In Matthew 6, Jesus speaks directly to the heart of prayer and fasting. In contrast to the pious and the hypocrites, Jesus says when you're praying you should "go into your room and shut the door and pray to the Father who is in secret". And then, rebuking those who fasted and made a big, religious, self-centered show out of their deprivation and sacrifice, Jesus said instead you should "anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but your Father who is in secret." In other words, don't walk around looking miserable so that everyone knows what a spiritual juggernaut you are.
In reading His words, there are some things I think we've misconstrued or misinterpreted about the heart of what Jesus is telling us in these verses.
This past week our church family at The Brook - like many other churches - began walking through a Daniel Fast together. (You can read more about that HERE. You can also read Daniel 1, 9 & 10 to learn more about the origin of this fast - spending 21 days fasting from specific foods.) Already this week I have been incredibly encouraged by what I see the Lord doing in the lives of many of our people and families, and I am being challenged, refined, and rejuvenated in my own walk with God as well. But as I said, there are some things I think we tend to either ignore, misunderstand, or become too attentive toward and can miss the whole point of an opportunity like this. Let me explain.
First off, Jesus doesn't say we should make it a SECRET that we are praying or fasting. But He does expressly say that we shouldn't make a SPECTACLE out of it either. It's about our heart and motive. Why do you pray or fast? If it's to look more religious or pious in the eyes of other people, as Jesus said, you've "already received your reward". (And in case we're not certain as to what He means by this, the reward in that instance would be ZERO. Nothing. Except maybe you've falsely impressed someone else. Way to go.) There are times you need to or have to tell someone else you're fasting. Just do it discreetly and humbly. Make sure your motive is in check.
Also, remember the most important point of fasting is to draw closer to the Lord. It's giving something up that quite possibly you've become dependent on - maybe even begun to "worship" - so that you are driven back to the realization that the Father is the One you need. For me, if I'm bearing my soul here, it's a constant reminder that Jesus told me to ask the Father for my "daily bread", not my Dove Chocolate & Diet Dr. Pepper. My flesh begins to deceive me into believing that I NEED these things. I'm dependent on them. And as a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ, this is incredibly unhealthy. All the way around. Fasting, as Amanda McNeil puts it in her blogpost, too often "become about changing WHAT WE DO, when it should be about changing WHO WE ARE." When we draw near to the Lord, it changes us.
The nation of Israel fasted corporately. David, Daniel and others fasted during times of mourning. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, longing to commune with the Father. The motives and heartbeat were always brought back to this simple, yet life-changing desire: SEEK GOD.
If you're doing the Daniel Fast, yet finding yourself thinking, "This is a piece of cake! (No pun intended.) I don't see what's so hard about this." You might want to consider fasting from something else. There will almost always be SACRIFICE involved. I know someone right now who is fasting from Facebook, Twitter, and every form of social media because they've literally become addicted. I have another friend who is completely fasting from TV, movies, and every form of entertainment, wanting their children to feel some of the tension of this sacrifice and using that time to be together as a family, fully present. Consider whether or not your fast is driving and propelling you to a greater dependence on God...or is just some sort of challenge to your dietary habits. Remember WHY you're doing this in the first place.
I want to encourage you, if you're fasting right now, spend some time the next few days meditating on these verses in Matthew 6 (which include the Lord's Prayer). In fact, walk through the whole Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Draw near to the Lord through this.
Seek Him wholeheartedly.
HE is the reward!
Daniel 9 & 10