Alone with God: Devotional Commentary for November 29-December 5
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
And Jesus continued:
16Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
17But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Jesus now shifts His teachings to the subject of fasting, following a focused exhortation on charitable deeds, prayer, and forgiveness. He applies the same principles to fasting as He did to praying, giving, and forgiving. Essentially, Jesus reiterates the basic principle of: restraint from ostentation, in fasting as well.
Jesus says: do not seek attention to your fasting as do the hypocrites. Hypocrites fast in a manner that is apparent to everyone who observes their behavior. They fast to impress others with their pretentious devotion and religious fervor. They fast openly to draw public attention and commendation. At times, they project a sad countenance and cast a contorted appearance to gain public pity. Still on occasions, they do it to earn public admiration for what they project as a virtuous religious distinction. They perform for those who are watching them. And that is all they get, public attention. They reap what they sowed.
Jesus speaks to us emphatically and exhorts us to behave normally as God's truthful and honest children. We should continue to carry ourselves in public as we always do. We should not present ourselves with a disheveled appearance or let our countenance fall into a pitiable disarray. We pray to God, not to the public. So should our fasting be.
Fasting is private. It is between God our Father and His children. It is what we do to tame our spirit into a prayerful posture. Fasting is an internal humbling of oneself before God. It is not a public spectacle. It is an expression of our personal devotion and submission before God our Creator and Redeemer. God, before Whom we secretly fast and pray, would answer our prayers openly. He would glorify Himself in what He does for us and through us.
Jesus fasted for forty days and nights before He began His public ministry of teaching and healing. But He did it alone in the wilderness. He was alone with His Father. And God His Father gave Him an overwhelming victory throughout His ministry. He gave Him a Name that is above all names. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Fasting is the clearing of the mind, the conditioning of the heart, and the humbling of the soul before God.
Fasting is an integral aspect of a fervent supplication offered by distressed pilgrims, taking an arduous journey through the trying landscape of this hostile world. It is something profound we do to break down the rebellion in our flesh so that we can approach our gracious God with a contrite spirit and a broken heart. It is something sincere to which we commit ourselves as an aspect of our self-denial before God.
We practice fasting to deal with our own insurrectionist tendencies. We fast as we pray in order to bring ourselves into subjection to the Authority of our gracious Father. When we legitimately fast, God sees our sincerity and heart-felt repentance. Fasting reinforces our prayer. It weakens the flesh and strengthens the spirit. It cultivates self-discipline and destroys the strongholds of bad habits and the love for material goods and ungodly things.
Fasting focuses our attention on God. It helps us pray without distraction. Fasting is not a religious exercise or a routine ritual. It is a private season of surrender and meditation in order to draw closer to God and commune with our Father with the clarity of mind and the fervency of spirit. Fasting is not for meriting credit in the eyes of the crowd. It is a form of self-denial helpful in humbling oneself before God.
Fasting is neither for superior piety before men nor for impressing or coercing God to answer our prayers. Fasting is instrumental in seeking a humble posture conducive to objectively discerning God's Will and rest, knowing that God is indeed our God. We pray to God, not to the public. We fast before God, not before men.