Dear Fellow-Christian:

The people ask, "Why should we fast if the Lord never notices? Why should we go without food if He pays no attention?" The Lord says to them, "The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers.

Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make Me listen to your prayers?

When you fast, you make yourself suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that?

"The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.

Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives.

"Then My favor will shine on you like the morning sun, and your wounds will be quickly healed. I will always be with you to save you; my presence will protect you on every side. When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to Me, I will respond." (Isaiah 58:3-9, Good News Bible)

The Lord is not impressed with our rituals of worship. Rituals will never substitute for the true expression of Christianity in action. God is love. That is a constant with Him, and it should be a constant with us if He dwells within us.

In Hebrews 13, we are told that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. What about the Jesus Christ who takes residence in our hearts? Does He have the freedom to express the constancy of His character? Is He free to love others through us? Hebrews 13 also confirms Isaiah 58. We are told to share because that pleases God.

From God's perspective, true fasting has nothing to do with food. Abstaining from food may be a by-product of fasting, but it is not the vehicle that gets God's attention.

The initial act of any fast is to focus upon Jesus Christ. This requires us to fast from every diversion. We are bombarded with diversions, and each diversion contributes to our inconsistency. When our attention is drawn to the diversions, we are distracted from the consistent One within us...Jesus Christ.

The nature of Christ is to remove chains of oppression. Do we oppress anyone with chains of unforgiveness? If so, that is inconsistent with Christ within us. Do we treat anyone differently from the way we expect to be treated? If so, Christ would have us remove that yoke of injustice.

It is the nature of Christ to share. Do we confine ourselves to "exchanging" gifts, or do we also give to those not in a position to give to us? What about our relationship with our relatives?

We can't function properly in these areas until we fast from everything that stands between us and Jesus. 1 Corinthians 13 makes it clear that religious activity is empty unless it is fed by the taproot of God's love.

Are we givers, or takers? Are we focused upon ourselves, our problems, our needs, our circumstances, or are we sensitive to the needs of others? Do we allow the Christ within us to minister His love, acceptance and forgiveness?

Many of us may feel we have so little that the only sensible thing to do is to hang onto what we have. That is logical reasoning, but God can't give us anything through a clenched fist. We must offer Him an open palm, so He can take from us what He wants, and give to us what He wants us to have.

We are to have the same faith and trust as the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16), and the widow of the son of a prophet (2 Kings 4:1-7). When they opened their palms to share as God directed, He blessed them out of His abundance. They would have missed His blessing if they had kept their fists clenched on what little they had.

It is not our nature to forgive and to share and to love unconditionally. But that is the nature of Christ within us. To allow Him to develop that nature in us, we must fast from ourselves, from our fears, our insecurities, our feelings of inadequacy. This is not a ten day exercise, it is lifetime dedication.

Concentration is required for us to flow with God's message about fasting. If we focus upon Him, we give Him an opportunity to develop His purpose in our lives. Sharing with others may be part of that development. If we step out in faith and adopt the same attitude as the widows mentioned above, we may receive a blessed "Well done!" from our Lord.

In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus shows us that sharing with others is the same as sharing with Him. "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."

Jesus is King!

P.S. What are you doing of eternal value?

Question for today: In what way do I fast?