Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. – Matthew 6:16-18
I learned as I got older that they were following the life of Jesus as he lived out his earthly mission. In fact, Jesus left instructions recorded in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel on how His followers should give, pray and fast.
And Jesus was not the first person to fast. In the Bible, there are several people who did. Moses the lawgiver, King David, Elijah the prophet, Queen Esther, the prophet Daniel, Anna the prophetess and the Apostle Paul all had one thing in common: They all fasted for spiritual reasons.
It’s surprising to know that, in the 74 references in the Bible, fasting is never associated with weight loss or as a hunger strike to be used for political purposes. Fasting was and is the practice of abstaining from something liked in order to grow spiritually. Fasting is sacrificing to God and for relational growth in Him.
There were, however, others who gave of their finances, prayed and fasted for public approval and popularity. Some even fasted so others would notice them.
For example, the Pharisees practiced fasting two days a week, usually Mondays and Thursdays, and did so in such a way that people knew they were fasting.
They’d make their faces look pale and they’d put ashes on their head. They would get ashes and, with their sweat and tears, smear them all over their face. They would not bathe; they would not even wash their clothes.
But true fasting revolves around intimacy with God. Some, for medical reasons, may not be able to abstain from food but should consider taking a break from television or anything else that gives pleasure so as to work on their relationship with God.
And, when you fast, look normal and behave in a normal fashion. Lay aside any pleasurable and/or vital activity for a period of time in order to intensely pursue God and know His mind with the intent of obeying His revealed will. Fast when convicted; when we feel a special pull, an urge to get alone with God.
There are times when special needs arise such as public problems, like war, disaster. Fast when approaching very important life decisions.
In Scripture, the normal means of fasting involves abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water. Luke 4:2 describes for us Jesus’ fasting for 40 days. We are told, “He ate nothing,” and, at the end of the fast, “He was hungry.”
From a physical standpoint, that is the manner in which Scripture describes fasting. There are other fasts described in Scripture, such as the partial fast in Daniel 10 and the absolute fast in Esther 4. However, the normal means is not eating for a period of time.
Now, not all fasts involve food. There is the “idols” fast, for some people cannot do a dietary fast. But everyone certainly can give up TV, Internet, Facebook, hobbies or something for a certain time period.
Fasting is like defragmenting a computer. It is a necessary process. Defragmenting the computer enhances performance.
Fasting provides a similar effect to the spiritual life of a believer. Isaiah 58 quotes God’s promises to those who fast. Spiritual breakthrough takes place, wholeness and strength appear, prayers are answered, divine guidance is granted, freshness and growth are realized. Special time with God through praying and fasting yields special blessings.
Lord, help us to sacrifice the conveniences of life to grow more intimately with you, just as you sacrificed your life to show grace and mercy to us. Amen.
Dr. Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net . Website: WTRMinistries.com