Wednesday 14 March

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True Fasting

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘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.
4 Your fasting ends in quarrelling 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.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 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.

Isaiah 58:1-8

Just as fasting is not simply about eating lots and having fun, fasts are not entirely about refraining from food. At Bethel the Israelites wept before the Lord and fasted, for a day (Judges 20:26) and other biblical fasts lasted for periods of three to 40 days. While fasting is most often associated with spiritual cleansing, devotion or self-discipline, we can easily forget how healthy it can be, whether it be a complete fast (abstaining from all food) for a brief period, or a more extended partial fast. As Dr Rex Russell puts it, ‘Fasting helps unclog the system, and also eliminates poison from it… Modern research, ancient healers and more importantly the word of the body’s Designer – God – indicate that one benefit of fasting is healing.’ Fasting also focuses the mind and may benefit mental health . Spiritually speaking, fasting helps us to focus on God, to pray, to remove from our cluttered imaginations the cares of the world.

On the other hand, fasting induces hunger and this can cause headaches and irritability. To overcome this requires not only determination but also training. Fasting is physically and mentally difficult to do so, which is probably why fasting is an alien concept to so many people today.

Isaiah pointed out that fasting without justice is hypocritical, since fasting was not only for our own benefit but also in order to focus on the need to feed others and to seek to break the bonds of oppression. Indeed, the one follows the other.

Lord, help us to remove from our bodies and souls anything that turns us away from you or makes us dependent on our own desires. When fasting, help us to focus on you, that we may be healed in mind and spirit, and purified for your Spirit’s presence within us. Amen