Fasting and the Flesh
Sunday, January 6, 2019
First of all, I want to welcome you to the first Sunday Morning Worship Service at Green Valley Church of God. We are glad you are here. God has plans for us. We invite each of you to get involved in serving God, in loving Him and loving people.
A casual reading of Isaiah 58 would lead you to conclude this chapter is about fasting. It is about fasting. But I think it goes far beyond fasting.
I was planning to skip this chapter. God wouldn’t let me. I did not want to talk about fasting. I have done too little of it. But this chapter is about so much more than fasting.
Fasting is giving up food to spend time in prayer, to spend time seeking God. There are many ways to fast. There are many reasons to fast. Many of which have to do with healthful living. In fasting you may give up one particular food for an extended time, or all food for a short time, or any variation of those. If you are going to fast to seek the Lord the point of these fasts is to spend time seeking God.
For us, as followers of Christ, fasting is about seeking God. Isaiah’s message in Isaiah 58 is about Israel’s attitude when they were supposedly seeking God. Listen to the first part of the chapter as God tells Isaiah about Israel’s attitudes.
“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 you not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” (NIV)
“They SEEM eager to know my ways”. “They SEEM eager for God to come near them.”
They wonder why God has not come near. These are God’s words about Israel to Isaiah. Their attitude is what this chapter is about. Fasting is important. If you do not fast, perhaps you should consider it.
This chapter is about fasting, but it is more about what God considers to be important as we seek Him. We sometimes SEEM to be seeking God when we are really seeking to have our own desires met. We want God to appear to us and give us what we ask for.
We do as we please and “exploit all our workers”. How people treat their workers tells you what is in their hearts. If you treat them as property to be taken advantage of, you are not loving them. You are loving yourself. “A fair days work for a fair days wage.” Does that ring a bell. Perhaps we need to hear slogans like this again. If a person cannot support their family on what they make at your company, perhaps you need to be satisfied with excessive turnover in your employees. When there are few jobs where people can support their families there needs to be a change.
Raising the minimum wage is not the answer. The answer is in helping employers to understand what exploitation means and helping them to move up to the standards God sets for His people. Sorry for the political announcement.
We sometimes think we know best and we are really trying to convince God that what we want is best.
This chapter is about putting off the flesh and putting on the Spirit. God is telling Isaiah to tell Israel they must love their neighbors and not be focused on what they want.
If you do a study on fasting this is one of the main passages of scripture you will find. We learn here that God is not as concerned about the details of how we fast as He is about our attitude toward Him and toward other people when we fast.
In the time of Christ, the religious leaders of the Israelites were making a show of their fasting. They would fast in public, so that others would see how spiritual they were.
Today, many have forsaken fasting all together to avoid the extremes that Jesus spoke against in His time. There is a better way. We need to fast and use this tool to seek God. We must be sure we are seeking God and not trying to please ourselves in some way. In Isaiah’s time, they were using fasting as a means to get God to work in the way they wanted Him to work. In Jesus’ time, they used fasting as a means to look good, or to look spiritual to other people. Both are wrong and these attitudes should be avoided or corrected.
In both cases, selfishness was at the root of the incorrect attitudes.
As God continued to speak to Isaiah, He spoke of what the right attitude should be in our fasting and seeking God. He spoke of caring for and meeting the needs of those around us. He was not so concerned about the specifics of how to fast. He was greatly concerned for His people’s attitudes and their lack of love for other people.
He spoke of loosing the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free. He spoke of sharing food with the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless and giving clothing to those who had little or none.
God said their light would break for them like the dawn…
Verse 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. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.’
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
11 “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets and Dwellings.’ (NIV)
We have been repairing broken walls around here for some time. God has helped us to build a place to worship and to proclaim the Good News of the love and lordship of our Heavenly Father.
It is time we re-build the ministry of our congregation. We have a lot of work to do. We need to rebuild our outreach and discipleship programs. They will not look like the ministries of the past and that really is okay. As long as we are teaching people to seek God and not their own desires, we will be building what God wants for the future of Green Valley Church of God.
We need to reach out to young families in our community and provide opportunities for them to learn to follow the Lord. We must guard against insisting that we do things the way we did them before.
Verse 13, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (NIV)
“Then you will find your joy in the Lord.” When will we find our joy in the Lord? When we live to honor God and to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength we will find our joy in the Lord. When we love others we will find our joy in the Lord. When we are seeking to do what God has called us to do, we will find our joy the Lord.
I encourage you to pray. I encourage you to fast and seek God in this way.
If you are not fasting for health reasons, look into ways you can fast that may not involve totally giving up food. Ask God to help you see how He wants you to practice this important spiritual discipline.
Seeking God and His will for you life is what we are called to do. Becoming better disciples and helping others to become followers of Jesus Christ is at the heart of our mission as Christians and our mission as a congregation.
Join us as we seek to follow Christ in 2019.