If you want to be healthy and rich in spirit heading into Christmas, you might want to try this new fasting technique from the prophet Isaiah. Here’s a new recipe for a pre-Xmas fast: Fast from self, expectation, and self-centredness. Focus on giving and serving…
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please…
4 You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Isaiah 58:2-4, 6-9
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
They seem eager to know God. They seem eager to do right. They even ask God for his decisions and help. Yet they come up short. They wonder why God isn’t listening. Why isn’t he come alongside them? Why isn’t he filling their tanks?
I was talking with someone yesterday about getting into the Christmas spirit. He was having a tough go in his own spirit. I think there is more at play than we often think in the abundance of our spirit. If you want to be rich in spirit, you likely have to make an investment that goes beyond what you think.
These folks about whom Isaiah is prophesying were fasting, ostensibly humbling themselves before the Lord. They were doing the ‘right’ thing, yet they weren’t seeing the result they desired. In fact, God was not as close to them as they thought he was or as they wanted him to be.
My friend and I were talking about going to church and he was suggesting that perhaps that would help change his spirit. As much as I am a proponent of going to church, I gently disagreed. I shared that God wants our surrender and submission in all areas of our lives, and that can happen everywhere.
Not at church. Not only at church. Not only during church. Now. Here.
We see God share through Isaiah here, and through James also, that what God is looking for from his followers is for us to fast in a new way – not in the way we see described in verses 2-4. We often look at spiritual practice (such as fasting) as a way to get what we want. This is the problem of vs. 2-4. It’s focused on the people fasting.
Here’s a new recipe for fasting: Fast from self. Fast from focusing on your spirit and your agenda and your request to God. Fast from expectation and from self-centredness, and focus on giving. Don’t get me wrong. Don’t think that by following this that you will earn God’s favour or his ear. You might be tempted to think that by a quick read through these verses. Yet the justice and the rescue and the sharing and providing for the poor is not penance or prerequisite. It is a right response to the God who did these things for you in the person of Jesus. When we humble ourselves to serve God by caring for orphans or widows we are responding to the God who loved and cared for us first.
By entering into deeper relationship with God through a serving response to his love, we will see the light of dawn and a healing of heart, not because we deserve it, but rather because it is found on the holy ground of that deeper place relating to God.
“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”