An Acceptable Fast

An Acceptable Fast

At the time of this particular entry, Lent is just a few days away. Lent is one of the five major seasons observed historically in many liturgical church traditions (by ‘liturgical,’ I mean more structured, perhaps scripted and antiquated styles of worship or tradition) ; it is preceded by Epiphany, and followed by Easter, Pentecost and Advent (for resources on the church seasons, click here and here).

However, almost regardless of one’s church background – whether ‘churched,’ unchurched or de-churched (in other words, regardless of a person’s experience with church), and if at least somewhat ‘churched,’ whether that experience was liturgical or non-liturgical* (although, I debate whether something can truly be non-liturgical, but that’s for another blog) – there seems to be somewhat of a common familiarity with Lent, at least in many parts of American/Western culture.

What is Lent?

For the sake of both a refresher, and/or for the person unfamiliar with the tradition of Lent, here are a few facts compiled over the years from various sources. Keep in mind there are varying differences of opinion in the origins of Lent, how/why it is observed, and so forth; some slight, some significant. However, most traditions will agree that the observance of Lent is not an obligation on the part of the Christian, as, for starters, it is not implicitly commanded in Scripture, but rather being what it is…a helpful tradition handed down over the centuries in the Church.

  1. Lent is short for Lenten. It derives its name from the Latin quadragesima, meaning “40,” implying ‘to lengthen,’ and from the Old English lencten, meaning ‘spring,’ denoting the season in which is it celebrated.
  2. Some of the oldest observances are believed to date back as early as 200 A.D./C.E., with evidence of more official/normative observation beginning in 325 A.D./C.E.
  3. Lent is a “40-day” season, ushered in by Ash Wednesday* [see below] (February 26, 2020), traditionally marking 46 days until Easter Sunday (April 12, 2020), although in the Roman Catholic tradition, Lent concludes on Maundy Thursday (April 9, 2020); but putting the Catholic calendar aside, it begs the question, why do we call it a 40-day season when it’s actually 46 days? Good question! That is because Sundays are not counted, and meant to be treated as ‘mini-Easter’s’ along with way – days of renewal and celebration in anticipation of Resurrection, or Easter, Sunday – resulting in 40 days. More on the significance of “40” in a moment.
  4. Lent is traditionally treated as a season of intentional personal examination and reflection for Christians, oftentimes demonstrated in various acts of self-denial, fasting and penitence, leading up to Holy Week, and with it, the looming Cross of Good Friday. It is at the Cross where God’s pure, perfect, and One and Only Son and the far reaching effects of human sin come crashing into one another, where Jesus willingly offering Himself as the ultimate sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. Jesus’ death atones for sin once and for all, while making holy and acceptable those who claim God’s offer of forgiveness and justification (right-standing) through faith.

“40”
The significance of “40” is evident throughout the Scriptures, typically a time representing trial, testing and/or preparation – the forty days of rain endured by Noah on the ark during the great flood; Moses’ forty years in the wilderness shepherding flocks in preparation for the Exodus, and Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and preparation for the Promised Land. But it is often Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness, which concluded with Satan’s temptation(s) of Jesus – all prior to the beginning of his public ministry, which would culminate some three years later with the passion events commemorated during Holy Week – that seems to best reflect the overall purpose behind the season. Hence the additional significance behind the 40-day observance of Lent.

Self-Denial & Lent

While this particular overview of Lent might provide some helpful perspective, that is really not the point. The details only provide a bit of context for my assumption of the familiarity of Lent across lines of faith, denomination, culture, background, etc.

Let me explain it this way: How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m giving up ______ for Lent?” While church and faith are often behind the reasons for doing so, I’ve also experienced folks whose vague or shallow understanding of Lent did not seem a deterrent to joining in this cultural challenge of self-denial demonstrated in giving something up, or better put, fasting from something over the 40+ day observance. In other words, Lent can lend itself to being a bit faddish.

