The Purpose of Patient Prayer and Fasting
By Tammy Hotsenpiller
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 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.
I love this fasting passage in Matthew. It follows the teaching of the Lord’s prayer. Jesus has been teaching His disciples about guarding the intentions of their hearts, telling them not to do deeds or acts of kindness just for show, but to simply allow others to see their good works, done solely to please God.
He begins to teach them the model prayer, by examining their hearts. Then, He moves right into instructing them that “when they fast, they shouldn’t be like the hypocrites that appear to be self-righteous, only to be seen by men.”
Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus says to them, “and when you fast,” not “if you choose to fast”?
This was a deep conversation He was having with His disciples. They were fully aware of the discipline of fasting, for it was part of their tradition. But Jesus was teaching them something new. He was teaching them a spiritual exercise with a divine outcome—that our fast is never about our works, but always about our obedience.
Then, He ends with these beautiful words in verse 18 … “and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly.”
Fasting is an act of our will, a discipline of our flesh. It teaches us to not rely on the sustenance from the world but to seek a higher satisfaction, a higher purpose. He was teaching them to seek communion and a pure relationship with God.
Patiently Fasting to See the Miraculous
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess., the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
How long do you have to pray and believe, before you see the hand of God? I’m not sure, but one of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Anna. She was in her eighties, and yet had not given up on her prayer.
She stood day and night at the temple wall in prayer and fasting, believing that one day her eyes would see Jesus. More than anything, she wanted to see the Messiah—more than the pain of her age, or the loneliness of being a widow. She wanted to see Jesus.
I have often wondered what I will be known for. What will I be remembered for? What will my story be? When I am eighty-plus years old, will I still be pursuing the things of God? I hope so.
How about you? Do you have the faith of Anna? Do you desire to see Jesus with all that is in you?
Her fast fueled her faith. God‘s divine timing is perfect. On that very day, as she stood at the temple wall—Mary and Joseph approached with the child to do according to the custom of the Law. Her prayer was answered. Her fast was seen. Her faith was honored.
Are you willing to wait for your miracle?