Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 6

Prayer and Gratitude

Today we’re looking at prayer and gratitude.  Prayer is essential to a Christian and needs to be learnt as a discipline as we grow in our daily walk with Jesus.

There have been many occasions when I have known the importance of prayer in my life, no more so than when we were experiencing difficulties with the challenging behaviour our oldest daughter Rachel was exhibiting as a teenager!  We didn’t know where to start.  Actually we didn’t know how to pray, let alone where to start!  Eventually I realised that we should ask God how He wanted us to pray.  That was what we He was saying to us – “Ask me how to pray”!

When I did this He gave a clear and simple strategy and vision: praise Him for Rachel.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Anything more would have meant that I was overstepping the boundaries He was clearly setting out for us.  Anything less would have been an act of rebellion toward God.

We really didn’t want to do this, because her behaviour was testing us to the limit.  But when we got on board with God’s vision and strategy for how He wanted us to deal with, and pray for Rachel we gradually began to see a positive change.  So much so that Rachel herself, after about three months, asked us what we were doing because she could see that we had changed and that she also could see that she herself was changing for the better.  When we confessed what we were doing, because God had told us so, she did stomp off, but we were undeterred!  We’d got in the habit of praising God for her, so we held on and remained obedient to the vision and strategy God had given us.  He was true to His word.

Praying in a disciplined way, the way God had commanded us to pray, meant that we went from hostility and suspicion to hospitality and greater love for Rachel.  We were grateful for Rachel in a new way.  We had a new attitude of gratitude toward Rachel.

I know we weren’t praying for money with Rachel, but we couldn’t have done this if our security base in God wasn’t strong, so how do we become people whose security base is God and God alone?  How can we stand confidently with rich and poor alike on the common ground of God’s love?  How can we ask for money without pleading, and call people to a new communion without coercing?  How can we express not only in our way of speaking but also in our way of being with others the joy, vitality, and promise of our mission and vision?  In short, how do we move from perceiving fund-raising as an unpleasant but unavoidable activity to recognising fund-raising as a life-giving, hope-filled expression of ministry?

For us, with Rachel, prayer was the spiritual discipline through which our hearts and minds were converted from hostility and suspicion to hospitality and greater love for Rachel.  Our thoughts and attitudes about her were reoriented toward God, and not self.  So, with regard to fund-raising the same principle applies; prayer is the spiritual discipline through which our mind and heart is converted from hostility and suspicion to hospitality toward those who have money.  Gratitude is the sign that this conversion is spreading into all aspects of our life.  From beginning to end, fund-raising as ministry has to be grounded in prayer and undertaken in gratitude.

Prayer is the radical starting point of fund-raising because in prayer we slowly experience a reorientation of all our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others.  To pray is to desire to know more fully the truth that sets us free (see John 8:32).  It helps us discover the truth of our identity in Jesus.  For us with Rachel, God’s truth was to praise Him for her.  So, prayer has the power to uncover the hidden motives and unacknowledged wounds that shape our relationships.  As we praised God Barbara and I had a lot of confessing to do in regards to the mistakes we’d made in bringing Rachel up.  The Good News of prayer is that it allows us to see ourselves as God sees us.

Prayer is radical because it uncovers the deepest roots of our identity in God.  In prayer we seek God’s voice and allow God’s word to penetrate our fear and resistance so that we can begin to hear what God wants us to know.  And what God wants us to know is that before we think or do or accomplish anything, before we have much money or little money, the deepest truth of our human identity is this: “You are my beloved son.  You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased” (see Luke 3:22).  When we can claim this truth as true for us, then we also see that it is true for all other people who claim this to be true for themselves, regardless of who they are, and what we think of them.  God is well pleased with us, and so we are free to approach all people, the rich or the poor, in the freedom of God’s love.  Whether people respond to our fund-raising appeal with a “Yes,” a “No,” or a “Maybe” is less important than the knowledge that we all are gathered as one on the holy ground of God’s generous disposition toward us.  In prayer, therefore, we learn to trust that God can work fruitfully through us no matter where we are or who we are with.

So, God commands us to be grateful; it is for our benefit, not His, that we are.  If you list out the ways God has loved you – He saved you, redeemed you, made a way for you, has forgiven you, lives in you, is transforming you, welcomes you into heaven, – we will be reminded of the magnitude of His love for us.

