Yesterday morning, I was up early reading my Bible, as the sunlight crept through my bedroom windows. I sat on my bed, and before I began, I prayed for God to speak to me through His Word.
As I was reading Isaiah 58. The Lord answered that prayer.
1 “Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins!
2 Yet they act so pious! 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 noticed here how the people think they are doing good work, worshipping the Lord, and living their lives in a testament to Him. But how quickly the Lord rebukes them, and lets them know, that their worship had become a ritual, instead of a relationship. This is evident to me through their words in verse 3 – “why aren’t you impressed?”.
Their goal was to impress God, not love God. They were worried about pleasing Him with their works, instead of adoring Him with their hearts.
In Isaiah 58:3b-5, the Lord tells the people why their rituals were meaningless to Him, and this is where God pricked my heart with a truth that He had been wanting me to know:
3b “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?
I began to wonder – do I things, even with the right intention, but then wonder if it impressed the Lord? Do I ever serve Jesus in a particular way, and then hope that He noticed?
As a woman who loves the Lord, I do want to please God. I do want to live life in such a way that brings glory to Him. I do want to spend time bowing my head and worshipping Him, and I want Him to do good things in me, so that He will desire to do good things through me.
So in a way, I suppose I am more like these Israelites than I would want to admit. However, the way that I am different than them, is that I always try focus on my relationship with Christ, not my responsibilities of faith.
I do want to serve God out of delight, not duty.
Out of love, and not merely a desire for approval from God.
In Isaiah 58:6-9, the Lord goes on to say this:
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.
The word ‘fasting’ seemed to jump off the page, and right into the pit of my heart. For a moment, I did not understand why, and to be honest, the word ‘fasting’ has always intimidated me a bit.
I have always considered fasting to be a time of no-food. Or a time to deprive yourself of something that you like or need, and fasting is considered to be a sacrifice, so that your heart can focus on the Lord.
I am going to be honest here, and admit that I have never ‘fasted’ before, simply out of fear that I would fail; that I would give in to temptation to eat or do the thing that I promised God to refrain from – so to avoid failure or disappointment in myself, I have always just avoided fasting altogether. Have mercy.
As I sat there on my bed, looking at these words in the Bible and pondering the act of “fasting”, I noticed a little slip of creme paper sticking out of my Bible. I pulled it out to see what it was, and my heart skipped a beat.
This piece of paper was from a powerful message that I had heard my sweet P31 sister Karen Ehman give at the general session on Sunday morning at She Speaks. She blessed us with a powerful message about returning to our First Love, Jesus Christ, and to remember the passion we once felt for Him when we first came to know Him, and to not allow life to cause us to lose that passion.
After she had finished giving her message that morning, Karen had asked that we take one of these little slips of paper off of the table, and fill it out with our own personal and honest answers about how we felt at the time of our salvation or re commitment to Christ; how we feel now in our faith; what we need to fast from; and what we need to feast on. It was to serve as a quick self-check on our passion meter.
Here is a picture of that little piece of paper, that I had hastily tucked into my Bible after the session, and temporarily forgotten:
As you can see on my paper, I had written that when I came to truly know Christ as my Savior, I had felt “healing, powerful (God’s power), and transformed”. Beside how I feel “now”, I had written “inadequate, growing, loving Him more”. Beside “feast on”, I had written scripture.
But beside the words “Fast from”, I had merely written a question mark. You can see that I outlined and scribbled on the words “Fast from”, as my mind wandered about what I should be fasting from.
And yesterday morning, God filled in that blank. He gently whispered to my ears, what the missing answer was for me.
You see, I realized through reading this passage in Isaiah, that fasting is not always about physical sacrifice or denial of ones needs or desires.
It is not always about being emptied of something… but instead, being filled to the brim with God.
Not about being denied of something, but about privileged to receive something holy.
We read in verses 6-8 above, that the type of fasting that the Lord desires, is simply a heart that is so sold out for Him, that nothing else matters. And as a result of that passion for Him, we will free the wrongly imprisoned, lighten other peoples burdens by helping them, helping people find freedom in Christ, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, clothing the unclothed, and helping friends and relatives.
His idea of fasting, was putting aside everything, except being His hands and feet to those around us. Denying ourselves the opportunities to be self-focused, and making His love, His power, His Face, and His will, be the reason for our living.
And that is the type of fasting that He will reward and treasure.
Isaiah 58:8-9 says,
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.
One little piece of creme paper that seemed like just a scribbled note at first, has now become a keepsake that I will keep forever… as a reminder, that the only thing God really wants from me, is my true devotion – but that out of that devotion, I am to allow Him to use me.
To allow Him to use me, to glorify Him, not myself.
To allow Him to use me, through my passino and devotion for who He is to me.
And to allow Him to keep me so filled with thoughts of Him and His ways, that the thought of ‘fasting’ would never again seem like a sacrifice.