Fast and Pray

Fasting Jesus’ Way

Read Matt6:16-18.

Jesus gives us a short and simple teaching on the practice of fasting as part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Notice He does not begin by trying to persuade His listeners that fasting is something they should do. His teaching isn’t an argument in favour of fasting but simply assumes that God’s people will fast as part of their devotion to God. Jesus says ‘When you fast….’ not ‘If you fast!’ My guess is that this is quite shocking to a large number of modern, western Christians. Jesus is teaching that fasting isn’t simply an optional extra for particularly keen church goers, but assumes that is part of the basic spiritual rhythm of life for all His followers.
With that said the rest of Jesus’ brief teaching on fasting concerns the direction in which we are fasting. As with Jesus’ previous teaching on giving (Matt6:1-4) and prayer (Matt6:5-15), fasting is to be directed toward God and not man. Fasting isn’t to be a show of outward spirituality (characterised by sadness and gloom) for everyone to see and marvel at how spiritual we are. Fasting is to be an inward commitment (characterised if anything by joy!) between you and God. I sense Jesus may well be drawing on His own experience of fasting in the wilderness. Fasting in the wilderness is something that leaves a person completely alone to be with God – there are no other people involved just the one fasting and the Lord. In the wilderness Jesus Himself was tempted to do something to ‘show off’ in front of the crowds. The devil tried to get him to perform a mini skydive off the top of the temple onto a cushion of angels, presumably for all the crowds below to see (Matt4:6-7). But Jesus resisted, knowing that His wilderness fast was something done in secret between Him and the Father.

Keep persevering in prayer and fasting. Allow Father God to develop and deepen your relationship with Him through it.

For Group Discussion

You may want to reflect together further on Matt 6.

Take time to share together some of the things God has been speaking to you and doing in you as you have been fasting and praying. This may include words, pictures and scriptures God is saying to you individually and to the church, but it also may include the struggles and discoveries you have made about your flesh and will struggling with God’s.

How is God guiding your prayers as you fast?

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Fasting as Spiritual Struggle

Read Matt4:1-11

In  this passage we read how Jesus overcame the devil in the wilderness during a 40 day fast. The very place where Israel floundered and succumbed to temptation is the very place where Jesus succeeds and overcomes temptation. For Jesus, the victory over the devil, which happened on the cross, began in the wilderness.
Whilst this was Jesus’ quite unique fast (and we are not Jesus!) I think there is something to learn from this passage for our own fasting and prayer. What we see in Matt4 is that fasting is a spiritual struggle. We can easily understand fasting as a physical struggle as our bodies yearn for food – the struggle to overcome the temptation of food and drink is very real and physical. But beyond the more obvious physical struggle there is also a spiritual battle. In fasting our desires wrestle with God’s desires. In fasting we are tested as to whether we will rather follow the devil’s lead or God’s commands. In all of this we see that will prevail if we are empowered and led by the Holy Spirit just as Jesus was (Matt4:1).
In Eph6, Paul tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but a spiritual battle. Too often the church tries to fight things in the physical and not approach things the way Jesus did, which was spiritual first. Before the physical act of going to the cross, Jesus had won the spiritual battle in fasting and prayer in the wilderness and at Gethsemane. Our fasting and prayer isn’t just an interesting exercises in self denial of the body! It is something that is potentially very powerful if we understand it as something primarily as spiritual struggle. Our prayers become very powerful when we truly come to the point of praying ‘Not my will, nor the devil’s will, but God’s will be done.’

Take some time to reflect on Jesus’ fast in Matt4.
But make sure you also spend some time wrestling in the Holy Spirit. Daring to pray boldly and fervently for God’s will, knowing that the victories ahead of us as a church are won first spiritually in prayer and fasting.

Fasting with Justice

As we fast and pray together as a church, let us ask the Holy Spirit for a deeper understanding of what fasting is about so that we may grow in our discipleship and relationship with Jesus.

Read Isaiah58

Isaiah speaks to a people who thought that if they gave the appearance of seeking God, they would know God’s blessing. It is almost as if they thought fasting was a guarantee to God doing what they asked. But Isaiah reveals that fasting is something that must go more than skin deep and not simply an outward practice. God’s power and blessing comes when people start to do what God has said. Fasting is more to do with us submitting ourselves to God’s will rather than us trying to twist God’s arm into doing ours!

:1 Similar to Joel2:1&15 Isaiah is told to ‘Raise his voice like a trumpet’. The call to Godly fasting is proclaimed loudly, for all to hear. Again we see that this message connected with fasting isn’t for a select few but the whole congregation.

:2-3a Israel gave the outward appearance of a people keen to hear God’s voice and know His direction. They maybe had a surface spirituality that ticked all the right boxes. They effectively went to church on Sundays seemingly wanting to see God move in power. But they were asking the question ‘Why does God not hear and answer our prayers?’

:3b-5 God’s reply is that Israel’s fast is superficial, as they continue to do what they please and exploit others (:3b). Their fasting leads to disunity (:4). All this happens whilst they give the appearance of spirituality! (:5)
The church can easily become like this as we happily come to church each Sunday, sing the songs, say the prayers and listen to the sermon, but live as people who serve injustice towards others Monday to Saturday!

