More than renunciation
We are in the middle of the Lenten season. Christians fast very traditionally in the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter. They often abstain from meat and alcohol. Fasting is not an invention of modern times. There are several passages in the Bible that tell how and why people fast. It is not only about renunciation, but it always has a “spiritual” component – that is, fasting should serve to come closer to God and to stand up for something specific in prayer. Jesus himself fasted for 40 days before “entering into ministry”.
On Christmas Eve 2019, I had chosen a movie on Youtube for the children – “Two Euros for Santa” (unfortunately only in German) – which made me very thoughtful. At the end, it mentions a verse from Isaiah 58 that I wanted to read in context. The title of the chapter in the Luther Bible is “Of Wrong and Right Fasting.”
Oh, how pious they think they are! They call for me day after day and ask for my will. They like to come running to the temple to seek my nearness. Because they imagine themselves to live according to my commandments, therefore they also demand from me their well-deserved rights.Isaiah 58,2-5
‘Why don’t you see it when we fast,’ they reproach me. ‘We are toiling, but you don’t even seem to notice!’ To which I reply, ‘How do you spend your fasting days? You go about your business as usual and drive your workers just as you usually do.
You fast, but at the same time you quarrel and fight and strike with your fists. If this is fasting, I do not hear your prayers!
Do you think you are doing me a favor by merely abstaining from food and drink, hanging your heads and sitting in ashes in mourning robes? Is this what you call fasting? Is this a day in which I, the LORD, take pleasure?
Actually, I don’t need to say much more about this – God sends very clear words to the people via Isaiah about their attitude towards fasting. Hypocritically renounce food, pray nicely pious, but as soon as the temple is left, is argued, is again normal everyday life filled with the normal activities. Nevertheless, God is demanded to finally hear the prayers. But this hypocrisy has consequences, God says: Then I do not hear your prayers! God actually wants to take pleasure in our fasting!
Question to you: With what attitude do YOU fast?
God does not stop at rebuking, but He says exactly how He would like it:
No – a fast that pleases me looks different: Loosen the shackles of people who are unjustly imprisoned, free them from the oppressive yoke of slavery and give them back their freedom! Abolish every kind of oppression!Isaiah 58,6+7
Share your bread with the hungry, take in the homeless, and if you meet someone walking around in rags, give him clothes! Help where you can and do not close your eyes to the needs of your fellow men!
Yes, it is about renunciation. Yes, it is about prayer. But not only: we are to keep peace. We are to actively change circumstances for people who are miserable. We are to help practically and not just do pious things. Where we can and where we have the influence, we are to do something for other people. With open eyes and an open heart. Christian faith is not always about me, but about God and my neighbor.
Tips for fasting
- Read the whole chapter of Isaiah 58. Think about it.
- Keep peace. Settle disputes. Who do you have to forgive – do it today!
- Think about your attitude. What do you want to change? Let Jesus help you.
- Think about who you can help in a practical way. Giving is good, but relatively easy. Which of your gifts could help someone? Who can you give time to by doing something for them?
- Think about concrete prayer requests for your Lent. What situations, what people need your prayer?
- Pray! Intercede before God for your intentions and for other people! We Christians are priests before the throne of God.
- Be grateful!
God does not let himself be lax!
This true fasting does not go unrewarded. God promises:
Then my light will dispel your darkness like the morning sun, and in a short time your wounds will be healed. Your merciful deeds will go before you, and my glory will conclude your procession.Isaiah 58,8+9a
Then, when you cry out to me, I will answer you. When you cry out for help, I will say, ‘Yes, here I am.’