The point here is that Lent is generally associated with fastingthe general act of voluntarily abstaining from something for a period of time for some particular benefit – spiritual or physical. In religious terms, fasting is typically associated with (but certainly not limited to) food, and can even go so far as including abstaining from sexual relations for a period of time, as was one of the specific restrictions on the Day of Atonement. Biblically speaking, fasts were both commanded and voluntary; however, regardless of which it was, the purposes these spiritual/Biblical fasts had in common generally had to do with the narrowing of focus and deepening of dependence on God. Other cases would include doing so for either penitence (mourning/repenting) and/or petition (beseeching/pleading with God for something, or interceding).

Of course, beyond the spiritual reasons, there seem to be as many benefits to fasting as there are types of fasting, whether it be ‘absolute,’ ‘partial,’ ‘alternating,’ daylight-only, juice-fasts, media-fasts, and so forth. In other words, regardless of reasons, fasting undoubtedly has its benefits.

With that being said, if you are planning or giving consideration to fasting something for Lent, there are plenty of good reasons for doing so. In fact, in no way to intend to deter anyone here from doing so.

Why Lent?

At the same time, for those of us who identify as followers of Jesus, I believe it is always imperative to consider the why and the motivation behind our fasting and observances, and what it may or may not say about the genuineness of our faith. With Lent specifically in mind here, my hope is that this study might provide some unique perspective into this tradition, including the benefits it offers in our observance of it. But it is my ultimate hope that these insights might encouraging us take a more thoughtful and intentional approach to Lent where by we experience the depth of what this antiquated practice has to offer. As a result, it is my prayer that we might be further edified in our identification with Christ, his suffering (passion) and the victorious life he has secured for us.

Isaiah 58 & Lent

Let me invite you to take a brief journey with me through Isaiah 58 as we consider how God might be drawing us into a deeper, richer experience of Lent, that might also prepare us to experience the full celebration of life and resurrection that Easter holds. But to get there, we need to traverse through death, which is essentially what Lent represents.

In Isaiah 58, we find an interesting exchange between God and his people as dictated by the prophet. It specifically deals with the futility of fasting and religious observances of the people that are far from the purposes God ever had in mind. Sounds kind of harsh, but hang in there with me, because after studying this ancient passage of Scripture recently, I’m convinced it has a lot to say to us today, just as I believe every part of Scripture does. God is helping the people distinguish here between true, beneficial fasting and false, unhelpful, even cheap and blasphemous forms of fasting. Because apparently there is a WRONG way to fast, which we certainly want to avoid,

God begins by commanding Isaiah with the following words:

v.1:
“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,     
to the house of Jacob their sins.

“Cry aloud” is translated from the Hebrew, qara, which describes a loud, throaty call; a vehement and passionate plea. In verse 2, God begins to describe the transgression…

v.2:
Yet they seek me daily     
and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness     
and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments;     
they delight to draw near to God.

That last sentence, by the way, should not be understood literally, but might be better understood as, they do not delight in the comingto’ or the coming ‘of’ God. There is a distinct difference as we’ll see in just a moment.

Now, this is certainly not the first time in Isaiah that we find this type of accusation being levied against the people. In addition to Isaiah 1:15-20, consider Isaiah 29:13:

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth     
and honor me with their lips,     
while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

(If those words happen to sound familiar, see Jesus words recorded in Matthew 15:1-9.)

In other words, people have long had a way of approaching God in a way that reveals the selfish, sinful ambitions of the heart – to get from God instead of getting God, through whom all blessings flow. The picture painted here in the first two verses of Isaiah 58 is of a people who appear to have it together, who appear to be pious, devoted and righteous; the people who represent God, who speak for Him, who are in right-standing with Him and who are standing right with Him, on God’s side. Their outward appearances and rituals seemed to reflect they were in alignment with God; but their inner motives made it clear that their hearts were far from God.

Let all that sink in for a moment.

When God Doesn’t Deliver

Think of a time when you have found yourself asking God desperately for something, a time where you found yourself praying constantly through the course of the day, through what we might call ‘breath prayers,’ pleading before God to hear the cry of your heart by answering affirmatively to the desire of your heart. There have been plenty of those moments for me; too many to count honestly. Perhaps, if you’re like me, its been your experience in those moments to more decisively confess, repent of, and abandon any obvious sin in your life – because we know that those who are pure in heart will see (and hear) God (Matthew 5:8); that a broken and contrite heart God will not despise (Psalm 51:17); and that if we ask for anything in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14) while delighting ourselves in God, He will give us the desire of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).

