Fruitful Fasting

At least some Pharisees fasted twice a week, abstaining from food as a spiritual exercise (Luke 18:12). Moses and Elijah fasted for forty days; David, Daniel, Nehemiah and others fasted for shorter periods of time; and the whole nation was called to fast on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:9; Daniel 10:2-3; Nehemiah 1:4; Leviticus 16:29-31). Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2), and the Apostles sometimes fasted at critical times (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). It seems that Jesus assumed His disciples would abstain from food for shorter or longer periods of time, as expressions of contrition, devotion to God, and waiting upon the Lord for guidance. Throughout the centuries, some Christians have found fasting to be a helpful way to focus on God in prayer, and to discipline the body against sinful habits (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). At least in America today, such a practice might be one way to combat the epidemic of obesity! But – and here is the main point of Jesus’ teaching – we must never engage in any religious act in order to be seen by others or to gain their approval. As with charitable giving, our fasting must be done in secret, where only God sees. In other words, when you fast, don’t tell anyone! And, like giving to those in need, secret fasting will yield the fruit of God’s attention and approval, and He will reward us for our self-denial. The results may be seen in greater victory over sin, but they will surely receive God’s commendation and recompense on the last great day of judgment, when all those who love the Lord will receive an imperishable wreath of glory.