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Fasting in Secret




(Matthew 6:16-18 NIV)  When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, 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 men 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.


(Matthew 9:14-17 NIV)  Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?"  Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.  "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.  Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."



From the beginning of Matthew 6 Jesus warns us concerning wrong motives to express our righteousness.  Even though you may be doing the right thing, be careful who you do it for and why you do it.  The big three righteous acts, when it came to showing you were a religious person, were almsgiving, praying and fasting.  These things are to be evidence of an intimate relationship with God—ways in which we express our gratitude and our loyalty to Jesus.  The hypocrites, however, use these to measure their own righteousness, as opposed to believing that they’ve obtained their righteousness from Christ:


(Luke 18:9-14 NIV)  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'  "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'  "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."


Almsgiving, prayer and fasting are ways of humbling ourselves and therefore allowing God to lift us up.  If we try to lift ourselves up by how much we give, how much we pray or how much we fast, then we “have received our reward in full”.  God doesn’t justify you by how much you practice these things, since these come naturally to those who know where their justification comes from.  The righteous live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; 3:22-24; 4:1-13) and their faith is credited to them as righteousness.  Almsgiving, prayer and fasting are, therefore, fruits of righteousness.


Out of these three fruits of righteousness, fasting seems to be the least understood.  Here’s a concise description and some biblical examples:


Fasting is the laying aside of food for a period of time when the believer is seeking to know God in a deeper experience. It is to be done as an act before God in the privacy of one's own pursuit of God (Exodus 34:28; 1 Samuel 7:6; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 6:17).

    Fasting is to be done with the object of seeking to know God in a deeper experience (Isaiah 58; Zechariah. 7:5). Fasting relates to a time of confession (Psalm 69:10). Fasting can be a time of seeking a deeper prayer experience and drawing near to God in prevailing prayer (Ezra 8:23; Joel 2:12). The early church often fasted in seeking God's will for leadership in the local church (Acts 13:2). When the early church wanted to know the mind of God, there was a time of prayer and fasting. –C. Robert Marsh


In His Footsteps © 1998                                                    





Fasting in Secret





Fasting has to do with displaying humility, not asking for sympathy.  In the text for this week, Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus says to avoid looking depressed, or like you’re having a hard time being sacrificial for Christ.  Have you ever complained about how hard it was to do the right thing?  Did you ever say or think that you were better off before you committed your life to Christ? Read Ecclesiastes 7:10.  Don’t people of the world always grumble about the “good old days”?  Is it wise to get caught up in that kind of thinking?  Read Malachi 3:14, 15.  When you grumble about obeying God, aren’t you saying exactly the words Malachi wrote: “It is futile to serve God.”?  How do you think God feels concerning your loyalty to Him when you think like this?  Fasting becomes a tool for you to ensure a humble attitude before the Lord.



Fasting is penitence.  Read Lamentations 3:39-44.  When you go through rough times, do you complain to God?  Fasting is an effective way to examine yourself and return to God—with a penitent attitude.  Read Hebrews 12:7-13.  How should we take hard times?  Perhaps fasting is the way to do it. It can keep you from developing a negative attitude during hardship. Read 1 Samuel 7:2-10.  How did the people show their penitent attitude in wanting to seek out the Lord?  Notice in verse 6, they combined their confession with fasting.



Fasting is mourning.  Read Nehemiah chapter 1 and 2.  What saddened Nehemiah?  How did he act upon his sadness?  Did he dismiss the situation that was presented before him?  Was it something that was happening far away from where he was?  Do you have a tendency to distance yourself away from problems?  How did Nehemiah involve himself in this situation?  How did he test his motives for wanting to become involved?  As you can see, fasting is a tool we can use, like prayer and almsgiving, to give the glory to God in these testing situations.  Nehemiah fasted because he felt sad and probably wanted to make sure his motives in becoming involved were pure.  He sought the Lord out as opposed to reacting to the situation with his emotions unchecked.



To be involved in true fasting, without it being a show you are putting on for others to see, you must be willing to deny yourself and be led by God, risking everything you have and everything you are. Read Luke 5:30-39.  Notice what Jesus says about new and old wineskins.  He mentions this when He is asked about their practice of fasting.  Some fasted to be seen—to be honored amongst men—not to be led by God.  How does this relate to Jesus’ analogy with the wine and the wineskins?  Can you be groomed into new ways of thinking if you are still holding on to the old ways?  Can you be fashioned into a tool for use in God’s Kingdom if you are still led by your old ways and thoughts?  You see, fasting was to become a way of maintaining focus for the disciples after Jesus would leave them with His Spirit.  Fasting would be our way of reminding ourselves that we are not of the world—that our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20).



Have you ever fasted?  What for?  How did you fast?  There are three kinds of fasts: The Normal Fast, involving the total abstinence of food. Luke 4:2 reveals that Jesus “did eat nothing.” Afterwards “He was hungry.” Jesus abstained from food but not from water in this occasion. In Acts 9:9 we read of an Absolute Fast where for three days He “neither did eat nor drink.” The abstinence from both food and water seems to have lasted no more than three days (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16). The Partial Fast--in Daniel 10:3, the emphasis is upon the restriction of diet rather than complete abstinence. The context implies that there were physical benefits resulting from this partial fast. However, this verse indicates that there was a revelation given to Daniel as a result of this time of fasting.  In each of these instances, examine the motives of each person.  What did each person gain in their fast?  Can you think of why they fasted in the first place?  How would you have handled each situation?  Did fasting make a difference?  Why?


Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast". Matthew 9:15


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