Next Steps: Stepping into Fast

So, I last left you with the question of what it would be like for a faith community to sabbath for a year:

  • What would that look like?
  • What could be revealed during that time?
  • Where could God take a group who was willing to lay it all out on the table, let God gets His mits all over everything, and wait to receive?
  • Do we really believe that all we do as a church is God’s and for God? Or is it for us and of our own power?

During December I read the book of Isaiah. While everyone else seems to be immersed in Luke, I felt called to look at the “primary resources” behind our Advent readings and meditations. Each day I would read a chapter, trying to figure out what life in Israel and the world at that time really looked like, hoping that would give me insight into how Isaiah’s words might have impacted the Israelites in their day-to-day living. Over my bowl of Bob’s Red Mills high fiber hot cereal with almonds, flaxseed, cinnamon, and blueberries, I’d read and ponder and move on with my day.

Until one day: the day I hit Isaiah 58. The title of the section was “True Worship”. I thought, ‘How applicable to my situation where I’m on a task force discerning the next steps for worship in our community!’ And I ate my gruel and moved on with my day.

Until the next day. When I sat down, gruel in front of my, along with my happy light, and I opened up to Isaiah 59. Except that my eyes went back to Isaiah 58. I tried to move them back down the page: they did not want to budge. It was like that moment in Friends when Chandler proposes to Monica the first time, simply because they had had a fight and he didn’t know how to apologize or make up: everyone was in the room and groaned and turned away except for Rachel who sat at the kitchen table with her hands pressed against the side of her face staring and muttering, “Oh, oh, I can’t not look at it!”

I couldn’t not look at it.

Same thing happened the next day. And the next. And then one of those days happened to be a Sunday, and so I read it during most of church, wondering if I was meant to share it in service.

But no: I was meant to share it during that afternoon’s Next Steps meeting, when I sat silently stewing most of the meeting until finally someone asked if I had something to say (sigh: seriously – don’t they know better?) and the floodgates opened. I can’t remember all I babbled about – it was a bit of a roundabout (shocking, I know). But I do know that at some point I read Isaiah 58 to the group. Actually, I sobbed it out, having to pause because I couldn’t read through the tears (I remember shaking my head to try and get the tears out so I could move on because, dang it, Holy Spirit, couldn’t you move me in some other way so that I’m still functional and understandable? And not quite so soggy? :)).

Isaiah 58

Fasting that Pleases God

1 “Cry aloud, spare not;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
3 ‘ Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’

“ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?
6Is 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?
8 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.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.

“ If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 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.
11 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.
12 Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
13 “ If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

What I didn’t know until after I shared is that another church in our area has been praying this scripture over NFC for almost two years, specifically verse 12 (which stood out to me on my initial reading as well as another person in our group).

A member of the task force suggested we sit with this scripture as a group. We did. As we prepare for our upcoming fast, I wonder if others would be willing to think on Isaiah 58 as well, holding up Newberg Friends as well as your own faith gathering if it’s different. What stands out to you? What strikes you? What convinces you? What does true fasting mean to you?

4 thoughts on “Next Steps: Stepping into Fast

  1. Dave Woolsey

    This is good reminder of how the heart of God is to be sought. It’s interesting that Paul’s first missionary journey didn’t come as a result of a good Sunday School class, a church program or a strategic planning session. In Acts 13 we’re told that the Holy Spirit sent them “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting”. Worshiping and fasting? Not doing business as usual?

    Your postings are the type of “food for thought” we need while fasting.

  2. Chris Mohr

    I will try to think on Isaiah 58 and hold up Newberg Friends as well as San Francisco Meeting (my own). I’m a wee bit busy (see my comment on Robin’s blog today) so can’t promise lots of attention.

    Isaiah 58 is probably the chapter in all of scripture that most speaks to my condition.

    Just this past week I quoted it to a (mostly) secular Jewish friend of mine….

  3. Brett

    Great post. I love Isaiah 58. It’s almost haunting the way it words things and brings perspective about God’s heart. Kills me.

  4. Heather Cawte

    Thank you so much for this! v11 has hit me between the eyes like a hammer today. I need to be fasting in my own situation (mostly bedridden) from too much TV and random online stuff, and I’ve blogged about it at my site above. I’ve also added you to my blogroll – I hope you don’t mind.

    I’m sure that you and the whole Meeting will be deeply blessed by this fast, and I will try to remember to hold you all in the Light.

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