It never fails that someone will send me an e-mail or a text to say that I am doing something that is against scripture when I start to talk about the spiritual discipline of fasting. The following scripture is what is always quoted.
Matthew 6: 1-16 TNIV
1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
14 For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber 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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
#1. The scripture is addressing a heart matter. When you give, pray, or fast, it needs to be for the right reason and not to be applauded by man.
#2. Don’t announce it with fanfare. In other words these folks are getting together a marching band and going up and down the street saying, “look at me”, “look how wonderful I am “, “I am the man.” (To be honest, I have never seen this happen) It may be close when we put plaques on things that we donate so that we get the credit???
#3. When you pray, remember that you are having a conversation with God and the words you choose, the tone of voice, they all need to be directed toward God and not those standing near to hear you. (I have seen this one happen a LOT) Prayer meetings many times become places to show how awesome our prayers are.
#4. When you fast, don’t whine and act like an idiot. Don’t moan and groan and intentionally let people know what you are doing just for attention. Take a bath, fix your face and hair, look normal.
People want to get all spiritual and say that God has told us here that we are to fast in private, that no one should ever know what we are doing. NOTHING, I REPEAT, NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH.
#1. If you buy into the idea that no one should know that you are fasting then you had better stop writing a tithe check because someone is definitely going to know that you give. And furthermore , All public prayers should cease, because the scripture says here to go into the closet and no one should hear you.
Folks, the reality is that we are to lead by example. We as Christians are supposed to teach and learn from each other. Jesus was in no way telling us that spiritual disciplines have to be practiced in total seclusion or in a way to hide. He is telling us to do them for the right reason.
If one takes literally the verse here to not let anyone know that you are fasting, all I can say is, follow through on the other two mandates as well.
Practice the disciplines, practice them in community, practice them from the heart. Then rest assured that when God sees your heart, He will reward you openly.