Joyful Fasting

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 6:16 ESV

As with the other parts of the sermon, Jesus begins his instruction on fasting with a warning not to imitate the hypocrites who, well-meaning as they may be, corrupt their spiritual obedience by pursuing worldly praise. In this passage, Jesus points out their corruptness by emphasizing the hypocrite’s intentional disfiguring of their faces and he leaves no doubt as to their secondary or maybe even primary motivation – to be seen by others. The hypocrites fast with a gloomy face. Jesus is calling us to live a life in the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This covers all areas of our lives, including our fasting. When we fast, not if, we are to have joy! We fast for a variety of reasons and oftentimes to repent or grieve over a particular sin in our life. We want to make this a time of gloom as we lament the control we have ceded to the power of sin. Fasting is all of that to be sure, but it is also a time of great joy and wonder as we celebrate the power of Jesus to cancel sin. There is forgiveness and healing to be found in Jesus and fasting works to realign our hearts to this spiritual truth. So there is always great joy in our fasting along with a time to lament and grieve our failing within the framework of the victory of Jesus upon the cross.

Whereas this passage should lead me to examine the way I go about fasting in my life, I am only reminded of my neglectful heart toward this critical discipline. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I fasted for a spiritual purpose. I know fasting is important and necessary for a healthy relationship with Jesus. I know that fasting brings tremendous spiritual benefits. I know all the right answers in my head but there is very little understanding on this topic. I am negligent in the very first words of this passage. These two sentences may be directed at aligning my heart to fast with a proper motivation but it has cut deeply into my pride and self-righteous way of doing life without fasting and examing my heart in an intentional manner that draws me closer to Jesus.

There has been a general concern growing within me the last few months that I am slipping. That my heart is wandering off the path of faithfulness and obedience. I have noticed my eyes being distracted away from the straight path before me and onto the worldly objects meant to draw my attention to anything that leads away from Jesus. I can feel the slow and deliberate creep of sin gaining ground inch by inch. I sometimes feel helpless and overpowered.

This is where I need fasting in my life. I need those times of helplessness and weakness in my life to point me to Jesus. I need to stretch my spiritual muscles and give Jesus opportunities to strengthen my understanding of self-control. I need fasting to remind me of the control that sin has over my life and then turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. For when I fast, I am constantly reminded of my weakness and the power I am ceding to the enemy. I need fasting in my life. I need to better understand and value the work of Jesus through fasting and the freedom it brings. Not to put on a mask of spiritual piety that seeks the acclaim of men but to humble myself before my Savior and seek his face. To teach my heart, soul, mind, and strength that I am meant for something more than physical food and pleasure. I am meant to bring glory to the Holy One. I am meant to bask in the great love of Jesus that continually pours life into me. I am meant to rest in the grace and mercy of my loving Father through the Son by the Spirit.

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