“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? 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? 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. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (Isaiah 58:6-9)
As I sit down to write, I must confess that I am glad to have the opportunity to be writing this anonymously, and am thankful for the Brother Barnabas pen name and the folks that have made it happen. For even though most would consider me to be a godly man and a leader in the Body of Christ, as I reflect on the times that I fasted when I was a young leader, I must confess that it was usually brought on by times of personal crisis or I was filled with visions of greatness and grandeur as I prayed for our church and ministry. In other words, I fasted and prayed for God to do something for me rather than interceding for someone else.
In fact, even when it was ostensibly for someone else, there was the underlying motivation that I would have power in prayer and receive the recognition for bringing deliverance or healing. Or if I was fasting for things such as church growth, vision for the future, or a ministry program or event, I was fasting for those things outwardly but in my innermost being I was primarily concerned with being seen as a successful pastor and bringing in enough people to fund the budget and feed my family. It wasn’t the kind of fasting described in Isaiah 58 (see above).
Biblical fasting – the kind of fasting described in Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6 and other places – is all about denying oneself, specifically going without food, so that one can draw near to God. Worldly distractions and lusts of the flesh are intentionally put down so that the person who is fasting and praying can focus on the Lord and His will. This kind of fast is best done in secret, where the worshiper can do business with God in private – repenting of sin, interceding for those in need, and mourning for the sins of the community and even the world.
This kind of fasting – purposefully pulling back from the world and drawing near to God – is the kind that will break yokes and set people free. This kind of fasting, when accompanied by God-motivated action like sharing with the poor and confronting injustice or spiritual bondage, will feed the hungry and free the oppressed. This kind of fasting, done without fanfare but with acts of repentance, will cause the Lord to answer and bring forth healing and righteousness.
Fasting motivated by pride, self-sufficiency, or the favor of other people, however, will fall short. The Lord will likely answer the same way He did in Zechariah’s day, “Was it really for me that you fasted?” (Zech. 7:5)
When we fast, then, let’s be careful to do it for the right reasons and in the right way. Let’s be careful not to announce it with trumpets or loudspeakers, and let’s not make a big deal out of it by disfiguring our faces or talking about it all the time. If we do, we will have our reward – the favor of the people – instead of favor with God.
"Make intimacy with God the focus of your fast and everything else will fall into place"
I hope I haven’t made this any harder than it is or discouraged anyone from fasting. That is not my intent as I have found that when I fast one day a week it becomes an anchor to my relationship with God and a tremendous blessing in many ways. In addition, fasting is a thoroughly Biblical spiritual exercise, discussed in Scripture more often than many other spiritual disciplines that we take for granted. Fasting accompanied by prayer is the Biblical way to repent, mourn over sin, and draw near to God. Fasting really does give us power in prayer and direction for our lives as we draw near to God and minister out of that intimacy with Him.
So then, whether you fast regularly, occasionally, or hardly ever, I hope that you will consider drawing near to God through fasting and prayer however He leads you. Whether you fast just a meal, or for a day, or even 40 days or somewhere in-between, do it unto Him. If you prefer to do a “Daniel fast” or like to fast from things of the world such as television or social media, do it as unto the Lord and use the extra time to pray or spend time in the Word. Make intimacy with God the focus of your fast and everything else will fall into place.
As the Lord said through Isaiah, when we fast we can’t just continue on with our normal lives, quarreling with one another, taking advantage of people, and oppressing the poor, for if we do we will not be heard by Him. We must come out of the world to spend time with Him and bless others, purposefully giving up regular meals, fine dining in restaurants, or entertainment events so that we can share what we have with others and spend time with Him.
That is the kind of prayer and fasting that will get His attention and He Himself will be our reward. For when we fast in the Isaiah 58 way, our light will break forth like the dawn, our healing will quickly appear, and our righteousness will go before us. We will call, and He will answer, saying, “Here am I.”
So let’s fast and pray and encounter God in a more intimate way than we ever have before.
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, I confess that I haven’t always fasted in the Biblical way, with a heart for you and a desire to see others blessed. Many times I haven’t fasted regularly or when I should have, and when I did it was for selfish reasons. Forgive me and help me to fast and pray the way that You would have me fast and pray. Teach me how to do it. Help me to draw back from this world and draw near to You. Show me how to fast regularly; how to build routines into my life that will help me to stay close to You. Speak to me as I pray and worship and spend time with You now...(continue praying as you feel led)