Many churches participate in a season of prayer and fasting at the beginning of each new year. The fasts vary in length with some lasting only a day, others three days, and some twenty-one days or longer. Participants can be found fasting all foods, others only certain foods (also known as the Daniel fast), while some fast items like television, social media, and more.
While there seems to be an increased, united focus on fasting in the Church, it is very rare to hear that children are being taught about this spiritual discipline. Furthermore, often we find that children are not encouraged and invited to participate in fasting.
As a key spiritual discipline, fasting is a practical step in our Christian walk that, when complemented by prayer, helps us to empty ourselves to make room for God. It helps align our hearts with His purposes as we seek His blessing, provision, and guidance. By introducing children to fasting at an early age, we help them understand and practice this important discipline, given to us by Jesus (Matthew 6:16). If children are to be fully devoted followers of Christ, then we must encourage them to experience His presence—and what better way for them to experience His presence than through prayer and fasting?
When children participate in a fast, it should be under the watch, care, and guidance of their parents. The church can serve parents in this effort by correctly explaining to children what fasting is and the options they have for participating.
Leading Children in Fasting
Leading children to experience and understand the discipline of fasting is a unique opportunity for every parent and children’s minister. Fasting can be taught to older children in age-appropriate and relevant ways that can lay a foundation for a child’s faith to grow intelligently and purposefully. To be intentional in training children about fasting, we must consider the following:
- Proper understanding. Make sure children understand that fasting is about centering ourselves on God. It is a time that we seek after Him. We can share with them those in the Bible that participated in fasting and benefited from it. The accounts include Daniel, Jesus, Paul, Nehemiah, Anna in the Temple, Esther, Moses, and Elijah.
- Timeframe. A goal for introducing children to fasting is to encourage their success. So, don’t implement a long-term fast that they will be unable to maintain. Keep their first few experiences short. Start small and build to longer periods of time.
- Give the children focus. Ask children to identify a specific need, concern, or issue that they will focus on throughout their time of prayer and fasting. Encourage them to write this down and refer to it throughout their fast.
- Model fasting. Whether you are parent or children’s ministry worker, you should model for children the discipline of fasting. Let them know you are fasting and share honestly about your experience.
- Communicate with parents. For children’s ministers encouraging children to participate in a time of fasting, it is always best to inform and prepare parents. Let them know that you are encouraging their child to fast and provide them with an outline of ways their child might participate.
For children, fasting all food is not encouraged. However, there are several practical ways that we can invite our children to experience fasting. While we might give children options, it is best to allow them to seek the Holy Spirit on what fast He would have them choose.
- Abstaining from certain foods. Children can participate in fasting by abstaining totally from their favorite foods. Often this will be something sugar based, such as candy, ice cream, cake, or pastries.
- Making alternate choices. For a limited time, children may choose healthier options for their meals and snacks. Just as Daniel and his friends refused to eat the King’s food and chose the healthier alternatives, children may participate in fasting by choosing vegetables instead of sweets or water instead of soda.
- Unplugging from media and technology. Children can choose to fast television, video games, tablets, or the Internet for a period of time.
God desires to do a work in the hearts of our children, and He can do so through prayer and fasting. We should not ignore or be negligent in teaching our children about fasting. Through fasting, our children will learn how to hear God, respond to Him, and grow spiritually.
- Five Finger Prayer
- Prayer Journal
- God Can
- Prayer Pail
- Prayer Object Lesson
- CM Blog: Including Children in the 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting
-By Shaun McKinley, International Director of Children’s Ministry