Is it OK to talk about fasting?

A former student of mine posed a question on the Fast Tuesday groups discussion board that I thought was pretty interesting. I think there are differing opinions about Jesus’ instructions. She said, “Aren’t you supposed to fast in private?

Well done, grasshoper! I always challenged my youth group students to ask clarifying questions and not blindly accept the stuff church leaders say. This is the passage Lisa refers to:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, 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 men 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.” Matthew 6:16-18

My opinion, and I’m totally fine in being told my opinion is rubbish, is that there is a difference between doing something as a spectacle (looking somber, disfiguring your face) and keeping it so secret that the practice can’t be taught. (As in, most evangelicals don’t fast!)

What do you think? I mean, if I’m right and Lisa is wrong I think we should beat her up and humiliate her so she never asks a question again! But if she is right and I’m wrong I’ll have to send a bunch of people after her to tell her that its wrong to question me. [Or maybe I need to fast from sarcasm for lent?]

Randomly associated link: If you’re looking for some severe fasting during lent, I suggest you check out all that Marko is giving up for lent.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

8 comments

  1. Adam,

    This is a great question she has asked. Mainly because she is asking questions and not just taking things at face value like you said. It’s a question I get every time I teach on fasting. I love it!

    If we were to take this on like she said we also would not pray out loud at church, the dinner table or with our friends. Read what it says just a few verses before the ones on fasting in Matthew 6.

    ” 5″And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. ”

    Fasting, like prayer, is meant to be a gift for you and your relationship with Jesus. The intent, I believe, is about not bragging and trying to get pats on the back for fasting or praying. I am pretty sure Jesus knew there were many people at the time who loved to make others know that they were fasting or praying.

    This is such good conversation. I love it. Thanx for sharing with us.

    –erik w/a “k”

  2. If I am fasting & praying and tell everyone “look at me I’m fasting, I am so holy, look how I can sacrifice for God” or if you have an attitude of whoa is me I’ not eating anything today, it’s wrong. Because then it takes the focus off of God, and puts it me. Now having said that, If my church or a someone ask for me to join with them in a day or days of prayer & fasting as long as it is for the right reasons and If the Lord is leading me to do so, I don’t have a problem with it. I think it helps at times knowing that they are praying along with me and we have the support of one another. I think when I join in a group wide fast; it’s more of an accountability thing when I sign a so called pledge. I find it uplifting to know that I have friends and family praying that day along with me. I could be wrong, but that’s how I feel.

  3. i’m glad you like using me for blogs. lol but i’m glad i’m learning!! and i’m glad you still like teaching me even though i’m in college and am a big kid now… 🙂

  4. At the beginning of the year our church fasted together and it helped us to encourage and pray for one another. So doing it in private definitely has different meanings.

    1. I agree with this principal, but what I’m seeing now (thanks to social media) is that the members of the group who are fasting are posting ALL about it on Facebook… I can’t get away from hearing the various opinions, shopping challenges, hunger pangs, etc.  Suggestion: If the church wants to use social media as a medium for bringing the group together they should create a private group where members who are fasting can post and only other members who are fasting will see it, then prayer and encouragement can follow. 

  5. This is a tricky question. I attended an Ash Wednesday service, and that passage was included in the readings at the service. I received ashes on my forehead at this service – something I had done every year until the age of 25 when I left the Catholic Church. Now a few years later, I was happy to experience the beautiful tradition again! But I digress… My point is, as a Catholic I always would have left my ashes on my head all day – not to show off, but especially living in such a Catholic city (St. Louis) there was no shame in leaving them on like many of the people around me. In fact, to have washed them off would have made me feel guilty, like I was ashamed of Jesus. Flash forward to yesterday, after I left the Ash Wednesday service, with that scripture ringing in my ears, I was unsure of whether or not to leave the ashes or to wipe them away. I chose to wipe them away. I did not do so out of shame or guilt, but because I did not want to seem to be drawing attention to myself. A day later, I now think it would have been fine to have left them on my head as well. Because public witness IS important sometimes, or else how can we ever teach, how can we be salt and light? I think Jesus’ teaching has more to do with the attitude of the heart and was a warning against doing things for show – either for praise or out of a sense of moral superiority.

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