Daily Bread #12
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster (Joe 2:12-13 ESV).
If prayer is a way by which a person speaks to God, then prayer while fasting is a person’s way of making that prayer more heartfelt. Though the general understanding of fasting is a period of abstinence, the general idea of fasting is the giving up of material comfort voluntarily and the turning of one’s focus to God in which that individual or group expresses total dependence on God to affect the outcome of an undertaking. The goal also of fasting is to make one’s relationship with God stronger. It begins, however, with a true examination of self; this is called afflicting the soul.”
When God called on Israel to “afflict themselves,” the message was, the scapegoat – the means by which sin was taken from the people – was not enough to appease God’s holy wrath (Lev. 16:29). The afflicting of the soul is that period of time in which each individual deliberately set aside time to make an assessment of himself, repents of any sin in his life, and return to God in faithful fellowship. It is a time for self-examination, and this is done with prayer and fasting (see Isa. 58:3-5; Ps. 35:13). Isaiah teaches us that “afflicting the soul” means nothing if action is not seen by God. One’s prayer will return to him empty of divine blessings. How important a practice was “afflicting the soul” was for the people of God under the Old Testament?
When God called on Israel to engage in this practice, He told them “afflicting the soul” must be a permanent law in Israel (Lev. 16:29). The verse begins with these words, “It shall be a statute forever.” But this practice of fasting was very much international. When a pagan nation failed to live up to the law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:), God sent his prophet to tell that nation of a coming destruction (Jonah 3:1-4).
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed
his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, band sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a
proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his
nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not
feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let
them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the
violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent band turn
from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10 When God saw what they
did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had
said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jon 3:1 ESV)
God told Daniel because Israel had gone back on their word of oath to Him (they broke the covenant between them and God), He has withdrawn from them. When Daniel began to understand the suffering of God’s people based on the writing of the prophet Jeremiah, he turned his attention to God in sackcloth, prayer and fasting – confessing his sins. Here we see one man speaking to God for himself and for his people by acknowledging how they have sinned and have turned away from God. If God were to show compassion and favor, Daniel and all the people must return to God with their whole heart (Dan. 9:2-19).
- Brethren, if there is ever a time for self-examination, it is now (2Cor. 13:5; probably afflicting of the soul).
- Can I say truly that I kept the word of God faithfully?
- God knows He is no more than a convenience for many of us – if His will does not match up with what I want, my desire comes first – and when my desire is fulfilled, then I pretend that God has first place in my life.
- A soul searching is not going be enough to move God. I must decide to turn my heart back to God in faithfulness. Only then, the God of heaven will return to me.
- No one is ready for fasting unless he/she is ready to make a change.
The Beltway Church of Christ is located in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in Prince George’s County, MD near Joint Base Andrews.