:6-7 God outlines the type of fast that He desires. It isn’t so focused on abstaining from food, but more an attitude of ministering justice. This justice is to work to undo injustice, free the oppressed, and provide for the poor and needy.

:8-11 When God’s people engage in the type of fasting that God chooses then God’s glory is seen among His people, then prayers will be answered in power and God’s guidance will be evident. People will see the light of God in us (:8a, 10b – Matt5:15-16), healings will be seen (:8b), fruitfulness will occur (:11b)

:12 The type of fasting God chooses is something that rebuilds the fabric of our community. It lays solid foundations for safety and peace for people. There are great names given to God’s people when they fast the way God chooses.
In an age  when people don’t feel safe in the streets after dark (or sometimes even in their own homes), when it’s thought that children aren’t safe to play outside, when people don’t know or speak to their own neighbours, wouldn’t it be great if The King’s Church was known in Addlestone by the name ‘The Restorer of Streets to Dwell in’?

For reflection and discussion
Are there ways we can identify with the rebellion described in :1-5?

Consider how you might engage in the kind of fast that God chooses? Find a way of deliberately ministering justice in the ways described in :6-7 and 9-10

Consider a fast of abstaining from talking or thinking badly about others, a fast of abstaining from accusing others (as it describes in :9b). And instead give yourself to recklessly serving those that are in need, even if they are considered unworthy of help (:10)

How can we turn these verses into practical application? Think of individuals you can minister justice towards. Make plans to act. Share them and make yourself accountable to your brothers and sisters around you. Eg ‘I am going to share food with …….’ or ‘I’m not going to point the finger and speak maliciously about…….’ etc.

Blow the trumpet, consecrate a fast……

‘Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly,
Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation.’ (Joel 2:15-16)

I said last week I felt that God was calling us, as a church, to a time of prayer and fasting. Well, I believe the time has come!!

The Purpose
As we saw last week, Ezra called the people to humble themselves before God and seek Him, and I think it is right we do the same. So for the next few weeks lets fast and pray and seek the Lord!
Let us seek Him for our church, that we might see His power and might at work in and through us.
Let us pray that miraculous things would happen and that would see the kingdom of God come in its fullness.
Let us pray that God would provide the finance for us to complete the church building project and that everyone would know that He has done it.
Let us pray that people are healed, transformed and renewed by the gospel of Jesus.
Let us pray for the work of the Holy Spirit to be prevalent in our church and local community.
God is with us, so what bold prayers are we going to pray and what outrageous claims are we going to make in the name of the Lord? (For more on this, listen to this weeks sermon here)

The Practicalities
As I believe we should be fasting and praying for a number of weeks I think the most practical thing would be for each of us to fast regularly on one day of the week. Your fast might be one meal, a complete 24 hour fast (or longer its up to you!), a type of food or drink, or maybe a fast from the TV, radio, internet, phone etc, It’s really up to you and how you feel God is leading you. The main point is that we are denying our desires and humbling ourselves to seek God. For those who are in home groups it might be a good idea (if possible) that the group all fasts on the same day so that we aren’t fasting in isolation but as a community and with accountability. You might want to take some time in groups to think this through together and help and encourage each other in this spiritual discipline.

The Focus
Each week I’ll try and put together a short bible study for personal reflection or group discussion, from which prayer and intercession can flow. This week’s focus is the call to fast in the book of Joel.

Read Joel2 (or the whole book if you want to get some perspective!!)

:12 ‘Return to me with all your heart with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’
This is a fast of repentance!

:13 ‘Rend your hearts and not your garments.’
This is an internal spiritual act between you and God not an outward show of false piety! (Matt6:16-18)

:13 ‘Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster.’
Our return to the Lord is possible because of His grace and love towards us.

:15 ‘Blow the trumpet in Zion’
This is a call to action to all God’s people, not just something for the super spiritual few (whoever they are!!)

:15 ‘Call a solemn assembly; gather the people.’
This fast of repentance is something that is done in community, it is something that is to be done in the gathering, and is something itself that gathers people in unity.

:16 ‘Assemble the elders; gather the children, even the nursing children.’
This fast is multi-generational, including even the youngest children. How can we engage our children in what we are doing?

:17 ‘Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord.”
Our repentance, fasting and prayer is priestly in nature. We minister on behalf of the people and community around us as we pray.

:17 ‘Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’
Our prayer is for God to be known amongst His people, that He would be revealed to those around us. For God’s glory we do not want to be known as a people ‘without’ God and where there is no discernible trace of God with us!

:18-32 Following this call to fast and pray, there follows a great picture of God’s answer as He brings restoration to His people, the climax of which is the promise of the Holy Spirit (:28) that is fulfilled in Acts 2.

Our church is not the size it should be, there are many people who have turned away from the Lord, or do not know the Lord who should be joined with us, this is something I’m sure we all recognise, but have we called out to God about it to the point of ‘fasting, weeping and mourning’. Are we grieved by how few people in our local community have been reconciled to God?
Let us take on the call to be a priestly people and intercede on behalf of the community around us.
Let us earnestly seek God in prayer so that the people would say ‘There is their God’, not ‘Where is their God’!!!!