Is. 58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
God was speaking through the prophet Isaiah about fasting. First God spoke to the heart motivation of the one fasting. When the goal of fasting is to gain attention from others then something is wrong. This is misdirected energy which must be refocused on God’s intended purposes.
John Chrysostom wrote, “Do you see, dearly beloved, what true fasting really is? Let us perform this kind and not entertain the facile notion held by many that the essence of fasting lies in going without food till evening. This is not the end in view, but that we should demonstrate, along with abstinence from food, abstinence also from whatever is harmful, and should give close attention to spiritual duties. The person fasting ought to be reserved, peaceful, meek, humble, indifferent to the esteem of this world.’ (Homilies on Genesis 8.15) You see, God redefines fasting in a positive way, for instead of giving something up we are encouraged to see fasting as engaging in social reform, including an attitude of loving care and refraining from judgement on others. John Wesley said that we were to avoid the “cruel obligations of usury and oppression.” This is not a fast of religious observance but one in which the outpouring of God’s love is revealed in our behavior.
Today is Ash Wednesday and it is a time when many believers will be thinking about entering into a fast for the season of Lent. Traditionally people have altered their diet for the season of Lent, giving up some of the foods they normally eat. Hopefully this is because in giving these things up, we are wanting to get to know Christ at a more intimate level. It is Jesus who gave himself up for all of us and so we participate together with Christ in his sacrifice. Many have reported that during a time of fasting they have been drawn into a deeper walk with the Lord and it has been a time of spiritual growth.
Fasting should come from a deep love for God, which overflows in a love for others. We should not experience the one without the other. A deep love and sacrifice for God must be reflected in our love for others. Therefore fasting is not just about giving things up for the love of God, but of overflowing with God’s love for others. We embrace a need to love the poor and the needy. This may be a season when we not only give up something to eat, but we clean out our closet and simplify our lives. There may be much that we own that could be given away to others who may find themselves in need. We may fast from the purchase of more stuff during this season of lent. Living into greater simplicity frees us to give to others. If we spend less on our food during lent, then we can share what we haven’t spent on those who are in need of food.
There are many bonds of injustice in this world. We fast to be set free spiritually, but at the same time we must work to actively free those who are oppressed. As we experience our own freedoms we are to be God’s instruments of justice.
If you’re considering a fast this year, don’t just think about what you will give up, but also what you will give. There must be two sides to the activity of fasting for it must come from a deep love for God, and a genuine love for our neighbor. Give up, and give away!
Lord, thank you for challenging my heart today. Amen.