With it being the start of a new year, many Churches are doing corporate fasts as well as many individuals wishing to become more "spiritually diciplined." The intentions are good, giving God your first, a very difficult discipline to master. Yet I often wonder if we are still not getting the point, because fasting was meant to be a lifestyle not a 21 day moment in your life or a method to get what you want. Fasting is a spiritual discipline we should be using daily as a sacrifice of the self. According to Romans 12:1, fasting is directly associated with worship. That is why there are so many different kinds of fasts. What is your idol? There is likely a fast out there for you. Often times fasts are presented almost like the prosperity gospel, do this and you might get that. The biblical intention of fasting is to redirect our sight from what we have been consumed with or holding before God back to Him. That should be a daily practice!
“What we are worshiping, we are becoming.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let’s look at Isaiah 58 as a case study of Worship with those silly Israelites. I say that as if we are any better, ha!
2"They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
3 ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
4 What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
5 You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?"
They were fasting to get something, not humble themselves. Isn’t that so like us?! We give only to receive. We fast as part of an equation to attempt to manipulate God into getting the dream job, a relationship, a child, and all the while our focus is still on ourselves. It is for that reason that our prayers appear unanswered. It is not because God is indifferent toward us or unreachable, but rather because of us. The remainder of Isaiah 58 explains what fasting to the Lord is and what happens when we do it properly with a humble heart.
6"No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes"
We will become empowered with super strength able to rebuild walls and restore broken homes. Isn’t that what ministry is all about?! We often times marvel at “the greats” of our time like Billy Gram and Christine Cain and wonder how do they do it? They have accomplished much because they have sacrificed much, their entire selves. They live a lifestyle of worship and fleshly fasting. If we all did the same, we could change the world.