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Last week we talked about how we need God’s Presence to go with us this year so we can do what He wants us to do in this community. As we begin 2007 we are beginning to Seek God’s Presence for our church and for our lives. This week we are going to talk about Seeking God’s Presence through Prayer and Fasting. Now I understand that this is not a popular subject and one that there is a lot of misunderstanding about. Please do not tune me out on this subject. I am teaching what the Bible says about Prayer and Fasting but not demanding anyone to have to participate. So let’s find out more from the Bible about the truth of what prayer and fasting consists of and what it is not.
First, let me say that fasting is a huge subject in the Bible, so we will only scratch the surface today concerning it. Let’s look at a passage that tells us what Jesus had to say about fasting and prayer.
¨ Luke 5:33-35 (NIV) 33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” 34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while He is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
The Pharisees were challenging Jesus about why His disciples didn’t fast like they did or like John the Baptist’s disciples did. His answer was that while He (the bridegroom) was there they didn’t need to fast but to rejoice. But one day He would be gone and then His disciples would fast. We are living in the time that Jesus spoke about so there is scriptural support for us to fast today.
So what is fasting? Fasting by its pure definition according to W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary is:
Fasting—To abstain (to eat; fast) from food for a period of time is a discipline practiced by believers, not as an end in itself (severity), but as a sign of repentance or of seeking God.[i]
So fasting is a scriptural way of seeking God’s Presence. But in this definition there is a broad range of application. There are 7 different types of fasts in the scriptures:
1. Normal fast—abstaining from all food, but not from water
¨ Matt 4:2 (NIV) After fasting forty days and forty nights, He (Jesus) was hungry.
It does not say anything about Jesus being thirsty only hungry. According to science we know that the body can normally function 3 days without water, so He must have had something to drink during that 40 days. This is the most common type of fast.
2. Partial fast—limiting the diet but not totally abstaining from food.
¨ Dan 1:12-17 (NIV) 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
¨ Dan 10:3 (NIV) I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
Daniel obviously was a man who believed in fasting. In fact he believed in it so much that he was willing to challenge the king of Babylon and the king of Persia!
3. Absolute fast—avoiding all food and water for a short period of time.
¨ Ezra 10:6 (NIV) Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.
¨ Esther 4:16 (NIV) “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
¨ Acts 9:9 (NIV) For three days he (Paul) was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Notice in each of these scriptures the fast was only for a short period of time (i.e. 3 days). Never assume an absolute fast for a long period of time, unless God specifically tells you to. Then it becomes the next kind of fast.
4. Supernatural fast—God suspends the bodily functions (in this case for 40 days)—this is not normal!
¨ Deut 9:9 (NIV) When I (Moses) went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water.
5. Private fast—fasting in a way that others don’t know about it.
¨ Matt 6:16-18 (NIV) 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
6. Congregational fast—a call to a sacred assembly to meet with God
¨ Joel 2:12-17 (NIV) 12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. 14 Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. 17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ”
¨ Acts 13:2-3 (NIV 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Notice that the church in Antioch worshipped and fasted. This is during New Testament times after Jesus has been resurrected. This led to the direction of the Holy Spirit calling Saul and Barnabus to be apostles.
7. National fast—a nation seeking God in a time of crisis
¨ 2 Chron 20:3-4 (NIV) 3 Alarmed (because 2 nations were attacking him), Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek Him.
Another example of a national fast is when Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-9) and the king declared a fast so that they could see if God would spare them from the destruction that He had told them through Jonah was coming because of their wickedness.
From these verses it is clear that fasting was a part of the lives of the people of the Bible. The only question that can be asked is when not if they fasted. The early church and other famous church leaders like John Wesley practiced fasting as a regular lifestyle. Yet today, fasting is hardly thought about, let alone preached or practiced by the church as a whole. In that we have lost this spiritual discipline we have also lost a great source of power in our lives and a valuable weapon to fight the flesh and the enemy.
“In giving us the privilege of fasting as well as praying, God has added a powerful weapon to our spiritual armory. In her folly and ignorance the Church has largely looked upon it as obsolete. She has thrown it down some dark corner to rust, and there it has lain forgotten for centuries. An hour of impending crisis for the Church and the world demands its recovery.”[ii]
There are also some precautions that I must make in regards to fasting. If you have medical problems that require you to eat a certain diet, then please do so. Do not fast without a doctor’s supervision if you have medical problems that could cause serious damage to your body if you do not eat. Drink water or some fruit juice while you are fasting. Also do not gorge yourself before you start the fast to try to make up for the food that you won’t eat. It does not make you any less hungry and causes other problems that are associated with over eating. No one should fast to harm their body!
