When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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.
I’m noticing a pattern here. First, we should give without letting others know about it. Then, we should pray in private for only God to hear. Now, Jesus tells us to fast without bringing attention to ourselves. And remember what He said about lusting in your heart and hating someone in your mind? It turns out that God cares about what happens in our hearts, about our motivations and attitudes, and that He is not fooled by insincere religious gestures or shallow acts of devotion. When you fast, do it only for God to see.
That’s not how the Pharisees fasted or practiced their form of religion. They put on a big show, making sure that everyone could see and hear just how religious and righteous they were. More like self-righteous. Jesus saw right through their pretense and vanity. Just as you can’t worship two things at once (like God and yourself), you can’t fast for two purposes (to honor God and to make yourself look good). The second purpose negates the first, and your fasting or worship becomes meaningless.
Fasting is a form of prayer. It’s a way of removing distractions and temptations so you can focus your heart more fully on God. Fasting is also hard. If you fast from food, you will feel hungry. If you fast from technology, you will feel out of touch. If you fast from a favorite hobby or activity, you will feel deprived. Fasting teaches us to turn to God in the midst of need, to trust that He alone is sufficient to truly satisfy us. That type of devotional experience should be kept just between you and God, as you submit your heart and receive the blessing of God’s faithful mercy.
Gracious Father, teach me to submit fully to Your will. Give me times of quiet and peace to sit in Your holy presence and know Your unending love. Fill my heart more fully with Your Spirit. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian