Lesson Seven • Fasting
Devotion 5: Rewards of Fasting in Secret

Pastor John Carter

Matthew 6:17-18 “But 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.”

My hope and prayer is that, as you have been reading this week on fasting, you are a little more aware of the role fasting plays in worshiping God. God links the way we give, pray, and fast as ways we worship Him. It is pleasing to God when we do these things according to His will and in secret. He is happy with us when our motives in seeking Him, talking to Him, and blessing others, are genuine and authentic.

Does secret fasting produce a better result? Luke 18:9-12 says, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’’”

We can feel the pretentiousness of this person right from the get-go. We can really see what Jesus was referencing when He talked about people who fasted for others to see their righteous deeds. It is interesting that this Pharisee thought his routine of fasting two times a week somehow gave him superiority over someone else. In this passage, the key aspect is described early on. He trusted in himself to obtain his own righteousness. This is a huge issue to talk through. I think it fits nicely in our conversation about fasting, because fasting is about humbling oneself. We really need to see how Jesus describes what it means to humble oneself. Obviously, in the example of the Pharisee, we see his lack of humility; yet, the Pharisee thought he was totally there. Why would God not reward him for all of his good behavior and righteous deeds? It is really important we do not walk in denial of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luke 18:13-14 continues, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The theme this whole week is really centered around humility. Yes, we are talking about fasting; however, the core of it all is humility. Jesus informs us through these words in Luke that our justification before God the Father is directly rooted in our understanding of humility. The contrast is very clear. The tax collector approaches God with complete humility. He sees God as one to fear (“standing far off”), as one who has the authority to give out righteous judgment (“would not even lift up his eyes to heaven”), and as one who could rightfully condemn the tax collector (“beat his breast”).

There is a lot displayed by the tax collector in this story Jesus shares with us. First, is the approach to the way in which the tax collector came to God. He recognized that God is One to be feared and understood that God has all authority. It is the same way that we might approach a person of accomplished status. For us, it could be a professional athlete, a business owner who has done fantastic things, or a dignitary in the government. We all consider the way in which we would approach the people that fill these roles. Do we actually consider the position of the Almighty God? Do we consider the Creator of the world, the One who has all power and authority? Do we consider Him, like the tax collector did, as someone to approach with reverence and humility? We walk through this in our initial understanding of the Gospel, our salvation. Do we continue to walk through this in the way we pray, give, fast, and worship God? Is our giving based on our humility and obedience to God? Is our approach to prayer based on our own agenda? Can we say not my will but Thine be done? When we fast, are we looking at it as a way to lose weight, a fad, or a diet? Can we see it as an expression of our humility towards God and worship Him in the way we approach Him?

Jesus used the example of the one who is full of pride in contrast to the one who walks in humility. The statement of the tax collector versus the statement of the religious Pharisee is insanely contrasting.

  • The words of the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

  • The words of the tax collector: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Take a moment and examine your own life. Have you ever compared yourself with other people? Did this make you feel superior to others? Did this make you degrade yourself? I was reading through John chapter 17 as I was writing this, and I came to the part where Jesus prays for His disciples and He prays for us, the future disciples. There is an incredible verse in there that makes this element of worship even better. We are not humbling ourselves to a God who has His thumb on us. We are humbling ourselves to a God who, in a mighty way, expressed His love to us. As Jesus walked through His desire for the disciples and for us, He says in John 17:23, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Look at that last part of the verse. The reason God sends His disciples out into the world is so that the world will know that God loves them equal to and in the same way that the Father loves the Son. John 17:26 says, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Humility is an important part of our worship to God. As we have been examining this study on fasting, the word humility may not be the first thing you thought of or even compared fasting to. My hope is that as you work through the different passages in Scripture, you will see the element of humble worship that takes place in fasting. We need to be examining our motive, heart, and desire by which we engage in fasting and ensure that we follow the example laid out for us in the person of Jesus.