Why does God respond to fasting? Why does He reward us when we fast? Throughout the pages of the Bible, it is quite evident that He does. Jesus promised he would reward fasting: “When you fast…your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mt.6:17-18).
What is the answer to the question? The following six points explain.
1. A Harmful Answer
Does God reward fasting because it has been earned by the display of the faster’s merit? Such a claim dishonors God and turns His free grace into a business transaction. It implies that fasting comes from our own will, and that this self-achieved discipline is then offered to God for payment or reward.
Such a claim dishonors God because it says that what belongs to God — the initiative for prayer and fasting — actually belongs to us. To believe this would mean that we’ve put ourselves in God’s place and cancelled the free gift of His grace. This view turns fasting into “works.”
“Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due” (Romans 4:4).
This passage literally means: “To the one who works, the reward is not reckoned according to grace, but according to debt.”
If we believe God rewards fasting by paying “wages” or settling “debts” with those who have earned His reward by fasting, then we act as if “the reward is not reckoned according to grace.” This is a deathly way to relate to God. The only option to free grace is condemnation.
God does not save us “by grace…through faith” and then reward our fasting “by justice…with works.”
The reward of justification – and every other subsequent reward – comes to us on the same ground. This ground is God’s work in Christ through His atoning death (Rom. 3:24). The means by which it comes to us is our faith (Eph. 2:8; Gal. 5:6).
If we try to merit or earn anything from God, our attempt not only nullifies grace, it is evil. Therefore, this is a wrong answer as to why God rewards fasting.
2. Fasting is “From Him and Through Him and to Him”
God knows our heart. He does not reward fasting because it shows Him knew knowledge about our devotion. Our converted heart of faith is God’s handiwork. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10). He created us as new creations in Him. Not only that, He is “working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (Heb. 13:21).
It is our duty and responsibility to choose obedience moment by moment, but we should never forget that “it is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Fasting itself is a gift from God. Therefore, it cannot earn anything from God. Fasting is something God is “working in us.” We cannot expect God to pay for something that is already His. This is what Paul meant when he said:
“Who has first given to [God] that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:35-36).
Fasting is from Him and through Him and to Him. It is not first offered to God that we might be receive recompense for it. It is first given by God that we might benefit and God might be glorified.
3. The Ultimate Origin of Sacrifice
King David saw his people sacrificing their riches to build the temple – in a similar way that we sacrifice food in fasting. When David saw this, he did not gloat over the self-created virtue of his people; he was humbled that God had given them (by grace) such generosity. He said:
“Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chron. 29:14).
This is the way we should view fasting. We have no basis to boast. There is nothing in us that would choose fasting for God’s glory apart from His life-changing grace.
When David looked to the future and considered whether the heart of sacrifice would continue, he prayed, “O LORD…preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You.” (1 Chron. 29:18).
This is how we should pray about our own fasting. “O Lord, keep the desire to fast — desire and intention that You created — in the hearts of Your people and direct our hearts toward You as our source.”
4. God Rewards Helplessness and Hope in Him
If God is the creator and sustainer of fasting, why is it that he has appointed it as an occasion to reward? In A Hunger for God, John Piper answers this question:
“The answer is that God is committed to rewarding those acts of the human heart that signify human helplessness and hope in God. Over and over again in Scripture God promises to come to the aid of those who stop depending on themselves and seek God as their treasure and help.”[i]
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost….Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live” (Isa. 55:1-3).
God promises water, wine, milk and life that money cannot buy to those who have no money and are thirsty, if they will look away from what money can buy and come to Him.
“I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost….Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 21:6; 22:17).
The reward of life is not given to those who can buy it or work for it. It is free—“without cost.” The price is thirst that turns from the dry, incapable cisterns of the world to God’s never-ending fountain.
For it is:
- The “poor in spirit” who will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
- Those who “wait for the Lord” for whom he works (Isa. 64:4).
- Those who “trust in God,” and not their horses or chariots who are given victory by His power (1 Chronicles 5:20; 2 Chronicles 13:18; Psalm 20:7).
