Jesus gives us a short and simple teaching on the practice of fasting as part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Notice He does not begin by trying to persuade His listeners that fasting is something they should do. His teaching isn’t an argument in favour of fasting but simply assumes that God’s people will fast as part of their devotion to God. Jesus says ‘When you fast….’ not ‘If you fast!’ My guess is that this is quite shocking to a large number of modern, western Christians. Jesus is teaching that fasting isn’t simply an optional extra for particularly keen church goers, but assumes that is part of the basic spiritual rhythm of life for all His followers.
With that said the rest of Jesus’ brief teaching on fasting concerns the direction in which we are fasting. As with Jesus’ previous teaching on giving (Matt6:1-4) and prayer (Matt6:5-15), fasting is to be directed toward God and not man. Fasting isn’t to be a show of outward spirituality (characterised by sadness and gloom) for everyone to see and marvel at how spiritual we are. Fasting is to be an inward commitment (characterised if anything by joy!) between you and God. I sense Jesus may well be drawing on His own experience of fasting in the wilderness. Fasting in the wilderness is something that leaves a person completely alone to be with God – there are no other people involved just the one fasting and the Lord. In the wilderness Jesus Himself was tempted to do something to ‘show off’ in front of the crowds. The devil tried to get him to perform a mini skydive off the top of the temple onto a cushion of angels, presumably for all the crowds below to see (Matt4:6-7). But Jesus resisted, knowing that His wilderness fast was something done in secret between Him and the Father.
Keep persevering in prayer and fasting. Allow Father God to develop and deepen your relationship with Him through it.
For Group Discussion
You may want to reflect together further on Matt 6.
Take time to share together some of the things God has been speaking to you and doing in you as you have been fasting and praying. This may include words, pictures and scriptures God is saying to you individually and to the church, but it also may include the struggles and discoveries you have made about your flesh and will struggling with God’s.
How is God guiding your prayers as you fast?