Saturday, October 08, 2005

Is this not the fast I have chosen? Is 58:1-7

Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
The people of Israel asked God this question, “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” (Isaiah 58:3) The Israelites were in an interesting predicament, they were practicing their religion yet God was not responding. They would fast and pray, yet God was not answering or taking notice of their situation. Why was God not answering them? It was because of their hypocrisy. “Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God.” (Isaiah 58:2) God acknowledged that they were seeking Him, but they were seeking Him as a pretense to hide their sins. They sought the Lord, but not with their whole heart. God’s judgment of the people was “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” (Isaiah 29:13) The people fasted but it wasn’t from the heart, they were merely fulfilling their religious duty. It is possible to live a religious life and still be hard of heart. For the Israelites, their fasting had become all about themselves and they cared little for God or their fellow man. “Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:3-4) Even in their times of fasting, their thoughts were on themselves and what they wanted rather than on God.

While fasting is a valuable spiritual discipline for the Christian life, fasting in itself is not what God is seeking. God is more concerned with our heart then how many times we fast a week. If we fast simply as a religious obligation, then all we are doing is skipping meals. That is why God asked, “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?” (Isaiah 58:5) Fasting is not about what we do. Just because you fast three days does not mean that God is three times more likely to answer your prayers than someone who fasts only one day. God does not judge our fasting based on how much we suffer, rather He judges based on the condition of our heart. If our heart is wicked, God will not hear us regardless of how long we fast.

So, what kind of fast does God want? What is it that God wants from us? “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7) In God’s eyes, He would much rather see us live a godly life than a religious life. God would rather that we did the things of the kingdom that to do religious things, such as fasting. To do religious things, yet continue to live an unchanged life, is hypocrisy. When the Pharisees came to be baptized by John, he rebuked them and said to them, “So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.’” (Luke 3:7-8) If you are not living a Christian life, don’t bother fasting. First, begin to live a life that gives demonstration to a heart that has been changed by the power and love of God. Then God will hear you and He will notice you when you fast.

David Robison