I has been a supreme joy to me to be able to work through the first 18 verses of Matthew 6 over the past several Sunday mornings. Giving emphasis again to prayer has been especially significant, because I believe this is an area where our church family has great potential to deepen and grow. And if we add the discipline of fasting to our prayer lives, I know God will draw us deeper still.
As I said on Sunday morning, the reward for fasting and prayer is personal conformity to God’s will and person, a clearer picture of His splendor, and a stronger confidence in His sovereign purpose. The model and teaching of Scripture is that fasting is an appropriate undertaking for any weighty circumstance or need: as a sign of repentance, as an act of mourning, when in serious danger, when facing a significant transition, at a time of deep need, for the healing of loved ones, for wisdom in important decisions, and when seeking the specific will of God.
But in more practical terms, how do we actually “fast.” FIRST, we need to be mindful and careful of our own physical limitations. If you have any health reservation, check with your doctor before fasting; you may want to consider only a partial fast from certain foods or only fasting for very small amounts of time. Even if you do undertake a full fast, be cautious of going any longer than a few days and do not abstain from water so that your body does not dehydrate. A normal time range for a completely healthy person to fast from food consumption is anywhere from one to three days.
SECOND, understand that the purpose of your fast is to seek God in praise, confession, scriptural meditation, and supplication. Thus, while a fast is technically only abstaining from food, I would suggest that you also abstain from other non-necessary earthly pursuits during this time. You may need to go to work or take care of necessities with your family at home, but keep the TV off and avoid indulging yourself with other media (novels, movies, the internet, your iPod, cell phone, etc.). Also avoid or limit your pursuit of extra-curricular involvements like sports, shopping, and events with friends. The goal of this time is to make the absolute most of being on your face before God.
THIRD, have a plan for how you will use the time. Prepare certain Scriptures that are appropriate for your concern to meditate upon and pray through as you fast. Make a list of your specific supplications. If you have children in your home, prepare some family devotions that will help them understand why you are fasting and how they can pray with you (and for you!). If you are married, plan prayer times with your spouse. If you have to work on days that you have designated for fasting, plan how and where to spend your meal-breaks so that those times can be used for prayer and Scripture reading. You don’t have to have every minute scheduled, but a plan will help you to stay focused and it will help you to protect your time of fasting from the little things that “pop up.”
FINALLY, be prepared to obediently submit to God in whatever way He reveals Himself and in whatever course He chooses. He may answer your prayers as you hope He will, and He may not. He may give you a very clear leading or answer, and He may not. Be content in His will, follow obediently where He leads, and know that He is God. Whatever the outcome, you will benefit spiritually just by drawing near to Him and expressing your trust in Him through the disciplines of prayer and fasting.
Given all of that, what are some good immediate needs to consider fasting over? I would first direct you to our Ingathering for the Seminary in Ecuador this coming Sunday. We have an incredible opportunity to be a part of equipping pastors who lead and plant churches in that nation. You might want to consider fasting and praying about how much of the Lord’s money you can give to this effort.
In October, we have a team of seven leaving on a Mission Trip to Southeast Asia. We would greatly appreciate you fasting and praying for us as we receive offerings for our trip and as we prepare for the work. Furthermore, my plan now is for our church family to follow that Acts 13 model where we will invite our whole congregation to fast and pray before we send out any mission team. That opportunity will come early in October, so I hope you will plan to be a part of it. You may have thought of other needs to consider as you have read this, so just trust Him and seek Him as He leads you. I love you all!