by Linda Veath
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. …. 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.…. ~ Matthew 6:16-18a ESV
The adult Sunday School class I taught years ago was a hoot. Most were much older than me—as in my parents’ age. They were all students of the Bible and loved God’s Word. But they also loved to have fun. Because of that, I learned to be creative. Sometimes I would sit them in rows, other times in a circle. I would separate them into men and women, or have them “sit with anyone but your spouse.” We had Hug Sundays where they had to hug everyone in the class. We celebrated Lent and Advent (yes, even Presbyterians could do that!). We made a Joshua tree.
There was only one thing they wouldn’t do. If I even mentioned the word “fasting,” they immediately looked like deer caught in the headlights. Unfortunately, many of us look the same way. We may light-heartedly give something up for Lent, but we have lost the true meaning of what a fast is.
The Dake Annotated Reference Bible defines fasting as follows: “To fast means to abstain from food—that which caused the fall of man. Fasting humbles the soul before God (Ps 35:13); chastens the soul (Ps 69:10); and crucifies the appetites and denies them so as to give entire time to prayer (2 Sam 12:16-23; Mt 4:1-11). It manifests earnestness before God to the exclusion of all else.”
Richard Foster in his excellent book Celebration of Discipline writes that “fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained.”
In other words, fasting is not just giving something up. WHEN—not if (see Matthew 6:16)—we fast, it is to draw us closer to God. To spend time in prayer to Him. To study His Word. And focus on the One Who gave His life for us that we might have salvation and eternal life in Him forever.