Many churches have a yearly ritual of beginning the new year with a time of fasting and prayer. They choose to seek God for His Will for the year, soliciting His direction. Different fasts are employed, and in such a time of consecration, the question arises is one type of fast better than another? Is there one approach to God that is more effective than another? Will certain types of prayer reach heaven above others? These are legitimate questions because if we are going to fast, if we are going to deny ourselves, certainly we want to do it right to be sure God hears our petitions.
Isaiah 58 is the "go-to" scripture regarding fasting. Even though Isaiah uses the context of people in an agrarian society, the essence of what He is saying translates to any society. In fact, going to Matthew 5 and 6 Jesus expands on the words of the prophet Isaiah.
What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
5 You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?
"No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.Isaiah 58:4-7 (NLT)
38 "You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
43 "You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:38-44 (NLT)
This is but one comparison of the words of Isaiah and that of Jesus. We say that we are followers of Jesus, that we want to live a Christ-like life. That we have the Spirit of the Living Christ abiding in our heart. This is what we say. As we are in this time of prayer and consecration, it is a good time to examine our hearts, to reflect upon our daily behavior, to listen again to our daily conversation, to ask our Lord, is our walk matching our talk. We want the benefits of a consecrated life, are we willing to employ the action that will produce the benefits?
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
14 Then the Lord will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the Lord, have spoken!" Isaiah 58:13b-14 (NLT)
"…but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 5:32b-33 (NLT)