Summary: Jesus talks about God giving us our daily bread but then fasting. He also says we "do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” I know this to be true. When I have fasted it has helped me to hear from God.
Matthew 6 - Part 5 – A DIET THAT REALLY WORKS!
I bought some new bathroom scales recently, but I don’t like them. They tell you about your body fat ratio, and a number of other things, to help you determine not only what weight you are but how fit and healthy you are. They told me that I have crossed the line and that I am now obese. Fortunately, I don’t have any trouble with dieting. Weight falls off me when I make decisions to lose weight. It’s just making the decision that is difficult.
But Matthew 6:16 isn’t talking about dieting. It’s talking about FASTING.
Matthew 6 is an amazing chapter. So many leadership principles here. Of course, that’s what Jesus intended since He went up on the mountain and taught His disciples. But there are things that are still foreign to me, like FASTING. Foreign in the sense that I rarely do it. Yet Jesus expected His disciples to fast. He said “And when you fast,...” (Matthew 6:16) not “IF you fast” yet fasting is not something I practise very often. I know very little about going without food.
Strange that one minute Jesus is talking about God giving us our daily bread and then the next He is speaking of fasting. There’s nothing wrong with food. God provides it. It has to be good. But Jesus also said, in Matthew 4:4 (NLT) “...‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” I know this to be true. When I have fasted it has helped me to hear from God.
I saw one of my daughter’s magazines yesterday with some skinny, half starved super models on the cover who live in extravagance and must eat like those in a refugee camp, all because they want to be admired by people and paid enormous amounts of money. The fasting Jesus discourages is fasting like that. Fasting that draws people’s attention. He says “don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NLT)
Those super models don’t exactly look dishevelled and miserable, at least outwardly, but they do make a living on the admiration of people. Accordingly that’s the only reward they’ll get. It’s the only reward they really want. I can’t help feeling, however, that many people must find their appearance revoltingly unattractive. Extravagance on one hand with outfits worth thousands of dollars, and yet starving on the other.
The admiration of people drives me to excess and limits my potential to hear from God. How often do I limit my life to the human equation rather than lift things to a place where God’s miracles can take place. I don’t feel the need to fast, at least at present, Lord, but I do need to lift the level of my thinking (and I do need to diet for health reasons, but that’s different).
Prayer and fasting is voluntarily going without food in order to focus on prayer and time with God. Someone said that prayer and fasting go together. You can pray without fasting, and fast without prayer but together these two activities can be very effective.
Prayer and fasting is not a way of manipulating God into doing what I want. It’s just a way to focus and rely on God for the strength, provision, and the wisdom I need. Jesus fasted during the 40 days in the wilderness when He was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:2), Anna fasted and she was an old widow (Luke 2:37), Cornelius fasted and he was a Gentile who saw an amazing vision from God (Acts 10:30), Church leaders fasted and heard God speak about releasing Barnabas and Paul for missionary work which turned the world upside down (Acts 13:2), Husbands and wives fasted at times (1 Cor. 7:5), Paul fasted often (2 Cor. 6:5).
Jesus has nothing against fasting. He is against being a hypocrite and having the wrong motivation for fasting. It’s not super-spiritual to fast. It is just something normal for a Christian at times to fast.
So when do I fast? That’s my choice apparently. Just to get alone with God away from the normal routines of life. When I have some particular need in my life, maybe concerning a friend or some other need. When I need strength from God. It’s strange that fasting would help give me strength. God’s opposites. Fasting is a discipline and discipline is always healthy in a Christian’s life. OK Lord, I’m beginning to get the point.
God bless you Church as you consider the role of Prayer and Fasting in your life. Jesus said “When you fast....” so that means that as a disciple it is a part of my life.