And while there is absolutely nothing wrong in such an approach to God in the posture of our hearts, if we’re not careful, these acts of contrition can become shallow, especially if/when it feels like God isn’t delivering. In other words: God, I did everything I thought you wanted me to do! What did I do wrong? God, I did my part, but you didn’t do yours! Ever been there? Of course you have, in some way at least.

In it’s purest sense, I believe this potentially describes the motives of the kind of people God is addressing in Isaiah 58. Look at the people’s response in verse 3(a):

v.3a
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?     
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Right here, the motives are exposed. The people are clearly wanting something from God, but when God didn’t deliver how they wanted, when the return didn’t yield what had been invested, the people rant against God, going so far as to accuse God of being indifferent to their requests.

Ever been guilt of that? I sure have.

Or think about it this way: When God doesn’t come through, it is absolutely possible to fall into a way of thinking that convinces us that our ‘religion doesn’t work’ (which, to be clear, is more true than we could know!); that something is broken, that something must either be wrong with us, with God, or with both. Which means we find ourselves questioning God, ourselves or both (which in itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mainly because God invites the questions and the questions can bring us to God in ways we otherwise wouldn’t arrive).

Quid Pro Quo Faith

What we’re describing here could be understood as what we might call a Quid Pro Quo Faith. Quid Pro Quo meaning something given or received for something else. In the context of verse 3a, it could be taken that the people are trying to somehow buy or earn God’s blessing, favor, acceptance, etc. through their righteous, pious acts of fasting and religious observance. Of course, Isaiah will point out later that all of our righteous acts are but filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6, NIV). And the basis of the Gospel is that it is by grace we have been saved and accepted before God, and not by any of our works (Ephesians 2:4-9). Therefore, the righteousness, blessing, acceptance, favor, or anything else from God, cannot be bought nor earned by our good behavior and through our own righteous acts.

And yet, we still try.

Honestly, sometimes the motivation behind our abandonment of sin in moments of distressfully petitioning God for something actually reveals how we are still convinced that there is a measure of righteousness that we feel we can muster up that God might find pleasing enough to grant our requests. That somehow, God can be persuaded and bought through our righteousness. But so often, it’s not our sin that’s keeping God from answering; it’s our sin that’s preventing us from seeing, hearing and having our hearts in alignment with what God is doing, saying and revealing. Please don’t misunderstand me: this in no way should deter us from opportunities to fast before God in a way that involves a more intense repenting of sin. The problem is when we think that by doing so we can somehow buy God off.

Where are you, where am I guilty of Quid Pro Quo Faith, where we’re still trying to somehow buy or earn God’s blessing? And where do we need to repent? Because here’s the truth, which may be a hard truth for some of us…

God cannot be bought!

False Fasting:
i.e: Fasting that…well…just sucks!

I find it interesting and am quite convinced that when it comes to most people’s understanding of fasting, that God finds pleasure in our discomforts, abstinences and the sufferings we invite on ourselves. (No pain, no gain, right?) And yet, the simple truth us that God takes no satisfaction in our discomforts any more than He dislikes our happiness. In other words, if man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then it seems safe to say that God wants, even invites our enjoyment of Him, which includes enjoying (properly) what He has given us. It’s when those things get in the way of God and our enjoyment of Him that it would only seem right that eventually and from time to time that either we or He should take them away in order to recenter on God, where our worship and enjoyment is properly focused on the Creator and NOT the Creation (see Romans 1:25 and 1 Timothy 6:17). Although it isn’t always that simple, is it?.

While there can certainly be many personal reasons for fasting which are perfectly acceptable and right, there are also just as many wrong ways of going about it, specifically when we’re primarily doing so for reasons of what God might give in return. God confronts the people precisely about this in the second half of verse 3 into verse 4:

3b Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,     
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight     
and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day     
will not make your voice to be heard on high.

There is actually a fasting that is done under ‘religious pretense,’ that is actually only for selfish-gain and self-gratification. Where we can be so preoccupied with ourselves and what we want from God that we end up missing the very heart of God in the process.

That’s Messed Up!

