Looking up a reference from a book I was reading, I found myself in Isaiah 58. It’s one of a few chapters in Isaiah that I was somewhat familiar with, but I wanted to look at the referred-to verses in context.
The first twelve verses deal with fasting, a subject about which I know very little. I have low blood sugar problems, so any attempt at fasting ends for me before 10 a.m., if not before, with shaky hands, lightheaded brain, and other issues. But in this chapter Israel is wondering why God had not noticed or responded to their fasting. God pointed out their wrong motives and actions. The kind of fast God wanted them to observe looked more like this:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps 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 him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (verses 8-9, ESV).
To be perfectly honest, I’m still working on what verse 8 means. But verse 9 immediately made me think of my mother-in-law’s need of caregiving. I know that’s not specifically what this verse is speaking about, but there are corresponding elements: taking someone into your home, feeding them from your own bread, covering them, not hiding from their need. Verse 10 mentions “pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted.”
True fasting, then, was not so much a ceremonial observance as a giving from one’s own stores to minister to another. Giving til it hurts, so to speak.
When a repentant David went to build an altar to the Lord and someone kindly offered to give him everything he needed to do so, David responded, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
A widow was asked to give her last food to a prophet. The “Good Samaritan” went out of his way and spent his own time and money to minister to a stranger. Paul told the Corinthians he would “very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” Paul also speaks of trials, beating, shipwrecks, various dangers in the course of his ministry, not the least of which was “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” Throughout the Bible we see that ministering to another costs something, culminating in the biggest sacrifice of all when God the Father gave His Son, who willingly laid down His life on the cross.
There are tidy, simple ways to give. A pledge here, a check there, a spaghetti dinner fundraiser. Those aren’t wrong. They’re made possible by hard-earned cash, so they’re costly. Individuals and organizations depend on that kind of support.
But sometimes God wants us to get our hands dirty. Sometimes He wants us in the thick of it.
So then what? We give until, like a leaky balloon, we end up a crumpled, empty mess on the floor?
No. Isaiah 58 goes on to list, among other results:
Then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Verses 10b-11, ESV)
Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This is not a “prosperity gospel” proof text: it follows admonitions about forgiving and not judging and condemning. The point is, you reap what you sow. But you can’t outgive God.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13, ESV). We think of this as dying for someone, and there is certainly no greater love than giving one’s life for another. But I wonder if there is a sense in which that’s also true of laying down one’s life day by day in the service of another. Jesus demonstrated both kinds of love: the daily pouring Himself out for others as well as laying down His life.
The purpose of this post is not about fasting or caregiving. It’s about the truth that loving others and ministering to them doesn’t always come about in the ways we’d most prefer. It’s often messy and costly. But “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8, KJV). God continues to water our garden as we give out of it.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24, ESV