Our Saviour said:
‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’ (Matt. 6:16-18).
The LORD says here “when you fast” and not “if you fast”. It is the LORD’s expectancy that in His kingdom His people will be fasting. But what is fasting all about?
The juxtaposition of fasting after teaching on prayer in Matthew 6 conveys to us something of the position of fasting in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Prayer brings us into fellowship with our LORD so we might know the flow of His grace into our lives. Fasting reinforces this flow. In fasting, we are stating to the LORD that “we want you more than our necessary food”. Fasting helps to put us in the flow of God.
Where things go wrong is when we start to think that fasting puts God on our side. This is what I have called meritorious fasting. It is the fasting of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-12.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
The Pharisee was of the view that God was bound to happy with Him because of who He was and what He did. He was relying on his fasting to get into God’s favour.
If we start to think of fasting like this, we are heading down the wrong route. We always have to remember that we are a people of grace. God is only favourable to us because of Christ. His grace flows because of Calvary. It cannot be earned. Fasting helps us to enjoy that grace, but it does not earn us that grace.
So when (and it is when not if) you fast, fellow believer, make sure you do it for the right reasons.