16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:16-18
Have you ever fasted? In our society there is the order from the doctor for “fasting lab work”, where we get blood drawn after that horrendous experience of going from midnight on with out any food. The time between the witching hour and the needle seems like eternity. Fasting? In our society, there is also the crash diet that promises to help us lose several pounds in several days, usually so we can squeeze into an item of clothing for some special occasion. Fasting? In the society in which Jesus was speaking in the Sermon on the Mount, there were people who fasted for religious reasons. They went without food for a period of time as a sign of penitence or obedience before God. The stories are told throughout the Old Testament, and Jesus and his followers knew the spiritual benefits of this time of self-denial.
And, from the way Jesus spoke in Matthew 6:16-18, his followers fasted. “When you fast” Jesus said. (Not, “If you fast.”) But Jesus wanted his disciples to fast for the right reasons. “Don’t disfigure your face and look dismal (so that people will know that you are fasting.) Whenever you fast, go ahead and put oil on your head and wash your face like normal. Keep your fast between you and your heavenly Father.”
Fasting in this way is fairly simple. Pick a time when you are willing to go without food so that you can focus more intently on God. Skip a meal, and spend that extra time reading your Bible and praying. Practice loving God. Skip all the meals one day, and use the time and the money you saved to do something for someone else. Practice loving your neighbor.
“Whenever you fast …..” Jesus said.
Lord, help me to look away from my belly a little more often, so that I can look toward You and others. Let me hunger and thirst for a deeper relationship with You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.