I was reading through Isaiah 58, which is a fairly popular passage on “true fasting” that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately in terms of making a difference in this world and standing up for those who are in need and have no voice. In particular, I think of the 27 million people in slavery today, which is the highest number of slaves there has ever been in all of history. There are men, women, and children who are forced to labor as slaves, often in debt to those keeping them captive, and also brought into sex trafficking against their will with no option of escape. It’s a worthy cause to fight for and I know so many people are striving to make a difference, especially college students who are becoming increasingly more aware of this issue in the world. If you want to know more about what this generation is doing to fight slavery, check out the news clip from CNN I included in this post.
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?
8 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.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“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.
The couple of verses I’ve always read in Isaiah 58 but never really contemplated on are verses 8-10, which say that after we do all of these things, such as “loose the chains of injustice”, “set the oppressed free”, and “not to turn away from your own flesh”, we will then have our light “break forth like the dawn”, our “healing will quickly appear”, his righteousness will go before us, and the glory of the Lord will be our “rear guard”. Also, we are told that after those things are done, “then you will call, and the Lord will answer”.
Wow, look at those awesome things He offers to us! Healing and righteousness, as well as the glory of God that will be our rear guard, which is simply another way of saying He will protect us from attack. When we call out to Him, He will hear us and respond. We are told our light will rise in the darkness, and our “night will become like the noonday”, which sounds like darkness will not touch us; we will instead produce a light for others to see.
I don’t know about you, but I think those things sound like awesome rewards for whatever God asks of us. The thing is, I realize that I’ve been forgetting those blessings and rewards are directly explained as something we receive after we accomplish those tasks and participate in that “true fasting”.
Please hear me out: I am NOT saying that setting captives free and providing for the needy are absolute prerequisites for God’s light or healing in our life. God certainly hears us always and gives us grace and blessings out of love for us.
What I’m asking for you to reflect on is this one question: Why would we expect blessings from God if we fail to do the things He requires of us?
I know what it’s like to wait on healing. I have cried out many times, waiting for rescue and response from the Lord. Yet in my own longing for healing, I have been guilty of neglecting others whose need for healing is certainly greater than my own. I have all-sufficient Jesus, whereas so many people do not.
I also have cried out for freedom in my own life from sin, from hurt, from anger, and many other things, yet when faced with the opportunities to set other people free, I have hesitated and shrunk back. I use the excuse, “God cannot use me to help this person because I am going through the same thing.” That, my friends, is a straight-up lie that the enemy often uses to keep us from accomplishing the mighty things God has planned for us to do through His power. After all, it is believed that this passage on true fasting was said to the Israelites shortly after they returned from exile and were freed from their captivity, yet their mindset and hearts were certainly not completely free. If you read the verses before verse 6 in Isaiah 58, we are told that they are exploiting others, causing quarrels and hurting people out of anger. God still expected the Israelites to set others free and fight on their behalf even though they were living in sin.
The reality I am now faced with is this: while God has healed me, protected me, poured his righteousness over me, and set me free, I had and still have no reason to expect these things from God if I have failed to be obedient to Him, which I certainly have many times. He is gracious to me and forgives me of my wrongdoings, but the fact remains that God does not have to do anything for me.
I am in desperate need of humility if I begin to believe that having my needs met is more important than having other people’s needs met. How could I not strive to serve other people when God offers such amazing things to me that I will surely receive someday in return? And something so awesome is that in serving others, I am also serving Him. Jesus does say to us that “whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
We must stop turning away from others. We must take our eyes off of our own lives and begin being Jesus’ hands and feet to those around us. I firmly believe that when we meet other people’s needs, the Lord rewards us because He sees our hearts and our love for Him. We must obey out of love and expect nothing in return.
But the most beautiful part is that we do receive so much more than we can ever imagine in return.
We receive Him.