“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Matthew 6:16-18 (NKJV)
Jesus did not condemn this third act of piety any more than he did the first two. As he assumed that his followers would give (6:2) and pray (6:5), so he assumed that they would fast. When you fast, Jesus was saying, go about your normal daily routine; don’t make a show of it. Putting olive oil on one’s head was like putting on lotion; it was a common part of daily hygiene like washing one’s face. No one but God would know they were fasting. Jesus commended acts of self-sacrifice done quietly and sincerely. He wanted people to adopt spiritual disciplines for the right reasons, not from a selfish desire for the praise of men. As with the other disciplines, the reward would come from God, not from people.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline, like prayer and giving. All three remind us of a primary relationship—God and us. All three require that we give up something to gain something better.
The first time you voluntarily give up the pleasure of food, it may hurt. Start with just a one-meal fast. Even then your stomach may tell you that you are starving yourself to death, but it is lying to you.
During your fast, pray often. Then pray some more. Open yourself to God. Tell Him how much you want His love and guidance. Read some psalms, refreshing your heart with food from God’s Word. Fasting does not make God stronger but it will bring you joy because you will come into a closer relationship with the Lord. Then you can go back to the physical food that you need to sustain your body.
Notice that Jesus said, “when you fast,” for He knew that there would be times when you would need to do so. So, when you do fast, do it unto the Lord and He will bless you for it. Amen and amen.