Preparing for our 24-Hour Fast and Prayer
This Thursday, at 7:30 PM, will commence our church-wide call to prayer and fasting. We'll conclude this 24-hour fast at our Good Friday service at 6:30 PM. The purpose of this time is to produce a greater wonder of our Savior who was crucified and raised for our redemption, and for us to ask God to bless our ministry efforts to reach this community.
As 21st century Christians living in America, we typically don't think much about fasting. But in his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Don Whitney rightly reminds us that in the Scripture "Fasting is Expected." He states,
Notice Jesus’ words at the beginning of Matthew 6:16–17—“And when you fast.… But when you fast.…” By giving us instructions on what to do and what not to do when we fast, Jesus assumes that we will fast. Plainer still are His words in Matthew 9:14–15—Jesus said that the time would come when His disciples “will fast,” and that time is now. Until Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, returns, He expects us to fast. Yet He gives us no command regarding how often or how long we should fast. Just like all other Spiritual Disciplines, fasting is not to be a legalistic routine. It is a privilege and an opportunity to seek God’s grace.
Why does God expect us to fast? To answer this question, it helps to understand the purpose of fasting. Christian fasting must always have a purpose. As Whitney says, "Without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience." So what reason does the Scripture give us for fasting? Whitney summarizing ten purposes for fasting. Consider these as you practice the Spiritual Discipline of fasting this Thursday through Friday.
- To strengthen prayer. There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father. The Bible does not teach that fasting is a kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause Him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying.
- To seek God’s guidance. There is biblical precedent for fasting for the purpose of more clearly discerning the will of God. Fasting does not ensure the certainty of receiving clear guidance from God. Rightly practiced, however, it does make us more receptive to the One who loves to guide us.
- To express grief. As mentioned in Judges 20:26, the Israelites wept and fasted to express grief for the forty thousand brothers they had lost in battle. Grief caused by events other than a death can also be expressed through fasting. Christians have fasted because of grief for their sins and as a means of expressing grief for sins of others.
- To seek deliverance or protection. One of the most common fasts in biblical times was a fast to seek salvation from enemies or circumstances. Fasting, rather than fleshly efforts, should be one of our first defenses against persecution because of our faith.
- To express repentance and the return to God. Fasting for this purpose is similar to fasting for the purpose of expressing grief for sin. But as repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of action, fasting can represent more than just grief over sin. It can signal a commitment to obedience and a new direction.
- To humble oneself before God. Fasting, when practiced with the right motives, is a physical expression of humility before God, just as kneeling or prostrating yourself in prayer can reflect humility before Him.
- To express concern for the work of God. Just as a parent might fast and pray out of concern for the work of God in the life of a child, so Christians may fast and pray because they feel a burden for the work of God in a broader scope. A Christian might feel compelled to fast and pray for the work of God in a place that has experienced tragedy, disappointment, or apparent defeat.
- To minister to the needs of others. Those who think the Spiritual Disciplines foster tendencies of introspection or independence should consider Isaiah 58:6–7. In the most extensive passage in Scripture dealing exclusively with fasting, God emphasizes fasting for the purpose of meeting the needs of others.
- To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God. Ask Christians to name a fast by a biblical character and most will probably think first of the supernatural fast of Jesus prior to His temptation in Matthew 4:1–11. There are times we struggle with temptation, or we anticipate grappling with it, when we need extra spiritual strength to overcome it. Fasting for the purpose of overcoming the temptation and of renewing our dedication to God is a Christlike response.
- To express love and worship to God. Fasting can be an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in life from God. That’s the case when disciplining yourself to fast means that you love God more than food, that seeking Him is more important to you than eating. This honors God and is a means of worshiping Him as God.