“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
What’s easier to live with—a mechanical dog or a real live beagle? Both can walk, bark, wag their tails, do tricks, and shake hands. But a real live beagle has to be fed, taken outside for walks, and cleaned up after. A mechanical dog is way easier, but it’s not a dog.
Just as a mechanical dog isn’t a dog, mechanically going through the motions of fasting isn’t a fast. Fasting should not be routine. Fasting should break up our routines, allowing us to focus on God and hear his heart. If we aren’t fasting from our hearts, we aren’t fasting—we’re just dieting.
In Isaiah 58:4-5, God called out people who weren’t fasting from their hearts. Their fasting was a charade, a religious routine, and an outward display to impress people with how religious they were. Here’s what God told them:
“What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind…Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?”
God saw right through the people in Isaiah’s day and he sees right through us today. Does fasting make us cranky, irritable, and mean? Do we just go through the motions of fasting, adhering to the, “rules,” but not seeking God from the heart? Do we just happen to drop a comment about our fast, hoping everyone will be impressed by how religious we are? If that’s what we call fasting, our fast isn’t one that pleases God.
What does a fast that pleases God look like? God answers that question in Isaiah 58:6-7. God is pleased when our hearts move toward him. He intends our fasting to produce justice, mercy, compassion, and generosity. He wants our hearts to be touched by the needs of the world around us, and for us to take actions to meet those needs.
Fasting can’t be about following rules or impressing people; it must be about pleasing God. And it can’t be mechanical or routine. It has to be from our hearts.
During your fast, passionately open your heart to God. Pour out your worship and pour out your needs in prayer. Immerse yourself in his word. When you do this, God promises: “Yahweh will always guide you where to go and what to do. He will fill you with refreshment even when you are in a dry, difficult place. He will continually restore strength to you, so you will flourish like a well-watered garden and like an ever-flowing trustworthy spring of blessing” (Isaiah 58:11-12).
Guidance, refreshing, restoration, fruitfulness, and blessings are the rewards of fasting from the heart. I’ll take a big helping of all of it. How about you?
Dear God, thank you for giving me life and for all your blessings. I could never repay you for all you have done. Help me seek you with a whole heart. Let my prayer, worship, fasting, and giving be done passionately, from my heart, not routinely or to impress people. Fill me with justice, mercy, compassion, and generosity. In Jesus’s name, amen.