We are starting 21 days of prayer and fasting today, so I wanted to talk about what fasting is, and what it should be. We want to enter into this year leaning into the purposes God has for us.
We have been in a series on the book of Isaiah and so we are going to look at a passage in Isaiah that deals with fasting. In this passage Isaiah is addressing people who are not fasting as God calls them to do it. They have missed the whole point. And in this he also tells what true, God-honoring fasting is.
Just in case you are not sure what that is. Fasting is abstaining from food & drink in time of penitence or mourning. In the Old Testament certain days on the calendar were for national fasting, the most prominent being the Day of Atonement
The book of Isaiah is filled with different passages. Some passages are conciliatory and bring comfort. Some passages are confrontational and bring correction. This is a passage of confrontation. People are doing something wrong and God has called Isaiah to address it.
“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?
- Empty Fasting.
The people were going through the motions of seeking God but they were not bringing their lives into conformity with God’s will.
V2 They are seeking God daily and acting like they delight to know God, but in reality they have forsaken the Lord and his ways.
[2 Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God
V3. Then they are asking why the Lord does not hear them and give them what they are asking for.
They are fasting but also oppressing their workers. Talks about the yokes they put on the workers. A yoke is what went on oxen to pair them up with another and then be worked. He is saying you are treating these people, your own brothers and sisters like cattle.
They did not see that God was to be served. They worshipped so they might be served. God, conform to me and my desire.
[Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?
If you get rid of the yoke from those around you, the finger-pointing and malicious speaking, (Isa 58:9 CSB)
Malicious speaking is not merely gossip but probably proposals for political, legal, or social policy or legal accusations. So, they are praying for God to bless them and then going out and suing another person, and not because that person has done something wrong, but rather to secure greater profits for themselves.
People in church, oppressing their own brothers, taking people to court, seeking their own pleasure, not caring about other people or even God.
This is treating God like he can be coerced. “God, look what I’m doing. See all this. Aren’t you impressed with me”? That is not what God looks at. He wants our hearts, because the heart is the most important thing in a relationship.
[When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:15-17 ESV)
God is not looking for just a day to humble yourself. He is looking for a life submitted to him. This is the fasting he looks for.
Like so many things that get done wrong, it doesn’t mean you abandon those forms altogether. It means you redeem it. You do it the right way.
- True Fasting
[6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps 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 him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
The fasting God desires is that his people would seek him. That they would follow his ways.
True fasting is sacrificing other things to honor God. It is putting him first.
*Fasting is about me obeying God’s voice rather than God obeying me.” If I fast, and then I complain to God because I didn’t get what I wanted, then there might be a problem in why I was fasting.
Opening his word and searching your heart.
I remember in my younger days I fasted to get good grades. I fasted to get jobs or opportunities. A girl might go out with me. I think there are times for that. But I remember one time doing that, and felt God say, “Keith, you are missing the point.” Proverbs says, it is better to have wisdom than gold”. You can get money and lose it all because you are not wise. What does it matter if I get stuff but never learn how to honor God. If I know God and follow him, everything else will fall into place.
It is good to have life simplified like that. Just follow him. Just know his will. Put God first. Do what is right.
That is the sacrifice God desires. That we help others. That we care for them. That we break oppressive yokes. That we help those in need.
True fasting is a way to say, I’m giving up those other things because I want more of you. It’s a way to say all that matters is knowing God. I don’t need food, I don’t need chocolate, I don’t need sports. I need you. This is the cry of our hearts…
Fasting is a form of cleansing. You hear health experts talk about it. We are not doing this for physical health but spiritual, but this connection is helpful to think about. People fill their stomachs full of chicken fingers, cheese sticks, coca cola and there is a time where it is good to say you know what I am pulling back from all that and just going to eat some broccoli and kale chips for a bit to reset. Give those organs a break from all that grease and high fructose corn syrup. Fasting is a way to say I can fill my life so full of the corn syrup of social media, television, movies, newscasts, that my heart and mind are completely full of toxins of stress, anxiety, etc. I want to feed more on the pure word of God. It is a way to have a reset.
