February 19, 2016
READ: Matthew 6:16-18
And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting (v.16).
Many years ago I was the youth minister of a church. I was in over my head, burning out quickly, and in need of time with God. So I arranged a retreat for a few days at a friend’s cabin in the country.
I took only a Bible and a journal with me, vowing not to read, watch, or listen to anything else. After an hour or so of panicked prayers about the pressures I faced, a strange calm came over me. I prayed, praised, read Scripture, and wrote in my journal for the next few hours, realizing only later that I had skipped lunch. Maybe this is what fasting is about, I thought, focusing on God to the exclusion of all else.
When Jesus talks about fasting, He doesn’t tell us to do it; He just assumes we will. His focus therefore is on our motives. Mondays and Thursdays were market days in Jesus’ time—prime days for religious hypocrites to publicize their fasting to the crowds (Matthew 6:16). Jesus revealed that fasting shouldn’t be done for applause. Instead, love for God and others should be the catalyst (22:37-39).
If we choose to fast, we reveal our love for God by making Him our focus (6:18). We can also love others by fasting for their safety (Esther 4:13-16), for help in their suffering (Psalm 35:11-16), or for guidance during times of national crisis (2 Chronicles 20:1-4). And God can use fasting to help us hear from Him (Acts 13:2), be empowered for mission (13:3), become sensitive to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17), and keep our desires in check.
Christian fasting isn’t about looking good to others, nor is it a hunger strike to make God do what we want. Fasting is about focusing on God to the exclusion of all else. He meets us in our fasting and provides what we need.
365-day-plan: Numbers 13:1-14:4
Read Matthew 4:4 and consider the importance of realizing where our true provision comes from.
Have you ever attempted a fast? How can fasting bring honor to God? How can it be done for the wrong motives?