Fasting is Worship

From January 7-27, Riverwood is doing a “21 Days of Fasting & Prayer” spiritual campaign. We are praying for Riverwood, our nation, our community, and for personal spiritual growth in 2018. To make our weekly blog a part of this spiritual journey, we are looking at Isaiah 58 and the topic of fasting.

If you missed the past three articles in this series, you can catch them here on the blog. Otherwise, let’s conclude this series together as we look one more week at the spiritual discipline of fasting!

by Erin Bird

We made it! (Almost.) This Saturday marks the end of our 21 Days of Fasting & Prayer. I hope it has been a great journey for you. Honestly, I hope a part of it has been hard, but I also hope it has been rewarding as you have drawn closer to God.

(By the way, we are going to give you an opportunity this Sunday to share what you have experienced during these 21 days, sharing both the difficulties and rewards that have come through this spiritual journey. Be thinking about what God might want you to share during our open mic time at Sunday’s Worship Gathering. Your words might encourage someone else and help them worship God AND your words will praise God and acknowledge His work through this fast.)

Today, I want to look at the topic of fasting one last time as we finish up Isaiah 58. Let’s look at the last two verses.

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 58:13-14)

If you remember from my previous ponderings on Isaiah 58, the ancient people of Israel were fasting trying to get God to do certain things for them. But God corrected them, wanting their fast to humble them so they might be a blessing to others.

So as God has Isaiah wrap these thoughts up on fasting, God mentions the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of worship where the people rested from their work. But in the first part of verse 13, God points out that some of them were working on the Sabbath, yet still trying to manipulate God through fasting.

fasting worship2 350x196 - Fasting is Worship

God calls them back to a place of purity and whole devotion to Him – to “turn back their foot” from doing “pleasure” (business/work) on His holy day. Just like fasting was supposed to draw the heart of the people to God, the Sabbath was to do the same.

When we use things like the Sabbath or prayer or fasting to seek the Lord, we are worshipping Him. When we “take delight in the Lord,” (verse 14) it brings delight to Him. Because, as John Piper is famous for saying, “we are most satisfied when God is most glorified in us.”

And so God, through the prophet Isaiah, reminds the ancient Jews (as well as modern Jesus-followers) that spiritual disciplines like fasting or keeping the Sabbath aren’t to be used to get things from God, but rather to draw our hearts toward God in worship.

So as we conclude our 21 days of fasting and seeking the Lord, may we worship and praise Him. And may we continue to worship Him, even after our fasting has come to an end.

Fasting Benefits Others

From January 7-27, Riverwood is doing a “21 Days of Fasting & Prayer” spiritual campaign. We are praying for Riverwood, our nation, our community, and for personal spiritual growth in 2018. To make our blog a part of this spiritual journey, we are looking at Isaiah 58 and the topic of fasting.

If you missed the past two posts in this series, you can catch them right here on our blog. Otherwise, let’s continue to learn together as we seek Jesus through the spiritual discipline of fasting!


by Erin Bird

We just passed the half-way mark in our 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. How’s your fast going? Mine is going well, but I’ll be honest, some days have been hard. In case you don’t know, I am fasting breakfast everyday. Somedays haven’t been a huge issue, but some days my stomach is screaming at me to eat something.

Are you having painful moments like this in your fast? Maybe you are experiencing:

  • hunger pangs like I am,
  • or anger that you can’t enjoy a candy bar,
  • or frustration because you missed the big TV episode everyone is talking about at work,
  • or feeling left out because your peer group keeps mentioning things from Facebook.

When those moments arise, we can be grouchy and not very pleasant to be around. (We might make people around us wish we weren’t fasting.)

But God tells us through Isaiah 58 the opposite should be true. Rather than make people wish we hadn’t engaged in 21 Days of Prayer and fasting, our fasting should actually benefit others. Look at it with me:

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? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

If you remember our previous articles on Isaiah 58, some of the Jewish people were fasting from food in hopes they could get God to do things for them. They wanted God to be pleased with them and work on their behalf, and they thought He’d be deeply impressed if they gave up food.

But God called the people to fast so that THEY would change! If you look at Isaiah 58:6-7 above, you notice…

  • He wanted them to experience hunger so they could identify with the hungry.
  • He wanted them to suffer so they could understand the plight of those in continual suffering.
  • He wanted them to go without to have a soft heart toward those who have not.

fasting benefits others2 350x196 - Fasting Benefits OthersIn other words, God wanted the people humbled so they might be changed in such a way that their life wasn’t about self, it was about Him and blessing those around them.

All of this tells me we should have two responses in our painful moments due to fasting:

1. Emotional Response

First, our own struggle in the midst of our fast should help us understand those who face a similar struggle far more regularly than us. Our hearts should be softened to the plight of the less fortunate – whether it be physical poverty or emotional poverty. Fasting should produce empathy within us.

As the famous quote says: “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Fasting gives you a chance to try on someone else’s “shoes.”

2. Physical Response

Second, the pain we feel in our fasting should lead us to do more than just empathize, it should change how we live toward others.

  • If you are giving up coffee for these 21 Days, could you donate the money you would have spent on your roasted caffeine to an organization like Compassion International?
  • Or if you gave up a meal or an entire day with food, could you give the time you would have spent eating to volunteer at something like the Northeast Iowa Food Bank or the free Waverly Café held at Grace Baptist every Wednesday evening?
  • Or if you gave up social media, could you redeem the time by writing actual letters to people or inviting someone over for dinner?

In Closing

And so…

  • …when you have a hunger pang, allow it to make you more connected with those facing hunger insecurity.
  • …when you can’t have the soda or sugar you want so badly, may it lead you to pray for those who regularly go without.
  • …when you feel left out because everyone is talking about social media, may it lead you to look for others who feel left out and befriend them.