Hebrews 13:15 says,

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.”

In this context, what is confession?  It is acknowledging and recognising God’s hand at work, which in turn requires looking for the places where God is at work.  It’s easy to go through the day focused on self; what I am trying to accomplish, overcome, or fix?  A posture of gratitude keeps my thoughts focused on God and what He is doing in me and around me.  It reminds me that I am not alone.

Gratitude is all about paying attention.  It’s a habit of noticing, and responding to what God is doing.  Becoming continually God-focused and grateful takes practice.

As our prayer deepens into a constant awareness of God’s goodness, the spirit of gratitude grows within us.  Gratitude flows from the recognition that who we are and what we have are gifts to be received and shared.  Gratitude releases us from the bonds of obligation and prepares us to offer ourselves freely and fully for the work of the Kingdom.  When we approach fund-raising in a spirit of gratitude, we do so knowing that God has already given us what we most need for life in abundance.  Therefore, our confidence in our mission and vision, and our freedom to love the person to whom we are talking about donating money, do not depend on how that person responds.  In this way, gratitude allows us to approach a fund-raising meeting without grasping neediness and to leave it without resentment or dejection.  Coming and going, we can remain secure in God’s love with our hearts set joyfully on His eternal Kingdom.

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture, (Psalm 100 and John 5:18-23), and let them speak to you afresh in the light of giving, stewardship, fund-raising as ministry and developing an attitude of gratitude.  As God speaks to you, why not write in your journal what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Please consider these questions based on this week’s sermon:

  1. How do we become people whose security base is God and God alone?
  2. How do we move from perceiving fund-raising as an unpleasant but unavoidable activity to recognising fund-raising as a life-giving, hope-filled expression of ministry?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.

St. Ignatius Loyola

Church discipline

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven. 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Who understands verse 19 of our Gospel passage to mean that if you and someone else agree about something here on earth it will be done for you by God?  For a long time, I thought that if I asked for something of God and someone else agreed with me then it would be done for me by my Father in heaven.

As I have journeyed with Christ over many years I have grown to understand that God doesn’t quite work like this!  I can’t give Him a shopping list of wants or desires, even if I have found someone who agrees they are good for me, or good for others. 

Actually such an understanding of verse 19 is completely wrong.  This verse can so easily be taken out of context, because it is tied up with the verses that come immediately before it.  Which are all to do with church discipline. 

Here, Jesus is teaching His disciples, who became the Apostles of Christ, the first leaders of the church, how brothers and sisters in Christ are to deal with those who sin against each other.  Therefore, verse 19 is all about discipline.

So how is church discipline to work? If a professed Christian is wronged by another, they are not to complain of it to others.  In other words, they are not to gossip, as too often is done.  Instead they are to go to the offender privately, and state kindly the matter.  This should resolve things.  But Jesus knows that because of our human frailty it won’t always work like that.

So if the first approach does not work you are to take one or two others along with you.  These are not necessarily eyewitnesses of the sin, but those who can testify as to how the attempt at reconciliation goes. If the reconciliation fails, we are to treat them as an unrepentant sinner.

Paul commanded the Thessalonian Christians to observe this principle, saying, In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

The church is to relate to the rebellious person as an outsider, a person of no faith, – spiritually dead.

Therefore, we have to understand three things about this teaching of Jesus…

  1. That it is for Christians, not unbelievers
  2. That it is for sins committed against you, and not against others
  3. That this is how we are to resolve conflict in the church, not the community at large.

It would be difficult to resolve issues between people using Christian principles, if they don’t subscribe to such concepts.

The first recipients of this Gospel were Jews, and this would have reminded them of passages in Deuteronomy, concerning the law.  Deuteronomy 17 and 19 speak of 2 or 3 witnesses gathered to testify in court.  The witnesses were necessary to establish a case in court.

So we need to know our Scripture, because when you read these 6 verses from Matthew chapter 18 we find that this whole chapter is about Jesus teaching His disciples how they should handle situations of interpersonal sin and conflict.  These instructions from Jesus immediately follow His parable about the lost sheep (which emphasises restoring someone who has gone astray) and precedes the parable of the unmerciful servant (which is about being willing to cancel and forgive an outstanding debt). The themes that are present in these 6 verses are forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation with a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against you or who has gone astray.

