A Guide For Praying and Fasting
In the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples both how to pray and how to fast (6:5–18). In fact, Jesus assumes both disciplines will be practiced in the lives of his disciples when he says, “When you pray” (6:5, 7) and “When you fast” (6:16, 17). Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “If you pray” or “If you fast.” However, for many Christians, prayer—and certainly fasting—is not a regular part of their walk with Christ. This absence of spiritual devotion is—at best—due to our own ignorance: we simply don’t know how to pray, and we don’t know why we should fast.
So, let me first address the issue of fasting. Fasting has nothing to do with trying to atone for our own sins or practicing a form of penance to gain favor with God; rather, fasting is simply a practice which forces us to experience our desperate need for Christ’s sustaining grace in our lives. It makes us dependent and cry out to Christ for strength in our time of need (i.e. hunger). Frankly, for most of us, we rarely go without food or any other necessity. As a result, we often take for granted God’s provision, and live not by faith, but by our own strength. Yet, Christ calls us to utter dependence upon him, and fasting is one way whereby we tangibly learn “not to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
For this reason, fasting is closely linked with prayer. Prayer is calling out to God to sustain us, keep us, provide for us, and guide us. However, our prayers are often shallow, merely addressing our superficial needs instead of praying according to God’s will. Furthermore, our lack of ability or desire to pray speaks of our lack of communion with Christ through his word. Therefore, if we want to be a praying people we must learn to pray as our Lord has taught us (Matt 6:9–13). While the Lord’s Prayer is not exhaustive in content, it does provide us with a thorough guide to shape both the priority and content of our prayers.
Therefore, as we approach our 24-hrs of prayer and fasting, I want to encourage you to let the Lord’s Prayer serve as your model. Work through it as you lead yourself, your family, or fellow believers in prayer. Let each of the five stanzas serve as launching points to direct your prayers. In doing so, you may be surprised how much you can actually pray. For instance, if you were to take six minutes per stanza, you’d pray for 30 mins! To this end, I’ve presented a way for us to pray through each stanza of the Lord’s Prayer and prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.
Stanza 1: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9, ESV)
- Humbly come before God recognizing his holiness, might, and power.
- Give him praise and honor for who he is and what he has done.
- Acknowledge that apart from Christ you cannot approach God the Father.
- Express your desire for God to receive glory in every facet of your life.
Stanza 2: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, ESV)
- Ask that your life would come under God’s sovereign will and purposes.
- Express your desire for his will to be done, not your own.
- Ask the Father to change any desire in your heart which does not align with his kingdom purposes.
- Acknowledge that only God’s purposes will stand and nothing apart from his good pleasure will ultimately last.
Stanza 3: “Give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11, ESV)
- Give thanks to God for meeting your daily needs.
- Express your utter dependence upon him for every necessity of life.
- Ask God to give you contentment, recognizing that he often exceeds your needs.
- Ask God to sustain you, heal you, and protect you from any physical ailment or danger.
Stanza 4: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12, ESV)
- Confess known sin to Christ and ask him to forgive you.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart for unknown sin.
- Ask that you would gain a greater understanding of God’s mercy in Christ so that you will extend such mercy to those who sin against you.
- Intercede for those who are outside of Christ and remain spiritually dead in their sins.
- Ask that they would come to know the good news of God’s grace in Christ through you.
Stanza 5: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13, ESV)
- Confess to the Father where you are weak, asking him to give you the strength to endure temptation.
- Thank God for Christ who defeated the evil one on the cross.
- Thank Christ for how he has continued to deliver you from temptation, all sorts of evil, and has granted you victory over past sins.
- Long for the day when Christ will return in glory, finally and forever delivering us from evil.
By working through the Lord’s Prayer, I hope you will find Christ more to be desired than ever before. I hope you will find him more satisfying than anything this world may offer. I pray that you will see him as your only treasure and the pearl of great price; and that you will cherish him as your loving Savior and Lord who has given his life so that you may have life forever more.
I’ll see you this Friday at 6:30 PM as we remember Christ’s atoning death and the forgiveness which he has wrought for us on the cross. Grace and peace!
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