Yikes! Not a very fun topic, is it? Honestly, fasting is not my favorite topic either. It's also not a fun thing to do. I've talked to many Christians and discovered that very few fast on a regular basis. Why? It's hard! It's painful. And in our food-glorified culture, it is difficult. We Americans have a love affair with our food. We use it for comfort, entertainment, and most social activities. There isn't a single social get together we attend that doesn't involve food. I challenge you to think of one! I mean we even bring food to a funeral!
Once, I fasted for 3 days but that's the longest I've gone. I used to fast once a week praying for the salvation of my children. I did that for years until the Lord showed me how wrong I was. I was using fasting as a "works" to get God to do something for me. It was like I was saying. "Here I am God, see how I'm suffering, see how I'm denying myself for You! Now, you need to save my kids!"
But the more I came to know God, the more I realized He doesn't do anything for us because we earned it or we worked hard or we deserve it. Frankly, we don't deserve Him to even look our way. God blesses us purely because He adores us. And He certainly isn't going to save my kids because of my hard work. Then who would get the credit? Me? That's ridiculous.
Isaiah 58 is all about the type of fast God hates and the type He expects of us. Yes, expects. We as true believers should be fasting as God leads. Jesus said in Matthew 6, "when you fast... " not "if you fast". Fasting is a spiritual discipline that has been lost on our complacent, self-gratifying Western church.
In Isaiah 58, the people of Israel were asking God why He wasn't paying attention to them fasting?
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
God goes on to say that their hearts aren't right. They fast but then they abuse other people and cause strife and wickedness. They bow down before God and wear sackcloth and ashes (a symbol of mourning) and wail before God. But He didn't ask them to do that. That's not what He wants when they fast.
Jesus told people to hide their fasting from others
But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly
So what is the point of fasting if it isn't to get our prayers answered? Isaiah 58 tells us.
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?"
Look how powerful fasting is! It loosens bonds of wickedness, lifts burdens, frees the oppressed and breaks yokes!
Do you remember the demon possessed boy in Mark 9? He had a deaf and dumb spirit and would throw himself in the fire and foam at the mouth. His father brought him to the disciples but they couldn't cast out the demons. Later, after Jesus took care of it, His disciples asked Him why they failed?
So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting."
I always wondered how they would have been able to fast when they didn't know they were going to be facing the challenge? But Isaiah 58 provides the answer. We are to fast regularly (as led by the Holy Spirit) so that we will always be in a state of readiness to do whatever task God calls us to do, whether it be cast out a demon, or heal someone, or talk to someone about Jesus and help open their eyes to salvation. That's what it means to loose the bonds of wickedness and free the oppressed!
When you deny yourself food and spend that time in prayer instead, it brings you closer to God. You are more able to hear His voice, get direction, be flooded with His power. It will prepare you to do God's work with more power and strength than you imagined.
Yet so many of us, myself included, miss out on this wonderful opportunity. How many times does God search the earth for someone to do an important task but He passes us by because we haven't prepared ourselves with prayer and fasting?