Have you been feeling a need for greater power in your prayers? Have you been sensing that God wants to do great things in your life yet your own prayer-life is just not up to the challenge? Do you feel unable to lay hold of something God wants to give you? I have. I know how important it is to pray through a matter until there is spiritual break through, but knowing what to say, and being able to pray with conviction that change is really taking place, is another matter. Of course Ive had those moments, and so have you. But not enough of them. I still see too many needs going unmet, and the enemys power seems too strong in some situations. So for awhile now, God has been calling me to go deeper in a discipline Id only practiced on occasion. He wants me to learn how to fast. One of you handed me a book on fasting and I read it, and have been experimenting. Today I want to share with you some of the things Ive learned, and invite you to a special season of prayer and fasting. Im no expert in this, but Ive already seen enough to know regular fasting was a missing piece in my prayer life. Ive already seen breakthroughs and feel led to show you what Ive discovered.
Three Christian disciplines (Mt 6:1-18)
I dont know how I missed it. Have you ever driven down a street and noticed a house or business youd never seen before? Obviously it had been there all along, but you never saw it until now. You may have passed it dozens or hundreds of times yet it never caught your eye. Thats how I felt when I read a small book by Jentezen Franklin (Fasting, Charisma House, 2008) and he pointed out the intent of this portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is correcting our attitudes about three basic disciplines which He assumes are part of our lives: giving, praying, and fasting. His point in this passage is faith. Hes challenging us to believe that God is there, even though we cant see Him. So:
1) (vs1-4) When we give we are not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, which means, dont brag about it to others. We can be confident that God sees our gift and will reward us.
2) (vs5-13) When we pray, we are not to try to impress people with our eloquent words, but trust that He who sees in secret will reward you. And were not to use a lot of words when we pray. We should say what we want to say, briefly and to the point, because He already knows what we need before we ask Him.
3) (vs16-18) And when we fast were not to go around looking hungry so people will be impressed by how spiritual we are, but were to trust that God sees our fast and will reward us.
Jesus did not expect His followers to stop fasting anymore than He expected them to stop giving or praying. He simply wanted us to do these things with a right attitude so we will please God and be effective. Yes, He did acknowledge His disciples were not fasting during the years He was still with them (Mt 9:14, 15) but He went on to say they surely would fast in the future after He went to heaven.
Once we open our minds to the idea that fasting is not one of the requirements of the Law that passed away when Jesus came, but is a gift God has given us to help us draw close to Him, then were ready to understand some of the benefits fasting can bring us.
Here are four benefits of fasting that I have discovered:
1) It is loud, wordless prayer
The Bible often talks about calling upon the Lord (Ac 2:21) or crying out to Him (Ps 5:1, 2), yet for years I wondered how to do that. Am I supposed to shout my prayers or weep while Im praying? Ive done both. Sometimes that was helpful, other times not. But recently, when I was fasting, desperately needing God to move in a situation, He explained to me that my fasting was a way of calling or crying out to Him. In other words, it is wordless prayer. By fasting I am saying to God I hunger for you more than food. I choose to humble myself, deny myself, to prepare my spirit to hear from you. I vigilantly wait in faith for you to act, not trying to make you do my will, but desperately pursuing yours!
Ive always loved this promise in Jeremiah, but seldom felt I was able to do my part:
You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer 29:13)
This promise was originally given to Israel assuring them that God would deliver them from exile, but because every promise is ours in Christ Jesus (2Co 1:20), its now true for us as well. When we search for Him with all our heart, we too will find Him. And fasting can help us do that. It helps us humble our pride, quiet our flesh, and clear our minds. It gives us a practical way to wait on God for an extended period of time. It removes the wearisomness of praying long, drawn-out prayers while still maintaining a posture of expectant faith.
2) It prepares us for spiritual warfare (Mt 17:14-21)
You dont fast a demon out of somebody, you fast to prepare yourself to pray with authority. The fasting itself is for us, not the demon. Jesus was mentoring His disciples. He had already given them authority over demonic powers (Mt 10:1, 8), but in this case they had encountered a situation too difficult for them. So He is explaining to them why they failed. He told them they had been spiritually unprepared for the challenge. They hadnt been Spirit-led or empowered at that moment. They had ministered in only their own authority against the demon and had lost. This is a precious insight that Matthew has included, one we shouldnt let pass by unnoticed. If we, too, are His disciples, we need to hear our Masters coaching as much as they did: Dont try to minister without preparing yourself spiritually, first.
3) It opens our spiritual ears to hear Gods guidance (Ac 13:1-3; 14:21-23)
Luke shows us how these leaders in the early church waited for Gods guidance. When sending out missionaries, selecting elders or preparing themselves to lay hands on someone, they fasted as a part of their preparation. Thankfully, Luke mentions this because, I think it was so common, such a normal part of their spiritual lives he might not have mentioned it assuming everyone knew fasting would be a part of this. This means we, too, should learn to fast when making key decisions, selecting leaders or seeking Gods will in a difficult situation. And since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (He 13:8), He will guide us as surely as He guided them.
4) It is a way to find peace of mind
Some of us deal with a lot of anxiety, depression, or mental temptation, and trying to escape it has been exhausting. We can find momentary relief, but the thoughts or heaviness comes back and we return to that same condition. In his book, Jentezen Franklin mentions the sweet place of the fast, by which he means there can come a peace of mind, a quiet, restful feeling while fasting. I have found this to be such a relief I no longer think of fasting as a burden, but as a pleasure. Some days I spontaneously decide to fast because I need Gods comfort
and I consistently find help.
What fasting is, and is not
Fasting is one of those disciplines that can be used wrongly. If we arent careful, we can turn it into a self-righteous work. We can decide were going to fast more than others just to prove were more spiritually hungry than they are. In fact, there has been so much pride associated with fasting it has almost spoiled it for everyone. People are afraid it will turn them into someone strange. Lets remember:
1) Its not a hunger-strike to force God to act.
2) Its not a form of self-inflicted suffering to impress God.
1) A way to humble myself (1Ki 2:27-29). It is essentially a form of mourning. We are so sad over the situation, or our own sin, we have lost our appetite.
2) A way for my spirit to take authority over my flesh, to weaken the control of my appetites and the thoughts generated by my flesh.
3) A wordless prayer which God hears loud and clear. By my actions I am praying without ceasing for a season because having God act in this matter is so important to me.
What do we fast?
Food! There are many levels of fasting (how much, how long), but God will guide each of us on how and when we are to fast. The main point we need to remember is that God sees our heart: If it means something to you it will mean something to God (J. Franklin, Fasting, p.35). Some will fast by restricting the amount they eat, or the kinds of foods. Some will not eat a meal or two, or maybe more. The point is we should start somewhere and let this discipline mature over time.
I would like to invite you to pray and fast for the next two weeks. During this period of time we will be re-launching our Childrens Ministry, and to some degree, our Youth Ministry, and we would like to cover this important moment in earnest Spirit-led prayer. We would like to call upon the Lord as a spiritual family, asking Him to do an even greater work in our community than we have ever seen before, to raise up a new generation of young disciples.
So, youre invited to join us. Would you consider at least one meal or one type of food for as many days as you feel you are able over the course of the next two weeks, asking God to:
Assist parents to disciple their sons and daughters
Grant wisdom and faith to parents and leaders
Give grace to our teachers (whom we will pray for next week)
Open the hearts and minds of children in our church and community
Bring us children and youth who are hungry for God
1) Have you ever fasted? Why? How? Did you receive help from God?
2) Name a situation in your life where you need breakthrough, a powerful answer from God.