Sunday, August 23, 2015

Prayer & Fasting

This morning at Redeemer God called our church to fast and pray for T, who has cancer, and for any who our sick in our church family (Thank you Mike and Lorna, and Karen). 

Here are some notes I've put together on prayer and fasting.


“Prayer” defined: prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together.
“Fasting” defined: “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.” (Scot McKnight, Fasting, xviii)

Fasting in the Bible describes not eating or not drinking.
Fasting is choosing not to indulge in food and sustenance.
The biblical sense of fasting normally involved not eating anything from sunup to sundown (twelve hours) or perhaps from sundown to sundown (twenty-four hours). Absolute fasts involve denying the body food and water. Rarely does a fast in the Bible extend beyond twelve hours, though sometimes it does.
Fasting is a choice not to eat for a designated period because some moment is so sacred that partaking in food would deface or profane the seriousness of the moment. When Israel sinned and called for a fast connected to repentance, eating would have shattered the seriousness of the repentance. They felt it necessary that the body be afflicted to express their repentance. (McKnight, 19)

THE PATTERN OF BIBLICAL FASTING: A Responsive Approach (Non-instrumental view)
People fasted in the Bible in response to some grievous event in life – like death or the realization of sin or when the nation was threatened, and not essentially for the sake of getting some beneficial result. “Fasting isn’t a manipulative tool that guarantees results.” (Ib., xix)

“Fasting is a response to a sacred moment, not an instrument designed to get desired results. The focus in the Christian tradition is not “if you fast you willget,” but “when this happens, God’s people fast.” Fasting is a response to a very serious situation, not an act that gets us from a good level to a better level.” (Ib., xix-xx)
McKnight sees fasting in an A[B[C framework.

            A = the grievous sacred moment.

            B = the response generated by the grievous sacred moment.

C = The Results. “Only when the sacred moment is given its full power does the response of fasting generate the results (C) – and then not always, if the truth be told.” (Ib., xix)
We See this A[B[C pattern in Scripture:

Moses did, on Mt. Sinai, for forty days and forty nights (Ex. 34).
A [ forgiveness for iniquity and sin; God makes a covenant with His people
[ 28 Moses was there with God forty days and forty nights. He didn't eat any food; he didn't drink any water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Words.
C [ God instructs them to make the tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, and gives them His presence.

Moses also did two 40-day fasts. (Deut. 9:9, 18-19)
Samuel – 1 Sam. 7

A [ The people of God have sinned; God tells them to throw away their foreign gods.
B [ V. 6 - On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.”
[ God protects the Israelites from the Philistines; Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (V. 12)

A [ Hannah was praying for a child. She was barren and deeply distressed.
B [  Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons? ”
C [ Then God gave her a baby boy, Samuel, who grew into a mighty man of God. (1 Samuel 1:7-8)

David fasted many times. For example, once David fasted and prayed to God for the life of his child. (2 Samuel 12.)
A [ David knows he has sinned against God. Nathan tells David his son is going to die because of this.
[ 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth[b] on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
C [ God gives David another son – Solomon.


A [ Elijah confronts the priests of Baal. Jezebel is angry and threatens to take his life. (1 Kings 19)
B [ Elijah travels for 40 days and nights, without food, until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
C [ God appears and strengthens Elijah.


A [ Ezra faced a problem. He was leading a large group of defenseless people across the wilderness to return to the Promised Land. The “wilderness” was a “badlands” area inhabited by thieves who attacked caravans of people. The Israelites were not only returning home, they were bringing all their household goods and treasures with them.
B [ Faced with this problem… Ezra called a fast. In Ezra 8:21, 23, we read: There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions…
C [ God answers - So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

Nehemiah fasted and prayed when he was preparing for the trip back to Israel.
A [ In Neh. 1: 3-4 we read: “They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
B [ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

C [ God uses Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

A [ God’s people are threatened with extermination.
B [ Esther fasted. In Esther 4:15-16 we read: “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

C [ Order is reestablished.

Daniel fasted many times. For example, in Daniel 1 he fasts from the king’s food and drink. In Daniel 9 he fasts again.
A [ In Daniel 10, Daniel was faced with the destruction of Jerusalem.
B [He fasts.  
“ At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
C [– Daniel  has a phenomenal visitation from God. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not se it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

            A [ A foreign nation has invaded Israel.

