Some Thoughts on Fasting
GOD IS ALWAYS THE END TO WHICH WE DO THINGS: By this I mean we do not fast to gain favor with God nor do we fast with the idea that God must now respond in a certain way towards us. We already have the favor of God upon us because of the grace we have in Jesus. So, when we fast, we are expressing our longing and our “hunger for Christ.”
In Zechariah 7, the people of Israel return to their homeland after 70 years in exile. While in captivity, they fasted during the fifth and seventh month as a way of mourning their current state and as a way of asking for God to be merciful and to return them back to Jerusalem.
Now that they are back in the land, the question emerges, “do we need to continue fasting during the fifth month?” In other words, now that our prayers are answered, why continue fasting? This question was met with a rather penetrating question from God through the prophet. “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?”
This was the problem in Isaiah 58 as well. The worshipers could not figure out why God was not responding to their prayers. After all, they were religiously fasting. Doesn’t that count for anything? Not really. In fact, it is an empty religious ritual if God is not the focus of your fast. God must always be the end to what we do.
So, if you choose to fast this Lenten Season, it can be a deeply enriching practice. But make sure that you don’t do it “to feel good about yourself” or to expect that God now owes you something. Rather enter into this time of fasting to reflect on your hunger for God and to focus your heart on Christ.
Charity – Prayer – Fasting: Remember how Jesus coupled together “charity, prayer and fasting.” In other words, fasting is not just something we do as a religious exercise. Rather, it is something that is used to center our hearts on God and what God loves. What does God love? God loves people.
In Isaiah 58, God took issue with the fasting of the worshiper because they would go through the religious ritual and at the same time neglect the one in need. This was not the kind of fast that God longed for and it was this lack of charity and mercy that caused their fast to be nothing but a ritual. In Isaiah 58:6-8, the call is to actively express mercy and charity as a result of ritual.
In Zechariah 7, where the people are trying to figure out whether or not to continue fasting, this issue of charity is once again mentioned. On the heels of talking about fasting, the prophet calls the people to “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
So, may all we do not only foster a deeper love for God, but may it also foster a deeper love for others.
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