16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matt 6:16-18 (NIV)

In its simplest form, fasting is to deny oneself - for a specific period of time - something that one enjoys. It can be as varied as food or television, movies or the newspaper, drinking or chewing gum, shopping or hunting, sweet tea or cookies or whatever seems to float our boats. If it is not something we love or enjoy, to fast from it is actually not a fast but a pleasure! Yet, if it is something we enjoy and do quite often we are reminded to pray and seek God’s glory continuously. The purpose behind fasting is to draw attention in prayer to the Most High God every time our thoughts turn to crave that which we are fasting from. Fasting also provides extra time for prayer, teaches self-discipline, helps us to subdue corrupt desires, reminds God’s people that we can live with a lot less and helps us to reflect and appreciate the abundant provisions from God’s hand. Fasting is also a laudable practice inclining us towards higher duties.

23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)

Fasting is a demonstration of piety which is both difficult and noble. I think it interesting that Jesus does not say “If” you fast, but rather “When you fast”. The Israelites were commanded to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. Indeed, Scripture is replete with examples of fasting from David to Queen Esther to Paul to Barnabas to our Lord Himself and many in-between we see this discipline set forth – oftentimes prior to major decisions - seeking in prayer to know the will of God or to strengthen the one fasting for the duty ahead. Jesus fasted prior to His encounter in the wilderness with the temptation of the adversary:

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Matt 4:1-2 (NIV)

“It costs much to obtain the power of the Spirit: It costs self-surrender and humiliation and a yielding up of our most precious things to God; it costs the perseverance of long waiting, and the faith of strong trust. But when we are really in that power, we shall find this difference, that whereas before, it was hard for us to do the easiest things, now it is easy for us to do the hard things.” A J. Gordon

Next, our Lord comes down hard on those fasting for show – religious hypocrites masking piety - pitifully receiving their full recompense of the mere praise of men. When we perform acts for show – for man’s approval - the pay is always worldly in measure and in full. We need not expect heaven’s recompense. These imposters who wore masks had no contrition or humiliation of soul in them which was and is to be the life and soul of the duty of fasting. Their fasts were mere mockery for show and not substance.

We are not told how often we are to fast nor directed how to manage a private fast – it is as the Holy Spirit Who directs the child of the King as He leads us in our hearts yet we are to take it as a rule that when we undertake this duty it is to approve ourselves to God and not the opinion of man:

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15 (NIV)

We are told, however, by the Lord Jesus that we are to lay aside the show and appearance of fasting and look pleasant and not martyr- like. We are to look as we do on other days and we are not to draw attention to our work through our words either. Fasting is to be between God and the one fasting – their need not be another one in the audience. Fasting is also the humbling of the soul which is to be our principal care. God’s omniscience for our witness and the goodness of His reward we will find to be our greatest blessing.

“Let this be a warning to me, O Lord. Set thou a guard before my eyes, ears, and other faculties, lest the world again should enter through these avenues of the heart: if the spark be not speedily extinguished, it will soon break out into a flame: thus sin is of a progressive nature, and its venom spreads very quickly and very wide, unless it be stopped and opposed in time. Watch, therefore, over this unsteady heart of mine, O thou Keeper of Israel; that as soon as it begins to wander from thee, I may be alarmed to flee from sin as from a serpent. Give me grace to look upon every hour as my last; so that being ever wisely upon my guard I may meet thee with joy when my time is run out, whenever it shall please thee to call me hence.” K. H. Von Bogatzky

What I Glean

  • Fasting strengthens my prayer life, teaches me self-discipline, subdues corrupt desires and gives me a greater appreciation for all God allows in my life.
  • Jesus teaches me to fast – for my good and His glory.
  • My fasting is to be for an audience of One.