In two weeks we'll have our annual prayer and fasting weekend. I'd like to spend this time talking about this project and answering any questions you might have. First let me explain how this works for those who may not be familiar with this spiritual exercise. Let's see what the Bible says about fasting.
1. Old Testament
The Hebrew word in the Old Testament meant to "afflict the soul. In general it meant to go without food or drink. The Jews fasted as part of various religious days in their calendar (e.g. Day of Atonement, Leviticus 26:29)
There were 5 such special days throughout the year. All of these, according to the Talmud were to mark disasters in Jewish history. In addition to these, there were other individual times for fasting (II Samuel 12:22) as well as corporate periods for fasting (Judges 20:26) i.e. when there was internal warfare and there was sorrow over conflict between Jewish tribes.
Fasting in the Old Testament was a way of showing / expressing:
- Grief (I Samuel 31:13)
- Penance (I Samuel 7:6)
- Humility (Ezekiel 18:21)
- Need for guidance (Exodus 34:28)
- Attention from God (Isaiah 58:3-4)
To balance this view, the prophets taught that without the right conduct, however, fasting was in vain.
11So the Lord said to me, "Do not pray for the welfare of this people. 12When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence."
- Jeremiah 14:11-12
2. New Testament
In the New Testament we see the Jews continue this custom although the only official fasting day calendared in that time mentioned in the New Testament is the Day of Atonement. Some strict Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday. The only time the New Testament mentions Jesus fasting is when He's in the desert for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-4)
Jesus assumed that fasting was part of the Jewish custom and did not promote nor discourage it. His concern was that the practice be done for God and not to impress self or others (Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22) The practice of fasting continued among the early church by Christians from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.
- Prayer and fasting was done before sending out Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. (Acts 13:1-3)
- Prayer and fasting before choosing elders (Acts 14:23)
- Individuals instructed to pray and fast when facing marital crisis (I Corinthians 7:5)
- Paul refers to his own practice of prayer and fasting (II Corinthians 6:5; II Corinthians 11:27)
Some conclusions we draw upon based on this information about fasting in the New Testament
- It was part of the Jewish Law and practiced by Jews in various forms and severity (Pharisees the most zealous).
- Jesus Himself fasted but did not find it upon His disciples as a command.
- The early Christians added fasting to prayer for various reasons but especially when faced with important decisions or crisis.
- Today we see fasting, when accompanied by prayer, as a spiritual exercise that helps us focus our minds and spirits on God.
- It also is a good discipline to help us develop self-control over our own bodies so that we are not overwhelmed by the things of this world.
The idea being that occasional fasting helps us measure the degree of control (or self-control) we actually have over our physical appetites. For example if you can't go without regular food for a day, how can you develop self-control necessary to deal with more powerful temptations that tempt us each day? Also, fasting helps us to "test" that spiritual muscle that controls our wills. It's like going to the gym to see when kind of shape we're in as far as your self-control is concerned. Jesus said,
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
- Matthew 16:24
"Denying yourself" requires willpower, and the will to deny yourself comes with practice, and fasting is one form of practice that helps us to become masters over self in the name and for the cause of Christ. Our prayer and fasting weekend helps us in this and as well as develops our prayer life.
Prayer and Fasting Weekend
Ok, so that brings us to our project in 2 weeks - Friday Feb. 22 - Saturday Feb. 23. Here's what we're trying to do:
We'd like to have an unbroken 24 hour period of prayer to God by this congregation. This means that for a 24 hour period (Fri. 6PM - Sat 6PM) there are one or more persons from this congregation offering prayers to God. The way we do this is by scheduling different members to be praying throughout a 24 hour period. In order to make sure we have all the time covered, we ask you to take responsibility for certain half hour periods on this sign-up sheet.
For example this list shows 48 half hour blocks of time and we ask you to put your name next to a half hour or more of time and commit to be praying during that time. The minimum is half hour but you can volunteer for more than 1 x half hour block. (2 or 3 blocks - even at different periods in the day.) There can even be more than one person praying at the same time but every block of time needs to be covered.
The important thing is that every period of time is covered by one or more persons. Some wonder what they will pray about for ½ hr or more. In one of the handouts there will be suggestions concerning the things you might focus on in your prayers:
- Your family members (individually)
- Take the members' list and pray for each family that you know.
- There will be many more suggestions so that you will probably not have enough time to do everything listed.
- Special prayer requests
We would also like you to write down one or more special requests for prayer that you may have. There is another list that will be passed around so you can write these down. Before the weekend of the prayer/fasting we will give each member a copy of all these requests so that each member can spend part of their prayer time focused on these requests.
- Make these prayer requests as specific as you can so we can verify when and how God answer's them.
- Not "world peace"; but "peace in Iraq"
- Not "good health"; but "stop my headaches"
Make sure you list your prayer requests by next Sunday so they can be copied and distributed before the 22-23. Remember that the goal of fasting is not suffering - it's to sharpen your focus so you can concentrate on spiritual things. Don't just pray for half hour and then do your usual stuff - let that 24 hour period be as devoted to the Lord as you can make it.
On Saturday Feb 23rd at 6PM we will "break" our "fast". For those who can make it, we ask that you come to the building on Saturday at around 5:30PM and bring pot-luck items so that at 6PM we can break our fast together with a fellowship meal. After our meal we will have a period of devotion and sharing.
This weekend is a great opportunity to review your spiritual life, refresh your spirit, re-commit yourselves to the Lordship of Christ. Some may not be able to participate because they have (I mean have to, not choose to) work. Others may not participate because they may not feel right with the Lord for whatever reason. Before we chose our time I'm asking everyone here to examine their hearts and ask God to prepare them for the prayer and fasting weekend.
If part of that preparation requires you to be baptized or restored to being faithful to the Lord and His church - please do that this morning by filling out a prayer request card. During the rest of the service and the Bible class I'll be passing around the clipboards with the prayer schedule and the prayer request lists. Please fill these out and pass them around so everyone can sign up before we leave today.
Let's come together and put our requests before God having faith that He will not only hear our prayers, but that He is eager and willing to answer them in His love and righteousness.