A few hours after the first meal you skip, you being to feel a gnawing hunger in the pit of your stomach. A few hours after that, you’ll notice your extremities going cold and a dull pain creep across your skull. The symptoms never go away until you have your next bite of food.
If you’ve ever fasted, you’re probably familiar with physical sensations that come along with foregoing food for a day or more. The Bible teaches us about fasting as a way to focus our prayers and to hear more clearly from God. But it also teaches that fasting from food is incomplete if we don’t also help people in need.
We’ve been studying the things that God says about caring for the poor for a few months here at God, Money & Me, and we’ve learned a lot. Caring for the poor is a mandate from Christ that is meant to exhibit the love of God. Giving is evidence of a living faith. It gets God’s attention, and it causes other people to thank and praise Him.
Today’s teaching about taking care of the poor comes from a passage in the Old Testament that you may not have paid much attention to before. In Isaiah 55, God is addressing the evil and hypocrisy of the people of Israel. They go through the motions of religion by fasting and praying, He says, but they deny the heart of God by abusing and neglecting the poor.
In order to set them straight, God reveals what His true heart is: He wants their fasting to be made complete by caring for the oppressed. Verses 6-7 make this clear:
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 them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
The message here is simple, yet challenging: If we only practice religious habits without practicing love and charity, God isn’t pleased or impressed with our sacrifices.
Fasting is among the most physically challenging practices in Christian life, so much so that many modern Christians have never really tried it. But as difficult and demanding as fasting is, and as much as it might benefit our prayer lives, it doesn’t matter much to God if it isn’t also accompanied by love and generosity.
The message here is not all about rebuke, though. In verses 9-10, God talks about the power of giving and the immense change that we can affect in the world by doing the things that He commands:
“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.”
When we fast, we focus our prayers and benefit our own spiritual lives. But when our fasting is accompanied by justice, love and charity, it benefits the whole world.
What would really happen in this world if the church dedicated itself to caring for the poor in the same way that we’re dedicated to growing in our own spiritual walks?
If we believe what the Bible says, we would see our light rising in the darkness, shining so bright that the depths of night are as bright as high noon.
Photo by Lisa Omarali. Used under Creative Commons License.