In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches about 3 spiritual disciplines. The first 2 are about giving and prayer. The 3rd one is about is fasting and is the most difficult of the three because it has to do with denying the body of its natural cravings. But it is essential in our walk with God because it puts us more in tune to his will. Father, teach us to fast in a way that would please and glorify only you!
WHAT IS FASTING?
Matthew 6:16a – “And when you fast…”
- As with the spiritual disciplines of giving and prayer, Jesus does not say “if” we fast, but “when” we fast. He expects and assumes that his disciples will fast. Fasting by definition means to abstain from food for a certain length of time. Fasting consisted of abstinence from food to express dependence on God and submission to His will (Precept-Austin). It is denying the body of food for sustenance to tune your heart and your will to God and relying on God to be your sustenance. This spiritual discipline can be so enthralling and fulfilling because you are relying on no one but God and his power and strength to fulfill your cravings and hunger.
- Sometimes fasting is not just giving up food for a day. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains that, “Fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not…be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.” There are things in this life that take up our time such as entertainment, family, careers, exercise, fine dining, shopping, etc. These things can become idols or gods in our lives that take up our time and attention away from God. Are there some things in your life that are sitting on the throne of your life instead of God? Take a step back and see where the desires of your heart lie. I challenge you to fast in an area that takes a lot of your time away from God and use that time to fully seek and know him.
- In Isaiah 58, God gives us a different kind of fasting that he wants from us. The Israelites were fasting the same way as the Pharisees, only for themselves and not for God. He tells them that that kind of fasting is not what he wants. The kind of fasting he wants is,
No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The LORD will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring. (v. 7-8, 10-11)
- God wants our humility and devotion when we fast. When we fast for ourselves, what good will that do? “True fasting will lead to humility before God and ministry to others.” -Wiersbe
HOW TO NOT FAST
Matthew 6:16b – “…don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.”
- In this day, Jewish people were expected to fast one day a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:21). However, the Pharisees of that day would fast 2 days a week (usually Monday & Thursday) and go to places in which people would see them and they would act as though they were suffering greatly. They would fast so people would see their misery and think they were holy. Their fasting sought after the praise of men and not the praise of God. Spiritual fasting tunes in our hearts to God’s, but their hearts were full of deceit. John MacArthur explains that, “when they fasted, they ‘put on a gloomy face’ and neglected their ‘appearance in order to be seen fasting by men’. They did not see religion as a matter of humility, repentance, or forgiveness, but as a matter of ceremony and proud display. And therefore the external rituals which they paraded as badges of godly righteousness actually marked them as ungodly hypocrites.” Their fasting was not an act of humility but of pride. God hates pride and if left unchecked, it will result to destruction. “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18
- Jesus accuses the Pharisees many time of being “Hypocrites.” He tells those listening to him that if they follow what the Pharisees are doing, that they will become a hypocrite and would not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Pharisees only wanted the praise of men and that’s all they would ever receive as a reward. Jesus explains in Matthew 23 what will happen to the Pharisees and those who follow after them if they don’t repent, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.” (v. 13)
- If you are a regular faster or if you fast rarely, what is your heart motive behind it? Is it to tune your heart into God’s will or is it so you will look “spiritual” to those around you. Seek God and his wisdom and strength through this difficult spiritual discipline.
Matthew 6:17-18 – “But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
- Jesus gives an example of the kind of fasting he requires of his disciples. When we fast, we are to look normal, act normal as no one will know what is going on. The Father will see your suffering and your motive for your fasting and he will reward you for it whether that be an earthly reward or a heavenly reward.
- There are many factors in which God calls us into a fast. Fasting can be a way of asking God for deliverance or protection, a way of repentance or confession, an act of humility, connected with mourning, or even just to devote more fully to seek and know God better. There are many examples in the Bible of these kinds of fasting such as Esther, Daniel, David and even the Early Church.
- When we fast, this gives us more time to pray and study the Word, teaches us discipline, reminds us that we can live with a lot less, and helps us to appreciate God’s gifts. Fasting is a great way to experience the Lord more fully through our suffering. Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness and was even tempted by Satan. His purpose was to identify with us through our human flesh. He knows what we feel when we are hungry and hurting! If the God of all creation can identify with us in our sufferings, then we can depend on him to help us through our cravings and desires. Instead of filling up on the things of this world, fill up on the Bread of Life!
- I recently did a fast and it was painful yet fulfilling experience. Instead of eating and digesting physical food, I chewed on the food of the Spirit. It made me realize that God will fulfill all of the needs and desires and that this world can not satisfy me. He is my living water, the bubbling spring that fills my well (John 4). He is my true bread and spiritual nourishment. He is the manna that satisfies my soul (John 6). He will fill my longings and my cravings forevermore. He is the Provider and Sustainer of Life and he richly satisfies me. “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” – Psalm 73:26 (NKJV)
- If you have never fasted, I challenge you to one. You will experience God in a new and real way. If you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you. Taste and see that the Lord is good!
“I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never me hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:35