“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.” – Isaiah 58:6 (NLT)
Traditional fasting involves abstaining from eating for a period of time. The idea is that denial of a basic bodily need allows us to draw closer to God and focus more fully on the power that he provides. The Bible says we do not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). But here, in today’s scripture, God says there is another kind of fasting he values – setting people free.
Fasting from food causes us to deny ourselves in a very basic way. But this other kind of fasting – freeing others from oppression – can be much more invasive to our personal liberties. To free someone else means our own freedom may be significantly curtailed. The Christian life calls for us to lay down our lives. Jesus laid down his life for his sheep, saying there was no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 10:15, 15:13). Ultimately, he walked out his words by sacrificing his own life so that we may live eternally.
To free those who are wrongly imprisoned we may have to deny ourselves time and reputation. To lighten the burden of those who work for us may mean we won’t get everything we wanted out of a person and we may lose some income. To let the oppressed go free may mean we will have to take time to argue someone else's position. We may even have to forgive someone who wronged us. This sort of fasting costs us something significant. But that is how God designed the Kingdom. We give to receive. We sow to reap.
What I have found is that no matter how challenging the task of denying oneself in order to free another may be, I feel lighter when the task is complete. I come to realize the things I thought were so important – the ones I thought were “non-negotiable” – really were dead weight all along. This kind of fasting – of denying oneself in order to free another – has an ironic quality. At the end of the day, when the person I’ve helped to free is walking away from their chains, I look down to find my own chains have fallen off, too.