But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 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. Matthew 6:17-18
Jesus assumes in this passage that His followers practice fasting. He says “when” you fast—not “if” you fast and then goes on to give these instructions. Fasting is a significant spiritual activity that goes along with intensive prayer times. To fast means to put God first. Fasting is an attitude of the heart in which we interrupt our normal life to pray for a specific matter or cause. It means to abstain from food—and for some, even drink—so that we can focus on God and be more sensitive to spiritual matters. Fasting is also perseverance in prayer until you have received an answer—be it yes, no, wait or something different. In essence, fasting means that we rend our hearts before God, confess our sins and turn to the Lord anew (Joel 2:12-13).
Fasting is biblical. Consider the following: Moses fasted twice for forty days (Exodus 34:28); Daniel fasted (partially) for twenty-one days (Daniel 10:3); Joel called for a day of fasting (Joel 1:14; 2:12); Ezra withdrew for a period of fasting and mourning (Ezra 10:6); Elijah fasted for forty days (1 Kings 19:8); Leaders of the church in Antioch fasted (Acts 13:2-3); Jesus fasted for forty days (Luke 4:2); Paul and Barnabas fasted (Acts 14:23; 27:33).
Captain Bill Tinsley was arrested on false charges under President Marcos in the Philippines following the completion of Project Pearl in 1981. As the days of his confinement passed, Bill fasted from eating. After a few days of fasting, his blood pressure rose very higher. A doctor visited him daily. Everything possible was done to get him to eat. He was accused of staging a hunger strike. Bill carefully explained to his captors many times, “My fasting is a spiritual exercise. If I want my God to take my part, I must become weak that He may become strong. President Marcos is a very powerful man. I cannot fight him. I must let God take my part.” His explanation brought only a certain resignation by his jailers. They did not understand.
Each day during his captivity Bill went for a walk. A soldier always went along to guard against possible escape. On that tenth morning, after reading of Elijah’s running a great distance while fasting, Bill jogged. The soldier that went along couldn’t keep up and was forced to take shortcuts across the fields to stay with him.
“How can you be so strong without eating?” a colonel asked referring to the jogging incident that morning.
“It’s the power of God,” Bill told him sincerely. “And if you keep me here, you’re going to see me grow stronger and stronger!” The eyes of all the men present grew large. They believed him and that prospect was not to their liking. It was with some reluctance Bill later walked out of his cell for the last time. He had experienced God’s presence there. His captors, the same ones that had falsely arrested him, gave him a send-off as they would a dear friend.
RESPONSE: Today I resolve to practice all the spiritual disciplines…including fasting.
PRAYER: Help me, Lord, to practice fasting as a spiritual discipline without making it obvious.