“And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18, Common English Bible).
Let me be the first to say, and if you look at me you will know that what I am saying here is true, I have never been one to spend much time fasting. Before entering the ministry I was asked once to participate in a 4:00 fast. You couldn’t eat before 4:00 in the afternoon throughout Advent. I don’t remember the point of the fast, I just remember doing it. I have also participated in a few short term juice fasts. One year I did a meat fast through Lent. To be honest, I didn’t find any of them particularly meaningful.
I believe to truly find the meaning of today’s reading we need to return to the beginning of chapter 6. In verse 1 Matthew quotes Jesus saying, “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Then he goes on to talk about giving, prayer and now fasting. All of these are acts of worship. In each case, comes the caution against public displays.
There was initially only one day of fasting for Jews, the Day of Atonement (today, Yom Kipper). By Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had increased this for the super-religious to 108 days per year. Further, for the average Joe on the street, they insisted that each year they have four days of fasting.
In order to demonstrate how faithful they were, they went about the fast in sackcloth and ashes. They wanted everyone to know how faithful they were by the way they showed themselves to the world.
Jesus obviously was not impressed by this and here gives caution to those who want to show the outward signs of faithfulness while actually having nothing within. He is, in essence saying, “Folks, you’ve got it backward.”
At its very essence, our faith is a faith of the heart. It is a faith that doesn’t speak first to the world whether we are living this out in our giving, our prayer lives or in other forms of worship such as fasting.
I recently read something about “super-charged” prayer. It basically said that fasting super-charged our prayers and that when we are fasting God would multiply our prayers and the really hard things in life require both prayer and fasting. I’m not sure that is actually true. Does God answer prayer for those who are fasting and prayer more quickly than for those of us who simply pray? Possibly. But, I would submit, if one is going about fasting and prayer in the right ways, God may well do so but I don’t think it is really because of fasting. I think that because of the way they are seeking God, God is going to honor that kind of faithfulness.
What is your experience with fasting? Did it make a difference?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
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