Do We Fast Poorly?

For about 10 years of youth ministry I would do a yearly event called the 30 Hour Famine. It was an event to raise money for world missions and to feed the hungry. Kids would raise support to hopefully make a difference in some desperately malnourished people. Along with this event, the kids would fast for 30 Hours. 

As great as this event was, I have to wonder if there weren’t some serious flaws in it. The kids that raised the most money would receive prizes. We would have competitions and games throughout the night to keep the kids' minds off of how hungry they were. Kids would get overly competitive. We would all go out the night before to gorge ourselves on food at a local buffet, then do the same as soon as the 30 hours were up. I have to wonder, “Was that what God intended for fasting?” Did we turn it into a Disneyland style event? Is there a wrong way to fast? Isaiah 58 talks about poor fasting practices.

Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isaiah 58:1–5

As many of us know, we aren’t saved by our actions. Works don’t make us closer to God. He sees beyond that, into our hearts, our minds, and our intentions. The people Isaiah is talking about are fasting for recognition. They’re trying to look better than others, and they’re using it as a source of animosity and dissension with others. They don’t have a right mind when it comes to what they’re doing. God is not happy with this, and he even says, “Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?” In other words, “I don’t accept your fasting.”

When it comes to abstinence, we should never do it for our own gain. Releasing our need for something should always be done with Christ in mind and how we can better serve others. Abstinence is also something that changes our needs. When we release our need for things, that’s when God is given the green light to begin changing our hearts, our minds, and our intentions. Abstaining from food for recognition is folly, abstaining from food to better serve Christ and His Church is pragmatic and wise. Isaiah then gives a better picture of what fasting is really for as we continue in chapter 58.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
Isaiah 58:6–12

God is painting a picture here of what His Church will look like one day. His people will serve those in need. They will provide for those who do not have, and they will be considered a light to others that will shine in the darkness. Their abstinence from food will not be for recognition. Instead, it will be for focus. We allow ourselves to be led by our stomachs, our eyes, and our desires far too much, and we lose focus on what is right in front of us. God sees a much bigger picture than we do, and He’s leading us by His Holy Spirit to greater things than what we see ourselves doing. Where we are focused on fine dining, our favorite sports teams, and living vicariously through our children. God is leading us toward feeding the hungry, sharing the Gospel, and seeing life the way “the least of these” are living. 

When Esther learned of a plot to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom of Persia, she knew she had to go to the king to ask for his help. She also knew that it could cost her life. What did she ask the other Jews to do as she prepared to go before King Ahasuerus? She asked them to fast.

“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”
Esther 4:16

Abstinence from our physical needs has a spiritual power that enables us to go out and serve God with hearts, minds, and intentions clearly leaning toward Him. True disciples know that physical food may give our bodies nourishment, but trusting in God when we abstain leads us toward becoming more like Him and showing others the way to do the same.

3 Comments


Rick - March 12th, 2024 at 5:05am

Glad you are back!

- March 13th, 2024 at 5:41pm

Me too! Although Florida was nice and toasty! LOL

Emily - March 18th, 2024 at 10:22pm

Come on!!! Keep preaching it 🙌🏻

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