"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash for face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and you Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." NIVFor the third time, Jesus addresses an act of righteousness that He assumes you are doing. It's not a suggestion, but a discipline to follow. But like giving to the needy and prayer, fasting is to be a very private act between you and God. Jesus, here, refers to some of the people's public displays demonstrating that they were fasting, i.e. ashes on their faces. That's why He told them to wash their faces. By fasting, we are not to be showing off to the world that we can go without food, but separating ourselves from the demands our body makes on us for food to focus on our Lord. In a simple way, fasting moves us from an earthbound demand to a spiritual freedom that allows us to place our focus on the Lord and His will in a given situation.
The three reasons for fasting were lamentation/penitence, mourning, and petition and often done as a group called to a fast. In a modern day, Christian usage, fasting is usually done as a private, personal directive for petition - asking God for direction, healing, salvation for another person, etc. You won't always get some supernatural revelation or miracle out of a fast -- at least not one that you will know in this life. But it is an act of obedience to the Master. And He "who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
- Read here a wonderful description of fasting and relevant Scripture references.
- God has been impressing on me to fast recently. What am I fasting for? Personal direction and my Mom's salvation. Is He speaking to you? (NOTE: I am borderline hypoglycemic and fasting is very difficult for me to do. I usually just drink a ton of juices to get through. But recently, I found a colon cleansing fast, The Lemonade Diet, that will take care of my bodily needs, but I still have hunger to remind me to hunger after the Lord. Just an idea you can look into if you have physical limitations to fasting.)