Unsplash; "Neil Thomas"
I’ve fasted in every way imaginable. As a new believer, I stopped eating certain foods for times ranging from three to forty days. A decade later, I participated with a group from my church to consume only water for seven days. And a decade after that, I ate raw fruits and vegetables only after sunset for twenty-one days while in Africa.
I’ve spent time fasting from screen time or secular music. One year I tried a verbal fast hoping to be more positive in my communications. And during each fast, I did my best to remain positive and humble as Jesus instructed in Matthew 6:16–18:
Moreover when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. . . . But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
But is that all there is to fasting? No. In fact, I remember how shocked I was when I happened upon Isaiah 58. In this chapter, God describes “true fasting.”
Let’s break down the instructions verse by verse:
God begins this important conversation with an announcement, “Cry aloud!” he tells Isaiah, “Declare to my people their disobedience . . . [and] their sin” (v. 1).
In verses 2–3, God offers the following report (paraphrased): “They seek me daily as if they were a righteous nation, asking me for righteous judgments as they cry out, ‘Why have we fasted and you didn’t see it? Why don’t you notice?’”
Then God explains, “In the day of your fast you find pleasure, and oppress all your laborers.
Behold, you fast for strife and contention, and to strike with the fist of wickedness” (v 3–4).
He follows up this commentary with the following rhetorical questions:
Is this the fast that I have chosen?
A day for a man to humble his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under himself? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to Yahweh? (v. 5)
Forgive me for pausing in the middle of the commentary, but honestly, even if I’ve never fasted with fists or oppression, I was guilty of making my fast all about bowing down and humbling myself. I didn’t know God had given his people—and me—clear instructions about the kind of fast he chose (v. 6). During a fast, God said we are to:
release the bonds of wickedness (v. 6)
let the oppressed go free (v. 6)
distribute your bread to the hungry (v. 7)
bring the poor who are cast out to your house (v. 7)
cover the naked (v. 7)
And he promised results for those who fast as he desires:
Then your light will break out as the morning,
and your healing will appear quickly;
then your righteousness shall go before you,
Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer.
You will cry for help, and he will say, "Here I am." (v. 8–9)
So how should we fast? By loving God with all we are and have and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is what God calls a true fast.
We Can Please Him
13 He went out again by the seaside. All the multitude came to him, and he taught them. (Mark 2:13)
1 “Cry aloud! Don’t spare! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Declare to my people their disobedience, and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways. As a nation that did righteousness, and didn’t forsake the ordinance of their God, they ask of me righteous judgments. They delight to draw near to God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you don’t see? Why have we afflicted our soul, and you don’t notice?’
“Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and oppress all your laborers. 4 Behold, you fast for strife and contention, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You don’t fast today so as to make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to humble his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under himself? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to Yahweh?
6 “Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen:
to release the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and that you break every yoke?
7 Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry,
and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house?
When you see the naked, that you cover him;
and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light will break out as the morning, and your healing will appear quickly; then your righteousness shall go before you, and Yahweh’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer. You will cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you take away from among you the yoke, finger pointing, and speaking wickedly; 10 and if you pour out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light will rise in darkness, and your obscurity will be as the noonday; 11 and Yahweh will guide you continually, satisfy your soul in dry places, and make your bones strong. You will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters don’t fail. 12 Those who will be of you will build the old waste places. You will raise up the foundations of many generations. You will be called Repairer of the Breach, Restorer of Paths with Dwellings.
13 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of Yahweh honorable; and honor it, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, 14 then you will delight yourself in Yahweh, and I will make you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father;” for Yahweh’s mouth has spoken it. (Isaiah 58:1–14)
Forgive me for making fasting all about what I can get from you. Like David, I afflicted my soul with fasting (Psalm 35:13) and made it all about me (Psalm 69:10). While You love our mountaintop time together, You’ve called me into service (Galatians 5:13). Guide me when I fast and pray to help the least of these (Matthew 25:40) so that Your true glory may be revealed on earth.
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