Imagine what would happen if you could spend time alone with God and could ask Him questions about the matters that are troubling you, and that He would actually answer you. Imagine how that would change your life. Its true some people are afraid of God and dont really want to hear from Him, and others suspect they already know His will on a crucial matter and simply dont want to do it. But most of us do! Most of us would be enormously relieved to have His guidance. The challenges and decisions we face seem overwhelming. And the future is so unpredictable. Were left exhausted each time we try to determine our future plan of action. So todays message is for those who would love to spend time in a quality conversation with Jesus, but are having a hard time reaching that place. First well talk very practically about the role fasting can play in our prayer lives. And then Ill describe for you a method Ive learned that helps me break through when Im having a tough time hearing Gods voice.
A. What is fasting? Fasting is a spiritual discipline of going without food (and drink) for a period of time. It is a practice that was done in the Old and New Testaments and was used for different reasons:
1) It expressed grief (1Sa 31:13; 2Sa 1:12; 3:35; Ne 1:4; Est 4:3; Ps 35:13, 14; Da 10:2-3)
2) It expressed sorrow for sin (1Sa 7:6; 2Sa 12:15-23; 1Ki 21:27-29; Ne 9:1-3; Da 9:3-5; Jonah 3:5-10)
3) It was a way people humbled themselves for prayer (Ez 8:21-23; Ps 69:6-11)
4) It was a natural part of an undistracted season of prayer (Ex 34:27, 28; Lk 4:1, 2)
[I would add one more reason which I think is a particularly New Testament practice:]
5) It is a way of quieting the demands of the flesh to allow our spirit to become stronger and more sensitive (Mt 26:41; Ac 13:2, 3; 14:23; Ro 8:5; Gal 5:17)
B. What fasting is not! Its not a hunger strike where you starve yourself until God feels sorry for you and decides to answer your prayers.
C. Are Christians supposed to fast? Yes, but it is something we use wisely, not legalistically. Jesus Himself fasted and stated that His followers would fast after His ascension into heaven (Mt 6:16-18; 9:15). In the Book of Acts we see the early church fasting as a part of drawing into the Spirit to enable them to received guidance (Ac 13:2, 3; 14:23). The model for this was undoubtedly Jesus Himself:
1) Mt 14:23 He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray
2) Lk 5:16 Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray
3) Lk 6:12, 13
He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came
He chose twelve..
4) Lk 9:28 He took Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray
D. Why is fasting valuable? There is a relationship between our body and our spirit. When we are tired, ill, emotional or mentally preoccupied it is hard to be alert spiritually. Sometimes we become so tired or wound up it is nearly impossible. So, if we are serious about communicating with God we must schedule time to give Him undivided attention.
1) Some have the discipline to do this daily
2) It is meant to be done at least once a week on the Sabbath
3) But some lead such busy lives it almost never happens, which leaves us directionless and lonely. These especially need a prayer retreat.
E. Heres how I take a prayer retreat: I want to describe a process I use and offer it as a model. Its certainly not the only way, but we have to start somewhere so if youre feeling dry I would suggest you try my pattern and see if it helps you.
1) Go somewhere away from home (your subconscious mind needs permission to relax)
2) Stay two nights (this provides a complete uninterrupted day)
3) Take along simple food and beverages (peanuts, protein bars, fruit, tea, coffee)
4) Bring a Bible and a good edifying book (reading helps focus the mind)
5) Bring a notebook to write down prayer requests and answers
6) Use no media at all on your fast/prayer day (possible exception: worship music, teaching tape)
7) First evening: rest, read, eat, walk, sleep (calm down, try to get to the place where you feel good physically)
8) First morning: sleep until you wake up, drink something (tea, coffee, water)
9) Keep drinking fluid (not pop) through the day (only as much caffeine as your addiction requires)
10) Find a comfortable chair, particularly with a view
11) If you feel focused start praying, if not start reading
12) Write down the issues that come to mind, even the non-spiritual practical matters (solutions often come flooding in)
13) Use the Lords prayer outline if you wish
14) Pray in the Spirit
15) Tell Him the truth about how you feel
then declare the truth about what the Bible says about what He will do for you (protection, wisdom, healing, provision)
16) If you need help finding passages bring a concordance (there may be one in the back of your Study Bible)
17) Consider praying a passage of scripture (reword it so it comes personally from you)
18) Read a Psalm out loud
19) Work with your attitude until you can honestly tell the Lord youll do anything He wants you to do
20) Dont try to force God to give you an answer on a particular subject (let Him direct your thoughts to any subject He chooses)
21) At some point a prophetic flow of thoughts will come
22) Write down what you believe He has said to you
23) At some point in the afternoon your concentration is likely to tire; finish writing out your thoughts and take a nap, or go for a walk and have dinner
24) Evening: leave the TV and computer off, read something, review your notes
25) Next morning: pack and head home
26) You may realize youve just begun and there is still more to hear. Continue at home, or if necessary schedule another prayer retreat
1) Have you had an experience with fasting? Whether good or bad tell us about it.
2) Have you taken prayer retreats? If so, tell us about it. Did God speak to you? If not, do you know why?
3) As you look through the list of activities I might include in a prayer retreat are there any new thoughts that you would like to try?