We begin the New Year as we mean to go on with prayer and fasting. We begin grounded in Acts 19:1-12. Acts 19 tells the story of how Paul ministered with ordinary ‘weak’ people like you and me, through whom God reached everyone in Asia. It is notable in that Paul’s approach in Ephesus is so Jesus-like – he spends three years with people, discipling them, laying hands on them and commissioning them; Paul then gets out of the way leaving them to it. This is a timely passage, and I sense God speaking to us through it. Also, it is the passage that is the prelude to the series on the book of Ephesians that will form our Sunday teaching focus. It is the passage that will guide our New Year corporate prayer. The invitation of Acts 19 is threefold and forms the focus of our corporate prayer:
Knock - Draw near to Jesus, confess our sin, distraction and luke-warm hearts, and yield and surrender to him – prayerfully read Acts 19:1-12 and the book of Ephesians over these three days.
Ask – for the filling and empowerment of the Spirit – fast as you are able during the three days (see note below), and cry out to him for the filling of the Spirit
Seek – his leading. However, ‘unlikely’ and fragile we feel, trust he is with us and ask how he is calling us as individuals and as church together – come and pray together on Thurs evening from 8-9pm
A note on fasting ‘Couch to 3-day’ – fasting may or may not be something you have done before. If not, it can feel a strange practice and somewhat intimidating. Fasting is usually from food, but there are other ways of fasting. Fasting isn’t always easy, but it is a habit or discipline that is a means of grace. Our invitation is to fast for as much of the period from 10-12 Jan as you are able and then to come and pray together at 8pm on Thurs. If you haven’t fasted before, I recommend fasting for a shorter time and building up slowly using the ‘Couch to 3-day’ approach. We will then break fast together with pizza. So whatever period you choose to fast for, make sure it ends on Thurs evening.
Couch to ‘3-day’ – Guide to Fasting
Fasting is a core Christian practice, part of the very basics, but something that has got lost in the Western Church over the last century or so. Jesus’ words ‘When you fast...’ suggest that it’s something he assumes his followers will do. But for many of us, the idea of fasting is new, strange, or even intimidating. But it’s a habit we can learn and grow in and has many benefits. A bit like learning to run and using the Couch to 5K model for running, fasting is something we can start slowly with and grow to be better at.
Why do Christians fast?
Much has been written in the media over recent years about the physical health benefits of fasting. But Christian fasting is primarily a spiritual habit with many spiritual benefits. Fasting is a gift; it is a means of grace. Fasting increases our dependence on God. When we’re physically weak, we can feel greater awareness of His strength. ‘Fasting… is a divine corrective to the pride of the human heart. It is a discipline of the body with a tendency to humble the soul.’ Sometimes our prayers seem to gain increased closeness or clarity. It’s a particularly good practice in those times when we feel a bit spiritually stuck, plateaued, or dry, when we are finding other disciplines difficult. Fasting can help give us a bit of a kick-start. Don’t get sucked into a sort of ‘super-spiritualism’ where the physical feat becomes the goal or the focus. It’s a tool to help us honour God, draw close to Him and see breakthrough in prayer. So what are the spiritual reasons to fast. Here are some, fasting:
is Biblical (Matthew 9:15)
increases our dependence on God
helps us divert our attention from fleshly distractions and place our attention on God. It is a way of seeking his wisdom (Daniel 9:3)
restores intimacy (Joel 2:12-13)
provokes divine intervention in our lives and the lives of those around us, (Esther 4:16)
amplifies the power of prayer. It acts as an accompaniment to prayer in certain situations (Ezra 8:23, Mark 9:29)
crucifies the power of the flesh and helps us overcome temptation (Luke 4:2-4)
exposes our carnal nature and helps us get rid of them (Isaiah 58:3-7)
is a way of consecrating ourselves to God (Joel 1:14)
How does it work?
Simple really, just voluntarily go without food for a set period and include times of prayer within that (one good option is to pray when you would usually have been preparing/eating food). If food is a difficult issue for you or there are health complications involved, feel free to wisely avoid this practice without any guilt or pressure...there are alternative ways of fasting. For example, you could choose to eliminate luxury foods for a period or fast from TV or social media and instead use the time to pray. But for most of us, completely fasting from food is probably something we’re more capable of than we realise.
Start small, just skipping one or two meals and fasting food but not drink. Work up to 24 hour fasts from food and drink (except water. Keep drinking water.). Once you have reached 24 hours, consider going for longer. Do be careful about any health reasons why you shouldn’t do this, but if none are present, extending your fasting time to 2, 3 or more days can be a spiritually powerful experience. If you do fast for a longer time, keep drinking water, rest lots, and you may need to take paracetamol to help with caffeine withdrawal or headaches. If you plan to go longer than two days, before you do it, make sure you read further the practical guidelines about how to do it. A good book is ‘God’s Chosen Fast’ by Arthur Wallace, or Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.