I grew up in a Latin household in which food was central to our home. No celebration was ever held without mass quantities of food and competitions with all of the aunts vying to be the best cook. So, as I began my journey into Messianic Judaism, I was surprised there was a holiday (Yom Kippur) without food! It was unthinkable!
In Leviticus 16:29-31 we see the instructions, “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.” The word for humble “anah” in this case means to “humble oneself by fasting” according to Brown Driver-Briggs.
Let’s first define fasting as refraining from food for a spiritual purpose. In Judaism, a fast is usually considered an absolute fast where the person refrains from food and water. There are two other fasts that people talk about: a normal fast (no food but drinks water) and a partial fast (giving up particular foods/drinks for an extended time). For Yom Kippur, it is usually an absolute fast. Now, a person should fast if they are in good physical condition, but they are exempt if they are ill. Children also are exempt from fasting.
It has always been a challenge for me to fast on Yom Kippur. We all find that it’s difficult to not eat for an entire day. Let’s be real, people, no one is excited about the prospect of not eating! I had a breakthrough about fasting a few years ago that I want to tell you about. I had an intense desire to establish a deeper connection to God. I needed to hear him desperately. There were really tremendous, overwhelming situations that I was facing and I could not see any solutions. I resolved to fast one day a week with two other women. Right now, you might be thinking, “Wow, she’s such a spiritual woman.” The truth was that I watched the clock feverishly and counted the hours until it was over! However, something happened during this period of time. As we prayed and fasted, we heard the Lord. As we fasted, we developed a sensitivity to His voice and His leading. He answered us with what was important to Him, which was interesting, because we wanted Him to answer our requests. The Lord gave us specific things to pray about and He gave us His agenda. Many people will tell me, “The only thing that I can think about when I’m fasting is food!” When I started fasting, that’s exactly what was happening to me. Some weeks were easier than others. The challenge is that at some point you have to decide, is your stomach going to be king over your life, or is the Lord going to be king? Are you desperate enough, thirsty enough? Psalm 42:1-2 was how I felt at that time, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…”
There is something extraordinary on Yom Kippur that happens to us as we fast together as the community of Israel. We have a sensitivity to His voice, we can see Him in the details of our lives, and we are alert to what is important to Him. A couple of years ago, we were sitting in the sanctuary between the teaching sessions and prayer that we have going on all day on Yom Kippur. I looked over and saw a woman who was crying. As a Jewish woman, she was fasting for Yom Kippur and had been invited to our services. We had just finished a teaching session on forgiveness and this woman was a mess. I was reluctant to go over, but I felt the Lord wanted me to go and sit by her. As we spoke, my arm went around her, and she wept and told me that her daughter hadn’t spoken to her in many years. This woman was heartbroken as she told me that she had asked her daughter for forgiveness, but her daughter refused to have anything to do with her. She had not seen her grandchildren for many years. I encouraged her to forgive her daughter and then asked her if I could pray for her situation. We prayed together. Several months later, she related to me how her daughter had called her out of the blue, and they had reconciled! This same woman came to services beaming as she introduced me to her grandchildren that were visiting with her. This is what happens when we fast. We are sensitive to the Lord’s leading, we hear His voice, we minister to one another with a greater anointing, and we are open to receive from the Lord.
The fast that the Lord desires is not an ascetic exercise, but, a dynamic connection to our Father in heaven. The connection develops our heart to be one with His. In Isaiah 58, the Lord lays out his whole heart about what is important to Him about fasting. The first twelve verses are a must read, but I want to point out what kind of fast the Lord desires for us to have:
- He wants us to divide our bread with the hungry and take care of the homeless. He wants us not to “hide” ourselves from our own “flesh.” (Isaiah 58:7)
- The Lord desires that we remove the yoke from our midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness. (Isaiah 58:9b)
Then, if we have a fast like that He promises us:
- That our righteousness will go before us. The glory of the Lord will be our rear guard. (Isaiah 58:8)
- When we call out to Him, He will answer and He will say, “Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:9a)
- The Lord will continually guide you, satisfy your desire in scorched places and give you strength to your bones. (Isaiah 58:11)
This year, as we all fast for Yom Kippur, let us choose the fast that the Lord desires for us. Let us not fast out of obligation, but with expectancy that we will connect in a deeper way with our God. Then He will say to us, “Here I Am.”