The Source: Prayer & Fasting

PRAYER & FASTING

The SOURCE: Lesson 4

 

Most people like things in moderation. It is ok to enjoy something but just don’t turn into one of those crazies! This is the mindset of our culture…of course unless it requires change in our own personal preferences and behaviors! You see, when other people are intense and have deep seated convictions they become branded as extremist or obsessive. But when it comes to our own desires, pleasures, or comforts then it is viewed as enthusiastic and passionate.

The spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting are not for the moderately religious. These are the cousins to the disciplines of memorizing and meditation, of which we looked at last teaching. Again, both of these are superficially understood and require greater attention in the Christian life. With this in mind we will define and introduce each and then follow with additional teaching and practical application helps.

Definition & Introduction

Prayer is our communication line with God; us to him and him to us. It’s like a conversation with God that helps us to better understand God’s will for all things in life. The Bible describes multiple forms of prayer; petition is prayer for oneself, intercession is prayer for others, in addition there are prayers seeking God, of thanksgiving, of confession and repentance, and others. In sum, prayer is an expression of faith in God’s existence and ability to act.

Prayer is the most accessible of the spiritual disciplines (Heb 4:16) yet in many ways the most challenging. Someone has said that when we talk to God it is prayer but when He talks to us it is schizophrenia! In other words, if we fail to realize the personal relationship we have with God then miss the heart of Christianity. Therefore, prayer is central to knowing and communing with God.

Fasting is the refraining from selected items that typically have your attention and focusing on God. It typically involves abstaining from food. But it is not uncommon to abstain from other items or luxuries such as watching television, listening to or involvement with various entertainment media, other pleasures, or really anything from which one chooses to abstain.

Fasting (and prayer) is not exclusive to Christianity. Not only do other religious teachings practice fasting (which should serve as a reminder of its importance for the truth of Christianity) but it is also frequently employed for health or medical considerations. Fasting from food should be taken seriously and in consultation with expert resources and perhaps personal doctors.

Prayer Purpose & Practice

Many of us consider prayer as just coffee shop comfort chatter. Indeed, Christians are invited to pray for personal needs (James 5:13-16). God hears and cares for the requests of His children. But, true prayer must go beyond blessing and healing personal wishes. True prayer leads us to see the world with eyes of faith and eternity at hand. God’s will becomes clearer and revealed to us and our desires are progressively changed to advance God’s kingdom than our own. Mature prayer is active and not just passively reacting to circumstances (Eph 6:18-20; Col 4:3-6).

Here are some helps for your prayer life[1]:

ð      Remember relationships require time. A fuller relationship with God happens because you make room for it. Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. Many of us remain on the surface with God or perhaps as theoretical business partners because we do not make time with God a priority.

–     Address God by His names. Start with Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit and study other names of God throughout the Scriptures.

–    Prayer is not the center, God is. Example of driving but focusing on the windshield rather than through it;

focusing on how & what to converse rather than just doing it.

ð      Get to bed & Get out of bed. Your evenings will shape your mornings. Your mornings will shape your days. Discover your best time to spend with God and plan your schedule accordingly. And don’t plan to (only) pray in bed or the bulk of what God hears from you will be snoring!

ð      Get awake & Get alone. Regardless if it’s morning or night you may need help staying awake. Brew some coffee, take a shower, go for a walk… you know what keeps you awake. Then remove distractions (Matthew 6:5-8) and interruptions. It is difficult to be intimate when you are multitasking or being interrupted.

ð      Get praying & Keep praying. Take baby steps (5-10min) and realize that praying is a process. Realize that consistency and quality is more important than length. Something else that may help is to pray out loud. Some of you may feel more comfortable praying silently but I believe (with Paul Miller) that voicing your prayers aloud confirms your intensity and intention with God. And, it’s not all together unlike the way the psalmist’s prayed (4:3, 5:3, 17:1, 28:2, 34:17, 55:1, 59:16, 69:13, 88:13, 116:1, 143:8).

ð      Use prayer resources. Start with Scripture to guide your prayer.[2] Other helps:

–          Scripture

  • Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-14)
  • Paul’s prayers (especially Ephesians)
  • Topical/Theme verses

–          ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)

  • Good starting point
  • Careful systems can become rote, ignoring the relational (like person with bad social skills)

–          Prayer Lists (public)

  • Good if they are updated, specific
  • Avoid using public prayer chain as gossip (only thing faster than lightning is church prayer chain!)

–          Prayer cards (personal)

  • Good if updated and specific
  • Accessible
  • Miller writes bullet point phrases/scriptures/ideas to pray for specific people or topics

 

Fasting Purpose & Practice

We must remember that fasting is not about food but God (1 Cor 6:12-13, 8:8, 10:31; Col 2:20-21; Gal 5:13). Christian fasting is about God pruning us from worldliness and preparing us for heaven with Him.[3] Is God and the gospel satisfying or do we seek security and hope elsewhere? Fasting becomes feasting when God is supreme in all things.

Jesus modeled the practice of fasting (Matt 4:2) and expected believers would do such with humility (Matt 6:16, 9:15). Other multiple biblical characters fasted for various reasons as well.[4] The purpose may vary but is ultimately for a time of intense prayer and seeking the Lord. It may be to raise awareness of dependence upon and love for God, strengthen prayer for spiritual breakthrough, seek direction, express grief and/or repentance.

Fasting helps:

ð      Read Isaiah 58 (esp. vv.6-12)

ð      Are you physically able to fast? You may need to discuss a plan with a physician.

ð      As stated, have a plan! What is your purpose for fasting? If it’s about having a new religious experience or trying to earn favor with God then you have the wrong motivation. Review the notes above and do a fuller study on fasting in Scripture.

ð      Start small. Fast from food (or whatever) in increments rather than “cold turkey” (hmmm, perhaps this a bad expression for this subject 🙂 ). Take a day and fast from one or two meals. Do this for a few weeks to prepare for a longer fast of an entire day or multiple days. Water, fruit juices and vegetables are appropriate supplements.

ð      Explore greater research for longer fasts and how it affects the body along with necessary preparations as well as wise preparations for breaking the fast.

ð      Fasting is spiritual warfare. The devil approached Jesus during a fast to prepare him for his public ministry. Remember that God (prayer) and His Word are essential elements to include during the fast.

ð      Lent: Traditionally, Christians fast through Ash Wednesday to Easter in remembrance & devotion to Jesus’ passion leading to His death and resurrection.[5]

 

[1] Following are adapted from various handout notes of mine on Paul Miller’s A Praying Life.

[2] See Beth Moore, Praying God’s Word.

[3] Perhaps the best treatment on this subject is John Piper’s A Hunger For God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer.

[4] See Moses before receiving 10 Commandments; King David for his son (2Sam 12:15-25); Jehoshaphat during battle (2Chron 20:3); Prophet Joel (Joel 1:14, 2:13-16); Ninevites to escape judgment (Jonah 3:7); Mordecai (Esther 4); Nehemiah for his city (Neh 1:4); Daniel & King Darius (Dan 1:12, 6:18, 9:3) Anna before Christ’s birth (Lk 2:37); Saul-Paul after his conversion (Acts 9:9), Paul & Barnabas for missionary work (Acts 13:2, 14:23)

[5] http://www.ctkraleigh.org/article/why-bother-with-lent-part-three/ 

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