“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:17–18
Fasting has long been an important aspect of religious practices in numerous religions around the world. The fact that so many different faith and belief systems value and practice fasting as a part of their spiritual disciplines demonstrates a recognition that fasting gives benefits to the people’s physical and mental processes.
A number of scientific studies have been conducted to verify and measure the extent of the benefits of fasting and several benefits have been documented. Fasting promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, it helps the body fight inflammation, it helps to lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol, it can boost brain function and prevent neurodegenerative diseases, it aids in weight loss by reducing caloric intake and boosting metabolism, it increases the body’s production of human growth hormone, it can help to delay aging and increase longevity, and it may aid in cancer prevention and improve cancer treatment effectiveness.
But notwithstanding all the good things fasting can do for you Jesus had a problem with the way so many people were conducting their fasts during his three years of earthly ministry. The problem he had was their motivation for their fasting and the subsequent display of their fasting ritual.
The scribes and Pharisees saw opportunity in every religious practice for them to put their righteousness, piety, and religious devotion on display. They liked to be thought to be holy. They craved the attention, adulation, and commendations of the people that came because of their public religious devotions so when they participated in a fast that did it with a great amount of display.
Jesus instructed the people to not fast like the hypocritical scribes who went about with sad countenances, disfiguring their faces so that they might appear to be fasting. He also warned that if your motive for fasting was to gain public recognition and favor that that was all the reward you would get.
Fasting, like any beneficial activity can be misused. The scribes and Pharisees used it for religious display but didn’t actually engage in the worship and devotion their fasting could have enhanced.
I’d encourage anyone who doesn’t have health concerns that would prevent it to make fasting a part of their lifestyle. Daily fast by not eating between meals and periodically fast by abstaining from food for a day or two. If you do you’ll reap physical and mental benefits that will give you advantages in your health, your worship and your service for God.