Now let’s talk about what fasting is not. For one thing fasting is not a weight loss program. You can lose weight by fasting, but that is not the kind of fasting we are talking about in the scriptures. Secondly, fasting is not a way to twist God’s arm to do what we want Him to do. Nor is fasting a way to score “brownie points” with God by proving how religious we are.
So why fast? The reason we fast is to humble ourselves before God so we can better hear His voice. Notice in the verses above that when they fasted, they were worshipping God (Acts 13:2), seeking help from God (2 Chron 20:3-4; Joel 2:12-17), or seeking God’s will (Matt 4:2). So the primary purpose of fasting is to seek God’s guidance.
There are many benefits to fasting:
1. We are humbling ourselves.
2. We will see life’s priorities more clearly.
3. We will see balance return to areas of our life where there is imbalance.
4. Our selfish ambition and pride will begin to be washed away (we will appreciate more what we have (e.g. a baked potato will be cause to thank God).
5. We will be more sensitive to God’s Spirit, and the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit will work more effectively in our life.
6. Our hidden areas of weakness or susceptibility will rise to the surface so that God can deal with them.
7. God will make you more unselfish.[iii]
But the key to fasting being effective is combining it with prayer. When this is done the power of prayer is increased because we are more in tune with God’s Spirit. Now hear me good on this, in no way does this imply that by fasting and praying we are making God answer our prayers any more than He already has promised He will do. We are not going on a “spiritual hunger strike” to force God to act. We must be careful not to think that because we fast and pray that we will have instant results. We are fasting and praying to put ourselves in a position to hear God’s voice not to twist His arm. He is a Sovereign God and hears our prayers when we speak them. But He also answers our prayers in His time and in His way. “Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying.”[iv]
When the church needed direction they fasted and prayed.
¨ Acts 14:23 (NIV) Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
¨ Ezra 8:21-23 (NIV) 21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to Him, but His great anger is against all who forsake Him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and He answered our prayer.
So what does this have to do with us? We need God’s Presence in 2007, so we need to fast and pray so we can hear His voice more clearly. I want to start a tradition at New Prairie—that the first full week in January will be designated a week of prayer and fasting so that we can get our directions for the New Year from God.
Therefore the church will be open every night this week Mon-Fri from 4:30 – 6:30 PM and at the normal time on Sat of 4:00 – 5:00 PM (Sun night you are invited to go to Danny Hood’s church Because of Calvary, in front of my house, at 6:00 PM and worship there). I am encouraging you to come after you get off work, each night of the week, but especially on Wed night for a time of corporate prayer. Come and pray for 1 hour (if possible) and seek God’s Presence for your life and for the church. As you spend this time praying you can fast the evening meal as you seek God’s Presence. Also we will not meet for Bible study at my house this week on Wed but will meet here at the church instead.
I am calling a congregational fast and asking each of us to seek God about how to fast and when to fast. I am not asking for a 40 day or 21 day fast, only 1 week. I recommend that you fast one meal a day. If that is not possible, for medical reasons, then fast something like an hour of TV, a particular dessert, or some other favorite food item (remember Daniel ate “no choice food”). How does this relate to those with children? G.G. will be talking to them about fasting TV and/or video games or candy. Then the father or head of the house can spend time with the family in devotions (e.g. reading, and praying). So it is not so important what or when you fast, but that you do fast. Then take that time that you would have used eating or watching TV and pray. If you don’t use the time to pray, then your fasting will not be effective and all you will end up being is hungry.
What do I expect from this week of prayer and fasting? That all of us will become more aware of what God wants to do in our lives and what He wants to do through New Prairie in 2007. If God reveals specific areas in our lives that need to be cleansed or sins that need to be repented for, then we must surrender them to Him and allow Him to cleanse and forgive us. If you get a particular direction for the church, please write it down and share it with me. I believe that together as we seek His Presence to hear His voice we will be moved by His heart to do His will for this community.
[i] Vine, W. (1997, c1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary topic finder .Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[ii] Whitney, Donald S., (1991), Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, p.158 (quoting from Arthur Wallis God’s Chosen Fast)
[iii] Chavda, Mahesh, The Hidden Power of Prayer and Fasting, Shippensburg, PA, Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2002, pp.118-120
[iv] Whitney, Donald S., (1991), Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, pp.157-158.