The world we live in today is saturated. Saturated with information, opinions, noise, speculation, best practices and marketing. More so in our western way of living, we have to constantly (and consciously) remove ourselves from the tornado of stuff that surrounds us on a daily basis.
The spiritual disciplines of fasting and Sabbath are two very intentional ways that we get to see God in the here and now. Fasting purposefully removes an essential aspect of our lives in order to more fully rely on God. Sabbath purposefully removes ourselves from the regular work that needs to be done in order find rest in God.
The Art of True Fasting
Some may think of fasting as a way to lose weight or think differently about their health, but fasting is an ancient practice that people would use for different purposes.
In a spiritually healthy way, people fasted to cry out to God about injustice, to mourn for a loved one, to discern the will of God. Jesus himself fasted for forty days and forty nights after being baptised and right before beginning his ministry leading to the cross.
In unhealthy ways, we see in Scripture that people would also abuse fasting as a means of appearing holy or distraught. In Isaiah 58, we see those people being called out for their fake front.
‘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
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
– Isaiah 58:3-4
Though the people of Israel appeared to do “the right things”, their heart was not in the right place; therefore, their actions and the way they treated people was not pleasing to God.
When we fast, we intentionally strip away from ourselves something that our body needs to survive in order to tap into the One thing that we need to live.
By abstaining from food, each hunger pang or growl of the stomach we feel should remind us to turn our gaze and our hunger toward God for sustenance.
Isaiah goes on to list true and worthy reasons for fasting
- Loose the chains of injustice
- Untie the cords of the yoke
- Set the oppressed free
- Break every yoke
- Share your food with the hungry
- Provide the poor wanderer with shelter
- Clothe the naked
- Turn away from your flesh and blood
And the result of such fasting is this:
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 58:8-9
Keeping the Sabbath Holy
In the Genesis account of creation, God works for six days speaking into existence the vastness of the natural world and after each day’s work he declared it both good and very good. Then he rested on the seventh day and commands us to do the same.
Did you catch that? Sabbath is a command. An expectation. A day set aside. Holy.
Interestingly, Isaiah connects Sabbath to fasting as we are doing in this study. And here we see a conditional promise from God regarding Sabbath.
The conditions are if we keep the Sabbath, keep from doing as we please, delight in it, honor it by not going our own way, or speaking idle words, then we will find joy in the Lord, ride in triumph, and feast on the inheritance of our father Jacob (Isaiah 58:14).
Notice that by keeping the Sabbath as the holy and sacred day it was intended for there is a promise for the present, the future, and for eternity.
Putting it all Together
As we look back on fasting and Sabbath there are a few connecting pieces that are important to notice. First, in both fasting and Sabbath we are called to turn away from doing as we please. This is not a day for ourselves, but a day for the Lord. Second, I want you to see the result. In keeping fasting and Sabbath true to their intended purposes, we are promised nearness and joy in God.
Practicing fasting and Sabbath should result in nearness and joy in our Lord.
Are you or have you experienced that?
Ultimately, because of intentionally setting aside time for the Lord it is the Holy Spirit who changes our hearts and in response, we change our heart and actions toward other. And in the circle of God’s economy, we come to God with our brokenness, He changes our heart, we treat others with compassion, they see God work and turn to Him, God gets the glory and on and on it goes.
When practicing either fasting or Sabbath the key to get is not so much the method of the practice, but the posture of the practice.
To dig deeper, join the study in our Facebook group as we go through the week learning and applying the practices of fasting and Sabbath.