16 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.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 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.
I have to admit it. I do not like the fact that Jesus says “When you fast” as if it is a foregone conclusion that when you are following Him you will fast. The truth is that I just don’t like to fast. I like food way too much (just look at my belly!), I hate to miss even one meal – it throws my whole day off! I recently had one of those medical tests done where you had to fast for 24 hours, except for this terrible stuff you had to drink, and I thought I would die from the experience. But when I got to the end of it, the fasting part was really not all that bad. I realized I could do it when I had to. So I told myself that I would attempt to fast more often. In these passages, Jesus expects that we will fast, so I guess I better.
However, I hope I will do it the right way and for the right reasons. Jesus tells us the right way here. We should never appear as if we are fasting, and we should not tell others we are fasting. Fasting is a personal matter between me and my God. It is not something to boast or brag about. Now if your church is calling for a fast, then they need to know if you’re participating, but that would be the only time I can see you should tell others you are fasting. It appears in Jesus day that the “Hypocrites” were making sure they appeared down trodden when they fasted, because He tells us not to go about it that way. He tells us we should fix ourselves up just like we always do so no one will see we have been without food.
That’s another point. The fast spoken of in the Bible is a fast from food, nothing else. I hear so many say today you can fast anything, from TV to exercise to reading. While fasting from those things might be OK, it is not what Jesus talks about, or what the Bible talks about as a fast. To truly take on a Biblical fast, we must abstain from food. While those other things might do us some good, they do not accomplish the same goal of depriving us of a necessity of life. Those substitute fasts are just depriving us of what we want, not what we need. There is a big difference. In our society we have a real tough time differentiating between our wants and our needs. Many think they need TV, or they need the latest smartphone, or they need a riding lawn mower, Needs are things we can’t survive without, like food and water. Fasting involves giving up a need, not a want.
The other thing about fasting is that the Bible is very specific about what we should fast for, and it is not to lose weight! You can fast to lose weight, but please don’t call that a fast unto God. A Godly fast will meet the criteria of Isaiah 58:6-7, which lists the reasons we should call for a fast. They are:
1) To loose the bands of wickedness
2) To undo heavy burdens
3) To let the oppressed go free
4) To break every yoke
5) To deal bread to the hungry
6) To cover the naked
When Jesus went into the wilderness after He was baptized, He fasted 40 days and 40 nights. He knew that all of these things listed would be part of His ministry, and He had to prepare for that time. It was an intense time of fasting for what was to come. This is a perfect time to fast – when we are about to go minister somewhere. I know I do not presently do that – do you? I need to ponder this for future times of ministry. Fasting is a powerful way to prepare! Jesus told the disciples they could not cast a demon out because that type only goes out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:17-29). This tells me that if the disciples had prepared ahead of time, they could have cast that demon out. How much more do I need to be prepared ahead, not knowing what I might face in any given service.
Fasting and praying for a church’s financial situation is OK if the church is facing a heavy burden without those finances. But I believe fasting for offerings for a building fund does not meet the above requirements unless the money has already been committed to the contractor. I have heard about fasting being called for in all types of situations that don’t meet these criteria, and my opinion is that we should not be calling for any fast that does not have a Biblical foundation.
Are we fasting for those people in our church or neighborhood who have cancer, or any other terminal illness? Are we fasting for those who are drug addicts, alcoholics, or smokers? Are we fasting for those who are abusive and just can’t seem to stop? Are we fasting for those who are in chronic pain, or deep financial distress? Are we fasting for the lost souls around us, and for the homeless on the street? These are all good reasons to fast, and I believe our prayers will be answered if we would fast for these reasons.
I need to utilize fasting more in my life. I have often used the excuse that I have never felt the call to fast, or the urging of the Holy Spirit to start a fast. The words Jesus uses here makes it seem like it should be a regular habit in my life. I have fallen short. Jesus also says if I do my fasting for the right reason and in the right Spirit that I will be rewarded openly. I can only hope that reward is answers to the prayers I would lift to heaven while fasting.
Lord, guide my path