“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:16, ESV)
I want you to notice that Jesus says “when you fast.” He does not say, “if you fast.” It is assumed his followers practiced fasting. It was not something commanded of them. It is something they were already doing.
It is much different for us. When was the last time you heard a sermon about fasting? When was the last time you practiced fasting other than for dietary reasons? As Americans, it is almost inconceivable to deprive ourselves of anything, even if only for a short while. The spiritual discipline of fasting is something lost on many of us.
Fasting is mentioned in passing in the Bible. It is not something about which we find much detail. There are no how-to guides. And that is part of the beauty of it. There is great liberty when it comes to the spiritual disciplines such as fasting. They are not put on us as obligations. They are invitations to experience God in a new way. We can accept the invitation, or we can turn it down. If we miss out, there is no guilt other than the missed opportunity. Now keep in mind that Jesus does instruct the Sacraments. He tells us to “Go make disciples, baptizing all nations.” He tells us, “Take eat, my body and blood.” He tells us to do these things. These are are not optional. But nowhere does he tell us to fast.
Spiritual disciplines are not put upon us as a way to please God. Spiritual disciplines quickly become a pathway for to pride. Jesus warns us about this:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, ESV)
Spiritual disciplines easily become about us. They become about our own “will-power” to live a holy life. We might be led to take pride in what we are doing for God. We puff ourselves up about how dedicated we are when compared to the other “less dedicated” believers. We lament why they can’t be more like us. Jesus warned about using spiritual disciplines as a way to flaunt your godliness before others. There is the danger of flaunting it before ourselves. Spiritual disciplines are not for the building of pride, but of humility.
A final thing I want to say today is that spiritual disciplines are not tools for us to bring about transformation in our lives. We often make idols out of the disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are simply ways in which we make ourselves open and vulnerable to God. They are ways for him to have his way with us. God is the one who brings transformation. It is not your willpower. It is not the spiritual disciplines. It is not your righteousness, but God’s alone.
- What are some of the spiritual disciplines you practice?
- What are the value of those disciplines and why do you practice them?
- Are their spiritual disciplines about which you would like to learn more?
- Share your comments.