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. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 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” Matthew 6:16-18
In a culture dominated by “McDonald’s,” “New York Fries,” “Pizza Hut,” “Second Cup,” and countless other shrines to the stomach, fasting appears to be an anomaly. The popular conception in North America is that we need three large meals a day, with snacks thrown in between, and anything less is akin to starvation.
In analyzing this love affair with food it’s obvious many North Americans live for the flesh and are ruled by its appetites. Which is one of the reasons why fasting, in large part, although frequently mentioned in Scripture, is almost totally overlooked. But it’s disregarded at our peril. In covering up what’s inside us with good food and drink we hinder The Holy Spirit’s work of transforming our lives. For if we don’t practice the inward disciplines of our faith we’re left with the outward form, and the outward form devoid of the inner disciplines, is a form bereft of spiritual power.
That’s why today’s meditation begins with Jesus’ assumption, “When you fast . . .” It’s a reminder that He wants us to have a faith that’s more than skin deep, more than a carnal faith. For in fasting we discover a faith in which we’re sustained, not by the food of the world, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4. This is the real benefit of fasting. It helps us to be nourished and strengthened by God. In fact, fasting is feasting! In abstaining from food it enables us to feast on God’s Word – and when we feast on God’s Word light is thrown on our lives.
This is probably the single greatest lesson I’ve learnt in recent years. In the discipline of fasting the things that control me soon surface. If there’s pride, bitterness, fear, anxiety, jealousy, timidity, anger – or any other sin, it will be revealed. During the writing of this book I undertook a forty-day liquid fast of fruit and vegetable juice along with water. As my family will tell you, I was difficult to live with toward the end of the fast. I complained about all sorts of things they did or didn’t do – the fast exposed my sin, a critical spirit within me. In making this discovery I was able to turn to God for healing through the power of Jesus Christ. David obviously knew of this reality. In Psalm 69:10 he says, “When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, that became my reproach.” NKJV.
Yes, fasting enables us to grow up in Christ, keep balance, and identify sin or nonessentials that take precedence in our lives. It quickens us and brings breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that often can’t happen any other way. So if fasting isn’t a normal part of your Christian faith why not acquaint yourself more fully with the practical aspects of fasting and then begin to obey Christ’s words, “When you fast . . .”