Summary: Seek God, not things! Fasting is an investment that brings spiritual dividends. Thoughts on hunger, reward, and treasure.
The Most Rewarding Treasure
Intro: Aunt "Emma" was married to a tightwad who was also a little strange. He made a good salary, but they lived frugally because he insisted on putting 20 percent of his paycheck under the mattress. (The man didn’t trust banks.) The money, he said, was going to come in handy in their old age.
When "Uncle Ollie" was 60, he was stricken with cancer. Toward the end, he made Aunt Em promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would put the money he had stashed away in his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to.
They all knew he was a little odd, but this was clearly a crazy request. Aunt Em did promise, however, and assured Uncle Ollie’s brothers that she was a woman of her word and would do as he asked.
The following morning she took the money (about $26,000) to the bank and deposited it. She then wrote a check and put it in the casket four days later.
-Uncle Ollie couldn’t take it with him- check, cash, or coin. Neither can we. In light of that, let me give you one simple truth to hold onto today.
Prop: Seek God, not things!
TS: We’ve already talked about prayer in this chapter. Well, fasting goes along with prayer and is an investment that brings spiritual dividends. Let’s look at some thoughts on hunger, reward, and treasure.
I. The Expectation of Spiritual Hunger
16 "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.
-Jesus expected His followers to fast: "When you fast...." Was it only because they were Jewish, or is there a broader principle at work here?
-Fasting is a somewhat neglected, yet important way to get closer to God. Here are some things to think about. Jesus fasted. The apostles fasted. Paul fasted. Church leaders fasted (Acts 14:23). Husbands and wives were expected to fast (1 Cor. 7:5). Several other people from the Bible fasted and prayed which should give us a clue to its importance.
-The point to be made here is that those who really desire to know God more fully will do what it takes to get close to Him. One day when the disciples brought food and encouraged Jesus to eat, He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). His point? Doing God’s will is more important than even the food we eat.
-Sometimes we show more enthusiasm about what’s for dinner than about what God is saying to us. I’m not here to preach against food. But maybe we need to ask ourselves when the last time was that we really hungered for God.
-The 4th beatitude says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6.
-Hunger brings desperation. There are a number of gory stories about what starving people have done to survive (eating unimaginable things and even resorting to cannibalism). Hungry people begin to realize that their life depends on finding something to eat.
-People who are spiritually hungry will be filled if they will seek the spiritual food from God. The main way to do this is to pray. However, the most powerful way to seek spiritual answers is to fast and pray.
-Fasting was a common practice among devout Jews, but Jesus warned against doing it for the wrong reasons. When we fast for the right reasons, we are rewarded by God our Father- the One Who is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
II. The Reward of Genuine Seeking
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.
-John Piper, in A Hunger for God, writes, "If the reward you aim at in fasting is the admiration of others, that is what you will get, and that will be all you get. In other words, the danger of hypocrisy is that it is so successful. It aims at the praise of men, and it succeeds. But that’s all."
-If we are going to spend any amount of time in prayer and fasting simply so that others will know how spiritual we are, then we are wasting our time. It won’t cause us to be more spiritual. It won’t bring us closer to God. It won’t bring us an answer to prayer. All it will do is make us hungry! Someone said that kind of fasting is like decaf coffee: it won’t wake you up, shake you up, or take you up. To fast for the wrong reasons only leads to spiritual pride.