The Type of Fasting God is Looking for

Bible text: Isaiah 58:6-12

February marks the beginning of the season of Lent. What is Lent? Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Lent is a season of 40 days, not including Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten”, which means “lengthen” and it refers to the lengthening days of spring.

There are 40 days in Lent to represents the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, in which Jesus was spending time in prayer in preparation for His ministry. It was when the devil tempted Him 3 times, and Jesus defeated him (Matthew 4:1-11).

Lent is a time of repentance and fasting. Fasting does not necessarily mean we abstain from food. It can be refraining from activities that distract us from spending time in prayers. Fasting helps us to draw closer to God by remembering that we do not live on bread or food alone but on God’s Word. Fasting helps us to attack the sin that is within us. What sins are you struggling with? Fasting helps us to lean upon God and with God’s help, break away from the sins that entangled us. Fasting gives us freedom from sins that grip us. 

The Israelites described in this passage were fasting. However, their fasting was not acceptable to God. One of the problems was that although they were fasting, they were using it as an opportunity to oppress the weaker people. The employer would use fasting as an excuse to avoid work for that period of time, and it meant that the workers would have no income during the fast. This provoked God’s anger.

The people were fasting, yes, but at the same time, they had their own selfish agendas behind it. From the outward appearance, it seemed they were fasting, but God saw their hearts, and their hearts were far from God.

What is the type of fast God is looking for?

What is the type of fasting which God is looking for?

It is mentioned in Isaiah 58: 6-12:

•          to loose the chains of injustice

•          to untie the cords of the yoke

•          to set the oppressed free and break every yoke

•          to share your food with the hungry

•          to provide the poor wanderer with shelter

•          to clothe the naked

•          and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.

And then in verses 9-10:

•          if you do away with the yoke of oppression

•          stop the pointing of the finger

•          stop the malicious talk

•          spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry

•          satisfy the needs of the oppressed

In short, God wants to see these things in His children:

1.        Lift the Burdens of Others

•          to loose the chains of injustice

•          to untie the cords of the yoke

•          to set the oppressed free and break every yoke

•          To satisfy the needs of the oppressed

Words such as: “chains, cords of the yoke, oppressed…”. God wants us to help lift the burdens of others. Not to increase it.  

May we help those in need, and not to be bystanders to watch or to add to their hardship. 

2.        Share your food with the hungry

In school, we had to do Moral Education. We were given a picture and say what we should do in a scenario. In school, it is easy to say we should do this and that but now we are adults living in a real world. Sharing food with the hungry is not as straight forward as writing Moral essays in class. How can you share with food with the hungry? We are called to feed the hungry. What are some ways that we can feed the hungry? It may not need to be like a pot-bless or a party or something extravagant. It can be a small little act that we do. God will use your small acts of kindness to bless someone in need.  

3.        Provide the poor wanderer with shelter

God calls us to provide shelter to others. It can refer to being hospitable to others, especially the foreigners, the migrants in our land. How can we show hospitality to others?

4.        Provide clothing for the naked

This includes clothing others with dignity. Remember that we all came from the dust of the ground as God has made the first man out of the earth. Uphold each other with dignity.

The verse says, don’t point fingers at others. Be sympathetic.

5.        Respect others

In fasting, we are to respect others. And not to turn away from our own flesh and blood.

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3, NIV)

Remember those who were in difficult circumstances as if we too are in it.

6.        Satisfied the needs of the oppressed

Help those who are oppressed. Be their friend.  Passionless giving or donation without much thoughts are not what God wanted.

If you do these things, then see how you will experience God’s mercy and grace:

-Your light will break forth like the dawn

You will enjoy the blessings of the Lord. People will know that you belong to God by the way you live.

-There will be strengthening in you  

-Your righteousness will go before you

-Glory of the Lord will be your rear guard

-The Lord will surround you

-The Lord will answer when you call

-The Lord will satisfy your needs

-The Lord will strengthen your frame

-You will be like a well-watered garden and like an ever-flowing spring

God blesses those who bless others. God will never short-change His children. When you give of yourselves to help others, God will satisfy you. You who feed others, God will feed you. You who clothed others in need, you will be clothed by God. You will not be in want but will be like a well-watered garden, a spring that will not run dry. God will strengthen you and bless you.

These are the blessings we will receive when we fast the right way to seek His face. We have to be very careful here. God is not a genie whose arms we can twist in order to get blessings. Every blessing we receive is grace from God, not that we have earn it with our own efforts or strength.

It is a right time to think about these questions:

Why am I doing what I am doing?

Why am I fasting?

Am I praying and fasting because I want to draw near to God? Or am I doing this with hidden motives or self-centred agenda?

Lent started with Ash Wednesday. The significance of Ash Wednesday is to remind us of our mortality. Let us be mindful that we are just a breath. The weak, the poor and the oppressed are not so different from us. They are also human like us. How would you live differently if you are mindful that our days are on earth are numbered? As Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Let us be intentional to set aside time to seek God’s face. Let us think beyond ourselves and see how we can help others during the season of Lent. May we be refreshed by God as we help others.

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