February 26 I Monday
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice… 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?” —Isaiah 58:6-7
In the opening verse, God speaks through Isaiah to His people about why they think they are doing right by obeying the letter of the law when they have completely missed the heart of God. The Israelites were grumbling over God not acknowledging or rewarding their fasting and obedience, but God rebukes them for only being concerned with receiving personal benefits.
Fasting is a valuable aid for deepening our relationship with God, but God’s ultimate goal for fasting is as much for the benefit of others as for ourselves. Through fasting, God gives us a glimpse of the hunger countless people experience on a daily basis and draws our attention to the unjust social systems and attitudes that keep people in poverty. Fasting creates empathy for a world in need and this spurs us into action. A great example is the 30 Hour Famine run by World Vision every year. This program gives students the opportunity to fast for 30 hours so they can identify with the hungry and be educated on global poverty. It also encourages participants to find sponsors to help raise money to feed the impoverished around the world.
This benefit to others is another side to the humility fasting is meant to grow in us. It places our focus on God, who alone is the one who provides for our needs, and orientates our hearts around the needs of others. God comes first, others second, and then ourselves. This is the priority in the Christian life, and fasting is a simple but effective way of humbly reminding ourselves where we stand in this chain.
Jesus tells us that at the end of the age there will be a separation of the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be on His right side, inheriting His kingdom with Him, and the goats will be on His left, destined for eternal separation from God. Jesus will say to His sheep, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36). These actions are precisely in line with the kind of fasting God has chosen, a spiritual discipline that loosens chains of injustice by putting the needs of others first. Fasting humbles us beyond mere identification with the needy and motivates us to do something about it.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for this humbling reminder that all I have comes from You. Grant me a generous, compassionate heart that delights in sharing my blessings with others. Thank You, Lord.