Bible with Cross ShadowMoreover, 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. 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 6:16-18

It is interesting, revelatory and (at least for me) convicting that Jesus speaks of fasting in the same way He spoke of doing good and praying. In doing so, He is making it clear for us that fasting is to be a very important part of the normal Christian life. Fasting for worldly benefit carries the same consequences: Identification as a hypocrite, and loss of heavenly reward.

My conviction is not for being a hypocrite. It goes much deeper than that. Jesus did not say, “…if you fast”. He assumed that His followers would fast; as much as they would do good and pray.

There was a time in my life when I fasted on a fairly regular basis. Then I stopped. I don’t remember when, but it was some time ago. I had a good reason for laying down this discipline. At the time, it had become a legalistic ritual. My motivations were wrong, so I quit.

I am sure that my plan was to correct my motivations and return to fasting; but it didn’t happen. I believe I know why, and I am not happy about it. Perhaps it will help you to know why I faltered. For me, what follows is a confession that I believe will gain the Father’s forgiveness and His deliverance from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9). It will also make my house stronger.

Having recognized the fault in my motivation for fasting, I began searching the Scriptures for the right one. I learned that many Christians fasted for four primary reasons:

  1. To show humility and repentance;
  2. To seek God’s face more fully;
  3. To know God’s will; and,
  4. To demonstrate sincerity in something we desire from God.

As you can see, there is a strong connection between fasting and prayer. In a sense, fasting is an enabling discipline for the improvement of our prayer life; and, consequently, our relationship with our heavenly Father. Who wouldn’t want that? I was ready to get started.

Being the process-oriented person that I am, I just had to ask God the question, “So then, how would you have me fast?” The Father really likes it when His children ask Him these kinds of questions. His children don’t always like the answer.

In response to my question, the Holy Spirit led me to Isaiah 58. What I discovered was a challenging – even threatening – answer. I discovered that fasting to please God was simply the first step of a radically different life. Looking back, it seems I was unwilling to take that step.

This is an important point: I did not consciously decide, “You know, I am just not ready to please God with my fasting.” It was a decision I did not know I was making. It was a decision I regret.

I do not want that for you. So, please read Isaiah 58 and consider the following.

  1. Vv. 1-5: The self-centered and hypocritical fasting that Jesus spoke against existed in Isaiah’s day. It is the twisting of a holy thing; that I dare say continues today. We must first put this to death. Confession, repentance – you know the drill.
  2. Vv. 6-7: The fast that God has chosen sounds much like the purpose of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18-19) and His teaching (25:31-46). We are His followers; sent by Him, as He was sent (John 20:21). Fasting is not only connected to our prayer life, it is an important first step in our walking in the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).
  3. Vv. 8-9a: What great promises for those that will fast to please God!! It is truly more than we as ask or think. The glory of the LORD will go before and come behind. This reminds me of 2Corinthians 3:18. Fasting is a tool the Holy Spirit uses to transform us.
  4. Vv. 9b-12: Here we find more of the life that comes with our fasting to please God; and more of His blessing: Continual guidance; soul satisfaction; the light of Matthew 5:16; strength; becoming a continual spring (of living water) and the rebuilder, repairer and restorer or that which has been lost. As I write these things, I am shaking my head at myself. How could I have so easily dismissed such blessing?
  5. Vv. 13-14: Fasting leads to surrender in other areas of our life; and it softens us toward the LORD (the meaning of delight in verse 14). The Sabbath becomes a fast from our own self interest, way and pleasure. Our softness toward the LORD is a condition for Him giving us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4); the desires He has placed there for His pleasure and our good.

This is the normal Christian life. It is the life I so desperately desire – for myself and everyone in the Body of Christ. Why am beginning to fast again? Because I cannot get there without doing so.

Humbly yours and forever His,