Matthew 6:17-18 The Message (MSG)
16-18 “When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.
For a few years I fasted regularly, being mindful for twenty-four hours to not eat and increase my time in prayer. It was always a challenge, but what I noticed was that the more I practiced the discipline of fasting, the more tolerable the discomfort of fasting became and the more disciplined and clear-minded I became. At one time, I would turn to fasting and prayer when I sought clarity on any important matter. And almost without fail, the answer would come. Fasting was like a super power that allowed me to retreat within and thereby increasingly know God and take on His character, His heart, and His way of thinking.
It was the deep retreat within that brought the great rewards of fasting. Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6 that fasting is all about us as individual spirits and the deepening of our individual spiritual union with God. Jesus emphasized this during his 40-day fast that we model during Lent. Not only did he not try to impress anyone during his fast, but he purposefully went away from everyone else into the wilderness to facilitate that deep retreat within.
In this look-at-me society, it is more tempting than ever to attempt to impress others with who we are and what we are doing. Jesus, in a message still timely today, urges us to not practice spiritual disciplines to impress others or gain status with others. He wants us to focus on the individual spiritual process of fasting because, as always, he wants us to enjoy the greatest gain.
, Conference Lay Leader