Therefore, when two of you agree, or have the same mind, feelings, and opinion, about the sin that has been committed, and if forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation has been achieved between the parties involved, whatever you ask of God in this situation will be done for you.  This teaches us that as Christians we have a responsibility to maintain the welfare of God’s church in a wholesome and life-giving way.  For such a way brings unity.

Our first reading from Act 1 shows the church putting these words of Jesus into practice.  The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15: 1-29 is another illustration of how the early church dealt with conflict.  And the common factor in these examples is prayer.

So to resolve conflict, prayer has to be at the centre, but those who pray must be gathered together in the name of Christ, for this means that they are doing three things:

  1. Trusting that Jesus is interceding for them
  2. Praying in a way that their words are not utterances of the natural but of the spiritual person
  3. Asking in entire, total submission to the will of their Father in heaven

If these three things are not there then such prayers are like the prayer of the sons of Zebedee, when their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in Heaven.  Because this was not the will of God it would not be granted.  As followers of Jesus they would get to heaven but what they set their hearts on would not be granted (Matthew 20:20).

Praying in accordance with God’s will is so important, for when we do, our requests will be granted by our Father in Heaven. whether we pray as individuals or as a church.

Of course, this is to be understood with some restriction.  The request must be reasonable, good in itself, expedient for the petitioner; the prayer must be earnest, faithful, persevering and in line with God’s plumb line truth.  If such conditions are satisfied, the desire will be granted in some form, though, perhaps, not in the way or at the time expected.

So in all our proceedings, including church discipline, it is essential that we seek direction in prayer; we cannot prize too highly the promises that this brings us, because Jesus ends this teaching with a blessing, saying that He will always be with us.

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 6th September 2020

Overcoming fear

Luke 22:39-46

Have you ever been caught up in moment when you’ve agreed to buy something and you suddenly panic and think “have I got enough money to pay for this?”.  This may be something you’ve felt when you’ve gone to the supermarket.  The trolley is full to over-flowing, but have you enough to pay for it?  Perhaps you like to go to auction houses and bid on items that you collect and the bidding spirals upwards and you cannot keep you hand down!

That feeling of panic can incite fear into the depths of your very being.  You may well think, “What am I doing?” At times our human nature doesn’t always know when to stop.  It can be like trying to stop a large ship, it can take miles.  So, can I pay the bill?

The Lord Jesus is just like us.  He is fearful as to his human nature; “Take this cup away from me but let not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).  These words are a source of encouragement, a source of hope, for when we are in fear we can recall that the Lord himself in his humanity faced fear too; fear far worse than any we will ever face.

But He is not like us for He has a choice.  Even when He says, “I am He” as he is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:5) this invocation of the divine name causes the soldiers to fall on the ground in terror.  They thought that they had come to arrest a meek peasant, but instead in the dim light they were confronted by a truly majestic person.  Often we have no choice in our suffering, but the Lord has both the means to escape suffering – one angel is terrifying while a legion would be overwhelming – and the grounds for escape, for He, unlike us, is totally innocent of any wrong-doing.  Death has no jurisdiction over Him, yet death is lingering in the shadows.

But Jesus is treated as a criminal. He willingly takes the cup of suffering that we deserve, the cup of God’s judgement on our sin, and He freely drinks it for the love He has for us.

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Where does sorrow and suffering come from?  From sin.  From our sin.  Yet Jesus is sinless!  Is it from this moment in the Garden that Jesus starts to feel the weight of carrying our sorrow and our sin to the cross?  One thing we do know for certain is that as the man of sorrows Jesus is acquainted with any sorrow and suffering that we too go through.

