God’s desired OUTCOMES from our FASTING and PRAYER: "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and 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.'" (Isaiah 58:6-9)
The closing chapters of Isaiah (chapters 58–66) introduce us to the Messiah’s program of peace for the world. One crucial element of introducing peace is through our fasting and prayer. In this passage, true fasting is contrasted with the false external show of piety.
Fasting is the discipline of abstaining from food for biblical reasons. It is called “afflicting one’s soul” (v. 3), and is often practiced to demonstrate the sincerity of our prayers. There are several biblical reasons for fasting. We should fast when facing a national crisis (2 Chr. 20:3; Ezra 8:21; Esth. 4:16), for individual needs (Matt. 17:21), during periods of distress (2 Sam. 3:35; Ps. 35:13), when facing spiritual decisions (Matt. 4:2; Acts 13:2), and in anticipation of Christ’s return (Luke 5:35).
God wants fasting that is accompanied by the loosing of the shackles of wickedness, lifting the yoke of oppression, feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the poor, clothing the naked, and helping the needy neighbor. God is more concerned about how we treat and care for our fellowman than about any vain ritualism. Those who thus practice social justice are assured of guidance, healing, and a protective escort. Fasting and other spiritual disciplines are not ends in themselves, but are intended to result in greater godliness in all our relationships. If they do not have that result, it is obvious that God has no interest in them.
When we strive to be a spiritual, we will fight the constant battle of “ritual versus reality”. It is much easier to go through the external activities of religion than it is to love God from our hearts and let that love touch the lives of others. What a difference it makes when we repent and return to the Lord (vv. 8–12). We will have light instead of darkness, healing instead of disease, righteousness instead of defilement, and glory instead of disgrace.
As we fast and pray to God, His love grows in us and flows out to others in acts of piety. This is what God requires as an outcome of our fasting!
"If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail." (Isaiah 58:10-11)