Dear Everyday Church,
We are now halfway into our five weeks of Everyday Devotions. I do hope that you are enjoying them as much as I am. I’ve been gathering my family each day to go through the Devotions together, and it has been such a pleasure to discuss with them each day how we can study the Bible, how we can pray and how we can worship. I’m really looking forward to Healthy Habits #4 and #5. In the meantime, do keep your comments and feedback coming to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The feedback that we have received so far has been very positive, but we are keen to serve you as well as possible if and when we produce fresh daily devotions for the whole church again later in the year.
I am writing this blog to let you know, if you haven’t picked it up already, that a week after the end of our Five Habits of a Healthy Christian series, we are planning to respond to God together as a church through a Week of Prayer and Fasting. From Sunday 9th February to Saturday 15th February, we are looking to build on our great start to the year by coming before God together in prayer to ask him to help us to build those healthy habits into our lives and to do a sovereign work of his grace in our church this year. This is a really concrete way in which we can all support one another in surrendering our lives to God more and more throughout this year, so I am emailing you in order to give you the dates for your diary and to answer four questions that you may be asking.
1) I get why prayer is important, but what’s all this about prayer and fasting?
Each generation of believers has its own blind spots when it comes to living out the Christian life. Judging by how often I get asked this question, the discipline of fasting appears to be one of ours! Fasting is a key element of faith-filled prayer throughout the Old Testament. It remains a key aspect of faith-filled prayer in the New Testament (for example, in Acts 13:1-3 and 14:23). When Jesus teaches on prayer, he says when you fast rather than if you fast (Matthew 6:16-18). Fasting is a way of expressing four big feelings in our hearts to God.
First, it expresses our hunger for God. It’s an outward way of showing God that we want the things of the Spirit more than we want the things of the flesh. We can see this in Job 23:12 and in the way that Jesus decided to begin his earthly ministry with a long fast, after which he “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:1-14). Jesus makes a wonderful promise to anyone who fasts with him in Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God, for they shall be filled.”
Second, it expresses our humility before God. It’s an outward way of telling God that we have no earthly hope for breakthrough other than his gracious hand. This theme of expressing our humility through fasting is particularly evident in Ezra 8:21-23. It is also the means through which the Lord brings revival to the Jewish nation in Esther 4:3 and 16.
Third, it expresses our grief at the way things are. It is a powerful outward way of expressing our desire to see God’s Kingdom come in a sinful world. This theme comes out strongly in passages such as Ezra 10:6 and Psalm 42:1-3. In many Greek manuscripts of Mark 9:29, it is also a key that Jesus identifies for spiritual breakthrough: “This kind can go out by nothing except by prayer and fasting.”
Fourth, it expresses our desire to seek first God’s Kingdom. Fasting is a means to an end, freeing up time from food preparation and from dinner breaks to devote ourselves to prayer and fasting. If I’m honest, I often find myself thinking a lot more about food when I fast, but I am assured by people godlier than myself than this isn’t normal for everybody! Fasting is a way of focusing our attention on praying to God for breakthrough. Once again, Jesus encourages anyone who is willing to fast with him in Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be granted you as well.”
2) I don’t think I can do it – does fasting have to be abstaining from all food?
No, it doesn’t. In Daniel 10:1-3, there is a famous example of Daniel fasting only from his favourite foods for a season. He also fasts from taking a shower for three weeks. Anyone?!
If fasting is an expression of our grief at the way things are and a fervent prayer for God to intervene in our lives, then fasting need not be about food at all. Many people fast from television or from social media for a season in order to reinvest the time that they would have spent on those things crying out to God. Fasting is not a hunger-strike! It’s less about food and more about our fervent desire for God.
3) I just don’t want to fast right now – do I really have to?
No, you don’t. Although we’re calling a Week of Prayer and Fasting, there will no doubt be many who pray but don’t fast. Nobody will judge you if they see you eating a sandwich at one of our prayer meetings! We are inviting you to pray and fast, but if you come and pray we’ll be delighted!
If it’s more of a case of ‘no-for-now’ because you want to find out more about fasting, then two good books that you might find helpful for next time are Jentezen Franklin’s New York Times bestseller entitled ‘Fasting’, and Mahesh Chavda’s ‘The Hidden Power of Prayer and Fasting’.
4) I’m really up for this – how can I get involved?
We are going to be leading everyone in prayer at our Sunday services on 9th February and at our Life Groups the following week, so you can get involved in the Week of Prayer and Fasting simply be being at our main church gatherings. There are also some additional prayer gatherings taking place that week, which we will publicise from this coming Sunday in each of our venues.
Those are the organised prayer gatherings during the Week of Prayer and Fasting, but a week before it begins I will blog again with some prayer points for each day so that you can pray on your own, with your friends and family and with anybody else who is willing to pray with you! Part of the beauty of prayer is that we can all pray to the same God when we are not together. So don’t feel that you are restricted to the prayer gatherings that I’ve listed below. Some of our best prayer times are organic, rather than organised!
I have so enjoyed the start of our year together and I am excited about our Week of Prayer and Fasting. Thank you for getting involved, however much or little you can. We are leaning against an open door together!
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
Phil Moore – Lead Pastor of Everyday Church