The Daniel Fast is just one type of fasting that’s modeled after accounts in the Bible. Biblical fasting is the restriction of food for spiritual reasons. And we find followers fasting throughout the Old and New Testaments.
The Scripture speaks of three types of fasting:
- Partial Fasting – Daniel engaged in a partial fast as recorded in Daniel 10:2, 3, “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.” We don’t know for sure why Daniel didn’t totally abstain from food, because it appears that he did so in the fast recorded in Chapter 9. However, for some reason, Daniel engaged in a partial fast to seek the Lord’s wisdom.
- Normal Fast – This is the fast that Jesus did when he went into the wilderness. He ate no food and appears to have had only water. The reason scholars conclude that he drank water while on this fast was because the Scripture says he was hungry, but did not say he was thirsty. The devil tempted Jesus with bread, but not with water. So we assume this was a water only fast.
- Absolute Fast – This is when no food and no liquids are consumed. It’s the rare fast and only mentioned a few times in the Bible. Paul, during his Damascus Road experience “was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” We can’t tell for sure if this was because he was so shocked by what was happening with him or if it was for spiritual purposes.
In Ezra 10 we find the prophet so distraught over the actions of the people that he went into great mourning and praying before the Lord. At this time he neither ate nor drank for at least one night and perhaps longer.
There are a few examples of 40-day absolute fasts where the men must have been sustained supernaturally. Moses, on two separate occasions when he was before God, neither ate nor drank. Elijah seems to have traveled across the desert for 40 days while eating no food nor drinking any water. He was ministered to by an angel who gave him water and cakes.
These are just some accounts of the fasting recorded in the Bible. There are many more, and not necessarily a standard. Daniel fasted for 21 days, Jesus for 40, Ezra for one night, Cornelius for 4 days, Paul for 3. It seems that all these people were seeking God through their fasting and perhaps the Lord led them in the “design” of their fast.
In January, thousands of men and women will come together in unity for a 21-day fast. Most will use the Daniel Fast as their form of fasting. I have heard several pastors say they will engage in a normal fast for 21 days and some for 30 days. I’ve read of men and women of God who have fasted from all food for 40 days — usually just a few times in their lives.
I think the important point of fasting not have a specific pattern or legalistic form is that it be Spirit-led. Before you decide the form of fasting you will use, seek the Lord. Ask Him to direct you, then trust that He will show you how to fast as you enter into this spiritual discipline to draw closer to Him.