Check out just how twisted and messed-up their fasting was. The people were oppressing their workers (3b). In other words, fasting was being done as a ‘class affair,’ where only those who could afford or were in positions to fast at the expense of those to whom they were responsible.

When has your fasting, or some other form of religious sacrifice, created a burden on others? I’m pretty sure this is far from the kind of fasting God wants.

‘Fast’ Fighting

The people were also quarreling and fighting with one another; we even get the picture of someone punching someone else. Think about it this way: Have you ever been ‘hangry?‘ (it’s an actually word, by the way!). I tried a juice fast one time, and about 2 days into it, I was just angry. I needed something to chew on! This might give us a picture of what was going on here. People were probably hangry, and to make matters worse, their willful and uncomfortable abstaining from food was only being met with disappointed that God wasn’t coming through the way they wanted. That’s a formula for misery. James 4:1-3 adds some perspective here as to why the people’s fasting could actually result in fighting:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James 4:1-3

Fasting resulted in fighting (with themselves and each other) because their fasting wasn’t about God; it was about themselves. Sisters and brothers…fasting and fighting simply don’t go together!

God sets the record straight: That kind of fasting isn’t going to get you anywhere (v.4b). Don’t think that kind of fasting is going to get your voice heard on high. God will not be bought, and God will not be used!

True Fasting:

Now that we have a better idea of what fasting isn’t meant to be, the remainder of Isaiah 58 turns our attention to what a true, acceptable fast is to look like. I suppose if we could drive this one simple truth into our hearts, it could make all the difference:

Fasting isn’t about us;
Fasting is about God!
It’s not for us; it’s for God.

Here’s how God begins to lay it out:

v.5:
Is such the fast that I choose,     
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,     
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,     
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Ash Wednesday as ‘a Day Acceptable to the Lord’

Here we return to Lent for a moment.

The season of Lent is inaugurated with a day known as Ash Wednesday. It gets its name from the tradition where a cross is marked on the foreheads of Christians with ashes, in most cases, by a priest. Having something marked on one’s forehead is symbolic of a submission of ownership over the person’s life.  In some traditions, the ashes come from the palm branches used the year before to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; the very first event commemorated during Holy Week.

Ashes are symbolic throughout Scripture, oftentimes accompanying times of mourning and repentance, which seems an appropriately symbolic way to inaugurate the Lenten season: with mourning, in remembrance of the suffering (or passion) of Christ caused by our sin; and in repentance, as we commit to turn from ourselves and the many sinful thoughts/acts in which we can become so easily entangled, fixing/readjusting our eyes on Jesus who is the Author, Perfecter, Giver and Owner of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

By receiving the mark of the Cross on our foreheads, we proclaim to ourselves and the world Jesus’ ownership over our lives. We surrender ourselves afresh to One who purchased us through the shedding of His blood. We receive the symbol of the cross as a reminder of Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. And we do so with the substance of ash, reminding us that we have died with Christ, and that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Once more I am reminded that my life is not found in gaining it for myself, but in losing it for the sake of Christ.

It is this posture of humility before God, exemplified in symbolic practices like those on Ash Wednesday, that serves as such a vivid reminder concerning what acceptable fasting to the Lord is to reflect.

True fasting is not about what is acceptable to me;
true fasting is about that which is acceptable to God.

Formula for an Acceptable Fast

Fasting is meant to humble us before God, but it is also meant to humble us before others. It is meant to center/recenter us in reverence of God, but it is also meant to produce a reverence of/for others. Starting in verse 6 (through 9), God moves into a formula for what an acceptable fast to the Lord specifically looks like…something radically different from the fasting to which many are accustomed.

Beginning with humility, according to the Word of the Lord in Isaiah 58:6-9, there are at least three characteristics of a godly, acceptable fast worthy of considering, especially as we step into this Lenten season.

  1. Fasting that contributes to Social Reform

The fasting that God deems as worthy and acceptable to Him involves outward evidences of an inward righteousness, the overflow of spending time humbly and quiet before the heart of God, where we become an extension of God’s heart to others. God emphasizes His supreme concern for justice and kindness to flow out from humble hearts – an echo of one of the greatest mission statements in all of scripture, Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Isaiah 58:6 includes four specific directives (with one of these repeated in verse 9).

v.6:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:     
to loose the bonds of wickedness,     
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,     
and to break every yoke?

