January 23 I Wednesday
“I…humbled myself with fasting.” —Psalm 35:13
Fasting is the third spiritual discipline where Jesus makes a comparison between the hypocrites and a true disciple. “When you fast,” He says, “do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18). The kind of fasting God rewards does not call attention to the person fasting. This is in contrast to the hypocrites, who wore their fasting like a badge of pride. They would overtly forgo the ceremonial Jewish washing rituals and disfigure their faces to make the fact of their fasting obvious.
The irony is that fasting is meant to be an aid to humility. For example, Moses described God leading Israel through the wilderness by saying, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). God held back this necessity of life from His people so they would learn to depend on Him. They were humbled when they realized they could not provide for themselves but would have to look to God for provision.
Part of God’s prophecy through Hosea recalled this wilderness journey, where He said, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot Me” (Hosea 13:6). This was a danger for Israel and can be a danger for us. When we have plenty, we sometimes forget God, thinking we have earned what God has blessed us with by our own work or merit. But when we fast, it turns our attention to God and keeps us from trying to live independently of Him.
Like giving and prayer, fasting should not be about how we appear before others but is between us and God. Theologian J.I. Packer writes, “There is nothing magical about fasting in itself. It’s just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with Him.” Fasting of any kind, whether of food, watching television or even of criticism, is valuable because it teaches us self-denial. When we deny ourselves legitimate wants or needs to focus on God instead, we will discover the joy of spending time with Him, and most importantly, deepen our intimacy with Him.
Prayer: Father God, I want to draw closer to You. Keep me humbled before You and grant me the discipline to spend time alone with You on a regular basis. Thank You, Lord.