“Isn’t the fast I chose: To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:4-7)
Fasting is ancient. It is not limited to Christian faith practices but has long been used in various cultures, sometimes for religious ritual, and sometimes as a body-cleansing technique. It can be used as a weight loss technique. And, as we see in the bible, fasting has been intended as a means of drawing closer to God, to deepen our spirituality and our faith. Christians may fast when they carry a heavy burden, seeking resolution from the Lord. In Isaiah’s day, people practiced a self-denying type of fasting, the “sackcloth and ashes” sort. Their practice devolved into mere ritual, however, and its effect, says Isaiah, was that people just ended up angry and irritable. Somehow, they lost the vision of what it was supposed to accomplish.
So, God challenged the Israelis on their fasting practices in the verse quoted above and in the verses that followed. He said that the fast He chose for them had two fundamental intentions: 1) breaking the bondage people have to wickedness, and 2) providing for those in dire need. In other words, this was to be a fast in which people were to deny themselves their self-centeredness rather than food. And that gives totally new definition to the concept of fasting.
Maybe the kind of fasting that most honors God is the kind where we deny ourselves from engaging in self-centeredness, and by focusing instead on the needs of others. Come to think of it, maybe this kind of fasting should be a daily practice.
Lord, Help us to turn away from self-centeredness and turn instead toward You and the life You have called us to. Amen.