Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 They seek me day after day,
desiring knowledge of my ways
like a nation that acted righteously,
that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
wanting to be close to God.
3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see;
why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
and oppress all your workers.
4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
if you want to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I choose,
a day of self-affliction,
of bending one’s head like a reed
and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
A little humor: When one teacher asked a particular struggling student why he hadn’t been turning in his homework, he said, “I gave up doing my homework for lent.”
“How perfect!” said the teacher, “ I gave up trying to pass you for the semester.”
While I believe that God does have a sense of humor, we can see how fasting has not always been treated carefully. Perhaps it is when lent is reduced by being particularly for one’s benefit. How often have you heard a typical discussion on fasting go something like this: “What are you giving up for lent?”
“I don’t know, dessert. I need to lose five pounds.”
Then there is everyone’s favorite answer: “I’m giving up chocolate.”
Isaiah 58 reminds us of the need for humility. The message from the prophet tells us to remain genuine in our worship and to fast in private. We need not even talk to one another about the specifics, but instead talk to God. But the people of Jerusalem, during Isaiah’s time, wanted God to notice. In verse 58:3 they ask of God, “Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” The people are forgetting that they don’t have to fast to get God’s attention. God already sees and knows their hearts, just as God knows ours.
In fact, no one is ever being humble by drawing attention to themselves. Jesus never said, “Did you see all those people I fed?” Or “Did you see, Lazarus, who I brought back from the dead to life?” Instead, Jesus often told those he’d helped to go away and tell no one. Also when it came time for suffering, first and foremost, Jesus remained in prayer to God.
So as we fast this lenten season–no matter what we work to change–may we remember to stay in connection through prayer! Fasting unto itself has no meaning unless we are actively building our relationship with God. We aren’t just suffering in silence, we are replacing our longings with prayer and connection to our Creator God.
By Barbara Carlson
For Pondering & Prayer
Many of us traditionally give something up during lent. Yet, it is not just the spiritual discipline of restraining ourselves that builds discipline, it is instead important to use that moment to connect to God. Therefore, how will you pause this season of lent to grow in connection to Our God?
Prayer: Creator God, you know all of us. You know our hearts and minds; our longings and our truest needs. As we move through this season of lent, help us to grow closer to you in all that we do. Amen.