For most of you reading this, Sept 28 – 2nd day of the week – will be the Day of Atonement. And one of the things we all do – is fast. Or go without food and water. Will our day of Atonement just be a super-hungry day – or will the fasting serve its intended purpose?
I suggest again that we all re-read Isaiah 58 on this day. Read it in various translations. This chapter explains what should be happening when we fast: we are fasting for various reasons. What follows is how the Complete Jewish Bible translates the passage. Please read it thoughtfully and even prayerfully.
It seems God wants our fasting to result in some drastic changes in our lives. He wants us to use the day to seek him and ask him to show us where we must grow and change – and then do it. He wants us to be people “standing in the breach” – actually doing things to affect change in our communities. My wife and I are pondering our own best actions going forward to have more of a life-changing impact in people’s lives as Isaiah 58:6-7 show us.
Then in verse 8 and beyond, we read God’s response when he sees our fasting actually resulting in changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. He promises healing and blessing! He promises more “answered prayer” and what a delight that would be! Verses 9-11 – God says things will start to go much better for us. But he wants us to quit slandering each other; to start actively helping people – and going beyond just stating a promise to keep them “in our thoughts and prayers”. God wants action! God wants us doing, working, being involved in the lives of others who need us.
Let’s read it. Much of it will be God’s own words to his people, to us!
“Oh yes, they seek me day after day and [claim to] delight in knowing my ways. As if they were an upright nation that had not abandoned the rulings of their God, they ask me for just rulings and [claim] to take pleasure in closeness to God, 3 [asking,] ‘Why should we fast, if you don’t see? Why mortify ourselves, if you don’t notice?’
“Here is my answer: when you fast, you go about doing whatever you like, while keeping your laborers hard at work. 4 Your fasts lead to quarreling and fighting, to lashing out with violent blows. On a day like today, fasting like yours will not make your voice heard on high.
5 “Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself? Is the object to hang your head like a reed and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself? Is this what you call a fast, a day that pleases Adonai?
6 “Here is the sort of fast I want — releasing those unjustly bound, untying the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, 7 sharing your food with the hungry, taking the homeless poor into your house, clothing the naked when you see them, fulfilling your duty to your kinsmen!”
8 Then your light will burst forth like the morning, your new skin will quickly grow over your wound; your righteousness will precede you, and Adonai’s glory will follow you.
9 Then you will call, and Adonai will answer; you will cry, and he will say, “Here I am.” If you will remove the yoke from among you, stop false accusation and slander, 10 generously offer food to the hungry and meet the needs of the person in trouble; then your light will rise in the darkness, and your gloom become like noon.
11 Adonai will always guide you; he will satisfy your needs in the desert, he will renew the strength in your limbs; so that you will be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. 12 You will rebuild the ancient ruins, raise foundations from ages past, and be called “Repairer of broken walls, Restorer of streets to live in.”
SO yes – let’s fast. But let’s fast to help us remember how much we rely on God for life. Fast to humble ourselves in his presence and mention to Him how we would love to have more healing in our bodies and relationships. Fast with lots of prayer of gratitude for God’s atoning work in our lives and what he’ll soon do for the whole world. Fast in joyful thanksgiving to the reconciliation He’s he will offer to the world after Christ returns – and you and I can be a part of that!
Fast to ask God to help us become ever more like him moment to moment.
But don’t just go hungry!
So this year, let’s not just go without food and water for one day. Use the day to pray in repentance and ask God to reveal our Laodicean lukewarmness and spiritual inactivity. Commit to this year being a time of real change and overcoming of real sins that have lingered too long in our lives. And yes, I’m preaching at myself too!
Have a WONDERFUL day of fasting, of humbling, of seeking – and of changing.