“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:… – Isa. 58:6a NIV
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Fasting is generally defined as the decision to stay away from eating for a period of time. It is a common tool for spiritual growth and development amongst different groups of people, Christians inclusive. It is also a tool for self purification for many people including Christians. In all, it remains a great spiritual tool that has been found very reliable over generations and across different religious divides – Jonah 3:5; 2Chr. 20:3.
It is therefore not surprising that it was part of the religious tools that the Israelites deployed on each occasion they sought to receive forgiveness and mercy from the Lord after being caught in the web of punishment for transgressions – Joel 1:14. The occasion in reference in the scripture for today’s devotional is no different as the Israelites had as usual gone into fasting, possibly for several days, expecting to receive mercy and forgiveness as usual but unfortunately, there was no indication that the tool was effective on this occasion. They wore sack clothes and poured ashes on themselves (Isa. 58:5) but no change was observed in their situation. They had started justifying themselves before the Lord and possibly amongst the nations around them wondering what the Lord expected from them after all their act of repentance – Isa. 58:2-3.
Indeed it was acting, more of a drama that the Lord was not interested in. The onlookers got deceived by these acts but unfortunately, forgiveness was not from the onlookers but from the Almighty God who was not impressed with what he saw as deceit and hypocrisy – Psa. 130:4. However, before they malign and slander the Lord with the drama series which other nations seemed to believe as real and so had started to wonder what else their god required of them, he lists for them the standard that he expects their fasting to meet. Having made them realise that His expectation from their fast is not limited to acts done over just a designated number of days, or one done with evil thoughts about their neighbours, or worse still, one that is carried out seeking liberation when they have people held down under bondage and oppression (Isa. 58:3-5), He through the Prophet Isaiah lists out what is expected of them during their fast beyond the simple act of avoiding meals for a specific period.
- They are expected to loosen the chains of injustice as part of their fast – Isa. 58:6. A people who have others under bondage should not expect liberation from their own situation simply because they have abstained from food for a period. You have to do to others what you expect to be done to you – Matt. 7:12.
Not only should physical bondages be loosened but also spiritual bondages so as to set the oppressed free physically and spiritually. The period of fasting should be deployed to releasing such people in prayers and intercessions to the Lord. Every yoke must be broken in prayer and just as this is being done, the Lord will grant the request being made with such fasting. Any fasting that does not release people will likely not succeed.
- The Lord expects the Christian to share his/her food with the hungry – Isa. 58:7. Providing for people regularly especially on days declared for fasting will no doubt enhance the success chances of the fasting exercise. The bondage of hunger is a major tool that holds people down as the spirit of poverty begins to reign supreme. Such people can be released from the bondage of this spirit by providing them with meals.
The Lord says such act done in addition to the personal deprivation of food will aid the acceptance of the fasting exercise.
Such release from the bondage of poverty will include the provision of shelter and clothing for the needy. Provision of shelter and clothing will include ensuring that such are saved from shame and disgrace arising from such bondages.
- The one fasting should do away with the yoke of oppression – Isa. 58:9a. Beyond delivering people under oppression, the one fasting is not expected to have anyone placed under oppressive or similar conditions. Fasting by anyone who has people under one form of bondage and oppression or the other will not get recognised or accepted by the Almighty God.
- The one fasting should not turn away anyone that he/she can render help to – Isa. 58:9b. The one who wants to have an acceptable fast should not encourage discrimination amongst the brethren. Such must encourage unity amongst the brethren irrespective of social class, tribe or sex as all have become one in the Lord.
- The one praying and fasting in expectation should do away with the pointing of finger and malicious talk – Isa. 58:9c. The one that is fasting would be expected to avoid the act of looking for scapegoats or people to blame for one form of failure or the other in such lives just as acts of maligning and slandering people should be avoided. It is simply not possible for anyone to expect a fasting exercise to be acceptable to the Almighty God if the one fasting is involved in negative acts like back-biting and back-stabbing of others.
The Lord through Prophet Isaiah advises that the one who intends to have an acceptable fasting exercise and receive positive response to requests made under such conditions must add all the above to the refraining from taking meals for a period. Merely avoiding, and carrying a facial impression that potrays a sober mind will not be sufficient if acts listed above are not made a regular lifestyle.
The godly fasting must go beyond that period that has been set aside for refraining from meals for such acts to be acceptable to Him. May God help us to conduct our spiritual activities in a manner that will make them acceptable to Him in Jesus name. Amen.