How do we please God? Do we please God by religious observances or is God more interested in how we treat our fellow human beings? This is not a rhetorical question. God loves each man, woman and child on the earth – and he wants us to do the same.
The Bible makes it very plain that unless our actions match up to our words, we can deny ourselves, beat ourselves, and starve ourselves to no avail. The way we treat our neighbours, our communities and people throughout the world is vitally important. Unless we stand up for justice, treat our workers correctly and feed the hungry we cannot hope to please my creator, God. Unless we show compassion to, and love those around us, who we can see, we cannot claim to love God.
Many years before Jesus came, the prophet Isaiah spoke to the people of Israel. They considered themselves as God’s special people but they couldn’t understand, that while they thought they were doing all the “right” things, God didn’t seem to be hearing them when they cried out him for help.
Fasting was introduced by God through Moses alongside the law. The people were to deny themselves, by not eating for one day or longer. But over time this became a mere religious observance and the people forgot that most of the law was to do with how we treated other people.
The people could not understand it:
“Why have we fasted”, they say, “and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?”
God did respond, but He said:
“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?”
Denying ourselves to serve others
God, speaking through his prophet said that denying ourselves as a religious observance is pointless. But serving others usually means denying ourselves in some way:
- There is an economic cost to setting slaves free.
- There is an emotional cost to standing up against injustice.
- There is a financial cost to feeding the hungry.
- Providing shelter for the homeless may involve denying ourselves our comfort.
Here is a list, taken from Isaiah chapter 58, of the things that are accepted by God.
- Not exploiting our workers.
- Avoiding quarrelling, strife and violence,
- Loosing the chains of injustice (changing the climate of unjust legal systems).
- Untying the cords of the yoke (removing the restrictions which people put upon others).
- Setting the oppressed free,
- Breaking every yoke (removing any other form of oppression).
- Sharing our food with the hungry.
- Providing shelter for the homeless.
- Clothing the naked.
- Not turning away from our own flesh and blood (family, community or the whole of humanity).
- Avoid pointing the finger or malicious talk (gossip).
- Spending ourselves on behalf of the hungry.
- Satisfying the needs of the oppressed,
- Honouring the Lord’s day.
What can we do?
But this is not a list of rules. It just highlights principles, which if obeyed, please God. Why does it please God? Because God loves the whole world and because he chooses to use men and women like us to bless the world.
The above list is quite comprehensive but not complete. We do not have to take all of the list on board. If somebody feels passionately about providing shelter for the homeless, and works hard towards this end, then that person may not feel so passionately about exploitation of workers, for example. But it is good to look at a list like this and mentally tick those which touch us deep down inside and then do what we can do either directly, or by supporting other people or charities.
Finally I would say, “Sing your songs, keep praying, read the Bible and even fast. But remember that God is pleased the most when we deny ourselves to serve our fellow human beings whom God has created.”
- Pure Religion (georgedowdell.org)
- The least of these (georgedowdell.org)
2 thoughts on “God’s chosen fast”
God makes many promises if we keep to what he says, associated with this passage. Hopefully this will be the subject of a further blog.
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