The Bible encourages God’s people to fast. Moses fasted on Mount Sinai. The Israelites were called to return to God “ ‘with fasting and weeping and mourning’ ” (Joel 2:12).* Daniel, seeking divine instruction, abstained from “choice food” for three weeks (Dan. 10:3). The believers at Antioch fasted and prayed before sending Paul and Barnabas on the mission to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2, 3). And most important of all, Jesus fasted for 40 days at the commencement of His ministry (Matt. 4:1–11).
However, Jesus warned against the wrong sort of fast. “ ‘When you fast,’ ” He said, “ ‘do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting’ ”Matt. 6:16). This fasting strives to impress others.
Another misguided fast is one designed to impress God. He already accepts us because of Jesus, not because of anything we do. Fasting is about ourselves, not God; it is a spiritual discipline that helps us to focus on God.
True fasting comes from the heart. It involves the secret place of communion with God; it is totally devoid of outward show. It cannot be divorced from life, hoping that fasting will cover up for our quarreling and neglect of others (see Isa. 58:3–5).
God has told us plainly the sort of fast He chooses: “ ‘to loose the chains of injustice . . . to set the oppressed free. . . . To share your food with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him’ ” (Isa. 58:6, 7).
So let us fast as God has instructed: sincerely, joyfully, secretly, and accompanied by ministry to others.
William G. Johnsson, PhD, is Retired Editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.