“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 you openly.” – Matthew 6:17-18
Fasting is an act we are very much familiar with in Christendom. For some reasons, some believers have adopted different approaches to fast.
But what does the word of God say about fasting? How are we supposed to fast? Jesus answered this question as regards disposition thus:
“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.” – Matthew 6:16
He continues in verses 17-18: “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 you openly.”
From Jesus’ words we can conclude that fasting is not for the benefit of others but for us.
Interestingly, He uses the word “appear to be fasting” for the hypocrites who were not actually fasting!
Fasting in the Old Testament was always accompanied by prayers to God for intervention in a dire situation.
For example, Esther asked Mordecai and the Jews to fast and pray concerning her plans to speak, though unsummoned, with King Artaxerxes – an act that could have cost her her life (Esther 4:16).
Other similar examples can be found in Ezra 8:21 and Joel 1:14, amongst others.
However, there seems to be a slight change to fasting now that Christ has come.
While fasting may still be done when supernatural intervention is required, the primary purpose of fasting now is to deny ourselves of fleshly gratification.
It is done with the intent that the flesh be put under control.
It is to be done so that we devote our time and attention to prayer and the study of the word. Fasting is not a hunger strike.
In Acts 13, we see the effect of fasting. It is reported that while the Apostles fasted and prayed, instructions about ministry were given by the Holy Spirit.
With this mind, when we fast and pray, we should expect instructions.
The importance of fasting is earmarked by Paul when he admonished married folks to abstain from sexual relations and give themselves to fasting and prayers. (I Corinthians 7:5)
Finally, knowing that God hears us when we pray (I John 5:14-15), we do not approach fasting with dread. Instead, we recognize it as an opportunity to shift our desires from gratification (like eating and sleeping, for example) to concentrate on fellowshipping with God.