Fasting… it’s a process of abstaining from food – not eating before a blood test. It also refers to the ritual when one refrains from eating to concentrate on praying to God. Whether its purpose is to have an accurate blood test or to pray hard – to ask God to grant forgiveness, healing or favour, just as important is the process of fasting.
In a blood test, timing is important. There is a cut-off time when you cannot eat any food or even drink water as any of these will affect the results of your test. In prayer, the condition of the heart is very important. Isaiah 58 lists for us how ‘not’ to fast. vv. 1-5
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
God declares his judgement on his people – they ‘seem’ (outwardly) eager to seek God. Externally, they appear to be doing what is right and obeying God. They pray to God and again ‘seem eager’ for God to be on their side.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
They questioned God – how come you have not answered our call for help?! Did you not see and notice how we have humbled ourselves? God lists all they did during fasting: exploiting others, quarrel, strife, external bowing of head and putting on appearance of mourning. God mocked their concerns for superficial fasting – for people to see.
What kind of fasting does God desire?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Fasting is about showing compassion like how God is kind towards the marginalised – the weak, the powerless, helpless, poor and hungry, naked and homeless. To fast is to be kind to those who need kindness. vv.6-7, 9b-10. To fast is to keep the Sabbath – to rest in the Lord and stop seeking the things of the world and obey God. v. 13
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
True fasting brings light in a dark place. It heals and cleans our soul. To fast is to abstain from self-seeking pleasure and have a heart for others. True fasting shows forth God’s glory because God is behind every act when one truly fast. God promised to be with us when we call. True fasting is calling on God to help. Surely, Here am I – he said.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
vv. 9b-14, there are 5 ‘ifs’, read and see for yourself how many ‘then you will’ and ‘I will.’ So many blessings come from true fasting. God’s promises are for our well-being – we will be light in darkness, we will be like well-watered garden, we will be called repairer and restorer of the broken, we will find joy in the Lord. God’s promises come with his presence: his guidance, his provision, his power, (v.11) and his victory (v. 14).
How are we fasting, dear friends? Are we kind and merciful to those who need kindness? Are we fasting truly?
Help me Lord to fast to please you – the kind of fasting that will bring me close to you, the kind that will let me experience your presence, your provision and your power. Grant that I will fast truly and triumphantly. Amen.