Fasting. This is a word that is no longer rare in the English vocabulary. After all, who hasn’t tried fasting for Lent, the Daniel Fast, Intermittent Fasting, or one of six other fasts listed in a recent online article:
- Time-Restricted Fasting
- Overnight Fasting
- Eat Stop Eat
- Whole-Day Fasting
- Alternate-Day Fasting
- Choose-Your-Day Fasting
Wow, that’s a lot of fasting choices. Who knew?
Maybe it’s for this reason that when the month of Ramadan is mentioned, people are not so shocked that observant Muslims will go without food from sunrise to sunset.
Everybody’s fasting these days.
Yet, what is the purpose of our fasting? For the approximately 1.9 billion Muslims, it represents one of the five pillars of Islam and is seen as one of the many works they perform to please God and add to their chances of making it to paradise.
Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians have observed regular times of fasting or abstinence over the millennia to prepare their minds and hearts for specific events on the Christian calendar.
The rest of us? Well, it’s a toss-up. Either we’re fasting to lose weight, as seen in the choices given above or we have a sense of how fasting can be used to help us focus our minds on God, especially in times when major decisions weigh on our minds and hearts.
So, when I meet a Muslim friend during their month of fasting, what can I say to show that I know anything about the subject outside of a diet book? Try this:
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
“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. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.Isaiah 58:3b-9a (NIV)
God said these words through the prophet Isaiah because the people couldn’t figure out why God wasn’t answering their prayers even though they were fasting. It’s obvious from his answer that fasting is not just a matter of the act but of the condition of the heart in doing it.
This will hit home with a lot of Muslims, because they may be fasting but they are not hearing God answer their prayers. Only with a heart change, can fasting draw us near to God. The heart change God requires is what yields the evidence of the true fasting he desires—fasting that serves in humility the least of these.
Jesus too had a word to say about fasting. As God expressed through Isaiah, it’s not a showy, outward fast that shows others how holy or pious you are. Only with the heart change that comes through faith in Christ is a person able to fast privately, leaving the matter entirely between themselves and God. Listen to his words:
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)
As you reflect on your own life of fasting and pray for your Muslims friends who are fasting this month, ask the Lord to reveal to you both the importance and meaning of the fasting that honors and glorifies God.
Grace and Peace