This is the fruit of the fasting God has in mind for us – to loosen bonds, to undo and break heavy yokes forced on people’s shoulders, and to set the oppressed free. This is the work of Gospel-centric social reform, sometimes referred to as ‘social justice.’ And while the work of social justice is part of the imperative fruit of the Gospel, it is always driven by the Gospel and never secondary to it. Unfortunately, this phrase (social justice) has been at the center of debate, ridicule and confusion within the evangelical world; and while I agree there is good reason for it and why we must careful seek to clarify what we do/don’t mean when it comes to social justice within the community of Christ, I would also argue that any work compelled by and centered in the Gospel that serves to somehow bring heaven to earth in the lives of individuals, communities and cultures that allows them to see God more clearly and know His love, work that sets people free from wicked systems of this world, while most importantly, focusing on proclaiming freedom for the captives held in spiritual darkness, all most assuredly makes glad the heart of God.

  1. Fasting that leads to Loving Care

Considering the words of Micah 6:8 mentioned above, God commands His people to do justice; but when it comes to kindness, God commands us to love kindness – and there is a difference. We become the things we love; and so if we love kindness, that means that we should be ever-growing to become some of the kindest people in the world. It is kindness that is one of the striking attributes of the Gospel. Romans 2:4 explains:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2:4

It is God’s kindness – demonstrated in His forbearance and patience with us, not wanting any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9), but who desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4) – not His pending wrath, that is meant to draw us to Him. It is out of such immeasurable grace and kindness that God desires our kindness to be demonstrated to all. Verse 7 sh”Is not this the fast that I choose…”ows us more specifically how.

v.6: (Is not this the fast that I choose…)

v.7:
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry     
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,     
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

To feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the vagrant and the refugees, to clothe the naked, or perhaps more relevantly, to protect and provide for the dignity of those impoverished, beaten down and marginalized, and to see the light of the image of God (the imago Dei) restored in the lives of those in the shadows – these are practical, ‘ready’ acts of kindness before us.

Last year I had the amazing privilege of working with Rowan Helping Minsitries – an organization that provides comprehensive services to those facing poverty and crisis in our community. When discussing how we might increase volunteer participation as a volunteer/donor driven ministry, it was clear to continue to look to the local church, because at the heart of the mission of every Christian church (as well as other forms of faith) is the mandate to serve the poor. Jesus tells us, “…you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me” (Mark 14:7), and adds in Matthew 25:31-45 how God Himself actually identifies with the poor. In other words, baked into our existence as followers of Jesus called to glorify His Name, our mission is to serve the poor, and organizations like Rowan Helping Ministries make engagement with the ‘poor’ through volunteer acts of kindness and loving care ready available.

I’ll take this a step further, and this may ruffle some feathers, but when it comes to serving the poor, we as Christians and the local Church are simply without excuse. For too long I’ve heard churches and leaders say they have to do what’s best for the church. That’s garbage. The church is called to do what’s best for its neighbors and the community, to the glory of God.

Are acts of loving kindness and care the fruit, the result of our fasting before God? If not, I believe we have no choice but to question whether our fast has brought us closer to the heart of God, and instead, satisfied our own heart. This overlaps a bit into the third characteristic of an acceptable fast to God.

  1. Fasting that moves us to Take Responsibility for the needs arounds us

Skipping down to Isaiah 58:9b-10a, we find a repeat of some of the social reforms mentioned in the first characteristics, along with some additional instruction.

v. 9b-10
If you take away the yoke from your midst,     
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry     
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,

Pointing Fingers

In many ancient cultures in the near-east (and even in some cases in modern culture), pointing a finger at someone was a sign of contempt, scorn and cursing. Not only did it imply evil and harm on the other, it was (and is) a rejection of taking responsibility for both the self and the other. This happens all the time in conflict, where healing and reconciliation most often begin when we take personal responsibility for how we’ve wronged or offended another, regardless of who seems to carry the brunt of the blame. It’s always easier to push blame when I feel that either part or none of it is my fault; therefore, why should I be the one to do something? Why is it on me?

