Scripture: Matthew 6:16-18 CEB
“When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face.”
We were all taught that there are essentials to life. We all need the most basic essentials of food, water and shelter to survive. A human being can survive more than three weeks without food. Mahatma Gandhi survived 21 days of complete starvation. A human being can only go about four days without water. We would last even less if there is no shelter and we are exposed to the elements. A human being is believed to be able to only go a matter of months without sleep before internal organs are affected and the potential of death arises. Going without the essentials of life will put our bodies in danger. The non-essentials of life are a different story. We are able to go a lot longer without these non-essentials. The principle behind fasting is to go without one of the essentials, usually food, for a short period of time to focus on our spiritual needs. Fasting can be challenging and that is the idea.
You may have done a one day fast or a juice fast. You also may have fasted from something other than food, think Lent. The idea of giving something up for Lent is essentially the principle of fasting. However, most people get the idea of fasting wrong. For example, when you give something up for Lent (chocolate being the most popular) do you moan and groan about it the whole 40 days? How many Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter posts do you create about it? Over the years I have known a lot of people who have given up something for Lent, fasted from it, only to make it even more the focus of their life because they talk about how much they miss it. This is not the purpose of fasting.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were doing something similar to what I described above. They would fast, but they would make sure that they looked especially pathetic so people would know they were fasting. They would fast for short periods of time and make themselves look like they were dying. This was intended to show how serious they were about their faith. They are why Jesus told his followers, “But when you fast, brush your hair and wash your face.” My rough paraphrase would be, “When you fast, look normal and don’t draw attention to yourself.” Fasting is meant to be between you and God. In fact, we are not supposed to moan and groan about how much we miss what we have given up. The purpose of fasting is to draw us closer to God. Every time we miss what we have given up, food or something else, we are to pray. If we have given up food, when we get hungry we are to pray. If we have given up chocolate, when we feel the urge to eat some chocolate we pray instead. In fasting we replace whatever we have given up with prayer.
Have you given up something for Lent? If you have, has this practice drawn you closer to God in prayer? If you have not given up something for Lent, it’s not too late. You could give up 30 minutes of screen time each day and replace it with prayer. Instead of your normal break at work spend that time reading Scripture and praying. Fast from the radio in your car and spend that time in prayer. The thing you give up may very well end up blessing you as you spend more time with God. I have known many people who fasted from something during Lent and never went back to it when Lent was over. The practice of spending more time in prayer with God was more beneficial to them than the thing they gave up. Could you benefit from replacing something in your life with prayer?
Prayer: God of everything and everyone, thank you for all you have given to me. Help me to see the things I can do without so I may spend more time with you. Send your Holy Spirit to give me the power to fast and pray. I look forward to the ways I will be blessed through this spiritual practice. In the name of Jesus. Amen.