Fasting that Honors God (Matthew 6:16–18) - Radical

Fasting that Honors God (Matthew 6:16–18)

“And when you fast, Jesus says, 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.”
-Matthew 6:16-18

This is one of the places we see Jesus teaching about fasting. What’s interesting is the way he uses the word when. Verse 16, when you fast. Verse 17, when you fast. It’s not like if you fast, but when you fast. Like he expects his followers to fast. It’s like a given that they will fast in the same way that the same language is used earlier in Matthew 6, when Jesus says, when you give to the needy and when you pray. And then he says, when you fast. So fasting is as basic to the Christian life as giving to people who are in need and as praying to God, the Father.

Lord, Your love is better than life. Your Word is better than food and Your presence is our sustenance. May we fast in a way that brings glory to You.

So let me ask you a question. In your Christian life, is fasting a given? Like as basic to you as praying? As basic in your life as giving? I would say to the extent of which any of those three things are not regular parts of our relationship with God, then we are missing something that is basic, essential in a sense, core to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And I mentioned this with fasting in particular because I think that many followers of Jesus don’t fast. Don’t regularly fast. Set aside food. So when you say fast, there’s so much we could talk about here, but the acrostic we use in our church family, FAST.

So F, so focus on God. You’re not doing this for others. You’re doing this because you want to seek and know and love and worship God more and more and more in your life. So you’re focused on God. You’re not trying to get attention from anybody else. And you’re focused on reward from God, Matthew 6:18 says. So that’s F.

A, you abstain from food to the extent of which you are physically able to abstain from a meal, meals for a day, for multiple days, two, three, four, longer, whatever it might be. So if you’ve never fasted before, just start with a day. Now, some people just physically are not able. Like a doctor would say, you never need to skip a day for a meal. And if that’s the case, then obviously, to think through, “Okay, what could I do? What’s another God given addiction, so to speak?” Because that’s what food is. It’s a God given addiction. Like he’s wired us to want food. So to identify something that is as similar as possible to food in this way.

But if at all possible, the picture we see throughout scripture is setting aside food. So that’s the A, abstain from food, S substitute the time when you would eat with extra time in prayer and extra time in the word. So I love what I learned early on about fasting. Somebody told me, “David, fasting is feasting.” So it’s not just not having these things that you want, it’s having something even better, like feasting on the word of God, feasting on extra time in communion with God. So just because you forget a meal doesn’t mean you fast and just because you skip a meal, doesn’t mean you fasted. You substitute that time with prayer and the word.

That’s the S. And then T, taste and see that the Lord is good. The whole point of fasting is to say, God, you’re better. You’re better than a sandwich. You’re better than a steak. You’re better than whatever you might want to eat. God, more than I want food, I want intimacy with you. God, I want my hunger to cease. I want your kingdom to come on the earth. And so I just want to encourage you, if you don’t have a regular pattern of fasting to get into a regular pattern of fasting, because this is basic to what it means to follow Jesus.

So Jesus, just as we pray that you would help us to give in a way that brings you glory and help us to pray in a way that brings you glory, we pray that you will help us to fast in a way that brings you glory. And just as we know praying is for our good, giving is for our good, others’ good, and praying is for others’ good. That fasting is good for us and good for others. God, we pray that you would wean us off the dependence we have on the things of this world to remind us, especially through fasting, that you are better, that your love is better than life, that your word is better than food, that your presence is our sustenance. Your strength is our joy. So God, we pray that you’d help us to fast to focus on you, abstain from food, substitute the time, Lord, even to eat with prayer and your word, and in the process, to taste and see that you are good. In Jesus’ name we pray and we fast. Amen.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.

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