“Now, therefore,” says the LORD,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
I will be the first to admit that I don’t always do things that are pleasing to the Lord. I am sure God sometimes looks down at me and shakes His head, saying, “Now, why did you do that?” And at that time, I am saying the same thing to myself. It’s like Paul said in Romans, that my heart and soul want to do one thing, but my body and mind want to do another, and even though I KNOW the right thing, I DO the wrong. It’s in times like those that we need a good swift kick in the pants to get our hearts and minds in gear together. I know from some limited personal experience that fasting works to get me back on God’s page, but I am not a theologian to explain all the reasons for fasting.
Many good books about fasting have been written by very respected pastors. However, what amazes me is that there are so many mentions of fasting in the Bible and yet many Christians don’t even consider fasting as part of their spiritual disciplines. Most believers “get by” with a couple of prayers to bookend their day, perhaps a short daily devotional, and then giving up something trivial for Lent – like chocolate or soda pop. Fasting never enters most people’s minds as something they would or should do. And yet the Bible is full of references and reasons for fasting.
In today’s verses from the book of Joel, the prophet is warning Judah that the day of the Lord’s judgment is coming, and they have one last opportunity to avert the disaster. Joel was writing just a few generations before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. A plague of locusts had come upon Judah and had stripped it bare, but, as Joel notes, that judgment is just a precursor to the greater destruction that the Lord will bring to unrepentant Judah.
But the prophet is not all doom and gloom, and so he also brings hope. That hope is a promise of refreshing and rebuilding a land stripped by the armies of locusts and foreign men. That hope is a revival of faith, and an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all His chosen people. That hope is a day of wonders and new wine, a day of judgment for the nations and glory for the Lord God.
The hope of Israel lay in returning to the Lord. The Lord called for repentance and faith, and then He would “be zealous for His land, and pity His people.” (Joel 2:18) The Lord desired fasting, weeping, and mourning.
In the Old Testament days, fasting was commonly associated with mourning, almost as a natural response to overwhelming grief. But further on in this passage, we see that this is not just a mourning fast, it is a fast of dedication to the Lord. Joel tells the people to “consecrate a fast” among all the people, bringing everyone together as one people, sanctifying themselves for the Lord. (Joel 2:15-17)
With the sorry state of our world, our nation, and our hearts, I believe it is clear that the Lord God wants His people to return to Him today with that same attitude:
• With fasting, to consecrate ourselves to Him. God wants His “royal priesthood” to be holy and pure, unsullied by worldly desires and desiring only the sustenance that He alone provides.
• With weeping, to clear our eyes and wash our souls, to baptize our vision and give us eyes of faith. Jesus wept. How can we not weep, too?
• With mourning, as we realize our unworthiness and our sin, as we repent and cast off the old. As Joel wrote, when we mourn let us rend our hearts rather than our clothes. Our mourning needs to be a heartfelt remorse for what we have brought upon ourselves through our own neglect and rebellion.
There is great hope if we return to the Lord God, “For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.” (Joel 2:13b) God sent His only Son to be our Savior and Lord, and all He asks is our repentance and love. He wants us to allow HIS food to fill our souls, His vision to clear our eyes, and His joy to replace our mourning.
1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 “To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
3 “To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Today, tomorrow, sometime soon, we should all reflect upon our lives and turn to the Lord our God “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” We should look deep within ourselves and purge ourselves of all that is not His, of all our hungers, all our false happiness, all our temporary pleasures. Let us turn to the Lord and consecrate our lives to Him so that He will bless us and keep us.
17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18 “so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Let us rend our hearts by fasting, by weeping, and by mourning, and seek the true joy which only the Lord can give.
Lord God in Heaven, purge me of all that is not of You. Take away all my hunger for money, worldly glory, and men’s respect. The only honor I desire is Yours – Your glory, Your mercy, Your sovereignty in my life. Be glorified in my life as I return to You, fasting, weeping, mourning, and praying. I exalt only Thee, O Lord, only Thee. Amen.