- Those who “delight in the Lord” and trust in Him who receive the desires of their heart (Psalm 37:4-5).
- The sacrifices of a broken spirit and a contrite heart that are acceptable to God (Psalm 51:17).
- The one who serves God “by the strength which God supplies” and not in his own strength who will be rewarded by the Lord (1 Peter 4:11).
5. God’s Ultimate Commitment is to His Glory
God rewards our actions that indicate our helplessness as humans and our hope in God. Why? Because these acts draw attention to His glory.
“Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
When we serve God not in our own strength, but in the strength that God supplies, then God gets the glory. The giver receives the glory.
God is dedicated to doing everything for His glory.
“It appears that all that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, ‘the glory of God.’” ~ Jonathan Edwards, Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World.
God is committed to doing all things for His glory:
- God chose His people before the foundation of the world…for His glory (Eph. 1:6).
- He created mankind…for His glory (Isa. 43:7).
- He chose Israel…for His glory (Isa. 49:3).
- He delivered them from Egypt…for His glory (Isa. 48:9-11).
- He sent His Son to confirm His promises…and so the Gentiles would glorify Him for His mercy (Rom. 15:8-9).
- He put His Son to death…to show the glory of His justified righteousness (Rom. 3:25-26).
- He sent the Holy Spirit…to glorify His Son (Jn. 16:14).
- He commands us to do all things…for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31).
- He will send Jesus a second time to receive the glory due Him (2 Thess. 1:9-10).
- In the end, He will fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Hab. 2:14).
John Piper sums up this point:
God’s ultimate aim in all that he does is that his glory might be displayed for the appreciation of those who embrace it, and the desolation of those who don’t. Therefore he rewards acts that confess human helplessness and that express hope in God, because these acts call attention to his glory.[ii]
6. Fasting is an Offering of Emptiness to Show Where Fullness Can Be Found
What is the purpose of prayer?
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”( John 14:13).
God responds to prayer because when we pray, we are looking away from ourselves and any other resource – looking to Christ as our only hope. This gives God an opportunity to display His glory and His grace through the providing work of His Son.
Fasting is similar to prayer in that it is an offering of emptiness given to God in hope and faith. It is a sacrifice. Fasting says:
“Father, I am empty, but you are full. I am hungry, but you are the Bread of Heaven. I am thirsty, but you are the Fountain of Life. I am weak, but you are strong. I am poor, but you are rich. I am foolish, but you are wise. I am broken, but you are whole. I am dying, but your steadfast love is better than life (Ps. 63:3).”[iii]
God sees this admission of need and this expression of trust. And so He acts because the glory of His all-sufficient grace is at stake.
“The final answer is that God rewards fasting because fasting expresses the cry of the heart that nothing on the earth can satisfy besides God. God must reward this cry because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” [iv]
Yes! God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Nothing causes us to realize how absent the world is of satisfaction, and nothing causes us to find true satisfaction in God, like fasting and prayer! [v]
Have you felt God supplying you with the desire and ability to fast? Have you felt your hope and expectation shift — from visible securities to God alone? Have you found ultimate satisfaction in God? How do you feel God has received glory through your fasting and prayer?
As we conclude our fast and look to the rest of the year, may our focus remain the glory of God.
Worship: “I Give You Glory”
I Give You Glory led by Klaus Kuehn
From the Album: Glory
Bible Reading: Philippians 2:13; Romans 11:35-36; 1 Peter 4:11; John 14:13; Psalm 63:3
- As you conclude your fast and resume normal eating, how can your goal in life remain the glory of God?
- How can you continue to tell God, “I am helpless; my hope is in You”?
- Will the cry of your heart still be that nothing on earth can satisfy besides God? He is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.
FROM THE FASTING ARCHIVES:
- Fasting Day 21: Returning in Power, Part 6
- Returning in Power Audio Message
- Fasting Day 21: Shout!
- Shout Audio Message
- Fasting Day 21: Kings and Priests
[ii] Ibid., 180
[iii] Ibid., 180
[iv] Ibid., 181
[v] The idea for this post is from John Piper, A Hunger for God, 175-181