Works of Piety: Fasting
Isaiah 58:1-12 February 21, 2010
God uses many means for us to have his grace. These include: fasting, prayer, reading the Bible, taking Holy Communion, and attending weekly worship. These are called works of piety. After Easter we will see how God’s grace is worked into our lives by the works of mercy.
Why should we United Methodist Christians fast? How long should we fast? Who should or should not fast? Fasting is meant to be a response of penitence and contrition, seeking God’s favor.
The spiritual reasons for fasting have been pretty much lost on today’s society, particularly in Protestantism. Many United Methodists are surprised to learn that John Wesley fasted two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays, in his younger days. Later he fasted on Fridays. Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., in John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life writes:
Wesley was convinced that fasting, abstaining from food or drink, was a practice firmly grounded in the Bible. People in Old Testament times fasted (Ezra 8:23). So did Jesus and his followers (Matthew 4:2; Acts 13:3), and Wesley saw no reason why modern Christians should not follow the same pattern. His plan of fasting sometimes allowed for limited eating and drinking. He found that fasting advanced holiness.
Being holy, is that a reason to fast? It seems it would be. Isaiah 58 helps us get to how we should fast.
A. Why isn’t fasting working? (v. 1-4)
1. We are rebelling
2. Do we practice righteousness?
3. Whose interest are we serving?
4. Are we still quarreling?
5. God’s grace allows us to see the harsh reality of our lives. Sin is in our lives. At times our attitudes are horrendous. It almost sounds like we, like Israel, can be spoiled brats trying to get the attention of our downtrodden parents! There has to be more to drawing near to God.
B. What has to change to have grace in our lives? (v. 5-12)
1. What kind of fast has the Lord chosen?
2. Are we about justice?
3. Can we feed the hungry?
4. Are we willing to house the homeless poor?
5. Can we give clothes to the naked?
6. Are we willing to take care of our own family?
7. Do we work the grace God has given us?
8. What happens when we pursue righteousness and justice?
9. God’s grace can work through fasting. It is not a diet. Fasting is not a good idea for young adults and youth who are worried about their body image and who are leaning toward purging. That is a sure sign of needing help. If you need to get closer to God, to be more holy, than fasting can be one way that you draw closer to God. That is if you are helping those who need help. Otherwise, we are just spinning our wheels. It is in the basics of our faith that we gain the means to be closer to God, to become holy as he is. During Lent, you can give up chocolate or sweets. That would be categorized as abstaining. But to give up a meal or two and spend the time in prayer and giving those funds to the needy, that is fasting.
Will you fast this Lent? For those of us with health concerns, talk with your doctor before you fast. For those of us who need to get closer to God, to allow his grace to work in our lives, then let us fast. Just don’t let anybody know when you are fasting.