True Fasting
September 2011

A Puzzling Scripture 

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). It was in this chapter that I received one of the most amazing revelations about fasting. Before I share this revelation, please read the whole chapter 
which I shall quote here (NIV version).

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.


In reading the above scripture, it is clear that God was displeased at the way the people (of that time) fasted. In the midst of their fasting, they were still doing terrible things such as exploiting workers, quarrelling in strife, committing violence (striking each other with wicked fists), etc.. God indicated that such a fasting was not acceptable to Him.

This begs the question: have we also ever fasted in the same way - fasting whilst our hearts hold grudges, resentment, unforgiveness, or whilst our mouths utter ungodly words (to name a few)? If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know only too well that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Our hearts are naturally rebellious against God. We often complain and we can be hypocritical and mean to our fellow man. There is, thus, no one perfect enough to fast with a blameless heart. This means that the normal fasting as we know it is not acceptable to God. What grim news!

Could there be a fasting that is acceptable to God, a way to make our hearts be in right standing with Him? It may appear to be so. In the above verses highlighted in red bold, God revealed a fast that is acceptable to Him - a TRUE FAST - summarised as follows:
  • loosing the chains of injustice, 
  • setting the oppressed free, 
  • sharing food with the hungry, 
  • providing shelter to the homeless, etc, 
  • honouring God's Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
I realised that these are all the things that a Christian should do; they are Christian values. But, I had a technical problem with this: 
  • 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 would be "true fasting"? 
It didn't make sense to me, so I asked God for an explanation to dispel my confusion. 



Revelations from God 

 The answer came one year later - in September 2011. God revealed to me that:
  • Fasting is an act of self-denial - usually from taking food and water. However, if we fast from food and water only to have them later when we break our fast, we would merely be postponing our eating and drinking. There is NO sacrifice at all. A true fast that is acceptable to God requires our act of self-denial to be sacrificial. Thus:
  • If we were to give food to the hungry, then we would be denying ourselves of /sacrificing the food that we could have eaten for the sake of those who are hungry -- then we would be TRUE FASTING!
God showed further that, in actual fact:
  • Whether or not we fast from food and drink, if we were to give food and drink to the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, we would be TRUE FASTING. In other words, anytime that we share what we have (or what we have been blessed with by God) with those in need, we would be true fasting!

Suddenly all the other things fell nicely into place, as follows:
  • If we were to spend money on food, clothing, building shelters for those who are hungry, homeless, and unclothed, then we would be denying ourselves of the money that we would have spent on ourselves for those who are in need -- we would be TRUE FASTING.
  • If we were to spend time & effort setting the oppressed free, loosing the chains of injustice, then we would be 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 would be TRUE FASTING.
  • If we were to keep the Sabbath holy, we would be denying ourselves of the time that we would normally be spending doing the things that we like. And in giving that time for God, doing what pleases Him instead of what pleases us, we would be honouring Him -- we would be TRUE FASTING.

God showed that the sacrificial act in our fasting is the remedy to our wicked and deceptive hearts - thus making our fasting acceptable to Him. This revelation changed my life dramatically, especially in my attitude towards giving and towards others.



Further Revelations

The revelations from God continued. Verse 9 is especially interesting, 

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk .....

God showed 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 double personalities - that we should help someone, yet at the same time be a problem for someone else. We have to be consistent with everyone.
  • 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.

In other words:
  • If we would be willing to readily forgive those who hurt us, then we would be denying ourselves of our rights to take revenge - we would be TRUE FASTING.
  • If we would be willing to love others and deny ourselves of the love we would have given to ourselves, then our selfish hearts would become selfless hearts, and for every ounce of love that we give away to others, we would be TRUE FASTING.



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 way in which He taught us how to give. Ultimately, it is because 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, we should take every opportunity to do so. Being God's secret service brings another level of joy. Seeing the person we helped thanking God in heaven, instead of thanking us, is so fulfilling. And even when we are being seen to give or to help, we ought to remain humble, not boasting about our good deeds.



Godly Rewards

It is often the case that we fast 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
  • Prayers heard and answered
  • Provision
  • His joy
Aren't all these things what we wanted for our lives?



Applications

So let us inspect ourselves:
  • Are we helping anyone in anyway? Are we "denying ourselves of what we have" in order to help others?
  • Have we ever oppressed anyone, accused anyone? 
  • Do we give, and do so with love?
Points to consider:
  • When someone needs help, let us take the time to help. If it takes too long, let us not get impatient or annoyed, but realise that every second that we give in helping that person, we are TRUE FASTING. When we realise this, we 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 we are TRUE FASTING, so it can only be counted for good.
  • Similarly with spending our money to bless someone - instead of thinking,” Ah that was expensive!” or trying to find the cheapest present, realise that with every penny we give, we are TRUE FASTING. In fact, the more we give, the more we are TRUE FASTING. Money becomes less important, and the joy of giving will fill our hearts to the brim.
  • Love all we can, especially those who hurt us because for every ounce of love, every ounce of forgiveness that we give, we are TRUE FASTING.

Let us do good to others on purpose, take every opportunity that is presented to us, and keep doing it (do not tire of doing good). For every moment that we do good, we are TRUE FASTING. It is a powerful act in the spiritual realm, much more than we could ever imagine. This is the heavenly treasure that we should seek to 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 we are TRUE FASTING, and this knowledge should strengthen us in our perseverance to do good (and especially in 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 of salvation and to teach us how to live.
  • He took the time to heal the sick, deliver the demon-oppressed, 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 be forgiven and have eternal life.
  • And so much more ...



True Fasting runs throughout the Bible

Almost everywhere we look in the Bible, we can see the concept, the idea, the traces of True Fasting running like a vein. It is the vine, the main stem of God's heart. Here are some verses that illustrate True Fasting:

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 two copper coins as an offering (Mark 12: 41-44)
  • The little boy who gave his five loaves of bread and two fish to help Jesus feed the five thousand (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 he must 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 in the Bible, all waiting to be discovered by a searching heart.



Inspirational Song & Video    

"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

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