At its most basic level, fasting is abstinence from food. It can also be the abstinence from sleep or abstinence from intimacy between a husband and wife, or in our day, media. But primarily, it is the absence of food -- not eating so that we can give ourselves to a time of prayer and fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
You don’t fast to persuade God to do something He doesn’t want to do. You don’t fast to bend God’s mind, nor do you fast to get forgiveness. Forgiveness of sin is not the result of prayer and fasting – it is only the result of the shed blood of Christ. Having said that, there are times in our Christian life when fasting to deal with sin and sinful habits is helpful.
Matthew 6: 16-18 says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (English Standard Version)
Jesus starts off in the Scripture by saying, not IF you do, but WHEN you do. When you fast, don’t put on a gloomy face. Do it in sincerity.
When the strict Pharisees used to fast, they did it on Mondays and Thursdays. Not only did they fast, but they wanted people to know they fasted. In fact, later in Matthew when Jesus is speaking of the prayer of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Publican cried out as one unworthy for God’s mercy. The Pharisee on the other hand publically talked about his tithing and fasting to make sure everybody knew. So Jesus is cautioning against that.
Fasting Isn’t for Show
Fasting is not to be done to show one’s devotion to Jesus Christ. It is an intimate, private, fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Pharisees would put on clothes that had ashes and dirt rubbed into them. They would mess up their hair, and sometimes they would even put on some sort of makeup to make themselves look pale so that everyone could tell they were fasting. And how miserable they were while they were doing it! After all, if you are really being holy, you must be really miserable while you are proving to everyone else that you are really holy!
But Jesus said that if a person fasted to be seen by others, it’s worthless – it’s to be done in secret. Only tell those it involves. For instance, if a husband is fasting, his wife should probably know about that. I mean, if a wife has cooked this wonderful meal and her husband comes to the table and says, “By the way, I’m fasting,” he may not eat that wonderful dinner, but I can almost guarantee you he will be wearing it!
So if God promises answered prayer without necessarily fasting, why on earth would anybody want to fast? I mean, I like to eat! I don’t like to be hungry! I hate fasting! Yes, I like the results, but I don’t like doing it.
All that aside, there are a number of good reasons to fast. That’s what we’ll continue to look at in this series about fasting. Subscribe to our blog to be sure the next post makes it to your inbox.