“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly”. Matthew 6:16-18
This was actually our verse-for-the-weak back on 31st May 2015, but it is a poignant time to post it here, because for the last 30 days Muslims around the world have been fasting (during daylight hours), and tomorrow they will celebrate Eid (simply a day that will mark the end of their fasting). The reasons Muslims fast are centered around good works. Typically they will try not to lie, not look lustfully, try to do charitable works etc. during the time of fasting.
So the question should be asked, what about the followers of Christ? Over 500 years before Muhammad, Jesus told his followers to fast, not in order to be better, or to do good works. Not in order to curry favour with God, but to draw close to Him and know Him more. Gerard’s comments are below. May they challenge you into a deeper walk with Him.
It is probably safe to say that this is not one of the most popular passages to be found in Scripture but that does not taken away from its relevance or importance. Just as Jesus expects us to pray so does He also expect us to fast, He doesn’t say “if ye fast” but “when ye fast”. Why does the Lord want us to fast? I believe King David answers this question for us in Psalm 35:13; “I humbled my soul with fasting”. The primary reason for fasting is to humble ourselves before God thereby allowing us to draw closer to Him. Pride and humility are polar opposites, the former distances us from God, the latter brings us closer to Him. A God ordained way for us to humble ourselves is through fasting. Presenting ourselves humble before God is a safe and secure place to be and ultimately will lead to our being exalted. Consider the instruction given to us in Luke 14:8-11; “When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; “And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”.
Scripture is replete with examples of the power wrought by fasting, Esther 4:16, 1 Kings 21:27, Jonah 3:5, Matt 4:1, Acts 13:2, and there are many many more. By being stripped of the natural strength we find in food we become more aware of our need for spiritual strength in Christ; “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). Isn’t it amazing how weak we can feel just by missing a few meals? This should serve as a reminder to us of how much we need to rely on the Lord for strength, not just naturally but in all aspects of our life. So often throughout Scripture we see prayer and fasting mentioned together, there is a reason for this. Fasting humbles us before God and enables us to commune with Him in a deeper and more enriching way. Certainly fasting is not the only way that we can humbles ourselves but it is a way which God has ordained for us to do so. Ultimately the matter is between each one of us as individuals and the Lord, it is not something we have to do but as has already been pointed out it is something the Lord expects us to be doing. “Fasting took a leading place in devotion under the Law, and it might profitably be more practiced even now under the Gospel. The Puritans called it “soul-fattening fasting”, and so many have found it”. (Spurgeon).