An Empathetic Fast

Isaiah 58:3 " “Why have we humbled ourselves [with fasting], and you take no knowledge of it?’”

What an honest question the Israel people feel before God!
This may be a question we resonate with during our times of fasting and praying.

As I mentioned in a recent sermon on Fasting 101, even if God does not answer our fasting and prayer requests, it is still never wasted time because He is teaching us deep spiritual lessons.

Sometimes the lesson we most need to learn is that God says no. That NO to our requests can be exactly what is needed to answer the deeper need of our souls, which is more of God.

In this case, God’s NO was to expose the true condition of their hearts.
Within the people’s complaint is a revelation that they are preoccupied with self.

They seem to be saying "we have fasted, we have humbled ourselves. We have done our part. Now, God, why aren't you doing yours?"

There is a good kind of self-awareness that deepens humility and brings us to greater repentance. And there is another kind of self-awareness that breeds pride. This is the kind of self-awareness that Jesus warns us against when He speaks of how we should fast in Matthew 6:16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

If any part of our fasting satisfies some need within us to appear like we are good Christians to people or to God, this is not the right kind of fasting.

So then, what kind of fasting IS the right kind of fasting for God?

Well, thankfully we don’t have to guess because He tells us clearly in verses 6-7

“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?
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?”

 God talks here about an entirely different kind of fast than the one what we may typically think.
Here, God is after an empathic fast: A fast that allows us to associate with the discomfort and pain of those around us who may be suffering.

We get this idea that God is not just after a fasting and praying that turns inward and becomes focused only on what WE want or what WE think needs to happen. We are also to have our eyes and hearts peeled outward.

It’s pretty clear from these verses that for God to notice the discomfort of our fast, we must notice the discomfort of others.

Jesus tells us, “my food is to do the will of My father.” What is the Will of the father?
Is it to do a bunch of religious stuff, to dot our spiritual i’s and cross our spiritual “t’s” so we can feel that we’ve checked off what’s required?  

Micah 6:8 tells us clearly  what His will is for us and it ain’t that! “He has show you, what is good and what does the Lord require of you? To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Likewise, Jesus tells us that in giving water, in clothing the naked, in visiting those in prison, in taking care of the widow, in doing acts of service and love on behalf of the marginalized, we are in effect DOING THESE THINGS TO and FOR HIM.

So, during these next few days of fast, here are a few questions for us to consider: 
  •  When we are feeling those hunger pains for whatever appetite we are giving up, how can we feed ourselves with doing the will of God in those moments instead?  
  • What if, when we are hungry, we go buy a meal and give it a homeless person in Reading? 
  • What if, in stepping back from the divisiveness of social media, we chose to say words of healing and hope to someone we know who feels misunderstood, neglected. 
  • What if, in giving up sweets, we chose to bring something pleasant and sweet to a loved one?
  • What if, in those moments of craving whatever we have given up, we not only pray, we take stock of the room and move into action in some small or large way to bless others? 

By doing these things, may we too, like Jesus, come to understand how doing the will of God sustains us?

This may all may seem like too much but listen to what God says about the outcome of this kind of fast…

In the next few verses, verse 8 - 12, God says,

“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. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
12 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 live in.”

May it be so through Reading City Church, O God.

-Pastor Vince Donnachie