True Fasting
September 2011

In 2010, I did a series of fasting and praying. Fasting is often viewed as a powerful act alongside prayer.  Each time the fasting got difficult, God would send a biblical scripture on fasting to keep me going. One of those scriptures was Isaiah 58 (the whole chapter), which I shall quote here (NIV version).  Please read this chapter before continuing to read what follows below.

Isaiah 58

True Fasting

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 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.
3 ‘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.
4 Your fasting ends in quarrelling 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.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

6 “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?
7 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 them,
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.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.



Revelations

In reading the above scripture, I could see that God was displeased at the way the people (of that time) fasted. Despite performing fasting, they were still doing terrible things such as exploiting workers, quarrelling and strife, violence (striking each other with wicked fists). God then proceeded to tell them how to do it right - how to perform TRUE FASTING - and it seems that true fasting is found in the things that are highlighted in red bold above, as follows:
    • loosing the chains of injustice, 
    • setting the oppressed free, 
    • sharing food with the hungry, 
    • providing shelter to the homeless, etc, 
    • and even to go as far as honouring God's Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

I realised these are all the things that a Christian should do, they are Christian values, but I had a technical problem with this, and that is:

What have "setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry, keeping the Sabbath holy, etc"  got to do with fasting?
Why is it that if we do these things we are doing "true fasting"? 

It didn't make sense to me, so I asked God for an explanation to dispel my confusion.

The answer came one year later - in September 2011, and this is what God revealed to me:
  • Fasting is often an act of self denial - usually denying ourselves of food and water.
  • If we give food to the hungry, then we are denying ourselves of the food that we could have eaten for the sake of those who are hungry. We are TRUE FASTING.
  • If we spend money on food, clothing, building shelters for those who are hungry, homeless and unclothed, then we are denying ourselves of the money that we would have spent on ourselves for those who are in need. We are TRUE FASTING.
  • If we spend time & effort setting the oppressed free, loosing the chains of injustice, then we are denying ourselves of the time and effort that we would have spent on ourselves for the sake of others, for their welfare and their freedom. We are TRUE FASTING.
  • In the same powerful revelation - if we keep the Sabbath holy, we are denying ourselves of the time that we would normally be spending doing things that we like. In giving that time for God instead, we would be honouring Him and doing what pleases Him, instead of what pleases us. We are TRUE FASTING.

So fasting by denying ourselves of food and water (like how we normally do it) is only skin deep. It is NOT true fasting, and it is especially futile if, with our fasting, we hold grudges, resentment and unforgiveness against our fellow man; if we slander, gossip and have been unkind towards someone. I don't know of anyone (myself included) who is perfect enough to fast with a blameless heart. Hence the normal fasting as we know it may very well be futile. 

It is therefore a blessing indeed that God would reveal to us the TRUE FASTING that pleases Him through Isaiah 58 - a fasting that we can do effectively, that will make a difference. This revelation has really changed my life, especially in my attitude towards giving and towards others.



Further to this, verses 9 is especially interesting, 
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk .....

This is saying:
    • that in freeing someone from the yoke of oppression (as God would like us to do), we must take care that we do not, ourselves, become oppressors. We should not have 2 personalities - that we should help someone, yet we also give someone else problems. We have to be consistent to everyone.
    • that in doing away with the pointing finger and malicious talk - not only must we help people who are wrongly accused, but that we do not, ourselves, become judges and accusers of people.

The messages here are so beautiful:
    • that if we are willing to readily forgive those who hurt us, we are denying ourselves of our rights to take revenge - we are TRUE FASTING.
    • that if we are willing to love others and deny ourselves of the love we would have given to ourselves, then our selfish hearts will become selfless hearts, and for every ounce of love that we give away to others, we are TRUE FASTING.



Godly Rewards

So often we fast (alongside prayers) with the motive of trying to get God to answer our prayers, solve our biggest and most urgent problems, meet our many needs. Yet too often, we do not receive what we thought fasting would give. In fact, so often nothing happens. Things are exactly as they were. This is what God said would happen (that our fasting would be futile) if we fast with the wrong motives, with callous hearts full of unforgiveness, hatred, resentment, and with actions that displease Him. 

