Why do we fast?

The Miracles of Jesus

March 21, 2021

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Why do we fast?

Matthew 6:16-18; 4:1-2

While I was serving at a church in Fort Myers as Youth Minister, my students and I participated in World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine.

As I recall, we participated in the event several times over five years. The 30 Hour Famine is a fund-raiser for needy children around the world. The event is packed with plenty of activities and Bible studies, which we did as part of a lock-in. To participate in the famine, there was one caveat, you don’t eat for 30 hours.

My youth always did a great job of fund-raising for the event. But, I did have a few moaners when it came to not being able to eat. I have to admit, once you got about 20 to 24 hours into the event, your body definitely got sluggish.

I would always end the event with a worship service. All of the student’s parents and congregation members were invited. Immediately after the service, we would ‘Break-Fast.’ I would set it up with the parents in advance to bring casseroles, desserts, etc., for our first meal in 30 hours.

Overall the 30 Hour Famine was a great event. The students grew in their relationship with each other, they learned what it was like to be truly hungry, and they raised funds for needy children worldwide.

During His sermon on the mount, Jesus talks explicitly about fasting in chapter 6:16-18

“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.”

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus gives three examples of “acts of righteousness.”

  • The first is giving to the poor
    • This includes giving them money and help in other ways, such as clothing, medical attention, etc.
  • The second is prayer
    • In Matthew 6, Jesus gave us an outline of prayer. We call it the Lord’s Prayer.
    • He also told us to pray in private and not make a big show of it like the religious leaders of the day.
      • That being said, it’s okay to pray corporately in church or during a group Bible study
      • Jesus’ point is that we need to have alone time to commune with God, praying one-on-one to Him.
  • The third is fasting
    • Like in prayer and giving to the poor, Jesus is particular in saying not to make a show of it if you fast.
      • The religious leaders of Jesus’ day would fast 2 times a week. There’s nothing wrong with doing that.
      • But, they made a habit of walking through the streets while they fasted and let everyone know how much they were suffering. They wanted the people to be impressed.
      • Perhaps it did impress some people, but that kind of seeking of attention never impresses God.

So, I guess the question that is most asked is, why do we fast? During the Christian season of lent, many people (it’s not mandatory) fast from certain foods or activities. Lent is a remembrance of Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the wilderness (Not including Saturdays and Sundays) immediately after being baptized.

As I mentioned earlier, when you fast, you can get tired, hungry, and sometimes even a bit cranky. But, that wasn’t the case for Jesus. He fasted and was strong enough to fend off the tempting of the devil several times.

There are some good reasons to fast on occasion; in his book “The Gospel of Matthew,” *William Barclay names five.

  • First: The value of self-discipline
    • We learn to control our feeling (hunger) and overcome our weakness
  • Second: The release from slavery to habit
    • Fasting is a great way to break a habit. You may eat too much candy. Give up eating for a while. Or, as the saying goes, do anything for 21 days, and you have created a habit.
  • Third: The preservation of the ability to do without things
    • We live in a world of needs and wants. Many of the things we feel are needs are simply wants. “I need those new shoes,” or “I need to drink coffee all day just to keep going.” The coffee example sounds like you’ve developed a bad habit that has evolved into what you think is a need.
  • Fourth: The positive value for health
    • Doctors often tell us we need to give up certain foods or activities to improve our health.
    • I wonder if fasting from not exercising is a “thing?”
  • Fifth: The enhancement of our appreciation of things
    • I’m not sure if giving up smoking is fasting, but I do know when I did 41 years ago, my appreciation for the taste of food increased.

In the New Testament, Jesus does not call upon us to fast. But if you do, make it your thing and not everyone else’s.

Dear Lord. There are times in our lives when it is good to fast. It can make us stronger and give us a better appreciation for the things we have. When we do fast, help us not brag or boast about it. Instead, allow us to quietly understand the benefits we are receiving through our fast. Amen.

*(The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1 by William Barclay (1958-05-03), Volume one, PP. 229-230)

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