no one can force it upon another. Everyone must make a personal choice to serve God. What benefits one man’s soul may harm another man’s spirituality when force upon him.” Everyone who fasts should do so for the correct reasons, in the biblical manner, but no one should be forced to fast. [5]

Questions: Have you found yourself in the danger zone in one of these ways?

 

FROM THE ARCHIVES:

___________

[1] Derek Prince, How to Fast Successfully (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1976), 51-52

[2] Jerry Falwell, Fasting: What the Bible Teaches (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1961), 29

[3] Ibid., 29

[4] Ibid., 30

[5] Ibid., 31

 

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