However, if we fast the way He has revealed to us above (TRUE FASTING), He promises a wealth of amazing rewards, to name a few (see verses 8, part 9, part 10, 11, 12, 14 in green bold above):
    • Healing
    • Protection
    • His quick response to our cry for help
    • Provision
    • His joy
Aren't all these things what we wanted for our lives?



Applications

So inspect yourself:
    • What do you do for others? Are you helping anyone in anyway? Are you "denying yourself of what you have" in order to help others?
    • What are you like towards others? Have you ever oppressed anyone, accused anyone? 
Some examples:
    • If you are a manager or a person in authority, ensure that you are not oppressing your workers or those reporting to you.
    • If you are a parent, ensure that you are not oppressing your children. There are children being oppressed even among Christian families.
    • If you see a beggar, do not walk away without giving anything or doing something to help him/her.
    • Take time to defend and rescue those who may have been cheated or wrongly accused. 
    • Make time for God not only daily, but weekly by keeping His Sabbath day Holy.
So,
    • When someone needs help, take the time to help. If it takes too long, do not get impatient or annoyed, but realise that every second that you give in helping that person, you are TRUE FASTING. When you realise this, you will actually start to enjoy helping that person, and the time it takes to help him/her will no longer become an issue. In fact the longer it takes, the better it is because the longer you are TRUE FASTING, so it can only be for good.
    • Similarly with spending your money to bless someone - instead of thinking,” Ah that was expensive!” or trying to find the cheapest present, realise that with every penny you give, you are TRUE FASTING. In fact the more you give, the more you are TRUE FASTING. Money becomes less important and the joy of giving will fill your hearts to the brim.
    • Love all you can, especially those who hurt you because for every ounce of love, every ounce of forgiveness that you give, you are TRUE FASTING.

Do good to others on purpose, take every opportunity that is presented to you, and keep doing it (do not tire of doing good). For every moment that you do good, you are TRUE FASTING. It is a powerful act in the spiritual realm, much more than you can ever imagine. This is the heavenly treasure that you can accumulate as mentioned in:

Luke 12: 33-34 
33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When doing good to others becomes tough going, just remember you are TRUE FASTING, and this knowledge should strengthen you in your perseverance to do good (and especially to overcoming evil with good).



The Ultimate True Fast-er

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate TRUE FAST-er:
  • He gave up His heavenly abode to come down to earth to bring us the good news and to teach us how to live.
  • He took the time to heal the sick, deliver the demon-possessed and raise the dead.
  • He fed the hungry and the poor.
  • He loved and forgave His enemies
  • He gave up His life for our sins, so that we may live.



Secret Fasting

After seeing God's revelations above, it is no surprise the way in which Jesus taught us how to fast is the same in which He taught us how to give - because ultimately the two are connected - as shown here by the two scriptures in Matthew.

Matthew 6:1-4

1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16 -18

16 When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Although it is not always possible to give (or to help) in secret, when the opportunity to do so comes, we should do so. Being God's secret service brings another level of joy. Seeing the person we help thanking God in heaven (instead of thanking us because they don't know who it was that helped them) is so fulfilling. In any case, even when we are being seen to give or to help, we ought to remain humble, and certainly not to boast about our good deeds. 



True Fasting covers the Bible

Almost everywhere you look in the Bible, you can see the concept, the idea, the traces of True Fasting running through like a vein. It is the vine, the main stem of God's heart. Here are some verses that illustrate True Fasting (there are many more that are not listed here - it's for you to find them :-))

  • Matthew 25:35-40
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” 37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?” 40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

  • Deuteronomy 10: 17-19
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

  • Psalm 146:7-9
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, 
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

There are also examples of actions of True Fasting in the Bible:
  • The widow who gave her last 2 copper coins as an offering (Mark 12: 41-44)
  • The little boy who gave his 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to help Jesus feed the 5 thousands (John 6: 1-13)
  • Mary Magdalena who poured perfume on Jesus's feet (Luke 7:36-44)
  • The rich young ruler who asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him to sell everything he had and give to the poor (Jesus was asking him to do true fasting), but he couldn't do it (Luke 18:18-25).
There are many more examples that are not listed here. Next time you read the Bible, look for more and you will find them.



Inspirational Song & Video     ---   a must hear & see!

My Own Little World by Matthew West.
Inspirational Lyrics:

Father break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
Put Your Light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me

Video (Christchurch of The Heartland Production): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuVSe1Cz4Es