When You Fast (Matthew 6.16–18), Part 4


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What are the purposes of fasting?
 
  1. To express our mourning for sin
  2. To seek and clarify God’s will for our lives
  3. To provide for the poor

We have looked at purposes (1) and (2) in previous devotionals. Today I would like to look at purpose (3). Fasting gives us an opportunity to provide for the poor.

Isaiah 58.1–14 contrasts how Israel fasted with how God wanted Israel to fast. It makes for interesting reading.

According to verse 2, Israel fasted in order to seek and clarify God’s will for their lives: “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.”

But according to verses 3 and 4, their fasting resulted in the violation of God’s will: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.”

Consequently, God refused to honor their fasting: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” Spiritual discipline must result in moral behavior, or it is a worthless, unprofitable exercise.

In verses 6 and 7, God revealed the kind of fasting that is acceptable to him: “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?”

Fasting, you see, has to do with our sins, God’s will, and the world’s needs. God wants his people to commit themselves to justice, freedom, and generosity. Fasting is a way of forcing us to take a look at what is wrong with the world—at what is wrong with us, really—and do something about it.

How does such fasting work? Let me give you a simple example about how fasting can be used to help the poor. I like Starbucks’ Venti Chai Latte. It costs $3.85. I get one two or three times a week on my way to work, especially on Sunday. Over the course of a year, that means I spend between $400.40 and $600.60 a year at Starbucks. What if I decided to “fast” all but my Sunday latte and donate what I would have otherwise spent to a Christian charity or mission? I would have between $184.60 and $369.20 to give to help the less fortunate.

Now, that may not seem like a lot of money to you, but it’s a lot of money for a person who’s poor. So, that’s my challenge to you: Instead of spending money on something you don’t have and don’t need, donate the money to your church or a local Christian charity.

That’s the kind of fasting God wants.

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