“…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Joel 2:12 (NIV)
Some years ago I undertook a forty day juice and water fast. When I started the fast I did so with the understanding that it was possibly the most powerful spiritual discipline of all Christian disciplines. I was expecting big things to happen. I was hoping to see the Holy Spirit transform my life. I thought that God would see my fast, hear from Heaven, and respond to my prayers for the strengthening of the local church, healing in my community and revival in the land.
While I lost a lot of weight and maybe grew in the exercise of discipline, I’m not sure whether much more really happened. I didn’t have a keen sense of any special transformation taking place in my life, my local church grew smaller and a little weaker, and my community and nation continued on as before. Frankly, I felt cheated. I’d undertaken what was for me the most demanding act of worship I could envision, and nothing much had come of it. Had God noticed? Did He care? My honest questions left me with less than favourable answers – or so it seemed.
I tried to analyze why the fast didn’t accomplish what I’d expected. Over the years I wondered whether my fast was undertaken in the flesh or contained motives and expectations that were self serving. Maybe that was part of it. I know I’m a sinner and I know my actions and motives have never been one-hundred percent pure. But I suspected there was more to it than that.
Five years after the physical fast I was reading Isaiah the prophet. In chapter fifty-eight a light bulb was turned on. I’d thought God wanted me to worship him through physical denial and self discipline, and yes He does, but He wanted something deeper, something more profound. The kind of worship God wants from me is not about me, it’s about others. True fasting, the kind that catches God’s attention; is seeking justice for the oppressed and providing for the poor . . .
“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? 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 him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 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.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” (Isaiah 58:6-9).