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Matthew 6:17-18 (ESV)
“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
DENYING YOURSELF FOR JESUS
The daily life of a full-time disciple of Jesus would have been filled with moments of great joy. Seeing His astounding miracles, hearing His anointed teaching and experiencing His compassionate gaze would been a delight each day.
However, there were also many costs involved with following this Rabbi from Nazareth. Afterall, Jesus did say, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:38).
Many of the disciples were invited to leave family businesses or protected incomes in order to make ‘fishers of men’ within Judea. Jesus did not have His own place to lay His head (Lk 9:58). Therefore, following the Master required humbling oneself and depending upon the hospitality and financial generosity of others (Lk 8:2-3).
Later, they faced public scorn as Jesus’ movement was rejected by the Sanhedrin and eventually the crowds. They would be like sheep among wolves, experience rejection from loved ones and be hated by many (see Mt 10). After Jesus’ ascension, His disciples continued self-sacrificing habits of righteous living which were visibly counter-cultural from both their Jewish and Roman neighbors.
From reading the book of Acts, one can see that was costly to follow Jesus!
Yet, there were other, more private forms of self-denial which Jesus taught to His disciples (like giving, prayer and fasting).
Many Christians are familiar with habits of giving and prayer, but fasting is a bit more foreign. Biblical fasting can be described as abstaining from something good (like food and drink) in order to intentionally humble one’s body and soul before the Lord.
Although Jesus did not give specific instructions regarding how and when to fast, He made it clear that “when the bridegroom is taken away, then [my disciples] will fast” (Matthew 9:15b).
And they did! The believers in Antioch fasted and prayed together (Acts 13:2). Disciples appointed new leaders in congregations through fasting and prayer (Acts 14:23). Then, according to church tradition, they encouraged one another to fast twice a week as a way of growing in the Lord.
Within our American culture, it can be very easy to grow too comfortable, or even apathetic, in our faith even though we also are called to ‘take up our cross and follow Jesus’. Therefore, when we hear of the Early Church spending hours praying and fasting before God, it almost comes across as excessive!
But they remembered a deep Scriptural truth that we often forget: “Mankind shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Fasting has become the act of intentionally dwelling within that promise – the same promise which sustained Jesus as he experienced the pangs of hunger.
What does self-denial look like for you as you grow in the Lord?
Perhaps there may be room in your life for a few new spiritual disciples – like fasting.
Lord, help us to delight in you by taking time to depend upon You alone. Through Jesus, Amen!