“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 them,
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."
Sometimes it is just easier to fast. I have fasted only a few times in my life, but can recall each instance in vivid detail. I was hungry. I was easily annoyed. I sinned greatly. It was not an experience that left me feeling holy. On the contrary, it left me feeling very much in need of my Savior!
But that is the point. Fasting is not about being holy, in and of ourselves. It is about facing temptation and the ugliness that is our own sinful heart.
But even so, sometimes fasting is easier.
In Isaiah 58, it is not difficult to see God's frustration with His people. He did not want their empty rituals, their auto-pilot suffering. He wanted true, heartfelt love! And not just love for Him, but actions of love and devotion for others, out of love for Him. The examples in the passage ask, "but how can you say that you love me when you ignore the cries of those around you?"
If we truly love God, we will open our hearts to the people he has created -and with whom he has surrounded us.
I cannot go downtown without being asked by at least one person, if I have change. I must have a sign on my forehead, because I am that person. And when I say no, I am wracked with guilt. I think, "but I am supposed to love poor people! How can I say no?"
But is this what God really desires of me? To give my spare change, and in so doing, shake off any uncomfortable guilt? Does he desire that I then go on my way and leave this behind? Of course not.
The people of Israel did just this! They checked off the rituals -doing exactly what they were 'supposed' to do, and no more. And then they continued on their way, blind to the needs of those around them.
Sharing food with the hungry, providing shelter, and clothing the naked all require two things (well, 3 really): time, and seeing. It takes time to address true need. It takes seeing to even know there is a need! Our eyes must be open (okay, hearts) to see that we are constantly surrounded by individuals who cannot possibly provide what they need. It takes time to give enough to help them make this change.
And the third thing? That is the Holy Spirit. Don't forget the Holy Spirit. Because if we do, and love, and give... but without the Holy Spirit, without the love of God in our hearts and the understanding that we ourselves have received, it is all worthless.
So go out into Northwest Georgia, Southside Chattanooga, the North Shore... wherever you are, and let your light break forth! Pray that God would open your heart and schedule to reach out to those in need. Fear not. The glory of the Lord is your rear guard.