So Gethsemane shows us that Jesus is a man of sorrow.  Gethsemane also shows that Jesus is a man of prayer.  What is prayer?  Well one thing I think that these verses tell us is that prayer is a confession of weakness!  Think about it.  Godly prayer is a recognition that we are totally dependent on our Heavenly Father.  When we know this,  we see our weaknesses, and led by the Holy Spirit we want to confess them so we can be rid of them.  But Jesus was also God so why did He need to pray?  Well, Philippians 2 gives us a clue: He humbled himself becoming a servant.  I still find praying on my own very hard.  Over the years I have improved, but there are times when I feel ashamed at how weak it is.  We can learn so much from Jesus and his constant prayer, but at times we feel daunted to pray.  Are any who are reading this in trouble, in fear and suffering?  Maybe you’re facing death?  Then like the Lord we must ask for help, for in our weakness we are made strong.

Your will be done” (v42), which is of course a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer; the will of the Father was that Jesus would be the sacrifice for our sins, a sacrifice for my weaknesses and frailties.  He alone can pay the bill.  We are bankrupt.  But how much must we be conformed to Him as He prayed that God’s will would be done.  He is a man of prayer.  His prayer is the prayer of faith and so must ours be.  He shows obedience to His Heavenly Father in suffering and so must we.  But this can be very, very, hard to do.  I don’t think it’s wrong at all to pray that God would relieve us of our suffering, but it may be that He will not, or at least not for a time.  And this is very hard to accept.  I know from my own experience, particularly when our 11-month old son laid in a coma in a hospital bed.  Having had corrective heart surgery which had been successful seven days later he got an infection which led to his death.  At times Barbara and I felt bewildered, and found praying at all, let alone praying “let not my will but yours be done” so difficult to do by ourselves, but the Spirit helped us and the knowledge that many people were praying for us also sustained us.

Hugh Martin a 19th century Scottish Minister said this, “Be in prayer beside the Saviour, mingling your crying and tears with his: when Jehovah looks on his anointed, he will lift on you the light of his face.”  (book “The Shadow of Calvary).  This urges us to join the Lord in Gethsemane, and so go the way of Christ, which is the way of the cross – the way to death.  For in death we find life!

We must go down into the Jordan to come up into the promised land and “Jordan’s river is chilly and wide”.  But the Saviour bids us follow in his footsteps.  He has paid the bill which was our bill and which we can’t possibly pay, and He has drained our cup of suffering and He will ferry us safely to the other side.

I’m going to close with words from a song by a Christian rock band called White Heart, which I believe encourages us to do as the Saviour bids and follow in His footsteps of suffering.

And the river will flow
the river will flow
through all the times of your life
the river will flow
and the river is love
the river is peace
and the river will flow
through the hearts of those who believe

So put your hand in mine
oh, put your hand in mine
and let us all go down
and kneel by the river’s side
we’ll cry our tears of joy
cry our tears of pain
we’ll let them fall down from our eyes
to be washed in the sacred stream
even the secret tears
buried in our memories
let them all be swept away
to the depths of the endless sea.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 16th August 2020

Getting to know Him

Mark 4:35-41

What’s our biggest problem as Christians? I suggest it is this: that we don’t know God enough, we don’t trust him enough, we don’t love him enough and that we don’t pray to him enough.  But this is not a new problem and in a strange way, we should find that encouraging.  For another group of Christians had the same problem – Jesus’s disciples.  Remember they were with the Lord himself for three years and their general slowness should encourage us that God is patient and loving and always seeking to draw us nearer to Himself. 

Jesus knew exactly what was coming.

Why do I say He knew what was coming, what was going to happen?  Well, first of all He only ever did what He saw His Heavenly Father do in Heaven.  Secondly He just knew what was going to happen next, he knew what people were thinking and going to say next.  Thirdly – A few weeks ago I spoke about “The Just in Time God” – He turned up at the appointed time for His birth, and at the appointed time He meet the widow of Nain.

So Jesus knew exactly what was coming – He knew there was going to be a storm. He deliberately placed His followers in harm’s way.  Being close to the Lord is no guarantee of a trouble-free life – rather the reverse!

Perhaps we should look at this time of Covid-19 in terms of trusting that God knows what He is doing, despite the suffering and disruption we are seeing and experiencing personally.  My life experience has clearly shown me that God does lead us into suffering so that He may show us more of Himself.  Twice I was made redundant when I had a young family, our son died at 11 months old, our older daughter put us through the ringer due to her mental health issues, I had a prolonged illness that meant I was off work for a year.  And I could go on!  Such things are often seen as situations sent to cause harm, but I believe God has meant them for good.  The uncertainty, the difficulties for my family, the pain, the frustrations, and fear, were all there, but it was a joy to know that God was utterly with me.  It was wonderful to know the joy of being involved in the Lord’s work, of seeing Him at work in and through those situations. In fact, these circumstances have given me many opportunities to share my faith.

