It’s Day 2 of our two weeks of prayer and fasting in Grace Church. I’m hungry. So I thought I would take a moment to talk about fasting!
It was a great privilege to take two evenings this week to gather our church together and outline what is in store for us over the coming season. If you missed either of the Vision Focus evenings, you can catch up by watching my video messages which are posted in the Connect area of the Grace Church website. On both evenings I was greatly moved by the level of faith, love and unity in the room. Even though there was some sadness in the news, I have never felt more that God is with us and leading us step-by-step into his plans.
It is a general observation of church life that we should talk less and pray more, which is always a challenge on these Vision Focus evenings because there is so much information to convey! To counter that I am calling Grace Church to two weeks of focussed prayer. We have included a prayer diary in the latest GraceLife magazine to help you with that.
I am also suggesting that we each consider fasting over these two weeks. Fasting is a very biblical thing to do. Jesus fasted, and so did his disciples. It is closely linked to your praying, and is between you and God. Fasting in the bible generally means going without food. That might mean skipping some luxury items, missing occasional meals, or going without all food for a period of time.
Have a look in the Bible and you find people fasting for these reasons:
As a Sign of Repentance
People fasted as an indication that something was not right and they knew it. When things go wrong or there is injustice, it is right that we stop and take notice. The Manchester Arena opened again last Saturday, three months after the appalling bomb attack that left 22 people dead. The owners could have simply put some hoardings around the damaged area and reopened a few days after the attack. However, to their credit, out of respect for those who died, they let some time pass before they reopened, even at considerable commercial cost.
In a way, that is a bit like fasting. When we notice that something is wrong, a bad thing has happened, or we are in mourning, rather than carrying on regardless, it can be appropriate to stop eating for a period. 1 Samuel 7:6 says, “When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the LORD.’” Fasting was part of the people’s acknowledgement that they had sinned.
In the same way, we can fast as a way of acknowledging to God that we have not been living as he would want and we are sorry about that. That’s repentance. Also, we can fast as an acknowledgment that all is not well with the society that we live in. People everywhere are unaware of their need of Jesus. That’s not OK. There is widespread poverty and injustice. We must pray for our communities. Fasting is a biblical way of saying, “All is not well with this world.” It needs Jesus.
A Depth to Prayer
King David had sinned against the Lord. As a result of God’s judgement, the son born to him from his adulterous affair was sick and nearing the point of death. This story in 2 Samuel 12 raises many questions for us. One can only imagine the depth of emotion that David must have been feeling. As he prayed for the child he also fasted.
“David answered, ‘While the child was alive I fasted and wept. I thought, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.”’” (2 Samuel 12:22)
It is wrong to think that fasting somehow turns up the volume on our prayers, as if God were a little too deaf to hear them otherwise! However, fasting is indicative of a depth of concern for a situation that we would like to change or an area in which we seek breakthrough. Fasting does not compensate for a lack of concern on our part. Rather, fasting happens because we do care. It shows that there is passion and urgency in our prayer.
The same is true for the leaders of the Antioch church in Acts 13, who were “worshipping the Lord and fasting.” There is no sense of religious duty here. I imagine them so caught up in worship that they didn’t want the distraction of having to stop for a meal break! Remember that God always looks at your heart before he looks at your actions.
A Sign of Humility
Finally, fasting is a way of showing that whatever we are planning to do, our confidence and our security is not found in the brilliance of our plan or the security of our own resources, but rather because we are trusting wholly in the care and protection of our Heavenly Father. Humility is confidence properly placed in God.
When I consider fasting personally, I am always reminded just how much security I normally get from anticipating my next meal. I have a little battle that goes on in my mind: “How will I possibly cope without my next meal? This day is going to be terrible!” I find the whole process deeply humbling as I realise again that I need to walk closely with Jesus much more than I need pasta!
Throughout Scripture, many people fast, not because they are seeking God’s will or trying to decide what to do, but rather because they know what they are about to do and are desperate to commit that path to God.
Take, for example, Ezra, who led God’s people back to Jerusalem:
“I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey…” (Ezra 8:21)
Ezra knew where they were going; nonetheless, his confidence was in God. Or, the Antioch leaders who had heard from God that they should send out Barnabas and Saul:
“So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:3)
Or, later as they appointed elders in the churches that they started:
“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23)
In each case, they had a plan, but were still trusting in the Lord. Fasting demonstrated that. They were going to need His help.
We have many exciting plans for the next season in Grace Church. We have the Community BBQ in Midhurst on Saturday 30th September. Alpha Courses starting in Chichester and Bognor, an exciting programme for our Students and Twenties, and plenty of events in the run-up to Christmas. Also, it was a delight to be able to announce this week that we are going to begin our fourth site on Sunday 4th March 2018, this time in Havant.
We believe that God is leading us this way. These are our plans. However, our confidence is not in the cleverness of our strategy. For this to work we need God to move in power. Let’s commit this next season to Him in prayer. I encourage you to consider fasting as you pray throughout these next two weeks.