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About 15-16th Feb prayer and fasting by Terran Williams

01 February 2011

This Tuesday and Wednesday (15-16 Feb) we're praying and fasting. But where and why? And what is fasting anyway?

Tuesday, 15th Feb:

InnerCity: 7:00-7:45am
Rondebosch: 6:30 - 7:15am or 6 - 6:45pm
South @ the range: 6:30 - 7:15am or 6 - 6:45pm
Wednesday, 16th Feb:
All congregations meeting at Rondebosch at 6:30pm for a bring and share supper followed by worship.

Where and when are we praying? Though everyone is encouraged to devote some time to prayer on their own, and with their families if appropriate, each congregation is gathering for prayer on Tuesday at the places where they meet on Sundays. Rondebosch and South congregations meet for prayer in the morning (6h30-7h15) and evening (18h00-18h45). The Inner City gather for prayer only in the morning (7h00-7h45). And all the congregations come together on Wednesday night at the Rondebosch venue to break the fast with a bring and share (18h30-19h15), and to celebrate God's goodness in extended Spirit-empowered worship (19h15-21h00). Join us!

Why are we praying and fasting?
As clarified in the Vision Sunday, we're praying about 3 things: 1. We're loved people loving people (1 John 4:7-11) 2. We're saved people who serve people (Mark 10:35-45) 3. We're found people who find people (Luke 15:1-24). So we're asking God to help us have a deeper revelation of how we are loved, saved and found. And we are asking God to help us successfully love, serve and find people. On this note, we are also asking God to bless our efforts to reach many people far from God during the Real-ationships series.

More about fasting. People fast for various reasons.  Some fast because of the health benefits.  Some fast in manipulative hunger strikes.  Others, like the Pharisees did, fast because they think it impresses God.  But Jesus calls his disciples to fast for much greater reasons.

Jesus said, "When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, 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 others 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.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

Jesus expected that His disciples would fast from time to time.  This is seen in His opening words - He says “when you fast”, not “if you fast”.  But He wants fasting to be something done for the right reasons (i.e. the humble, prayerful pursuit of God and His will).  He certainly doesn’t want us to fast for the wrong reasons, such as the attempt to show off to people how spiritual we are (v16).  Unlike the Pharisees, who were known for boasting about their fasting (Luke 18:12), we should not try draw attention to ourselves when fasting.  Fasting is a great opportunity to step up our prayerful pursuit of God.

What does the Bible teach about fasting?

Michael Eaton (in pages 134-140 of his book, The Way that Leads to Life) looks at every reference to fasting in the Bible, and then summarizes his findings.  Allow me to summarize his summary:

1) Although Jesus expects his disciples to fast from time to time, he does not make much of fasting.  It was the later church of the second century that tended to add into texts references to fasting that were not in the original (Mark 9:29 for example) and who over-emphasized fasting.

2) Fasting can be done for foolish reasons (see 1 Samuel 14:24-30 and Acts 23:12-22 for example).  Fasting is worthless if other aspects of our lives are in defiance against God, and in lack of love toward others, especially the poor (Isaiah 58).

3) It certainly is appropriate to fast when we’re in danger, in great distress or in deep repentance (1 Samuel 7:6, Acts 9:9).  It should be said that in these times we don’t even desire to eat anyway.  On the other hand there are times, like celebration moments or times when physical energy is greatly needed, that it is inappropriate to fast (1 Samuel 14:24-30, Matthew 9:14-15).

4) It is appropriate to fast when God’s people are about to venture out into something new and are seeking God’s guidance and help (Esther 4:15, Ezra 8:21-23, Acts 13:2-3, 14:23).  This is the usually the reason that we have church-wide fasts.

5) The majority of references to fasting in the Bible are to fairly short fasts of a day to three (Isaiah 58:5, 2 Samuel 1:12, Nehemiah 1:4).  But sometimes lengthier fasts, especially in times of distress, may be suitable (2 Samuel 12:16-23 (7 days), Daniel 10:2-3 (21 days)).  The 40-day fast is very rare and requires supernatural help (Jesus, Moses and Elijah alone fasted this long, and only once in their lives).

6) There is such a thing as a partial fast (Daniel 10:2-3) where only some foods are eliminated.

7) Some people seem to be called to fast more than others (Luke 2:37, 7:33).

8) The leaders of God’s people can sometimes call a fast (Nehemiah 9:1, Esther 4:15).

Overall, fasting is to be done when appropriate, when the Spirit leads, and for the right reasons.  The physical act of fasting itself is of no real value.  It is the attitudes and activities associated with the fast (such as prayer, humility, extra time with God, greater dependence on God) that are especially valuable.

Some practical guidelines for fasting

Decide beforehand what fast you will do - whether a water-only fast, or a fruit-juice only fast, or (and these ones are considerably easier) a fruit and veggies fast, or a no-coffee fast - and then stick to it.

If you’re not eating at all, then refrain from physical exercise.  Remember that the first day tends to be the most difficult day.  It usually gets easier as the days go on.  Depending on your metabolism, fasting is either difficult or easy.

Don’t clutter your days with too much activity.  Be sure to schedule time (perhaps even twice a day) to go to a quiet place to read the Word, to pray and to perhaps journal anything you sense God saying.  What a pity if we stop feasting on food, but then miss the opportunity to feast on God.

Sometimes fasting can bring immediate positive effects, such as a greater sense of God’s presence.  But usually fasting is a very uncomfortable experience at the time, but the positive spiritual effects come after the time of fasting.

Fasting is a wonderful opportunity to give focused prayer to certain things, so be clear on what it is you’re praying about.  We suggest a two-track prayer agenda: 1) to focus on something that God is calling the entire church to, and 2) to focus on something that God is calling you personally to.

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