Where is the ultimate place we see evil turned to good?  When we stand at the foot of the cross. The devil and all the forces of hell meant it for evil, but God used it for our good.

I am sure the disciples did all the things that experienced sailors would do when the “furious squall came up” – turn the boat into the wind, trim the sails, head for shore, bail out the water. But they didn’t do the one blindingly obvious thing that we as readers with hindsight should have done – ask the incarnate God who was right at hand for help.  Even when they did ask,  they did it in desperation and used rough words: they said, “Don’t you care?” (v38).

How hard it was for them to pray!  How small was their faith!  How hard it is for us to pray and how small is our faith!

Corrie Ten Boom said, “When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.”

And Charles Stanley said, “If satan can get you off your knees, nothing else matters. He doesn’t care what happens then.”

Instead of thinking “It’s too hard to pray” let us be encouraged to pray.  Do you see how kind the Lord is towards the disciples, how patient; yes, He reproves them, but He is always doing so out of a love so deep that it has no end.  God is so kind and patient towards us despite all our serious shortcomings.  Psalm 103 v13 says “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear him.”  God sees all the things that are wrong with us – our laziness, our weak faith, our lack of love, our secret sins, our cold hearts and our prayerlessness, and what does he do?  He is full of what the Bible calls in Hebrew Ches-ed (Chesed) which the Reformers of the sixteenth century translated as a “loving-kindness full of the attributes of grace, benevolence, and compassion”.

Out of this loving-kindness comes amazing divine power!  Billions and billions of molecules are rearranged and suddenly there is a dead calm.  Winds may drop but a storm-tossed body of water takes a long time to drop.  In a second all is quiet, all is still.  Such is the power of the divine word.  It utterly transforms their circumstances.

What is the disciples’ reaction?  They are even more afraid!  What’s the answer to fear? More fear!  Psalm 111:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom“.  In Mark’s gospel this is early on in Jesus’ ministry.  The disciples have seen Jesus teach with an authority they have not experienced and heard before.  They have seen Jesus heal people, again things they have not seen before.  You would have thought that they would have fully realised that they were in the presence of an awesome person.  But through this incident in their life it begins to dawn on them who this ordinary-looking man asleep in the boat is.  When they left the boat they knew him more than when they got in.  Isn’t that what we need?  To know the Lord more, to love him more, and to pray to him more.  For as the Puritan preacher Thomas Goodwin says, “The person who knows Christ best is the person who will pray best.”

So how are you going to get to know God better?

Prayer:

Lord God, you know that we are in the midst of such dangers and that we cannot always stand upright because of the frailty of our nature: grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations so we get to know you better, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Based on a sermon first delivered on 9th August 2020

Fasting and prayer

Fasting and prayer

Photo by Joseph Greve on Unsplash

In a nutshell, fasting is defined as voluntarily going without food in order to focus on prayer and fellowship with God.   But… you can pray without fasting, and fast without prayer.  Yet when these two activities are combined and dedicated to God’s glory they reach a fuller effectiveness.

One thing to make clear at the outset; prayer and fasting is not a time of manipulating God into doing what you desire.  No, it is simply forcing yourself to focus and rely on God for the strength, provision, and wisdom you need, by being open to His prompting, guiding, and His voice.

History is filled with stories of those who have fasted. Martin Luther, John Wesley and Charles Finney all saw the Lord impact their generations and they were all men of fasting and prayer.  It was Smith Wigglesworth who said, “If the Spirit of God is not moving, I will move the Spirit of God.”

So fasting and praying is about losing “the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free…” (Isaiah 58:6).

Fasting and prayer: what the Bible says…

The Old Testament law specifically required prayer and fasting for only one occasion, the Day of Atonement, known as “the day of fasting” (Jeremiah 36:6) or “the Fast” (Acts 27:9).  Moses fasted during the 40 days and 40 nights he was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God (Exodus 34:28). King Jehoshaphat called for a fast in all Israel when they were about to be attacked by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:3).  In response to Jonah’s preaching, the men of Nineveh fasted and put on sackcloth (Jonah 3:5). Prayer and fasting were responses in times of distress or trouble, as we heard in our first reading from Joel (Joel 2:1-2 & 12-17).

