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Am I Spending Myself?
The kind of fasting God has chosen
By Lynne Hybels
Nearly a decade ago a friend challenged me to read Isaiah 58 for 30 days in a row. She knew I had studied to become a social worker and that when I joined my husband in starting a church I dreamed of ministering holistically—addressing spiritual, physical, and social needs. She knew of my ministry involvement in poor communities in Latin America.
She also knew that 30 days of Isaiah 58 would push me even deeper into the battle against poverty and injustice. This well-known passage records God’s response to the Israelites when they complain that despite their dutiful attention to their religion’s rules and rituals, to days of worship and fasting, God did not seem to be responding to them—blessing them—the way they thought he should.
God responded to their whining complaint with words that reverberate through time and space (Isaiah 58:4-7):
On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high .…
Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free .… Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…when you see the naked, to clothe him .…
Elsewhere in the passage God calls us to “spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry.” How can I claim to worship God if I am not giving sacrificially of my time, my energy, my money, and my voice—truly spending myself—on behalf of the hungry?
Shortly after my initial Isaiah 58 challenge, I made my first visit to Africa. In a rural Ugandan village I met eight orphans living with their elderly, frail grandfather. It was late afternoon. The children had not eaten that day and there was no meal awaiting them. The meeting was unexpected, so we had brought no food for the family. In that moment I hated who I was: a privileged American seeing a desperate need and doing nothing to meet it. Of course that wasn’t my intent, but good intentions mean little. To those children, I was just one more person seeing their need and walking away.
I vowed that day I would never again be an abundantly blessed American turning my back. In subsequent trips to Africa, I have partnered relationally and financially with local churches fighting hunger and disease. In many cases it’s the poor caring for the desperately poor, the sick caring for the dying—but these radical followers of Jesus have become my heroes, giants of faith whose example humbles me.
I have also become convinced that being a Christian citizen in America requires that I lift my voice on behalf of the hungry, that I challenge my friends, my church, and my government to wisely and generously respond to the needs of the poor.
Taped to my desk is this quote: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” That quote—along with my Bible opened to Isaiah 58—challenges me every day to join in God’s work on behalf of God’s hungry children.
Lynne Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church, near Chicago, with her husband, Bill. For more on her ministry, particularly in Latin America and Africa, visit www.lynnehybels.com.