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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Prayer and Fasting

This Thursday the elders have asked the church to participate with one another in a time of fasting and prayer. While most of us may pray regularly and understand the blessing of communion with God, fasting may not be a discipline that many of us are as familiar with. Naturally, this may cause some to ask “What is fasting?”, “What is the purpose of fasting?”, or “How is prayer and fasting connected to one another?”.

Fasting is found throughout the bible and has been practiced since nearly the beginning of time. We read about it in the Old Testament and even Jesus is found talking about it in the New Testament. So what is fasting anyway? Biblically speaking, fasting is simply foregoing food and/or drink for a certain amount of time for spiritual purposes.

Scripture teaches there are different kinds of fasts. Some are total fasts where no food and/or water is taken (Duet 9:9; Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Luke 4:2). Others are partial fasts where only certain foods are eaten (Daniel 10:3). It seems that scripture gives some deference in regards to an appropriate fast. This should be especially comforting to our brothers and sisters who have difficult life circumstances such as particular dietary or medical constraints.

What is most intriguing about fasting is not the types of fasting but the reason and result behind this biblical discipline. Fasting is not something we do to solicit a wanted response from God. It is not a “work” done by us to prove to God we sincerely desire a certain thing. Rather, fasting is a gift of grace from God. It is given to us by God that we might benefit from it and he might be glorified through it.

We are utterly dependent on God. He alone is Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all things. In a world marked with autonomy and self-sufficiency fasting checks our pride and reminds of us who God is. Since nothing in us desires to fast and fasting does not come from us fasting produces a much needed dose of humility.

David writes of this connectedness between fasting and humilty, "When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting" (Psalm 69:10). Isaiah agrees that the kind of fasting that God desires will be coupled with humility and frees us (Isaiah 58). David again speaks of humbling himself when he writes "...I humbled my soul with fasting..." (Psalm 35:13 NAS). Clearly in passages such as these, scripture teaches that fasting is a means to humility.

Fasting is an expression of our utter dependence on God for all things. Food may satisfy the belly for a time but God satisfies our souls for all time. Fasting allows us to be reminded of our helplessness before an all-powerful and all-caring God. When crisis or difficulty comes into our lives our bend is to lean onto our own understanding and resources. Fasting re-shapes that bend toward God, helping us to recognize our absolute need for Him.

John Piper put it this way, “When King Solomon saw his people sacrificing their riches to build the temple, in the same way that one might sacrifice food in fasting, he was not puffed up with the self-wrought virtue of his people; he was humbled that God had given such a grace of generosity. He said, “Who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from Thee, and from Thy hand we have given Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14). This is the way we should speak of fasting. There is no ground of boasting here. Who am I that I should be able to fast? Nobody. There is nothing in me that would choose this for your glory apart from your transforming grace. And when Solomon looked to the future and pondered whether this heart of sacrifice would continue, he prayed, “O LORD . . . preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Thy people, and direct their heart to Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:18). And so we should pray about our own fasting and the fasting of the Christian church: O Lord, keep alive the intentions to fast that you have created, and direct the hearts of your people ever to you as the source of all their joy.”1

As we pray and fast this Thursday for wisdom, unity, and growth in Christ-likeness let us come together in a spirit of humility and dependence of the triune God who works all things according to His purpose. Our loving Father hears and answers prayer. He is not persuaded by simple outward deeds but our humble fasting coupled with prayer can be transformative. 2 Chronicles 7:14 reads, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Ezra 8 teaches this truth in this way, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (v.21). Later in the chapter we are told, “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty” (v.23) and “he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (v.31).

May God grant us strength and grace in our prayer and fasting and may we long to see His name glorified above all things.

1 John Piper, A Hunger for God,  pp. 177-178.

Posted by: Rick Jones

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