WHEN YOU FAST
“When you fast, do not look sombre like 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 in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18.
Fasting is not practised in many parts of the church today. Those who fast, do it for many different reasons; for self-discipline, to focus on God, for guidance, to get answers to prayer, or even to get God to do what they want.
In the Old Testament, the practice of fasting was often connected to a call to repentance.
“Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out before the Lord.” Joel 1:13, 14.
When God turned His back on His people and refused to listen to them because of their idolatry, they fasted and cried out to the Lord when things went badly for them. Even this was abhorrent to God if they disobeyed Him in His basic requirements.
“’Why have we fasted?’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please and exploit your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:3-7.
God hated fasting when people did it to get His attention when their lives were full of selfishness and sin.
“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:15-17.
In Jesus’ day, the religious people fasted regularly, some of them twice a week, but they had a different reason for fasting. Like their praying and giving, they wanted recognition and praise from people. Jesus said that they would get their reward, but not from God.
Jesus was not against fasting. He was against the wrong reason for fasting and the way people fasted. The hypocrites fasted because they wanted to be praised and known as very religious people. Fasting is not to impress people. It is not even to impress God. Fasting is to deny yourself food or some other right so that you can humble yourself before God.
Fasting is worthless if it is not accompanied by right living. If God does not hear your prayers because you are holding on to your sin, why should He listen to you just because you fast? For whatever reason you fast, it must always be in an attitude of humility and dependence on God, not for show, but out of a submissive and obedient heart.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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