I don’t know which to write about first: the fast God desires or the fast at which I failed and what went wrong (and right) with it.
Thinking we should always start with God, with His word, here goes:
I’ve looked and looked in scripture, often, for commandments to fast. Found none. But there is much mention of fasting, both examples of people doing it (rightly or wrongly), and God’s commentary on it. The latter often begins, “When you fast…” which assumes it, as a given.
We will fast.
We do fast.
I’ve fasted; you’ve fasted; all God’s children have fasted (I think) — even if we didn’t realize it.
Sometimes you just can’t eat. You’re stuck somewhere without food. Or sick. Or sick at heart. Or scared nearly to death. Or overwrought with worry over a loved one. Or your heart’s so burdened with something else, you can’t begin to think of ingesting a bite. Sometimes you’re just so intent on what you’re doing, you forget to eat — maybe even prayer, time with God that would be spoiled by stopping and filling your stomach.
David fasted when his baby was dying. Esther fasted when her life trembled at the precipice of the king’s whims. Paul fasted: quite likely in prison, when rationed on shipboard during a storm, and when agonizing in prayer for the lost or straying. Jesus fasted in the wilderness right after emerging from his baptism, although the Bible doesn’t tell us just why (though we know He was about to start his ministry).
Surely these were all good and right.
But there’s also the bad and wrong.
God spoke about it through Isaiah:
“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers.
Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high.
“Is this the fast that I have chosen: A day for a man to afflict his soul? It is to bow down his head like a bulrush and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, an acceptable day to the LORD?” (Is 58:5).
That’s the rebuke part. God in His mercy follows with the adjusted course to take:
“Is this not the fast I have chosen:
to loose the bonds of wickedness
to undo the heavy burdens
to let the oppressed go free
… to share your bread with the hungry
to bring to your house the poor…
to [clothe] the naked…
“…Take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness.
…Extend your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul…” (Is 58:67).
The context of all this, in Isaiah, is that the people are fasting to add power to their prayer, to try to get God to give them what they’re crying out for.
But these same folks have heard his rebuke, and refused to repent. Whether afflicting themselves and bowing “like a reed” because they feel sorry for themselves or doing some (fake?) portrayal of contrition, they’re still continuing the sins He wants corrected (above).
So fasting to get out of consequences of unrepented (uncorrected) wrongs or to twist God’s arm to give us what we want does anything but please God.
Jesus also told His followers, “When you fast…,” using legalistic Pharisees as (negative) example. Clearly he expected them to fast at some point, or He would have said “if” instead of “when.”
But the main point He makes is don’t do it to show off, to impress people. Keep it just between you and God — whatever its reason. And to insure they’ll do this, he tells them to wash up, comb up, turn off the sad-face, sprinkle on the cologne, so no one can even tell they’re fasting.
Next post: what went wrong and what went right with my “fast fast” experiment of yesterday.