Verse: Matthew 6:16-18
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, 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 others 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.
In Matthew 6, Jesus addresses three commonly abused practices in the church. In this passage, he addresses the practice of fasting. The leaders of this time twisted the practice of fasting to be about themselves, searching for attention and admiration from others. They turned the practice that should be honoring to God and into a selfish ploy for praise. At the time where this is written, Pharisees fasted Monday-Thursday. Not coincidentally, on these days there were large markets filled with people. The Pharisees would wear dirty clothes and over emphasize the fact that they have been fasting. They did not seek God, rather people. They received their reward because they sought out attention. They did not receive the reward of the Lord.
Just prior to this verse, Jesus talks about prayer. That wasn’t an accident. You can biblically pray without fasting. However, you can’t biblically fast without prayer. The heart of fasting is to give up something that consumes your time and attention. Traditionally, fasting meant to refrain from eating for a specific period of time. Today, it’s not uncommon to fast other things that take up your time, such as Netflix, social media, etc. It can be anything that is taking up too much time and priority in your day to day life. The objective of this is to be consumed with prayer and focus on God, usually over a specific matter. For example, you may fast from secular music for a day to seek clarity from the Lord on what college to attend. You might fast from food while seeking God’s guidance on how to address a difficult problem with your child or spouse. You might fast from Netflix while you cry out to God to break a cycle of addiction and sin. This is interchangeable with anything in your life that takes up your focus and time, and shifts your attention to seeking God. Fasting is a biblical practice used all throughout scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament. It’s still practiced to this day.
The other important part of this guidance is humility. As discussed, the Pharisees dressed and acted dramatically so all would know they are fasting. Conversely, the Lord commands us to walk in humility. He says to put oil in your hair and to wash your face. He is commanding them to look presentable, to fast humbly. By doing so, fasting is just about being closer with the Lord, not about people. The Lord knows what’s in our hearts, what we do in secret. If we fast with a humble heart, focused on Him, He will draw near to us.
Prayer & reflection:
If you’ve never fasted before, it might be scary and confusing to consider for the first time. If you’ve fasted before, reflect on what you did to set your heart on the right intentions, or how you make changes to how you fast in the future
Common reasons to fast-
Mourning over a loss, mourning over sin & pain, seeking to conquer a sin that has a hold on you/temptation to sin, seeking favor in a desperate situation, seeking wisdom, guidance, or revelation from God, preparing for ministry or a task, working to develop self control, or to soften our hearts and become more like Christ
I’m not asking you to fast today. I’m asking you to consider it, learn about it, and talk to God about it. Reflect on the reasons to fast, do any of them speak to you?
Lord, thank you for your guidance on fasting in a way that honors you. Help me to remember these verses and to walk in humility and with a focus on You. Lord, please guide my heart in considering the act of fasting. Help me to feel any stirring in my soul to consider fasting for a purpose you’ve shown me. God, open my heart to what you have to say to me. Thank you for a practice that draws us nearer to you. We love you Lord. Amen