Goal of Fasting. To align ourselves more with who God is and his plan for us. Nineveh fasted in response to hearing the message of Jonah. Fasting was a way to say I’m stopping what I am doing. I am putting the breaks on my hopes, my dreams, my desires to hear from or respond to the Lord. I am seeking him first.
Ways to Fast
- Complete Fast/Jesus Fast. No food for 40 days. Hard core. All out. If you are interested in that I am going to volunteer Dan to lead that group.
- Partial Fasts
- Daniel Fast: Fruit and Vegetables.
- Selective Fasts: Refrain from eating certain things. What is most likely to master you controls you, be unhelpful for you. Chocolate. Coffee. Meat. Alcohol. Television. Sports. Your phone. Technology.
- Fast on Certain days and times.
-In the early church they would fast on certain days, say Sunday and Thursday.
- Clothing. Sackcloth.
Consider what you might give up. But also consider what you might put in. More time in God’s word. Summit Church Bible reading plan. More time in prayer. More time in conversation with others. More time with people over. More time to serve the community or help others.
- There is life in sacrifice.
there is a irony in this passage. Give away and you are filled. When you fill yourself with God there is no regret.
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness 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, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. Isaiah 58:1-12 ESV
Fasting goes against everything in our flesh. It goes against everything the world tells us. The world says follow your heart and fill your stomach. Don’t deny it. But that will ruin you completely.
Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. We find life in Christ. We find hope in God. This passage shows the effect of fully turning to God.
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness 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, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. (Isa 58:12 ESV)
-If I have light coming out from me like the dawn, it’s ok if I didn’t get the promotion! The Lord will guide you. Satisfy you. Make your bones strong (physical health!). You shall be like a watered garden.
You will be a repairer of broken walls. In ANE if you want to take a city you first take its walls out. If you want to build a city, you want secure walls. Jerusalem will be destroyed. But it will be rebuilt and some of these people right here are going to be the repairers. God calls us to be repairers. All of our brokenness is taken away in Jesus. He is fixing us. We want to be those who can help others. Repairer/Restorer. Broken marriages can be repaired. Failed careers revived. Unplanned pregancy redeemed. Addictions taken away and a healing in the source of who you are.
You will call and the Lord will answer (v9).
That’s life. That’s healing. That’s strength. That’s abundant fruitfulness, it does not come through more money, more stuff, people who like you … It comes from a relationship with God. Not about coercion.
*Maybe one of the greatest things fasting shows us is we need to push aside our constant desire to feed ourselves and fill our bellies. We can go without. We can serve others. We can be a blessing to them.
We need God today. I am grieving what is going on in our nation. Fighting. Arguing. Canceling. Lying. Cheating. Litigation. Oppression. Very real effort to remove people of faith from society. It has become so prevalent that everyone is anxious and worried.
Becoming numb to problems and attacks. Don’t get too worried, but also numb to things we should be excited about. This is the culture we live in, and the temptation is to fight back with fear, and threats and ultimatums.
You know the early church grew exponentially because they were so different from the culture. I believe we may be entering a time like that. A time that it is hard to be a Christian. People don’t understand it. Might not be popular. Not giving into the fear and slander of the time. But also with a joy, a peace, a love for others that people are yearning for. I think what our nation most needs is the church to be the church. To see a people so committed to God they are laying it all on the line for that. To be respectful. To be articulate. To be unafraid. To be loving.
We need a bold, confident, daring faith. We need to be close to God. I want my kids to be close to God.
We fast now to know and serve God. We anticipate a day when the Lord brings final salvation to his people, the months of fasting will be turned into feasts of joy and gladness (Zech 8:19).
We are going to conclude today in prayer. I asked a couple people to lead us in prayer. But first I want to give you a moment to reflect on what you have heard. You have a Response Card in your bulletin for our prayer and fasting. Don’t feel obligated to fill that out now, but I want to give you a moment to consider how you might participate. I want to encourage you to take a step in this. We want to know how people are participating. We want to pray for you in this time of seeking God.
So take a moment to reflect on what has been said and what God might be calling you to do.