A Fast Pleasing to God
The spiritual disciplines we practice during the Lenten season include prayer, fasting, reading and studying the scriptures, attending worship, and engaging in acts of mercy and justice. All of these things function as what Christians call special means of grace. God can and does impart grace to whomever God pleases by what ever means God chooses. However, God has also ordained certain special means of grace as the ordinary means whereby human beings gain access to God's grace.
One of the means of grace we focus on during the season of Lent is fasting. Essentially fasting means willfully abstaining from food (or some other thing) for a period of time for the purpose of drawing closer to God. Through the act of fasting we humble ourselves by placing our desire for God ahead of our physical desires. What fasting is not is a diet plan to help one lose weight. Neither is fasting a means of controlling or coercing God. The purpose of fasting is to draw our attention to God not God's attention to us.
What is a fast that is pleasing to the Lord? Isaiah 58:1-7 provides an answer to this question. In this passage the people ask why it is that they fast and their prayers go unanswered. Through the prophet God tells them that going through the motions of fasting, abstaining from food and covering oneself with ashes and sack cloth, is not enough. A fast that is pleasing to God involves a change of heart. A fast that is pleasing to God not only places one's physical needs second to one's desire for God but also the needs of others ahead of one's own needs. A fast that is pleasing to God is a fast from injustice. What is a fast that is pleasing to God? God answers:
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?"