During the 21 days of fasting at the first part of each new year, it’s become somewhat of a tradition for me to read Isaiah chapter 58, appropriately titled in my NIV translation as “True Fasting.” After reading through it many times while on the yearly first fruits fast, it’s become one of those marked up places where the margins are chalked full of personal revelations as God has so faithfully spoken a new facet of this passage year after year. There is so much in this chapter - it’s grounding on what really matters, convicting as God calls us up higher, and revealing about the heart of the Father toward His people and those around us.
Many of us may approach fasting with some misconceptions when starting out (I know I did), that it’s a mere hunger strike, a religious ritual, or self-denial to twist God’s arm on our behalf. I love Isaiah 58 because it breaks through those misconceptions and reveals to us that God Himself actually has an intention for fasting. A way that He has chosen and is pleasing to Him, rather than our own preconceived notion; and as demonstrated through the people of Israel, it was not the outward self-centered religious act they thought it to be. Don’t get me wrong, God definitely wants us to enter any time of fasting with purpose and expectant faith for the personal fruit that will come as heaven takes notice. Jesus Himself when teaching on fasting said, “and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:18). But recently I felt the Lord softly reminding me about a specific section in Isaiah 58 to call me up higher in being led afresh by His Spirit to those around me.
At this time injustice had run rampant among the children of Israel; God’s people were bent on mistreating and taking advantage of one another, selfishly neglecting the needs of others. As we can see it broke the Father’s heart and the external humbling of themselves became offensive in God’s eyes as they carried on in their rebellion. Verse 6 sets the stage for God to share His heart on the critical internal component of fasting which truly pleases Him…
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:” (Is. 58:6 NIV)
One of my margin notes is how verses 5-8 show us how to reposition our hearts in fasting, and verses 9-14 proceed to then show us how to live that out and the rewards that follow. There is so much personal application to mine from these verses, but I want to bring to focus one key aspect. Notice how God’s call to actions for His people are remarkably others focused…
“to loose the chains…to set / free…to share…to provide…to clothe…do away with the yoke…spend yourselves in behalf…satisfy the needs” (excerpts from Is. 58:6-10 NIV)
Verses 8-9, 11-12, and 14 are rich with incredible promises that the Father wants to lavish on His beloved children, but every one of those promises are conditional on the preceding instructions to first get their priorities straight in no longer mistreating others and to stop ignoring the needs of those around them. Reading God’s heart expressed through this passage may bring healthy conviction and inspire you to act, but our response should be a lifestyle tempered with using wisdom and especially of being led by the Spirit.
One of my favorite scriptures establishes that it’s only natural for us to live this way:
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Rom. 8:14 NIV)
Fully embracing our identity as sons and daughters of God means to also allow His Holy Spirit living within us to lead us to be attentive of and minister to the needs of those around us. Jesus didn’t pray for every infirm or needy person, but was on mission being led by the Spirit to those God led him to. It was in college that I really began to yield myself to allowing God to move through me as a conduit of His love. I had always lived my faith out loud, but hadn’t in a bold way of Spirit-led ministry in public like Jesus modeled. I remember surrendering to the Lord that I would let Him lead me beyond my comfort zone to minister even to strangers, and from that point forward I began feeling the prompting of His Spirit in being led to pray for others on campus. Sure it was uncomfortable at first, but shifting the focus off my own feelings to the person on the receiving end changed everything. Just think how the individual who wouldn’t ordinarily step inside the four walls of a church may have an encounter that might be the only Jesus they would ever be exposed to. I began to pray as the Spirit would highlight certain people, some with obvious physical ailments and others who I simply felt impressed to tell them how much God loves them and has a plan for their lives. It was incredible to watch God move through me as I was learning to discern His leading more clearly, and growing in joyful partnership with the Holy Spirit.
Circling back to that recent soft reminder mentioned earlier, as I reflected on that time in my life in college as He would lead me to step out quite often, I couldn't help but think…was I more sensitive to His prompting and led by His Spirit to those around me more back then than I am now? Maybe you can remember a time in your life when you were ablaze and walked in such partnership with the Holy Spirit, feeling and obeying the subtle promptings in serving and ministering to those around you. Not consciously or intentionally would any of us want to, but with the cares and seasons of life how easy it is to be focused on our own comforts and subtly become unsensitized in being led by His Spirit. In this time of fasting and as we start this new year, may we surrender our lives afresh and yield ourselves once again to being led by His Spirit anew as we carry out the Lord’s continued mission as His hands and feet.
In wanting to be intentional about listening for and obeying His promptings, just last week as I was leaving Hobby Lobby I saw a woman walking in with a cane. Feeling a subtle nudge, I leaned in internally to ask the Holy Spirit (our Counselor) if that was Him (key: ask before you act), and I felt impressed to ask if she needed prayer. I approached her and we ended up praying together right there in one of the aisles for her upcoming meniscus surgery and for reduced pain and healing in the meantime. Just that simple act of obedience “made her day” as she felt seen as the Father’s love was expressed to her in that moment (I was just blessed to witness it!). While the needs of others in today’s society may look a bit different than those in ancient Israel, God’s heart for the needy remains the same, but we now have the wonderful partnership of the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us in ministering to them. May we not default to cruise control in the flesh’s self-focused tendencies like the children of Israel did in Isaiah’s day, but rather may we be the Jesus-inspired Spirit-led children He’s calling us to be as ambassadors of God’s compassionate heart toward humanity.
Meditate on Is. 58 and ask the Holy Spirit to show you personal application from the passage. Take a moment in your prayer time to ask for sensitivity to know when the Lord is prompting you and for the Spirit-led boldness to obey the gentle nudge as He faithfully brings opportunities for testimonies in the making across your path!