2nd Mar 2014

Prayer & Fasting

By Stephen Bones

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 2014

PRAYER AND FASTING (HUNGERING AFTER THE PRESENCE OF GOD)

Why this session today?  Because next week the Elders have called the church to a weekend of prayer and fasting ‘for God’s direction and vision for the church’ (in last week’s newssheet).

Hopefully we all accept we need to pray, but do we need to fast?  Some may believe it is not for today, only Bible times or if specifically called by God.

I want to spend a few minutes explaining why we need to fast, and outline methods of fasting for next week.

Why do we need to fast?

Matt 6:16-18 "When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)

This is Jesus speaking to his disciples on the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 6 v 2, Jesus started with ‘when you give to the needy,...’ and in v 5 ‘when you pray’, both of which we would hopefully agree we should do.  Well, he starts the fasting section with ‘when you fast...’!  Jesus expected his disciples to fast, not when he was with them, but after he had ascended (Matt 9:15) – and they did on numerous occasions!  Jesus himself fasted for 40 days, and a servant is not greater than his master!

But still the question remains, why should we fast, apart from Jesus expected us to?

Fasting normally arises because of some need.  Does this church have some needs?  If you answer ‘no’, you don’t know us very well!  As you should know, we have just been informed that we will have no Home Mission Grant from 2015, leaving a £4,000 hole in our budget.  Is this a need?  Not for you perhaps, but it could be for some people in the church!

But I think we have more of a need than this!  We have been called to pray and fast for ‘God’s direction and vision for the church’.  This is a much bigger need than money!  We need God’s presence, and to know what he wants this church for, why He saved it some years ago when only 2 people were coming. 

  • South Molton doesn’t need more religion, they need to know Jesus, to have a personal relationship with Him, to experience Him.  What is our personal relationship like with Jesus?  How can we share Jesus with them? 
  • There are many needs on this community, and even within this church, which we cannot meet, but Jesus can! 
  • Our young people want reality, to see God moving today – miracles, healing, etc.  Why don’t we see signs and wonders following the preaching of the Word (Mark 16:15-18 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." (NIV)
  • Some of us have been praying every week for nearly 3 years for revival in South Molton, and the hunger is growing but it still has happened!
  • I want to see Jesus moving, to experience his presence, to see his miracles amongst us, people set free from depression and illness and other needs.

Are you hungry for God?  The Elders had an away day this last week and one thing we agreed was that we need God to move in South Molton.  We read the following Psalm:

Ps 42:1-3 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (NIV)

If you are hungry for God, that is a real need for which you should be prepared to fast.  If you are not that hungry for God, you need to ask, why not? 

Revision

2 Chron 7:13-14 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (NIV)

Notice the use of ‘when’ again!  But this time there is an ‘if’ – they might, they might not.  Will you?

Notice the order that God said:

  1. Humble themselves
  2. Pray
  3. Seek my face
  4. Turn from their wicked ways

Interesting that (4) is not first – why?  I think because often we do not see our wicked ways!  Consider Isaiah:

Isa 6:1-5 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (NIV)

I think we need to seek his face and then He reveals our sins.

But it starts with humbling ourselves.  How do we do this?  Pray on our knees?  A good start, but...in the Bible, to ‘fast’ and to ‘humble ourselves before God’ are virtually equivalent terms (per John Stott).  For example,

Ps 35:13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.  When my prayers returned to me unanswered, (NIV) David, praying for his ‘friends’.

Isa 58:3 ‘Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' (NIV) The Israelites when trying to twist God’s arm to bless them

Isa 58:5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? (NIV)  God’s response!

Summary - purpose of fasting

Can be for:

  • Penitence (e.g. Saul after conversion)
  • Prayer (e.g David for his ‘friends’ in Psalm 35, Nehemiah)
  • Self-discipline – Daniel regularly fasted and he was highly favoured with God
  • Solidarity – with those also without food (e.g. Isaiah 58:7)

In essence, it is to discipline ourselves and to express our humility before God and our concern for others in need.  I believe it also honours God (e.g. 1 Samuel 31:13, when they fasted 7 days when Saul was killed) as we acknowledge that we need him by humbling ourselves.

Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (NIV)  Let’s start with food!

Remember, God resists/opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5)

What is fasting?

From a biblical viewpoint, it is missing food, either partial or total, and can sometimes even mean going without food and drink.  Evangelicals have extended this to missing other things, such a TV or chocolate, which I appreciate often happens at Lent, but this is not fasting.

Types of fasting: 

  • Partial food

Dan 10:2-3 At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.  (NIV)  This was to understand a vision – similar to our desire to get a vision and direction for SMBC.

  • Total no food

Matt 4:1-2 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (NIV) Led by the Spirit

Dan 9:3 Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. (NKJV) Voluntary, to gain understanding of a prophecy in Scripture re Israel’s deliverance from captivity.

Luke 2:36-37 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. (NIV) because she loved God!

  • Absolute – no food or water

Esther 4:15-16 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."  (NIV) Voluntary

Acts 9:9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (NIV) Paul, in need, but also penitence after assisting with Stephen’s death?

To end, what type of fast will you do next week?

Some of you may say today you cannot fast.  Examine your heart – is it ‘cannot’ or ‘will not’? 

Some may site medical reasons, as I did for some time being diabetic.  However, I can still fast, albeit need to take more care.  For example, I use fruit juice to regulate my sugar levels when fasting.

I appreciate a big step the first time you fast, hence our advice to only miss a meal on this occasion.  But I assure you it will get easier the more you fast!

I have printed out some notes for a Daniel Partial fast in case some of you only want to do such a fast on this occasion. 

Let’s honour God by fasting next weekend, and let’s mean business with Him, let us be encouraged....

Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (NIV)

Let us ‘earnestly’ or ‘diligently’ seek God, starting with fasting to humble ourselves , and then let us pray and ask God for His vision for this church, let us seek first His kingdom, not our plans!  If we don’t ask (pray), we don’t get! 

John 16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (NIV)

God wants us to know Him, not just about Him academically (like the Queen), but personally, experientially.

Rev 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (NIV)

Revival is coming before Jesus’ return – let us be ready and welcome Him.

If anyone wants to discuss anything I have said today, please ask afterwards.

Download Sermon Notes