But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:17-18 ESV
Following up on the previous verse where Jesus pointed out the fault of the hypocrites in fasting, he now moves into a prescriptive remedy for proper fasting. This prescription is rather simple and points us to one key factor: our heart motivation. There are many different ways we can fast and humble ourselves before the Lord, but the essential element of them all is that we have our hearts set on pleasing the Lord alone. Whereas the hypocrites disfigured their faces to accentuate their outward appearance and enhance the visual cues of their fasting upon their bodies, we are to be fresh and clean in our appearance. Meaning, we should just go about our day as we normally would without calling attention to our fast. This is the secret Jesus is advocating. A secret and private audience with the only One that matters, Jesus. If our motivation is set upon the Lord alone and we are seeking only to please him, then we will find our reward. A spiritual reward with eternal significance and meaning.
I don’t want to carry this too far and assume that I should never acknowledge my fast to anyone. This would be a mistake as it is important to share our fasting with others to encourage and challenge them to seek the Lord more intentionally and deeply. What is at the center of this passage is that we are properly motivated in our fasting. Properly motivated to please our Savior. The secret is not to draw attention to myself in an attempt to garner praise from people. The secret is to walk in humility before the presence of my God in fasting.
I began a fast yesterday with the purpose of training my heart in self-control and to deny even the hint of disobedience in my life. It is amazing how often the pangs of temptation are brought about through habit and tradition. Even this simple measure of denying myself the minor pleasures of sleep and food brings about a flood of conflict within me. All day yesterday, I felt the lure of temptation working to rationalize in my mind how I could compromise my commitment. It was intense and persistent. The pull of strongly reinforced habits is deep within me and now that I am denying them, I more readily see their hold upon my heart and mind. And this was only day one!
I am amazed and concerned at the depth and magnitude of my heart’s desire for these habits and traditions. Areas of my life have gone unchecked and unchallenged for years upon years. Fasting is showing me the true face of sin that still grips my heart and its ugliness. Fasting is also showing me the true depths of love and forgiveness to be found in Jesus alone and it is amazingly beautiful. I am using the fruit of the Spirit to guide me through this fast. Although I do want to see these fruit ripen and come to fruition in my heart, I am mainly concerned with informing my mind with the understanding that God is the fruit of the Spirit. These qualities are not something that just identifies the Lord, but God is every quality. He is love. He is joy. He is peace. He is patience. He is kindness. He is goodness. He is faithfulness. He is gentleness. He is self-control. It’s not that he merely demonstrates these qualities but that he is the embodiment of these characteristics. Do I want joy in my life, then I will only find true joy in Jesus. True joy and satisfaction come from knowing Jesus, the source of joy itself.
Fasting allows me to let these truths permeate my heart and take root deep within my soul. That is where I need them. I need these to take hold of my soul and change me from the inside out. Fasting allows me to better see the barriers that are in place by my own self-righteousness and arrogance. Fasting allows me to better hear the voice of God in my life. As I strip away these false idols that prop me up and give me a false sense of security and meaning, the Lord comes in and replaces them with the truth bringing repentance and restoration to my heart. All of this is in the secret places of my heart and soul. Just a beautiful time of relationship building between my Savior and myself. A time to be refreshed in the Lord and better prepared to carry on in this journey of faith.