Journey to the Cross: Fasting as Service

“Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!” 

“Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high. 

Will the fast I choose be like this: A day for a person to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the LORD? 

Isn’t this the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood? 

Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the LORD’s glory will be your rear guard. 

At that time, when you call, the LORD will answer; when you cry out, he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of the yoke among you, the finger-pointing and malicious speaking, and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. 

The LORD will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose water never runs dry.  
(Isaiah 58:3-11 CSB) 

The book of Isaiah tells the story of God’s people, of their judgment and their restoration. It has historical context but also present-day relevance. Every single time I read about the Israelites and their struggle to stay faithful, I want to shout out loud, “Will you never learn?!” And every single time I start feeling superior to God’s people, He reminds me that I’m one of them. Just like the Israelites, I make the same mistakes over and over again. Just like His people, I am restored and redeemed, only to turn back to the sin that led me to the wilderness last time. Just like them, it sometimes feels like I will never learn. 

Can you relate? Do you struggle with the same sin, over and over again? Do you find yourself in need of God’s mercy and redemption repeatedly? Do you forget what God has done for you – so easily, so quickly? 

You are not alone. And thankfully, God is exceedingly patient and loving, and though He may allow us to suffer the consequences of our choices, He never leaves us alone. And He always rescues us, restores us, redeems us. 

In chapter 58 of Isaiah, the Israelites express frustration that they’ve fasted just like they’re supposed to, but God isn’t fixing their hard situation. God’s reply is to point out their hypocrisy and the emptiness of their gesture. He isn’t impressed or blessed by their sacrifice, because He knows it’s only for show. He knows they’re only doing it to get something in return. So, once again, He explains what true sacrifice is. 

True sacrifice isn’t merely denying yourself until you feel (and look) miserable. It’s giving of yourself to help others. It’s feeding the hungry and freeing the oppressed. It’s tending to God’s children instead of protecting your own interests. 

Just like the Israelites, I too have been too focused on myself and what I could get out of every interaction. But just like He did for the Israelites, God didn’t let me stay in that pit of pride and hypocrisy long. As quickly as I had those selfish thoughts, I remembered my commitment to observe Lent the way it was designed: with intention and humility and sacrifice. 

If you’ve chosen to fast during this Lent season, consider how that sacrifice can be used not only as a thankful response to what Jesus did on the cross, but as a missional picture of the cross to others, laying down your life so that others can see the god who did the same for them. In other words, consider how you could also use this time to be the hands and feet of God, how you could intentionally see opportunities to serve others, to share your bread and shine your light. Then, God promises, He will satisfy you and strengthen you. Then He will accept your sacrifice and make your like a spring that never runs dry. 

Heavenly Father, Holy God, thank You for Your patience. Thank You for Your guidance. Thank You for loving me enough to redirect my steps every time I stumble and get lost. Thank You for loving me enough to stay with me, to rescue me, to redeem every single situation. I love You, Lord, and I’m so grateful for everything You’ve given me, everything You’ve done. I want to give You everything in return. I want to give You something of value. I want to do what You’ve asked and help others instead of helping myself. Please show me how. Give me opportunities to feed the hungry and free the oppressed. Compel me to reach out, to offer help, to love my neighbor so they, too, can know how much you love them In my sacrifice during this season, help me reveal Jesus, who sacrificed everything to save us all. Forgive me for every time I’ve gotten this wrong. Accept my sacrifice of love, of gratitude, of worship. Amen. 

This is an excerpt from Journey to the Cross: Forty Days to Prepare Your Heart for Easter, from the (in)courage community. If you are enjoying this series, you can purchase the book to experience forty days of encouragement and guided Scripture, reflections, and prayers. 


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