Fasting is a powerful spiritual tool that God has given us to use to make a difference in this dark world. It is so powerful that when it’s used alongside prayer, evil spirits can be sent fleeing (Mark 9:17-29). On the other hand, in order for it to be effective, when we use it we must make sure our motives and actions are in synch with what pleases God.
Judah found this out the hard way. They assumed that the simple religious act itself would make God move on their behalf. But through the prophets Isaiah and Zechariah (who lived decades apart) God educated the Jews on why he did not respond favorably to their fasting.
3 Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. 4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Isaiah 58
They were so distorted in their thinking that they mistakenly thought fasting could be used for their selfish ends, to seek a blessing for their wicked desires and to win prideful fights against people who disagreed with them. Then in Isaiah 58:6-14, God gives details about the type of fast that brings blessings. It has to do with a lifestyle of humble, loving obedience to God that is also put into action with compassion toward one’s fellow man.
Pushing aside attempts to oppress people with evil, unjust judgments against others, and foolish self-exalting or godless talk (Isaiah 58:9) before taking on a fast will encourage God to make a person “like a watered garden” who will be known as a “repairer of the breach” and “restorer of paths to dwell in” (Isaiah 58: 11-12).
Then God reiterates this same message as a second witness in Zechariah 7: 5-14. The Lord counseled Judah to “execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart,” (Zechariah 7: 9-10). But they refused to listen and chose to make judgments based on lies and unfairly oppressed the powerless among them. So their fasting was dismissed as worthless by God. They ignored him, so he ignored them in response.
Thank God that doesn’t have to be our testimony. When we submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, being washed in his blood, and then fast in obedience to how the Holy Spirit leads us, we can expect to see the Almighty’s hand work on our behalf for others we may be fasting for as well as for ourselves to repair seemingly impossible breaches and restore paths we may have never even noticed before. That’s why serving the Lord can be such an awe-inspiring and awesome experience.