In our opening verses of today’s reading Jesus tells us how not to fast. He says in Matthew 6:16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.”

I don’t think I disfigure my face (maybe I do), but I sure do things so that others will notice how spiritual I am. But true fasting is of the heart, not just the body. Fasting for the Christian is preparation for praying and other spiritual exercises. Stu Weber said, “The temporary deprivation of the body for the purpose of prayer and vigilance can have a profound spiritual impact, both on the person fasting and on the objects of their prayer. Further, consider the possibility that dietary fasting is only one example of a broader category of Christian discipline. For example, many families have benefited by rising to the challenge of a TV fast. First Corinthians 7:5 seems to support the idea of a brief sexual fast. Even the discipline of solitude might fall in this category, as a fast from normal human interaction.”

The point is that even though our walk with Christ, our discipleship, requires sacrifice in many ways and at many times, we should not let that sacrifice change our external presentation to others. When Paul said, in Philippians 4:4, Rejoice in the Lord, he was not coining a new phrase. He was simply quoting an Old Testament command that appears in Psalm 32, Psalm 64, Psalm 104, Joel 2, and Habakkuk 3. In these passages, the primary Hebrew word for rejoice is simhah, which has as its root meaning as to shine. So the biblical phrase Rejoice in the Lord could well be translated Brighten up in the Lord always; and again I say brighten up! In other words, Put on a happy face. Smile. Lift up your countenance.

I occasionally see people approach church on Sunday with a gloomy face. I wonder if they really want to be here or if it’s just a form of “fasting” they do on Sunday. I try to smile them out of the gloom. Maybe I should say, “brighten up! Again I say, brighten up!”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3