“Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?’” Zechariah 7:5
So here is this specific day in verifiable history that some representatives of Israel from Bethel come to ask the priests a question as the temple is being rebuilt. They want to know, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” They are asking if they should continue to fast religiously as they have been. When someone says, “Do I have to keep doing that?” it tells something about their heart on the matter, doesn’t it?
And the word of the Lord of hosts came to Zechariah, this man who has already been given 8 visions by God in one day. Listen to God’s reply. “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for Me you fasted?” Our motive matters. You know our motives behind why we do what we do. You knew exactly what was going on in their hearts just as You know what is going on in mine.
Your heart, Lord, is filled with zeal and burning desire for Your purpose and Your people who are a part of that purpose. You have continually chosen to reveal Your heart to Your people and here again, through Zechariah, You were choosing to reveal Yourself. From creation, You have responded with zeal for us and You are waiting for us to respond with that same zeal and love back to You where we love You with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. You woo us with Your promises and blessings and presence. You desire to woo us into wholeheartedness because You are wholehearted. When do You step up to us and say, “Do I have to love you? Do I have to lavish Myself on you?” I suppose there was one day in history when You let that thought come into Your mind. “ Lord, take this cup from Me.” But You didn’t continue to entertain that thought. Your answer wasn’t, “Yes, I have to die for you.” Your answer was, “Yes, I want to die for you because this is the purpose and glory of God in Me, to love this much.” God is love, really.
The temple was supposed to be a house of prayer, a place for meeting with God and encountering You. This temple that was being rebuilt had come with its share of discouragement during its rebuilding. Why? Because humans get discouraged. Humans take their eyes off of their greatest Encourager. So You had raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah to inspire them again. But even after that encouragement, they needed to be reminded and repent.
Now most of these fasts had been initiated in response to tragedies that had occurred during the Babylonian captivity. They weren’t God ordained fasts in Scripture. Since a new era was dawning, should they continue those fasts? It’s not a bad question, except that they had been observing the fasts based on ceremonial commitment, and that is never the idea of a fast before the Lord. You, Lord, are looking for hearts that are coming to You in repentance and soul searching. You are looking for souls that aren’t coming to You because they have to, but because they want to be right with You and right with others. You want those to come who are truly weeping because they want a deeper relationship with You and feel they are missing something. You want those to come who are showing how dependent they are on You. If I have to come to You and ask You, “Do I have to fast?” then I am already revealing my heart and my lack of zeal for You.
Fasting is not about duty. Fasting is about relationship. Fasting is not about having my prayers answered until after I’ve sought for my heart to be right. Fasting is about lining up with You and seeking Your will. Fasting is all about You and all about me becoming all about You. Fasting is all about me lining my zeal up with Yours.
The main part of fasting is to be sorry for my sins and to seek Your glory to be released in greater measure. Fasting has to be accompanied by “a genuine desire to know, love, and obey the Lord.” It takes radical dedication to the Lord. It takes Your grace to fast and pray wholeheartedly.
It’s easy to avoid fasting. It’s easy to avoid setting our hearts straight with You. It’s easy to keep on keeping on the way we are. It’s tough stuff that takes commitment to come before You and say, “Lord, what is wrong with me? Show me what is not right in my heart and life and change me. These things are so wrong in my life. I need You so desperately.” It’s easier to feed my own desires. It’s just easier to eat and be happy and go along my “merry” way. But it’s not better.
I’m so glad You didn’t love us the easy way. You sought to love us with all Your strength, all that You are, all that You have. It’s not too little for me to think that, wow, I want to love You back like that! It’s not that I ought to, even though I ought to. A love like that inspires me to love like that. A love like that swells up inside of me not because it’s forced to but because it is realized. It empowers me in Itself.
But the problem wasn’t just with fasting. Even when they feasted, when they ate and drank, it was all for themselves. The whole focus wasn’t on their relationship with the Lord or His purposes and I can fall into that same danger. Fasting is for remembering God and lining myself up with Him. Feasting is for remembering God and being grateful and rejoicing in Him because we’ve lined up with Him. Both are because of a desire and acting upon a deeper relationship with You. We demonstrate that relationship through our obedience, not because of “have to’s” but because of an outpouring of love from our own hearts and lives back to You.
Spending time with You in fasting and seeking Your face leads to a right relationship with You. That right relationship with You leads to seeking justice, mercy and compassion for the lives around us. It leads to loving You, God, and loving people. It leads to obedience because we get it, not because we have to. It leads to despising evil. It leads to caring for and doing something about the widow, the fatherless, the strangers. How can You bless me if I won’t even listen to You and walk in Your ways? Why would I even expect You to? If I want You to bless me, then my only choice is to have a right relationship with You, and to line my thoughts and actions up with You, because You are the blessing and every blessing comes from You and is in You.
Jesus, You set the example of fasting and prayer for us. I mean, You were God so You didn’t have to fast and pray, but You wanted to because it was all about relationship with God. It was all about honesty of Your whole life and person. You did it to show us how we could have a deep relationship with You. Just like with Zechariah, You were showing us the zeal of God for us and how we should be as zealous for Him. In Your heart was a burning desire for Your people and Your purpose. We see that in You.
I need to ask myself if I am like these men of Bethel or the church of Laodicea. Am I hot or cold or just lukewarm as I come to You when I fast and when I pray or in my obedience in life? Do I think I’m rich, and prosperous, and not in need, when really I am wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked? This is what fasting gives me an opportunity to find out, as I take the time and effort to actually fall before You and draw near to You. Is my heart looking to find out these things? Or am I just going through the motions. I’m so glad You love me enough to reprove me and discipline me, so teach me to be zealous and repent. I want to hear Your voice. I want to open the door and let You in where ever I need to in order to set things right in my heart, my mind, and my life. I want to have an intimate relationship with You where we sit at the table together. I have ears, so let me use them to hear, to listen, to be changed, and to obey. You know, I can’t eat at the table with You if I don’t sit down at the table with You first.
This is a bigger thing than ceremonial worship and obedience. This is true worship. It has nothing to do with an outward show unless that comes from a changed heart leading to a changed life. It has everything to do with sincerity and seeking. The poor and contrite tremble at Your words and I want to also. I want to be changed by Your words. I want to be filled with chased and racham, mercy and compassion. I want to show goodness, kindness, and faithfulness after that of Your own heart to others. I want to show the kind of love or pity that a woman does for the child in her womb, just like You do for me. I want to reflect You before others. I want to bear Your image. I want to reflect Your heart to the world. I want to show them how much better the culture of God is then the world’s culture.
Lord, I want to come to You with a repentant heart. I want to learn to seek You like that and Your will in my life. I don’t want You to turn me over to myself. I don’t want to reject Your words. I want to respond to You and experience Your responding to me. So Lord, teach me how to pray and fast and live wholeheartedly. I’m not good at it, but You are, and You are the best Teacher ever.