“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:16-18 (NKJV)
I like how The Voice Translation tweaks this passage:
And when you fast, do not look miserable as the actors and hypocrites do when they are fasting—they walk around town putting on airs about their suffering and weakness, complaining about how hungry they are. So everyone will know they are fasting, they don’t wash or anoint themselves with oil, pink their cheeks, or wear comfortable shoes. Those who show off their piety, they have already received their reward. 17 When you fast, wash your face and beautify yourself with oil, 18 so no one who looks at you will know about your discipline. Only your Father, who is unseen, will see your fast. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. (The Voice Translation)
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
So we are in the season of Lent, a time of self-examination, reflection and repentance, often accompanied by fasting.
In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches clearly about the attitude and mindset we are to have as we pursue growing deeper in God by means of fasting and prayer.
First, he says, don’t make a big deal of it and call attention to yourself. Why? Because a major purpose of fasting is to deny your flesh. In a tiny way, we are training our bodies to die to our appetites and impulses for a greater level of spiritual maturity.
So, if you are able to discipline yourself successfully, the natural tendency – at least for me – is to … (I’ll put this nicely) … “celebrate the win”, or to put it not nicely, brag or boast about your superior spirituality.
So, some personal disclosure here, I think fasting is hard, and it is, but the payoff is you build stronger muscles of spiritual discipline.
But that is just “success” in the natural physical realm. What is more important is your mindset, in fact, you can do the right things but with the wrong motivation and attitude and that actually undermines your ability to grow spiritually. Fasting is a type of sacrifice for the purposes of God, but this principle also applies to our acts of service unto the Lord
Just as it is spiritually beneficial to deny our appetite for food, so also we have to also develop the capacity to deny our appetite for ego gratification. That means we have to learn to be willing to serve in difficult ways that are hidden and unappreciated.
So a quick personal story. Many years ago, as a young volunteer worship leader, I had been promoted from only leading the youth worship once in a while to a role that was much more high profile, leading worship in the big church service which, at that time, had an attendance of well over thousand people per service. And after I while I had the notion that, you know, I’m in the major leagues now… and “God is calling me” to serve in a bigger way in the big church.
But then, we had some changes in leadership, vision, direction etc and I was “more or less” demoted off the rotation in the big church. And I was oh so hurt, and confused, and felt rejected.
Have you ever been there?
Well not much later I was actually given the opportunity to do more in an area of ministry that was much more hidden, much lower profile. And I remember going on one of my walks and dialoguing with God about that, and the thing I remember saying to God about it is
“Lord, I have this other area I’ve been asked to serve, but man, there’s nothing in it for me” and the Lord was like
“That is exactly the point. There’s nothing in it for you.” Wow – welcome to leadership in ministry.
So my friends …
Are you willing to do what Jesus directs -to fast and pray and have no one even know? Are you willing to serve in insignificant ways? Are you willing to give up your rights and privileges and be willing to say yes to God even when it hurts really bad?
If you are, Jesus made a promise in Matthew 6:18 that you can take to the bank. God will not overlook what you are doing; he will reward you well. “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
I can say I have certainly had those experiences, and those have built my faith. But that’s another story for another time. And even if he does not reward you in a way that seems open to you now, you can trust He will. God rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
So my friend during this Lent season, as we prepare our hearts to be better fit for the Master’s service – may you hear the voice of Jesus, learn more of the ways of God, and walk in step with the leadership of Holy Spirit. To fast and pray is a good thing. Amen.
Jesus we thank you that you set the example for how we are to walk humbly and to love you and others well. We commit ourselves during the season of Lent to grow our hearts capacity so that we may serve you and hear the words “well done good faithful servant”. I pray for all who may hear this message that we may take it to heart and act accordingly, for your glory. In the name of the Father Don and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Daily Worship Devotionals is a 5-minute podcast dedicated to studying the Word of God and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. Currently, we are following the Christian year calendar as our framework. We’re in the season of Lent – a time of self-examination and repentance as we journey with Christ to the cross.