SPOKEN PRAYER: Out loud, pray for God to speak to you through your reading. Praise God for giving us His word. Ask the Spirit to help you read with faith, and to live out what you hear from God through the passage.
True Fasting and Worship
by Dave Mann
In current Western Christianity, the practice of fasting has become less popular. Christians in other cultures still continue regular fasting. But this reflection and passage in Isaiah are not written to promote the advantages of fasting. That is for another day. Today, let’s broaden the scope from literal fasting to any religious practice: prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship, and indeed fasting.
Religious practices most certainly have a purpose of self-improvement and bettering one’s relationship with God himself. However, religious ceremonies also need to include a benefit for our neighbors, especially those who are marginalized. Only focusing our religious practices on God and ourselves is insufficient. Isaiah the prophet noticed that the religious community of his day was missing out on the benefit that fasting (and other religious practices) should have in the realm of our relationship with our neighbor.
It would be fair to say that Isaiah 58:6-10 has the same message as Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Isaiah’s message was this: If you are desiring to improve your relationship with God through self-deprivation and fasting, spend your resources on your impoverished neighbor. Fast from your luxuries in order that your poor compatriots might simply live. The food you would have eaten, give to the poor. The money you would have spent on your personal entertainment, donate to just causes.
This sounds remarkably similar to Jesus’ exhortation, “In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” You visited me in prison. You saw me naked and you clothed me. You found me hungry and you fed me. I was a stranger and you took me in.
The Apostle John wrote likewise in 1 John 3:17, "Whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Lord Jesus, I admit I love to participate in religious practices – personal Bible study, prayer, worship, and, even at times, fasting. I pray that you would give me eyes to see how I can worship you by caring for the poor and oppressed. I pray I would sense the same exhilaration of your presence when I give to the poor as when I feel the Spirit in worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen.