Is fasting something that you practice? It is not something that our Western culture readily embraces. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not say, “if you fast”, instead, He says, “when you fast”. Most Christian churches in the West do not teach on fasting, which is sad because fasting is an important Biblical practice and by not doing it, we miss out on drawing near to God.
The scribes and Pharisees were fasting on a regular basis, the problem was, they were fasting for the wrong reasons, not to draw near to God, instead, so that they would be praised by the people around them. What does the Bible teach about fasting? Why and when should we fast? If done properly, what results should we expect? Let’s dig into a passage in God’s Word and see what we can discover.
Please read Isaiah 58.
I. Fasting draws us near to God
In Isaiah 58, the Israelites were fasting out of duty. They had been taught to fast and that is what they did. They did not really do it to draw nearer to God. In fact, they were actually doing it thinking that by fasting, they could manipulate God as well as deceive Him. In the Orthodox and Catholic Christian world, there are many people who fast and when you ask them why they fast, their answer is generally, “this is what I learned from my parents and what they learned from their parents”. This is what they had been taught and this is what they did, similar to the Israelites in Isaiah 58. Others believe that if they fast, then they can force God’s hand to do what they wanted. Another popular idea about fasting is that, if we fast, we can do what we want and then God will over look those things as long as we fast and show our faithfulness during certain seasons of the year. This is what the Israelites believed and I have spoken with many Orthodox and Catholic Christians who feel the same way. This is not the purpose of fasting. Fasting is a specific time set aside for drawing near to the presence of God. If your fasting is dong for any other reason then it is the wrong reason.
II. Fasting causes us to acknowledge our sin
God knew what the Israelites were up to and He was not fooled. He reminds them that the reason that they fast is to draw near to Him. Part of drawing near to Him is acknowledging their sin and turning away from it. We see this clearly explained by Daniel, in chapter 9. Daniel acknowledged his sin and the sins of his people. He was truly sorry for what he and his people had done. Daniel repents of his sins and the sins of his people before the Lord. This is exactly what we see in Isaiah 58.
6 “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? 7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58)
They are to loosen the bonds of wickedness. Living in sin and coming before God in fasting and prayer do not go together. Their sins were against God and also against their fellow man. When you walk in obedience to the Lord and have a personal relationship with God, that is manifested in the way that you think of and treat the people around you. You cannot claim to be right with God and then treat the people around you harshly. God is not deceived and cannot be manipulated in such a way.
III. Fasting brings answers from the Lord
God’s answers when you seek Him sincerely with fasting and prayer. It is not based on manipulation. It is based on an earnest heart to draw near to God, to confess sin, and repent of it.
9 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer ; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. 11 “And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones ; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins ; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. (Isaiah 58)
When God answers, He changes you. You quickly discover that God does not want us to fast and pray to change Him. He wants us to fast and pray so that He can change us. Once we draw near to God via fasting, we acknowledge our sin, and turn away from it then we begin to get right with the people around us. Our relationships improve because we want to serve people instead of use them. Our relationship with God impacts our relationships with others. Fasting and prayer is a method that God has chosen to draw us nearer to Him so that He can transform us.
Do you fast? Why do you fast? Do you know the reason God wants us to fast? When you fast, does it impact your relationship with God? What about your relationships with others, how are they impacted by your fasting? What previous views of yours about fasting need to change based on what we have learned? May the Lord help us develop the discipline of fasting so that we can draw nearer to God, confess and turn away from our sins, and be transformed to love and serve others.