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Sermon 5/28/06
Isaiah 58:6-7 – Fasting


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Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Several years ago, I was invited to a Men’s Retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains, just west of San Jose, in California. The man who invited me said, as we were driving into the mountains, that he was part of a small group who would “fast” for the weekend. They would not eat for the entire three days, and he invited me to join this “fast.” Please understand that I’m similar in many ways to the other three billion or so men that form about half the human population of this world. “Guys” have trouble saying “no” to a “challenge,” and so my answer was something like, “Why yes, of course, I’ll be glad to.” And it was, of course, a “holy” activity they were performing, and that must be – good!

Note that I am an “eater.” We are all subject to the stressful events that fill this world and there are certain predictable responses to stress that are common to people everywhere. One kind of response to extreme stress is to essentially stop eating – the person becomes so upset that the thought of food is repulsive and they don’t want to eat. Another group inexplicably wants, craves, DEMANDS food during times of worry! I’m one of the latter – when I’m upset, afraid or angry, I tend to become hungry and want to eat! Right now!

I did not know what to expect during that weekend of fasting, but I had heard stories of wondrous encounters with God during such times. Breathless stories are told in sermons and written in books about the wonderful experiences awaiting those who quit eating for what are essentially religious purposes. It wasn’t there for me. Yes I do meet the Lord in prayer, during times of reading His Word, the Bible; and while preparing Bible studies and sermons – He is there. But it was not the case on that weekend of going without food.

The four men who were with me became three and then two. The aroma of food from the Dining Hall each evening was both wonderful and irritating. We would wander through the darkened camp grounds during the time of the evening meal, and I recall looking from the darkness into the large windows of the lighted Dining Hall at the happy men feasting at those tables. I felt only two things – I was annoyed and I wanted to eat.

It’s been years since that time and quite honestly, though a part of me would like to be one of those “holy” men who successfully perform the act of “fasting,” it does not seem to be for me. So our Scripture for today is especially interesting. Yes, there are a number of places in the Bible that do seem to recognize and encourage fasting. In Matthew 17, for instance, the disciples were unable to cast out a demon and came to the Lord, asking, “Why could we not cast him out?" (verse 19). Jesus responded that the failure was “Because of (their) unbelief,” encouraging us all that with even a little bit of “faithnothing will be impossible for you” (verse 20). He also observed that certain kinds of demons only “go out” in relation to “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).

Obviously “fasting” has a place in the Body of Christ. And to read the wide context of this section of Matthew, is to recall that Jesus’ followers HAD been enabled by Him to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead (and) cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8), and there is no indication that such abilities had been taken away from them. “Demons” are not “cast out” through human effort or good intentions; it’s done through prayer, and our success in prayer increases in relation to turning out backs toward the things of this world and our faces toward God who answers prayer. If you are “led” by the Holy Spirit to go without food for some reason, then do so, for we are all to respond to the God who made us.

There is a key place in Scripture where “fasting” is defined. We have assumed that fasting is all about not eating because that is what our religions and cultures have taught us, but “fasting” is much more. True “fasting” is the giving up of your own interests in relation to helping someone else gain what is important for them. Jesus gave up everything when He came to earth: His comforts, His office as King of Glory, His position at the right hand of the Father, and so much more that we don’t even begin to comprehend what He left because of His love for you and me. During His time on earth, He demonstrated utter and complete faith and He sacrificed everything out of His love, making Him uniquely qualified to cast out the demon from the young son of the man who had come to Him. His disciples at that time had been given the ability, but they lacked the faith, the prayer and the love to do the job.

When you meet someone who is hungry, and you have food, consider giving YOUR food to that person. That’s what it says in Isaiah 58:6-7 – “Is this not the fast that I have chosen… to share your bread with the hungry?” In other words, the REASON you are going without food on a particular occasion is not due to some religious discipline you have imposed on yourself. It is instead because the Spirit brings someone who is hungrier than you are to your attention, and you respond by giving what YOU have to that person!

And a “fast” is not necessarily about food at all. When Jesus cast the demonic creature out of that boy, He was acting in the spirit of Isaiah 58:6-7, where it says that the “fast” God has chosen is “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and (to) break every yoke?” Yes it is to feed the hungry, but it is also to “bring to your (very own) house the poor who are cast out;” and when you meet those who have needs, you RESPOND to those needs as the Spirit leads you. He said it this way: “when you see the naked, (you are to) cover him.” In other words, a "fast" is responding to the various needs you encounter with the abilities and resources that God has given you.

When you meet someone who has a need and it is within your power to help them, do so. But watch this one also: You are “not (to) hide yourself from your own flesh” (Isaiah 58:6-7). In other words, don’t use your “fast” as a means of avoiding personal responsibilities. If your own spouse and/or children hardly ever see you because you are always “helping” others, it may well be that you need to reassess your priorities. The “hungry” and the “poor” may be in your own household. Let’s pray:

Father, teach us to “fast” by the giving of ourselves for the needs of those we meet. Others need to give also and sometimes we “give” by receiving. Let us be a people who follow Your Spirit, responding as He leads. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
First Church On The Net
"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)

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