The Discipline and Promised Reward of Fasting
On Ash Wednesday, Christians who belong to liturgical churches, and many who aren’t, will begin to fast as part of Lent, leading up to Resurrection/Easter Sunday. Notice that in the below verses Jesus does not say, “if you fast” but “when you fast”. And He did not say, “when you fast once a year...” It is an under-appreciated spiritual practice that Jesus expects us to do regularly.
“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.”
As Jesus acknowledged in the Disciples’ Prayer, we need food and water to live. Fasting generally means we give up something for a certain period of time or for certain intervals, like a day of the week, in order to spend more time focusing on God. It is not a punishment or a way to purge yourself of sin. Examples of fasting in scripture show that one can fast all food or just not have “pleasant” or rich foods like meat or desserts, but it is not a way to go on a “diet.” You can also fast things like movies or social media. Whatever you do, make sure that when you fast from something, use the resulting free time and energy to focus on God.
Just like giving and praying, Jesus teaches us that fasting also must be vertical, directed toward God, not to impress others. As with the other disciplines, our Father will reward what He sees in our heart. As giving provides an opportunity for us to measure our commitment to God, fasting gives us an opportunity to measure the degree to which we value the spiritual more than the physical aspects of our lives. It demonstrates the sincerity of our prayers. It also empowers them. If you look ahead to Matthew 17:21 , Jesus declares that some miracles are possible only by prayer and fasting.
Have you ever fasted privately, as a vertical expression of faith in God? How has your attitude in prayer been affected by your fasting? If you have not, plan now how you can begin to practice the discipline of fasting.
Take a moment to pray, thanking God that even though your body may get sick and will die, your spirit will last forever. Ask Him to lead you into a fast as He desires. Ask God to help you learn the discipline of fasting.
This post is adapted from a lesson of the Mini Bible College, an online study of the whole Bible. We highly recommend their audio resources and written materials, available in many languages, to anyone who wants a stronger understanding of the Bible.