Fasting in Secret
“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face…. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vv. 17–18). Matthew 6:17-18
Before we look at Jesus’ teaching on fasting in today’s passage, we need to provide a few closing comments on the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer He has given to His disciples (Matt. 6:9–15). Most believers have prayed this prayer verbatim at some point, which is not inappropriate if it is said with thoughtful reflection. Yet this prayer is to be used primarily as a guide for structuring our communion with God. We are to pray like Jesus teaches us (v. 9; Luke 11:1–4). In other words, it is good to compose our prayers after the format of the Lord’s Prayer, using it as a model to follow. Taking each petition and applying it more directly to our own lives, we are to pray for our own particular needs, sins, and the extension of His kingdom among our friends and families.
Praying for the extension of God’s kingdom is especially important (Matt. 6:10). Since our Creator already rules over all (Ps. 97:1), this is a prayer for His rule to be recognized, not established. It is a prayer that we and those around us cease to rebel against our Father and do His will just as it is done in heaven (Matt. 6:9–10) — spontaneously, not begrudgingly, and with full acknowledgment and respect of His holiness. Augustine said that to pray for the kingdom to come is to pray for it to be manifested on earth (Sermon on the Mount, 2.6.20).
This passage records our Savior’s teaching on avoiding hypocrisy when fasting, a major act of Jewish piety in His day. During Jesus’ lifetime, fasting is an opportune time for displaying one’s piety; many go about disheveled and visibly hungry to show others their “spirituality.” Some even dirty themselves with ashes to show how much they have “given up for God.” As with prayer and almsgiving, the Messiah’s solution is not to forbid fasting altogether, but to make sure that it is done in secret so that His disciples will receive a lasting reward (Matt. 6:16–18). Our fasting is to be so secretive that we show forth our cleanliness and joy, which was often done with oil in first-century Israel (Ps. 104:14–15). If we are clean and happy, who but God will know we are fasting? Contentment with piety for the Lord’s sake and not as a show for others will bring us far more than the fleeting praises of men (Matt. 6:18).
Fasting is extremely beneficial to our spiritual growth and our prayer lives. Going without food helps reminds us how much we depend on God for our sustenance and, indeed, for all things. This helps us seek Him fervently, for we know that the only hope we have to see our loved ones saved and our lives changed is through His working. Consider taking some time to fast and pray this week so that you may know what it means to rely wholly on the Lord.
Passages for Further Study
- Esther 4
- Isaiah 58:1–12
- Matthew 9:10–13
- Acts 14:19–23