Is fasting doing without, or doing?

“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?  7  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?”

Isaiah 58:6-7

When believers fast (and that is not a widespread discipline in our world of self-indulgence rather than self-sacrifice), we normally think of fasting as doing without food for a season. That is a kind of fasting, but it is only one kind.  More generally, fasting is denying ourselves something lawful for the sake of seeking the Lord without distraction.  I say “lawful,” since giving up sin isn’t fasting.  It is not sinning!

But through the prophet Isaiah, God reminds us of the flip side of fasting.  It is not only what we don’t do, but what we do

Not eating, or denying ourselves any lawful thing—as we commit ourselves to seek the Lord more diligently without distraction—is a good start, but God says “make your fast complete not merely by what you don’t do, but by doing good instead.” 

Not eating?  Give the money you would have spent on food to the needy.  In other words, seek the Lord, not merely by not doing something for yourself, but by doing something to serve others.

Read all of Isaiah 58 for more insights into God’s idea of fasting.