Summary: Fasting that pleases God is examined and the blessings considered.
A Pivotal Question About Fasting
(Fifty Days of Consecration #6)
I. Our text this morning in Isaiah 58 pivots on a question raised by God’s people. It is perhaps a question that has crossed your mind at one time or another. We’ll talk about the question in a moment.
But before we can appreciate the significance of the question we have to understand some things about the people who are asking God this question. God Himself identifies them as people who seem eager to know His ways. I would hope that I am a person who seems eager to know God’s ways. We are told in Isaiah 58:2 that they are daily seeking God. I suspect their church attendance was quite good. Were we to ask these people to join us on our 50 Days of Consecration they would have probably said to us, “That’s all very nice but we’re already doing all the things you people are talking about.” They were people who asked God for just decisions. By all appearances these people were outstanding examples of faithfulness to God. They are described as people who “seem eager for God to come near them.” They didn’t have the book of James to work with; but I think they would have said a hearty amen when we quoted James 4:8 “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…” (NKJV) By comparison to other people these folks seemed to be quite sincere in their pursuit of God. Until we get a sense of all that we can’t appreciate their question very well.
So what is this pivotal question? It is found in Isaiah 58:3. “Why have we fasted, they say, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” Fasting is a way to crank things up a notch. It’s one thing to pray—that is a part of my Christian walk. But when I’m really serious about getting God involved in a matter—that’s when I fast. I think these people may have felt they had gone the extra mile in their pursuit of God when they fasted. But in the tone of their question there is a high degree of frustration. What does it take to get God to answer prayer? What do I have to do to get Him to intervene?
If you’ve never had that kind of question on your heart you are way ahead of me. I find myself a bit baffled at times in my prayer life—in my fasting. I consider myself to be pretty serious about my pursuit of God and my Christianity. I have seen God work some amazing miracles—I know the joy of His blessing on my life. But even with all that, I can identify with the question posed in verse 3. Can you understand why these people were asking this question? In their minds they had done everything they were supposed to do. They had faithfully served the church. They had faithfully tithed. They had stayed sober. They had stayed married. They were trying to teach their kids to live right. Why isn’t this working? That was the essence of their question.
II. God’s answer to their question went straight to the heart of the matter. I read God’s answer to these people and have to ask myself: Can I handle God’s level of honesty? There is not much sugar coating on the answer God gives in verses 3 and 4. Look with me at those verses for a moment. The question in the first part of verse 3, “Why have we fasted, they say, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” Now God’s answer comes in verse 3, “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please…” Let’s consider that for a moment. They were doing the proper religious things—even going so far as fasting. On the surface, it all looked very sincere. In fact, I personally think those people were convinced that they were doing everything they should do. But God’s eyes penetrate through the religious veneer. He sees what’s going on at the deepest heat level. What does He see? He sees people who have a form of godliness. He sees people who are looking good on the surface. He sees people who are saying all the right things. But when it really gets down to it, they do exactly what they want to do. They live their lives the way they want to live. They do the churchy stuff. But when decisions are made those decisions are based on what they want—not what God wants. Yes they pray. But they hear what they want to hear. And they are going to do what they want to do.