Have you ever thought you were striving to do what God wants you to do, and thought you were eager to be with Him, only to find that God was nowhere to be found in your life? Maybe you are there right now as the people of Israel were back in Isaiah's day.
In Isaiah 58, God, through our prophet Isaiah, clearly points out the religious hypocrisy of the nation of Israel.
Isaiah 58:1 "Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house 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 we humbled ourselves,
and you have 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,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ? (NIV)
They were fasting but God did not hear them. They must have been fasting for "show" to appear that they were holy when in fact they were still in their sin. If they were fasting to change their attitudes or for direction, I don't believe that God would have given them the rebuke He did. If they were fasting for the right reasons - to diligently seek God for direction or to change an attitude or remove sin - wouldn't their fasts have ended in an inner peace, at least with each other, instead of the quarreling and strife (v.4)?
God wants us to truly seek Him and I believe that seeking Him through fasting is a viable option but should not be taken lightly. For me personally, I can't imagine someone going without food to fast for the wrong reasons! :) Look at what God says about the fast that He prefers, still from Isaiah 58:
6 "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?
7 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? (NIV)
Look at the examples of things to fast for, according to God. The nation of Israel In Isaiah's day was doing all sorts of fasting for all of the wrong reasons. They were fasting mostly to mourn and "commemorate" all of the bad tidings that happened around the time when they were taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar (See Zech 8:19, 2 Kings 25). Rather than fasting to simply lament the days gone by, they should have been seeking God for future change, as shown in verses 6 & 7 above.
Have you ever fasted for change? I have on a couple of different occasions, both for a change in attitude and for direction. It does make a difference. But remember, that fasting is not merely just doing without food or a favorite hobby, etc. It is doing without the "thing" and replacing it with extended times of prayer and reading of God's word for direction. Without that, a food fast is nothing more than a painful diet!
The benefits of a fast can definitely change an outlook on life. Look at what God says about the rewards of a fast with the right heart behind it, continuing in Isaiah 58:
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] 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.
I want my "light" to break forth like the dawn, I want "healing" and I want God to answer my cries for help. These things are the rewards of seeking God with a pure heart and cannot be accomplished by fasting and praying with the wrong motives. These rewards come because of our hearts changing inside us and they cannot be faked. We can't fake out God and if we are true to ourselves, we should be able to fake ourselves out either. Are you ready to seek God with all of your heart?
Lord, please help me, help us, to search for Your wisdom and Your ways with pure hearts. We don't want to be Christians who live our lives for outward appearances. Change us from the inside out and make us into the men and women You want us to be. Amen.