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. 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. — Matt. 6:16-18
In the world of Jesus, spiritual disciplines are a given. “When you give. When you pray. When you fast.” The Kingdom life is a disciplined existence, a vocation of prayer, giving, and fasting. Each of these disciplines renders us aware of our reliance upon God over against wealth and an appetite for consumption. Jesus seems committed to the notion that His disciples live a disciplined existence.
Jesus also advocates a privatized piety of sorts, at least as a means of contrasting the Pharisaic breast-beating and look-at-me dour expressions.
- Giving is to be done in secret. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you, (6.3-4)
- Prayer is to be done in secret. 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. (6.6)
- So, too, does Jesus preach the private act of fasting.
Last year, Sunny had major abdominal surgery that required her to observe a liquid diet for several days. To show my sympathy, I decided to join in with her and I agreed to fast for 3 days leading up to her surgery. I can honestly say it was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. It made me more aware of my daily cravings for food, the constant reminders of my existence as a flesh-being in need of food and water and oxygen (and God presence) for my sustenance. I also found that the longer I went without food, the easier it was to deal with the temptation to eat that plagued me that first 18 hours. I’m certainly not claiming to be a fasting “expert”, but I wonder how much we lose by failing to observe spiritual disciplines like fasting.
Jesus seems committed to the notion that His disciples live disciplined lives.