Every year we are faced with the question of "Do we as Christians fast during lent?" This is a normal question because of how so many family members of our church members practice the catholic tradition of only eating meat on Fridays. Each year we are faced with the whole city following suit with what they have been doing for years. One of the first place I go to in scripture of how Jesus talked about it in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 brings to light what many have never even considered here. It says: Matthew 6:16-18
16 “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. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 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. (ESV)
The point is clear. The key word is secret! What does secret mean? Secret means private, no one knows about it and it is between you and God. Don't get me wrong here, there maybe are times when the whole church deciedes to fast for a time together during certain season. But most often it is a practice I believe is often forgotten that is secret. To be honest, I haven't fasted in some time. But studying this topic again has reminded me. I think this is the case most often that I simply forget the practice of fasting.
Another thing that as I have been studying this topic is that fasting is always connected to prayer. If you take the prayer away from the fasting you are only making a physical attivity which the whole world practices. You can even find on the internet the healthy reasons for fasting. If you look at what is just before those verses in Matthew, Jesus also talks about prayer in a similar fashion.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (ESV)
Not only does Jesus teach us about fasting being secret but prayer as well. This is one of the major points I make to people about fasting when I am talking to people here. Why do they fast? Do they pray during the time they would normally be eating? Is it just a tradition? What kind of prayer life does the person fasting have? Is it an act of faith? Like I said before you can't separate fasting from prayer. Fasting should be a time of fellowship with Jesus.
I wanted to study more on this topic, so I started reading John Piper's book Hunger for God, Desiring God through prayer and fasting. Here is a quote from his book. (Free PDF file at this site: www.desiringgod.org/books/a-hunger-for-god )
"If you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: "This much, O God, I want you." pg 25-26
I found this to be extremely helpful to fully grasp what fasting is all about. How much do I want to enjoy God and not his gifts?
I hope this has been an encouragement to you as it has been for me. If it has feel free to let me know.