Jesus said: “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. 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; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
In the passage we just read, Jesus speaks about fasting, advising his listeners of what to do “when” they fast; not “if” they fast, suggesting it is something we need to do. Fasting is voluntarily depriving ourselves of food and drink for a certain period. It is not, as many of us imagine, a spiritual duty to prove our love for God. It is more an emptying of ourselves so that we can fill up with something more important: God. And there are several benefits we receive as well.
One: It purifies our bodies. Although we have heard it said several times, we often forget that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (see 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Consequently, our bodies are sacred ground and should be treated as such. We often tend to contaminate it with toxins, and a period of fasting helps to detoxify it.
Two: It highlights our priorities. Jesus said, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ While food for our sustenance is essential, what is equally important is the spiritual food God provides through his word. When we fast from food and feast on the word, we get strengthened spiritually by manna from heaven.
Three: we move spiritual mountains. There are numerous stories in the Bible about great things that happened after people fasted. Moses received the Ten Commandments. Elijah encountered God. Esther saved the Jewish people. Daniel fasted for an answer to prayer and was blessed. Paul fasted after his conversion and was powerfully anointed. The list is endless.
Four: we receive a sense of a mission accomplished. When we have finished our fast, we find that we are fresher and healthier, with a renewed desire to know God and serve him more.
And five: Although there are plenty more reasons, a final reason is that when we fast, we declare to God: I need you more than anything else, Lord, even food!
May the Spirit be with you.