The Fast the Lord Requires

In most sports competitions there is something called a “halftime.” Not only is it a time to rest and refresh for the 2nd half of the game, but it is a time where the coach can speak to the players to help them to refocus on the goal, which is to win. It is amazing how a team can be behind on the scoreboard, but right after the halftime huddle, the team would come out charging and eventually win the game.

This is a little bit of what I want to accomplish as I write this post.

Now that we have passed the half way point of the 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting, I wanted to say a few things.

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, God spoke to the Israelites in the midst of their religious fast and sacrifices and said this,

“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. ‘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. 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. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?’”

“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? 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 him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 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. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (Isa 58:2-9 NIV)

As we were preparing for this 21-days of fasting, we talked about checking our motives and getting our hearts in line with what God desires. A lot of times, it is easy to think that as long as we have all the external things in order (i.e. eating certain things, not eating certain things), then somehow God has to answer some of our prayers. But the reality is that God doesn’t have to do anything for us.

If God does answer our prayers and even perform miracles, it is purely out of His Sovereign grace and mercy. In some ways, this should humble us knowing that we cannot “twist” God’s arm to “do” something for us.

I know that some of you have been trying to be faithful to the things that you have committed to during this fast, but I want to challenge all of us to rethink about our motive and re-examine our hearts.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that has a way of bringing to the surface our selfishness and our self-centered motives. But if this fasting is just a change of diet, then we have missed the point.

I have been giving this some thought.

What does it take for the “self” to die and allow Christ to live in us? Then I thought about the John 12:24-26 passage. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

In this world, everything is about preservation and wanting things to last. But the reality is that unless we are willing to give things up and even willing to die, then we have not really started to live (Braveheart-esque). All throughout Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel this was one of the points that He was trying to drive home. Unless we are dead to our self-righteousness and selfish motives, it will be difficult to say, “yes” to the things of God.

Even the thought of serving God, we cannot do it on our own will power or strength. Why? Because serving God requires death to our service to other things. it is difficult to serve two gods (Jesus and ourselves). One side will always take supremacy and pre-eminence.

Some of us are praying for things that are related to the future (e.g. “what should I major in?” “should I stick around for another year?” “should I take that job?” etc.). But the challenge for us is: “If God revealed His will for us, are we even ready to accept His will?” So often His will is not our will. There are many times when God tells us to do things that go against our own desires, flesh, dreams, and wishes. But this is the key. If our “self” is exalted and has not died, then no matter what God tells us to do, we will not be able to say “yes” to His will. But if we learn how to “die” to our “self” through the spiritual discipline of fasting, then we will be more prepared to receive what God has in store for us.

This is why I am challenging all of you who are doing the 21 days of fasting to finish off your commitment with just fruits and vegetables (no tubers and no legumes) for the last week and then just liquid on the last couple of days (Friday and Saturday). The “self” never willingly wants to die and sometimes when we deprive it of things, it begins to hurt. I am wondering if the pain (the pang of hunger) will remind us of our need for trust and dependence on Christ all the more.

Read the Isaiah passage again, but this time in several other translations:

“They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they’re a righteous nation that would never abandon its God. They love to make a show of coming to me and asking me to take action on their behalf. But they also complain, ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why: ‘It’s because you are living for yourselves even while you are fasting. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me [or] won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?”

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isa 58:2-9, NLT and The Message)