Drawing Near to God
Next weekend is our prayer and fasting time where we, as a church will go before God in prayer for a 24hr. period of time while fasting. Different people have signed up to be in prayer at a specific time so that every ½ hr. block of time for a 24hr. period will be covered. All will have a copy of the prayer request list.
We've given you instructions about what to do and what not to do concerning your 24hr. fasting period. After our fast is over we will meet here at the building (Sat. 6pm) to break our fast with a potluck meal and time of sharing and worship. In preparation for this I taught a lesson last week entitled "Draw near to God" based on James 4: 8-10
In this lesson I reviewed some important ideas about the discipline of fasting.
We said that fasting was a voluntary disuse of anything, not just food. So dieting or starvation is not fasting. Also, abstaining from food or any pleasing thing for a time in order to obtain something better. In the end, fasting is a discipline that helps us draw near, know, and experience God in a better way.
2. Is Fasting For Today?
Some think fasting was a cultural thing the Jews did but not something that is for us today. We saw that Old Testament prophets, leaders, and the Jewish people themselves fasted on a regular basis - it was part of their religion - Ezra 8: 21. But when we looked at the New Testament we also noted that Jesus fasted (Mt.4: 1-11) and He taught His disciples how to fast. (Mt.6: 16-18).
We also read in the book of Acts (13:14; 14: 21-23) that the Apostles themselves fasted and taught both the Jewish and Gentile members of the church about fasting. We also see members of the church fasting and praying as they face important decisions and challenges: IE.
- Sending Paul and Barnabas on missionary journeys - Acts 13
- Selecting elders for the church. - Acts 14:21-23
- Normal Christian activity.
So, our conclusion was that fasting was a spiritual discipline we can and should practice today. If Jesus, the Apostles, the leaders of the early church, and the Christians in the Bible did it -- so can we! We are also confident that this action is pleasing to God because through it we humble ourselves before Him - and the Bible says that "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." James 4: 10
Finally, as a congregation we have many challenges before us, many individual request before God in prayer. Prayer and fasting is the best way we can present these before God.
What is a fast?
In my lesson this week I'd like to expand our basic idea on fasting so we can see that fasting is not just about food. What should we be experiencing during a fast?
1. Pain / Discomfort - Ps. 69:10
Of course this pain is of no use unless our self-denial is joined by our effort at becoming a better person. I deny the old self in an effort to build a new and better self.
2. Sorrow for Sin - Joel 1:14
Individual and collective fasting should include acknowledgement and confession of sinfulness. The fasting and prayer period helps us to focus on our faults and sins and discuss these with God openly and honestly so that He can forgive and heal us.
3. An Act of Humility - Ps. 35:13
We've mentioned it before, but it's necessary to underscore the idea that fasting is a conscious, physical act of self-denial which results in discomfort - and done with faith in God. This is what humility is, lowering ourselves before God.
4. Discern God's Will - Ezra 8:21
Fasting is not about suffering - that's an accompanying symptom. Fasting is about opening ourselves up to a greater degree to see more clearly what God's will is.
5. Self-Examination - Daniel 9:2-4; Jonah 3:5-9
The prophets would fast before examining their motives, their consciences and hearts. This self-examination is not only for sin and weakness but rather a search for God's purpose, and a clarification of His will for our lives.
6. Decision Making - Esther 4:16; Acts 13:1-3
Fasting helps sober us for important choices we need to make. In the New Testament especially, church leaders fasted and prayed when faced with critical decisions.
7. Spiritual and Physical Revival - II Chronicles 20:3
The Old Testament is filled with stories of the faithful winning great physical and spiritual battles after a period of fasting and prayer. Fasting helps the spirit produce spiritual fruit in overcoming the fleshly mind and body.
And so fasting isn't just about hunger pangs and making it to the end so you can eat food again. It's about experiencing Godly sorrow for sin, and sharpening the mind, spirit, and body to know and do God's will. But most of all it is a tool to help us take our natural position of humility (instead of stubbornness and pride) before God. These are some of the experiences you should be striving for doing your 24hr. fast.
The "Prayer" Part
Now we've talked a lot about fasting because this spiritual exercise helps put us into a proper frame of mind. But the "Active" part of this exercise is the prayer part. Fasting prepares us for effective prayer.
In the hand-out I gave you last week I mentioned some things you could do during your ½ hr. or more of prayer time:
- Pray for yourself, family and others. Go through the members list and pray for the church.
- Pray for world events, people.
- Pray for items on prayer list
Devote praise to God with prayer, songs, psalms.
- Read your Bible or other devotional materials (Psalms - Devotional Literature)
- Take time to meditate on God's word or other truth and beauty.
- Review the 10 Commandments (Ex. 20); Fruit of the spirit/flesh (Gal. 5)
- Write in a prayer journal your thoughts, sins, confessions, praise, questions for God.
- Other spiritual activities.
Your time of "prayer" is your time to represent the congregation before God. Now sometimes our prayers are not effective, or are not answered and there are reasons for this that we should note:
1. Sometimes God's answer is, "No".
Our prayer then should be to ask what His will is and try to discern what is wrong with our prayer.
2. Sometimes, without knowing it our prayer is against God's will. That the devil be saved. Rev.20:10 (Doomed forever) Gamblers to win (6/49)
3. Perhaps our prayers have bad timing. Good thing but not now, or it's too late (deathbed conversions)
4. Prayers not made in faith are wasted. "Might as well pray, nothing to lose" - this is gambling not prayer. When we do pray in faith, according to God's will and timing, here are a few ways to see or discern God's will: How to discern God's will by George Meuller
- Begin by abandoning your will and seek His will in the matter.
- Don't leave the results to vague feelings - ask God for concrete results. Faith looks for real answers and has confidence God can provide these.
- Seek God's will always in accordance with His word. How to confirm: If you win the 6/49 - Not God's answer to prayer.
- God works through events and things as well as people. Take in to account providential circumstances when seeking His will in prayer.
- Ask God to make things as clear as possible for you to understand. You want to do His will and not make a mistake.
- After prayer, meditation, seeking His clear will - make the best decision possible based on the results.
After all you have free will and God always leaves room for us to make an actual decision. Otherwise He is not glorified.
So your time of prayer should be filled with all kinds of experiences, discoveries, and personal spiritual growth next weekend - not just hunger pangs. Remember, "Our stomachs are wonderful servants but terrible masters". A.G. Lemmons - Is fasting for today?)
This will be our first prayer and fasting weekend, but hopefully not our last. (The goal is to teach you how, not start a tradition!)
I pray that it will help all of us to grow spiritually as individuals and also as the body of Christ. I hope all of you will participate and that you will be here next Saturday for our potluck and celebration. I look forward to hearing your stories about your experience.