May your fast not only help you be more connected with your loving Heavenly Father, but may it connect you more with those in our world whose biggest need is the gospel.

Fasting Changes You (Not God)

From January 7-27, the Riverwood family is doing a “21 Days of Fasting & Prayer” spiritual campaign. During this time, we are praying for Riverwood, for our nation, for our community, for one another, and for personal spiritual growth in 2018. To make this blog a part of this spiritual journey, we are looking at Isaiah 58 and the topic of fasting.

If you missed last week’s post, you can catch it here.. Otherwise, let’s continue to learn together as we seek Jesus through the spiritual discipline of fasting!


by Erin Bird

I was talking with a friend of mine this week who started a new commission-only job a couple of months ago. Last week was incredibly frustrating for him. Two different people wanted to make a purchase, but said they needed to “sleep on it.”

My friend knew if they waited, they would miss out – and sure enough, both items were sold within the hour to other people. This meant he missed out on the commission, and the individuals missed out on the incredible deal.

As my friend summed up his story, he said, “So basically, I put in 50 hours of work last week, and got nothing to show for it.”

If you were in his shoes, you’d be frustrated, too. None of us enjoys putting hard work into something only to see no return.

The Point of No Return

I think we often approach fasting the same way. We want something from God, and we think if we work hard enough at fasting, He’ll change His mind and give us what we want.

But as we see in Isaiah 58, fasting isn’t about changing God. It’s about God changing us! Look at the first part of verse 3 with me:

“Why have we fasted,
and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you take no knowledge of it?” (Isaiah 58:3a)

fasting changes you2 350x196 - Fasting Changes You (Not God)The people are talking to God in these sentences. They are fasting, but God doesn’t seem to be responding. They’re working hard, but they are seeing no return on God’s part. Why?

Well, God responds…

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:3b-4)

You see, the people were fasting trying to get things from God. They had made fasting about themselves. But God basically responds, “Fasting isn’t to change me, it’s to change you! However, you are acting just as sinful and selfish as ever, even in the midst of your fast!”

But God’s not done. He continues…

“Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?” (Isaiah 58:5)

In other words, God is saying that fasting is supposed to change us. It’s supposed to humble us. It’s supposed to give us a proper perspective. It’s supposed to help us see that we are truly dependent upon Him – for food, for clothing, for work, for relationships… for life!

So as you undergo your fast during these 21 Days…

  • whether it be food,
  • or entertainment,
  • or social media,
  • or your phone,
  • or whatever it might be,

may you not falsely think your fast is to move God to give you something. Rather, may your fast humble you and help you realize that what you get in a fast is God Himself changing your character to be more like Him.

Fasting Leads You to Jesus

From January 7-27, Riverwood will be doing “21 Days of Fasting & Prayer” as a church family. We’ll be praying for Riverwood, for our nation, for our community, for one another, and for personal spiritual growth in 2018. To make our weekly blog post a part of this spiritual campaign, we’ll be looking at Isaiah 58 and the topic of fasting. So let’s learn together as we seek Jesus through the spiritual discipline of fasting!

by Erin Bird

About two and a half years ago, during Lent, I overheard a conversation where a gal was sharing what she had given up as part of Lent. I can’t recall from what she was fasting (I think it might have been chocolate or coffee), but her face and voice revealed she was doing awful, hating every moment of her fast.

And that’s when she said, “I sure hope this makes God happy, because I’m miserable!”

Sometimes, we view fasting like this gal. We see God as some drill sergeant at Basic Training yelling in our face to drop and give him 40 days of no food, and if we complete it, He’ll be happy with us. But if we fail, we run the risk of facing His wrath.

But that’s NOT the reason we are to fast! Fasting isn’t about…

  • miserably giving up something to “make God happy,”
  • trying to get God to do what we want,
  • or trying to prove to others that we are spiritual.

Over the next few weeks here on the blog, as part of our “21 Days of Fasting and Prayer,” we are going to look at some of the benefits of fasting by working through Isaiah 58. And what we are going to see through this Old Testament chapter is that…

  • fasting changes us, not God (Jan 11)
  • fasting should help others (Jan 18)
  • and fasting is an act of worship (Jan 25).

But before we get to any of that, we need to talk about the primary purpose to fasting.

The Ultimate Benefit

fasting leads to Jesus2 350x196 - Fasting Leads You to JesusYears ago, I read a book about fasting called Starving Jesus. One of the authors shared a personal story about the reason he decided to fast from food for the first time in his life. The reason? Lose weight. The fast worked – he lost weight. But after his fast, he realized weight loss was the wrong “benefit.” He discovered, through his sacrifice of food, a greater benefit, a better goal than just shedding a few pounds. He discovered the ultimate benefit is Jesus.

In our three-week series in Isaiah 58, we are going to see some benefits that come as a result of fasting. But each of these benefits ultimately points us to Christ. In other words, in the midst of our fasting, we need to remember the biggest “benefit” you get from fasting is God Himself.

Here’s why this is important: We live in a physical world, with physical eyes. It is incredibly easy to allow our hearts and minds to be filled with the things of this world. Our schedules, our stress, our possessions, our hobbies, our work goals, and more fill our thoughts in our quiet moments. Seeking Jesus while fasting gives us a continual reminder that there is something more valuable than all these things. Fasting can create clarity, clearing up our spiritual vision to see Jesus. And as we see Jesus clearer, we will become more like Him, enabling us to live out the three things we are going to talk about over the coming weeks.

So I invite you to join me on this 21 Days of Fasting and Prayer journey. I encourage you to find at least one thing that God is calling you to give up for 21 days to put your focus on that which is of greater value. Let’s pursue Jesus together!