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. – Matthew 6:16-18
I’ve done it twice that I can remember. Having said that, I’ve perhaps undone the doing of it. But I learned something in the process. I learned that by fasting I could be more focused and intense in my prayers. I focused my prayers on the Christmas Eve service at the church I served at that time. My prayers were specific. We had about 120 in worship on a Sunday, and I prayed for 200 to be in worship on Christmas Eve that year. All day I fasted and prayed.
As I recall, there were 198 of us in worship that Christmas Eve evening! Big deal, you say? It was to me and the people of that congregation. Perhaps I should have prayed for 400 (though the church would seat at most 250)! Fasting focused my prayers.
Another time I fasted for a time of prayer and sermon planning. I went away and spent time reading the Bible, praying, and listening for God. I spent the day drinking only juice and water. Nothing happened during that time. It was as though I was focused only on fasting and not on hearing and listening to God.
As the time of fasting ended, however, something interesting happened. There is a suggested manner in which one ends a food fast. You introduce food slowly. It’s not like eating a farmer’s breakfast after sleeping all night. So as I came out of the fast new insights, ideas, and thoughts came to mind.
I had spent the day in what seemed to be unfruitful study and prayer. But those hours proved to be very fruitful. God was working in my heart in ways unknown to me during the fast. And it is as though he was teaching me that fasting isn’t the deal. His work in me is.
Maybe we expect too little. If we think that fasting is a transactional process we’re wrong. We don’t gain Jesus Points by fasting. God doesn’t have certain deliverables due on completion of our fast. Fasting is a transformational process, because we learn truly that “man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:5).