There are also other occasions recorded in Scripture.  For instance: David fasted when he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed (2 Samuel 1:12).  Nehemiah had a time of prayer and fasting upon learning that Jerusalem was still in ruins (Nehemiah 1:4).  Darius, the king of Persia, fasted all night after he was forced to put Daniel in the den of lions (Daniel 6:18).

Prayer and fasting also occurs in the New Testament.  Anna “worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” at the Temple (Luke 2:37).  John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18).  Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before His temptation by Satan (Matthew 4:2).  The church of Antioch fasted (Acts 13:2) and sent Paul and Barnabas off on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:3).  Paul and Barnabas spent time in prayer and fasting for the appointment of elders in the churches (Acts 14:23).

Fasting and prayer: Required or Recommended?

As you read the Word of God you’ll find that it does not specifically command believers to spend time in prayer and fasting.  Yet, at the same time, prayer and fasting is definitely something we should be doing, because Scripture shows us that when we take our eyes off the things of this world through prayer and fasting and focus our thoughts on God things begin to change miraculously.

Fasting should always be limited to a set time because: not eating for extended periods will be damaging to the body.  Scripture also shows us that fasting is not a method of punishing our bodies and it is not be used as a “dieting method” either, for we are to spend time in prayer and fasting to gain a deeper fellowship and discipleship with God.   Simply put, by taking our eyes off the things of this world through prayer and biblical fasting, we can focus better on Christ.

As we heard in or Gospel reading (Matthew 6:16-18) Jesus declares:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the truth, 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 men 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.”

Did you notice that Jesus said twice “When you fast”, not “If you fast”!  This implies that there is an expectation for followers of Jesus to fast.

Prayer and Fasting – What Does It Accomplish?

I need to be clear here that spending time in prayer and fasting is not automatically effective in accomplishing the desires of those who fast.  Fasting or no fasting, God only promises to answer our prayers when we ask according to His will.  1 John 5:14-15 tells us,

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”

In the prophet Isaiah’s time, the people grumbled that they had fasted, yet God did not answer in the way they wanted (Isaiah 58:3-4).  Isaiah responded by proclaiming that the external show of fasting and prayer, without the proper heart attitude, was futile (Isaiah 58:5-9).

So I believe that fasting and prayer are key components for turning the tide of anything we face, because it helps to bring us back into line with God’s plumb line truth, for when we walk in His truth we are going to be asking in accordance with His will.

Think what happened to Jesus in the wilderness after His baptism.  After 40 days He was tempted.  We may be surprised at this, after all Jesus had just spent 40 days focusing on God, His heavenly Father.  Why was He tempted then?

I think this shows us that temptation may come as a surprise but sin is not an accident.  The devil was coming to tempt Jesus, but He was ready for Him.   He was prepared with the Word of God, His sword and with 40 days of fasting and prayer (Matthew 4).  

Is there a temptation you are facing right now?

  • Feeling sorry for yourself, and self-pity?
  • feeling anxious and worrying?
  • The lust of the eyes?
  • Being offended and holding grudges?
  • The pride of life?

Most temptation falls into these categories. But whatever it is, there is a pathway to victory through fasting and prayer.

We cannot stop temptation from coming, but when it does come, we can walk in God’s supernatural power to overcome it through a lifestyle of fasting and prayer.

To me an important thing about praying and fasting is that we are to only do it to bring honour and glory to God. If we are asking for something that is not honouring to God or not God’s will for our lives, God will not give what we ask for, whether we fast or not. You see, we learn God’s will for us when we grow in His wisdom, and God promises to give us wisdom when we ask.  James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

As we journey through Lent together may we use the Lent sessions to help us grow in understanding and wisdom about the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting, so that we all grow in God’s wisdom and all the benefits that will bring us.

Ash Wednesday, 6th March 2019

Readings: Joel 2:1-2 & 12-17 and Matthew 6:1-6 & 16-21