Fasting and prayer are important aspects of a Christian’s life that are often ignored. Not only do most Christians not participate, but many do not offer this important sacrifice to God correctly. In the 58th chapter of Isaiah there are warnings, instructions and promises to those who fast according to God’s pattern. Before I go on, there are a lot of great resources on fasting, numerous writers have done an excellent job on the topic. There are those who cover what we should eat or not eat, the different types of fasts, and the health benefits of fasting. This is not that type of teaching. In this we will focus on God’s perspective on Fasting and Prayer.
What is Fasting and Prayer?
A fast in a time of separation, dedication, self-denial of food and drink, for the purpose of being heard by God. There are many examples of this in both the Old and New Testament.
Moses (Ex 34: 28), Nation of Israel (Ex 12:18-20), David (2Sam 12:16), Elijah (1Kings 19:8), Esther (Esther 4:15-16, 9:31), Jesus (Mt 4:1-2), Paul (Acts 9:9), Cornelius (Acts 10:30).
There were different types of fasts; absolute (Acts 9:9), restricted (Ez 12:018-20, Dan 1:8-14, 10:2), mourning (2Sam 12:16, Esther 9:31).
Fasting and Prayer has been practiced by the greatest leaders in scripture, and is commanded both in the Old Testament and New. Jesus said the following concerning fasting in the gospel of Mark.
2:18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?
2:19 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.
2:20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
Since we are now inspired, commanded, and instructed to fast, what is the fast that is “acceptable to God”. We do not want to fast and have it ignored by God. In Isaiah 58, verses 1-2 we find…
58:1 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
58:2 Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
First there is an exhortation to the prophet to to bring to light the problem. This problem is serious, fasting incorrectly is labeled as transgression and sin. Normally we have this verse used out of context by bible teachers, but in context the sin here is incorrect fasting. That is clear by the next verse.
58:3 Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Here we have the first question, Why are our fasts being ignored by God? We also have the answer, which is an important principle of fasting. On our fasts, when we are supposed to be offering this time and effort to God as a sacrifice, but instead we are doing our pleasures. Enjoying our entertainments, spending time in empty enjoyments. Or working on our projects not Gods. God’s projects require work too. Even fasting is work. So to put it simply; If you are enjoying your own vain pleasures during a fast, God will not see, or acknowledge your effort. Remember the description of the “house of Jacob” in verse 2,
Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
Looks like they were doing everything right, and yet, God ignored their fasts. Why, because they were not really denying themselves. They were only not eating. Their heart was reveled by their actions even if they appeared to be “delighting, seeking and doing”, God is looking deeper. He wants more than superficial fasting.
In verse 4 we have a wrong goal for the fast. Notice that again the heart is revealed as you read the verse.
58:4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Their fast was to “win”, in an argument, situation, competition or to have revenge on someone else. God states that this type of fast will not get you heard in heaven. Are our fast according to the purpose and plan of God, or are we fasting according to our own selfish desires? A fast is a serious commitment, normally entered into because of urgency, group participation or God’s instruction. If we want to be heard, then we must be careful that our goal lines up with God’s goals.
58:5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
In these questions, God is asking how do you see this fast, is it one that God would accept? It appears that the person in this verse is serious about fasting. They are “afflicting” their very soul (mind, emotions, will, personality). They are afflicting their posture, and their comfort. But with all of this outward and inward posturing God poses a question, maybe this is not enough. That brings us to the next questions.
58:6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
58:7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
God by asking these questions, God is giving the answer. The fast that God chooses to acknowledge must include setting free those who are bound. By sin, sickness, poverty, prison. God does not what His people to be under any addiction or bondage. It should include acts of charity and love. Acts that are beyond your normal acts of compassion. And personal humility.
This type of fast gets God’s attention. Notice the next verses.
58:8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.
58:9 Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
58:10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:
58:11 And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
58:12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
These verses are both beautiful, and amazing. God now sees and responds to our fasting and prayer. We receive; health, righteousness, glory, God’s presence, God’s attention, God’s responsiveness, God’s guidance, provision, prosperity, commission and legacy. I would recommend meditating on these verses, to help you see that it is worth it to fast and pray, God’s way.
But did you notice in the middle of these promises there is a condition, a warning. There are 3 Conditions that we must be also meeting before, during and after our fast. In verse 9 part b.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
Condition #1, No Yokes
We must not hold on to yokes that are in our power to put down if we want God to hear our fasting and prayer. A yoke is a instrument of labor that was used to connect two oxen together for pulling a load. Here it is symbolic. Are we laboring under a bondage that God did not put on us, that God does not want for us, and we have the ability to set down under our own strength? Are we holding others under debts, obligations that are not fair. Are we willingly holding on to addictions, habits that are contrary to God’s will, purpose and plan that we can set down in our own strength? Yokes that are beyond our power to break can be broken by fasting. But yokes that we have the power to break, we must break if we want to be heard by God.
Condition 2, No finger pointing.
Are we accusing others, pointing out the sins, weaknesses of others, when we have similar weaknesses of our own. We must be very careful for Jesus said,
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. – Mat 7:2
If we want the promises of correct fasting we must judge ourselves, correct ourselves and not point out the failings of others.
Condition 3, Speaking Vanity
During a fast, we must be very careful of what we say. Our time, not just our lack of food is dedicated to God. And we must not speak foolish, empty words. Or even worse, profane and corrupt words during a fast. Not only do we have a bridle over our mouth of what goes in, but on what comes out during a fast.
These three conditions can also cancel or shorten the effectiveness of our fast. We must be aware that God is watching as we fast. This is also emphasized in the following verses.
58:13 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
Sabbaths were not just on Saturdays for Israel, but it is a holy day set aside to God, and can be found on other days of the week as well. God is raising the time of fasting and prayer to the level of a sabbath. That it is God’s holy day. Three times in this chapter it is mentioned “thine own pleasure”, twice in this one verse. God want us to not practice our enjoyments on His day. It is a way to honor Him. We are to do His ways, seek His pleasure, speak His words, not ours during times of fasting. Is it worth it? Yes, it is summed up in the last verse.
58:14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Mister Franklin Mayfield,
Ministry Director, trueGOD.tv