How can biblical fasting help our spiritual and physical relationships?
[Darris McNeely] Jesus told His disciples, “When you fast”, then He gave them a lot of detailed instruction about a very important spiritual discipline, which we’ve covered in part one of this series called “When You Fast”. Let’s take a moment, and let’s look at a critical chapter from the Old Testament – Isaiah chapter 58 – that talks about the reason that we fast. You know, sometimes people fast thinking that they’re going to bend God to their will. People throughout history have gone on starvation fasts to bend the will of a government, a human government, to their will, and that’s a common part of civil protest, or in history. When it comes to biblical fasting, the spiritual discipline, we want to be very careful that we don’t enter it thinking that we’re going to bend God to our will. That’s not the purpose of spiritual fasting from a biblical point of view. It is to help us to discern God’s will in this world, for us in our own life, and to draw closer to God. God’s will is what’s important to understand, not that we fast to bring God around to our way of thinking.
And that is what is brought out here in Isaiah chapter 58, because the prophet here, as God works through Isaiah, says, “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?’” People were asking that question. “‘Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’” When you fast, for twenty-four hours or perhaps longer, it is an affliction. It is a – by denying food and water, we suffer a bit. We don’t die, we’re not going to wither away, but it is an affliction that reminds us that we’re physical and we need the spiritual Bread of Life, the word of God, a spiritual relationship with God. But when we fast, we also want to see something from that. And the prophet goes on to talk about people seeking their own pleasure and doing their own work and even, in verse 4 he said, “You fast for strife and debate.” In other words, people fast and their actions don’t change. “You fast and you strike with a fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day,” He said, “to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen,” this is God dialoging here, “a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness?’”
Here’s how God defines a really true, spiritual fast – “to loose the bonds of wickedness,” or lawlessness. Or in other words, to bring us into a better walk with God. “To undo heavy burdens.” Life is quite burdensome. Fasting should help us draw close to God and to be more spiritually-minded, less physically-minded, and as a result, the yoke of sin, the yoke of burdens of life, are easier to bear, and sometimes even able to be removed.
“To let the oppressed go free,” He says, “and that you break every yoke?” He goes on in verse 7, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,” to have care and compassion for other people. That’s again a frame of mind we should come to as a result of a spiritual discipline of fasting. He goes on, “‘and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Fasting should help us establish a better, deeper relationship with our Creator, and therefore translate into better relationships with our friends, our family, and those we work with, our fellow human beings. This is what God says a fast that is truly spiritual should produce in our life, and He says is a result of that.
If through periodic fasting, if by fasting with the right intent – not to bend God to our will, as I’ve said, but to bring us closer to understand the mind, the nature of God – then, He says, “Your light shall break forth like the morning, and your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
In other words, God’s grace, God’s guidance, God’s care, will go before us and it will follow on afterwards. It represents here a complete, total relationship of our life with God that brings blessings, not only to ourselves, but because of our improved relationships with others because we’ve been humbled through a spiritual fast.
And we take away, He says, “the yoke from our midst, a pointing of the finger, and the speaking wickedness.”
If though fasting, we can clean up our thoughts toward one another – we can clean up our language and the words we speak – less gossip, less criticism, less of the pointing of the finger towards someone else, and perhaps turning it toward ourselves and letting God teach us, letting God show us our faults and then doing something to change our lives – then that’s what fasting should do. This is what the prophet here is showing to us.
And then in verse 10, “If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:3-10 Isaiah 58:3-10 3 Why have we fasted, say they, and you see not? why have we afflicted our soul, and you take no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact all your labors.
4 Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your health shall spring forth speedily: and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then shall you call, and the LORD shall answer; you shall cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If you take away from the middle of you the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10 And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noon day:
American King James Version×).
In other words, we’re not going to be stumbling through life ignorant, deceived – we’re going to know our God better and our lives are going to be enriched as a result and the people with whom we interact are also going to benefit from that. That’s what fasting should help us to develop, is a spiritual life, because we discipline ourselves through this.
Next time we’ll come back and we’ll look at a couple of examples of God’s servants who used fasting to help us, again, appreciate the attitude that we should have when we fast.
That’s BT Daily . Join us next time.