…that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret
I did a quick review of all the verses in the KJV that mentioned fast or fasting. After weeding out the ones talking about fast as in “hold fast” or fasten as in “attached to your belt or the wall”, this is a summary of what I discovered about fasting as in “not eating”.
Fasting was done when a people or person was in mourning. Sometimes the mourning was over their sin; sometimes the mourning was over a loss of a person they loved.
Fasting was done when a people or person was deliberately seeking God. Sometimes the seeking was for protection; sometimes for direction; sometimes for strength and preparation.
Fasting was often accompanied by prayer – which makes perfect sense when you consider mourning and asking. “Prayer and fasting” were a means to direct ones attention to God with no distractions so as to gain insight into the mind of God on a matter.
Fasting was also abused and ritualized. Jezebel fakes a national fast to get an innocent man killed; the Pharisees made fasting twice a week an outward sign of holiness and used it to bring attention to themselves; Israel fasted outwardly but their hearts were far from God’s heart.
In this passage, Jesus condemns fake fasting for show. Fasting is okay but not for the wrong reasons.
We can certainly consider “fasting” from things that replace God in our lives. We can “give up” and “take a break” in order to clear a spot in our schedule for more time devoted to God.
But what I think is, we don’t really initiate fasting. It’s more like fasting comes to us out of recognition of our great need.
Maybe the choice before us is so weighty we dare not just decide with our own wisdom.
More often our sorrow is overwhelming; our sin has become too very heavy. We are lost and needy and desperate. Either food is the last thing on our minds or we know nothing to do but formally hide away until God answers.
I was particularly struck by Isaiah’s writing about fasting as he records the Lord’s words. Maybe this is the practical daily action and fasting in the ways mentioned before will come when they come.
6“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? 7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6-7