Tuesday 15 February 2022

Bible Book:

'And whenever you fast, do not look dismal.' (v. 6)

Matthew 6:16-18 Tuesday 15 February 2022

Psalm 76


Growing up, this was about as alien a passage from scripture as I could imagine. Fasting was unheard of, both in my experience of the Methodist tradition and in general society at that time. The first time I heard about fasting was as a weird (and we thought dangerous) practice, used in a sponsored event to raise money for charity.

What a lot has changed over the years! My recent experience of fasting was when it was recommended as a way to respond to a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. So over the years I’ve undergone a radical transformation in my perception of fasting from seeing it as weird and scary to experiencing it as really positive, healthy and life-enhancing. That makes a significant difference in how I understand Jesus here.

Your experience may be very different to mine, yet still fasting is seen very differently compared to how it was viewed in Jesus' time.  He is speaking in a society where fasting was a normal part of religious life (which also happened to be good for health, regardless of everything else). 

Today it seems to me that his instruction to not look dismal, isn’t what I used to think, which was that being very hungry was enough to make anyone dismal. I used to think that he was saying we should hide our true feelings of being dismal (because of hunger) behind an 'I’m alright really mask'.

However, it turns out that fasting doesn’t make you feel dismal at all :-). 

In this passage Jesus is encouraging us to engage in spiritual practices/disciplines (of which fasting is just one). Secondly, the point of spiritual practices isn’t to impress or even influence others (as they won’t know we are doing them because our outward appearance/behaviour is unchanged), but to build our relationship with God.


To Ponder:

  •  What are your experiences of fasting as a spiritual discipline?
  • Richard Foster wrote the modern classic Celebration of Discipline: The path to Spiritual Growth (2008). He categorised spiritual disciplines as: Inward Disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study; Outward Disciplines: simplicity, solitude, submission, service; and Corporate Disciplines: confession, worship, guidance, celebration. How do you feel about trying some of these? Are there any you do already; any you would like to try; or some you think would be unhelpful for you? Why?


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