The False Practice of Personal Fasting
Text: Matthew 6 : 1 - 18
The problem that Jesus was addressing was the issue of “personal fasting”. This practice was a further development of the original concept of fasting associated with the Day of Atonement (Hebrew “Yom Kippur”).
Jesus expressed the fact that He was well aware of this practice. He did not condemn the practice at all. However, He did make some important observations if one were to practice personal fasting.
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like
the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.
For they disfigure their faces that they
may appear to men to be fasting.
Assuredly,I say to you , they have their reward.”
Personal fasting was something between the individual and the Lord! Therefore it follows that no one else would need to know that the individual is fasting before the Lord.
If a person were to make a big show out of his personal fasting, then that attempt at fasting, would be rejected. Let us recall what the prophet Zechariah preached to the Jews in exile concerning the matter of their fasting.
“Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me,
saying, ‘Say to all the people of the land, and to
the priests: When you fasted and mourned in
the fifth and seventh months during those seventy
years, did you really fast for Me – for Me? When
you eat and when you drink, do you not eat
and drink for yourselves?’ ”
When people practise personal fasting with the thought of winning the applause of men, then they did not fast as unto the Lord! They may be called “hypocrites” because their “religious fervour” was not sincere! They were merely play-acting! Human beings may offer words of commendation concerning their “piety” but as far as God is concerned, He is not impressed at all.
THE TRUE PRACTICE OF PERSONAL FASTING
Jesus Himself practised personal fasting (Cf. Matthew 4:1-11)! Thus He could not deny the validity of the practice of personal fasting!
Let us consider what Jesus taught concerning the practice of fasting.
“But you, when you fast, anoint your head
and wash your face, so that you do not appear
to men to be fasting, but to your Father who
is in the secret place; and your Father who sees
in secret will reward your openly.
Let us enumerate what Jesus sought to teach His disciples for easier comprehension.
1. Fasting is a personal pact between the believer and God
The child of God may feel that he needs to fast for whatever reason. Let us consider one possible reason as to why he desires to fast. Let us say that he is deeply troubled about the matter of forgiveness.
a) He grieves over his sinfulness.
b) He desires to overcome his weaknesses.
c) He seeks God’s forgiveness with all his heart.
d) He struggles with his inability to forgive others.
e) He finds that “ordinary prayers” are not sufficient.
f) He seeks God in a planned personal fast .
The child of God is so sincere about seeking his Father in heaven, that he willingly gives up food and drink to seek His grace and favour. So aware is he of his sinfulness that he cannot but mourn and weep before the Father because of his wretchedness! No thought of food or drink occupies his mind, for he is too over-wrought by his awareness of his sinful state.
2. Fasting is done “in the secret place”
Once again we see reference being made of “the secret place”. This highlights and emphasizes the fact that fasting was not a practice to be made public knowledge with the idea of impressing people! He who is burdened by the weight of his sins will not seek a public audience. He seeks God in fasting with singleness of purpose. He seeks to pour out a heart-felt confession with a view of obtaining forgiveness and the cleansing of the heart!
The believer is warned against making his fast known to others. Even if he is to go on a prolonged fast, he must appear to others as if he is not fasting!
3. God approves of the person who seeks Him in this special manner
Jesus taught an important truth! God is pleased with those who are prepared to give up their right to food and drink, in favour of seeking Him! He does not, and will never honour the hypocrite. However, the true-hearted and the sincere will be rewarded for his sacrifices.
THE PRACTICE OF FASTING TODAY
There is no direct command for the Church to observe a special day of fasting equivalent to that of Yom Kippur. If a believer is mature enough, he may consider the practice of personal fasting. However it must be said at the very outset, that fasting must not be seen as a means of getting God to answer prayers faster!
Personal fasting as a spiritual discipline is something that must be cultivated carefully. Since fasting ultimately involves prayer and a strong faith-relationship with God, the believer is advised to develop these areas of his life first!