But as the people of God, we embrace the brokenness of the world around us as a responsibility that God has invited us into. We care because God cares. In our sin and waywardness, God owed us nothing, and yet took the initiative to restore us to Himself. He has not just stood by and idly watched us destroy ourselves while drifting further away from Him, but has taken on the initiative, the responsibility to redeem His creation, even at the risk of its rejection of Him.

Therefore, it is out of God’s love for the world that we willingly engage ourselves in the Gospel mission of God by taking responsibility for the world around us. Instead of pointing fingers, we open our hands and embrace it with our arms.

If…Then

Here’s what God promises as a result of this type of fasting:

8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
10b then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.

Promises of an Acceptable Fast

God promises at least three things:

  1. His Guidance: He lights our paths as we give light to the world. He turns the light on, changing darkness into day as we are willing to go into dark places with His light.
  1. His Healing: Too often we become convinced that our healing is found in isolation from the world…at least, I know I do. And yet, God, often gently, reminds us that our healing is found in bringing healing to others.
  1. His Protective Escort: I love this one. The end of verse 8 says that the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. The phrase “rear guard” is translated from the Hebrew, ‘acaph, which appears in the King James Version as the word rereward. an obsolete use of the word rearward. ‘Acaph means to gather or to bring up the rear. In other words, moving forward with God’s mission ensures that our ‘back side’ is protected. God has our back when we keep moving with Him, protecting us from tripping over the same things that have tripped us up in the past. I don’t know about you, but it sure is comforting to know that God has my ‘rear,’ most vulnerable sides covered!

God says, if you will fast this way, then you can know that He hears when we call, when we cry, and God says, Here I am! You see, God is ours for the asking. And that’s the point. We get God, because we need God more than God’s stuff!

We get God! God is always ours for the asking.

Even in Scorched Places

Over a year ago, I fellow pastor prayed the words of Isaiah 58:11 over me and Molly. It was in the middle of a season where the world around us felt like scorched earth. And while things would continue to feel that way for some time, as I’ve reflected more on these words recently, I’ve been amazed, to the point of tears, to see how God has proven Himself faithful, good and present, even at a time when it’s been so indescribably difficult to make sense of what’s been going on around and even within us. Isaiah 58:11 says this:

And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

Not only does God promise to guide, heal and protect us as our hearts are moved by and with His heart, God even promises to satisfy our desires IN scorched places. Oh, how we want God to bring us instead to wide-open spaces in order to satisfy our desires there. But God promises to also do so even in scorched places. (I encourage you to read Rehoboth sometime for some further perspective on what I’m talking about.)

God further promises to make our bones strong, referring to our inner stabilities (emotional, mental health perhaps), and to make us springs of water, whose Source, of course, is the Living Water, and whose purpose includes watering/refreshing others. In fact, it is these verses that Jesus is most likely referencing in John 7:38.

Isn’t all this a picture of what we want as a result of any act of sacrifice of self-denial? Again, verses 5-10 show us how to get there.

Gospel Legacy

To wrap up this passage and this study, God provides a glimpse of what greatness looks like at hands of the righteous who have denied themselves while at the same time, experiencing, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good…

v.12:
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

This is the legacy of the people of God. How refreshing to be known as a rebuilder of the wall, a repairer of the breach, a restorer of the streets. This is a picture of making habitable what was once uninhabitable. To be what in the Hebrew is often referred to as ‘Tikkun Olam’ – Repairers of Creation.

At Rest in the Lord (Sabbath)

Isaiah 58 concludes with these words:

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Interestingly, God takes His people back to the observance of Sabbath, a full 24-hour period of rest, reflection and worship. Sabbath was (and is) a ‘fast’ from work and production, and intentional ‘stop-time’ to be reminded that it is God, not us, that makes the world go round; a time to be reminded that it is not TO God we are working, but it is FROM His love we do our work. Instead of working TO rest in God, God invites us to work FROM our rest in Him.

Which leads me to conclude with this. Lent, and any other form of an acceptable fast for God, will not deplete us, though we are empty, but rather, fill us with more of God. Because it is God, not what we can get from God, that our souls need most.

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