What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘fasting’?
The first thing that comes to my mind is food. To quote Seinfeld, some of the most dreaded words one could ever hear is "No soup for you!"
We live in a culture that is pretty obsessed with food. Ever notice how many various TV shows there where food the main subject? For crying out loud, one famous British chef has 5 different TV shows that are all basically different kinds of cooking competitions. And let’s be honest, most of us live to eat rather than eating to live. So, with all this in mind, why would we ever need a discipline like fasting when food is so fantastic?
Context is Key
In Matthew 6, right in the middle of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, we find a clue as to why fasting is important. Remember, this sermon is directed primarily at Jesus’ disciples.
Somewhat surprisingly, the spiritual discipline of fasting doesn’t just stand alone in this chapter but is instead linked with giving and prayer. The timeless truths of how these three practices are linked will better help us understand each one specifically as well.
At the beginning of chapter six, in verse two, Jesus says “when you give to the needy...” and then follows it up by telling them to do their giving in secret and as to not draw attention to themselves for their act of generosity. If they do this in secret, the Father will reward them.
A few verses down in verse five, Jesus says “when you pray...” and then follows it up by telling them to do their praying in secret and as to not draw attention to themselves for their act of talking privately to God. If they do this in secret, the Father will reward them.
Seeing a pattern yet?
In verse sixteen, Jesus says “when you fast...” and then follows it up by telling them to do their fasting in secret and as to not draw attention to themselves for their act of abstaining from food. If they do this in secret, the Father will reward them.
There are two timeless principles that rise the surface from this passage:
- Fasting should be done regularly.
- Fasting should be done secretly.
Jesus is clearly very concerned with the internal motivation driving His disciples’ actions and we see from His teaching that doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is not acceptable.
Therefore, when it comes to the spiritual discipline of fasting, we must ask ourselves:
How will I make a regular habit of fasting? (set a specific day/time frame)
What should I fast from? (food, social media, entertainment, etc.)
How can I do this secretly as to not draw attention to myself? (Don’t tell anyone!)
When a believer follows this pattern of biblical fasting, we also see that there's a promise in verse 18: Fasting will be rewarded.
What does the "reward" look like?
I believe part of the reward will be manifest when we enter eternity with the Father. I'm not sure exactly what that will look like but I imagine part of the reward simply being in the presence of the Father, praising Him and ascribing to Him the glory He alone deserves.
The other part of the reward comes in the "here and now". When we fast the way Jesus instructs us to, I believe we will see these results:
- A greater awareness of the presence of Jesus
- A greater longing for the presence of Jesus
- A greater dependence on the presence of Jesus
In summary, fasting is feasting; trusting in Jesus as the Ultimate Satisfier of our souls
Throughout the gospels, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35). What an incredible spiritual parallel for the place in which we find the source of sustenance that will sustain our life.
May we be people who hunger and thirst after spiritual righteousness (Matthew 5:6) ultimately only found in the perfect and finished work of Jesus.