B [ Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. (Joel 1:14)
C [ Then the Lord was jealous for his land and took pity on his people. (Joel 2:18)

The people of Ninevah
A [ In Jonah 3:5-9 the people of Nineveh heard what Jonah had to say. (“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”)
B [ They “believed God.” Then “They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”
[ 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

A [ Anna was a prophet, spending time in the Temple, waiting for Messiah to be born. (Luke 2)
B [ V. 37 - She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
C [ V. 38 - 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

John the Baptist
John the Baptist and his disciples fasted often. (Matthew 9:14-15)
A [ Waiting, preparing, for Messiah to come.
B [ They fasted often.
C [ Messiah comes!

The Early Jesus-followers
A [ Paul and Barnabas are going on a mission trip.
B [ The Christians at Antioch fasted. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13)
[ The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

A [ Elders (shepherds) are needed in the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.
B [ Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:23)
            C [ These churches have shepherds over them.

Jesus’ Disciples were expected to fast
For Jesus it was a matter of when believers would fast, not if they would do it. He spoke in these terms: "When you give to the needy...when you pray...when you fast." (Matthew 6:2,5,16)
These three things should be done, not rarely, but as a lifestyle.

Throughout history…
In history Martin Luther and John Calvin, John Knox and John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney , Billy Graham. and many, many others prayed AND fasted.
Wesley himself wrote in his journal, "Is not the neglect of this plain duty (I mean fasting, ranked by our Lord with almsgiving and prayer) one general occasion of deadness among Christians?"

A Biblical Example of What Fasting Can Look Like: Isaiah 58
Isaiah 58:3-12 is an especially relevant text on biblical fasting, since in it God tells us the elements of his “chosen fast.”

The context: the people of Israel had been fasting, but no spiritual transformation (changed lives) was happening. 
A [ This is a call to the people of God to recognize their sin and rebellion.

B [ Fasting, and in the midst of fasting getting directives from God.
C [ Life-giving results.

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet. 
Declare to my people their rebellion 
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'
These people are v. religious. But they find no satisfaction in their religious activity – like fasting.
“The religion that is exposed here rests on Canaanite rather than Yahwistic principles.” (Motyer, I, 478)
“The essence of Canaanite religion was to put the gods under pressure to perform their functions.” (Ib.)
Their fasting was only to get some reaction from God. It was only to get something… from God. They had an “instrumental approach” in their religion.
"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ?
The people of Isa. 58 “had ritualized the whole exercise into the bowed head, sackcloth and ashes. The phrase ‘like a reed’ exposes the formalism of the whole exercise; it was as automatic and uncomprehending as a reed before a wind… Sackcoth is not commanded in the law and no [religious worship] ‘aid’ is immune from degenerating into a performance.” (Motyer, I, 481)
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: 

to loose the chains of injustice 
and untie the cords of the yoke, 
to set the oppressed free 
and break every yoke?
The objectives of a fast day are the creation of a just society (v. 6), the meeting of individual needs (7) and domestic care (7).
“Labor for the abolition of every way in which wrong social structures, or wrongdoers in society, destroy or diminish the due liberty of others… Eliminate every way in which people are treated like animals… Break the yoke itself, whether of injustice, inhumanity, or inequality.” (Motyer, Isaiah, 481)

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
God says… this is what I mean by fasting. This is my “chosen fast.” Here God, as the people pray and fast, prescribes and describes.


  • Feed the hungry.
  • House the homeless.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Move towards other people (no "cocooning" allowed)
  • Get rid of the pointy finger and trash-talk (stop the oppression!)
  • Spend yourself on other people

Next… God describes what life will be like…  the consequent personal blessings.
Then your light will break forth [to erupt like flood waters] like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 

DESCRIPTION (Promised Results)

  • If we fast like this the darkness in our life will become light.
  • If we follow this fasting there will be physical strengthening.
    • Verse 11: "He will strength your frame – lit., your bones. Your skeletal structure.
    • Who knows how much weakness is in us because we are not fasting in the way God wants us to?
  • If we follow this fasting God will be in front of us and behind us and in the midst of us with righteousness and glory.
  • If we follow this fasting, God promises to guide us continually.
    • John Piper says, “It seems the Lord gives his most intimate guidance to those whom have a heart for giving themselves to the needs of others—especially the poor.”
  • If we follow this fasting, He will satisfy your soul.
    • Pouring ourselves out for the poor is the path of deepest satisfaction.
  • If we follow this fasting, God will make you a watered garden with springs that do not fail.
    • It is a paradoxical spiritual principle in Scripture: as you pour yourself out you become full.
    • As you give away you get more.
    • When you are watered with God's grace you do not merely become a wet, moist, living garden; you also become a spring.
  • Finally, if we follow this fasting, that is, if we give ourselves to the poor, God will restore the ruins of his city—and his people.