Lenten Dawn! – Isaiah 58 vs 5 - 7
At this time of the year, we often hear people say things like ‘I’m giving this up for Lent.’ While Lent is a religious practice, finding its roots in the ‘fasting’ of Jesus in the wilderness, many who talk about it hold no Christian conviction. Whether Christian or not, it usually involves giving up things like chocolate, alcohol, coffee or some other food or drink. Many see it as an opportunity to lose weight.
There are, however, some people of a more religious nature who see this ‘fasting’ time as another tick-box activity: church attendance? Tick. Regular Bible study? Tick. Daily prayers? Tick. Taking communion? Tick. Fasting? Tick. It’s all part of their spiritual picture which the world and the church can see and be impressed. Sadly, God may not be so easily impressed. There is a real danger here that we may allow true acts of devotion and worship to become meaningless rituals, going through the motions without engaging the heart.
There is a further group of ‘fasting’ enthusiasts who are convinced that unless the church engages in regular fasting (usually accompanied by prayer) there will be no blessing from God. It almost becomes a large stick with which to beat God into doing what they want. Elevating this practice above other spiritual disciplines empties the gospel of its power.
Isaiah 58 shows how God sees ‘fasting’ as He exposes and redirects the hypocritical ‘fasting’ of the Israelites, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen...?” (5). They were going through the motions of religious rituals, like fasting, and then treating others unjustly and without compassion. Here we find God calling His people to true acts of worship THAT REFLECT WHO HE IS. A true fast denies self in order to serve others. In 58:6-7, God points out His kind of fasting: “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke, to share your food with the hungry, to provide the homeless with shelter, to clothe the naked, to care for God's family.”
We don't fast to suffer, or to get anything for ourselves and we certainly cannot impress God. We fast so that our spirits can focus on spiritual things; so that sin may be counteracted in our lives; so that a hunger for God and His ways can be satisfied and let loose in a needy world. Interestingly, Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 25:31-46. The true sheep are those who go out on a limb to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner. This is what reveals hearts of true righteousness (58:8)...lives that belong to Jesus, “who made himself nothing...taking the nature of a servant...becoming obedient unto death – even death on a cross!” (Phil.2:7-8). ‘Fasting’ God’s way!
Certainly, observe Lent this year but let’s make sure that we deny ourselves to serve others. Then, God says, “Your light will break forth like the dawn...” (58:8). After all, we are supposed to be the light of the world in Jesus’ name!