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'Declare a holy fast...and cry out to the Lord’ Joel 1:14
‘Even now’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Joel 2:12
Traditionally in the church calendar Lent is marked out as a time for consecrating ourselves to God anew, waiting on Him and pressing into His presence.
At our recent Hungry church prayer meeting we were challenged by the following quote from William Arthur: ‘Unbelief & neglect of prayer generally go together as preventives of spiritual power. Let all of us who are painfully conscious that the results...will never be attained by the instrumentality of men, in the condition in which we are, simply ask ourselves: “How long, how often, how importunately have we waited at the throne of the Saviour for the outpouring of the Spirit?”’
We are issuing a call to St Aldates to pray and fast during the 46 days of Lent. This is a opportunity to challenge our own neglect of these sweet (but sometimes tough) disciplines. In times of prayer and fasting we make a decision to draw close to God and we begin to overcome our unbelief as we see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly and follow Him more nearly day by day.
There are various biblical examples for the discipline of prayer and fasting. In the lives of Hannah, Esther, Daniel, Paul and Jesus, we see an obedience to fast and pray in different circumstances. Although different, each is an act of consecration in the context of seeking God.
For Hannah, (1 Samuel 1,2) this obedience to prayer and fasting comes out of desperation to see a change in her own circumstance. She is at the end of herself and broken in her barrenness. She chooses to press into God.
Esther prays and fasts with others out of necessity. There is a terrible threat to her people and her nation that can only be changed by the intervention of God. She seeks wisdom, strategy and a way forward that only God can give. (Esther 4,5)
For Daniel and his friends, fasting is a act of obedience and consecration to God and His ways that sets them apart from the pagan world of Babylon. They are choosing to be different, they make a conscious decision to align themselves with God. (Daniel 1)
Paul and others in the church at Antioch are recorded as worshiping and fasting in Acts 13. We are not told if they are particularly seeking direction, comfort or breakthrough at this time, but they are dedicating themselves to God, seeking Him. It is in this context of consecration, that the Spirit brings commission and clear direction.
Our ultimate example in all things: the Lord Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He fasts and communes with His Father. At the beginning of what we call His ‘ministry’ time, He hears and obeys the call of the Spirit to step aside, set aside and put aside in this chosen 40 days of prayer and fasting (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). Lent is an invitation to follow His example:
1. Jesus steps aside: out of the clamour of life
- in prayer and fasting we can chose to make space and time to draw aside and quiet our souls from the demand around us. This stepping aside will include changes to our routine: committing to prayer and fasting will cost us and will mean changing our priorities. We will have to say ‘no’ to some plans and people when we say ‘yes’ to the wilderness of Lent, however we choose to do that.
2. Jesus sets aside time: to be devoted only to God
- like Christ, we want to be men and women of the Word. In fasting we should set aside time to soak in scripture: reading, studying and meditating on it. Jesus’ 40 days end with a defining moment. He resists the greatest and strongest temptations that can be put before Him. He is physically empty, but spiritually nourished so it is the Word of God that flows out of Him in His encounter with the enemy.
3. Jesus puts aside human priorities and necessities
- fasting during Lent (or any other time) is a means of reminding ourselves, as Christ did, that our bodies and our whole lives belong to God. We are to be vessels for the Spirit of God, and sustained ultimately by God alone. We put aside our human desires and the demands of the body for a season. This helps us to hear and respond to the promptings of the Spirit, rather than the demands of the world and our own flesh.
Practical ideas for Praying & fasting in Lent
· Think carefully and prayerfully about what, how, where and when to seek God in prayer and fasting.
· Make a plan (preferably before Lent begins), tell someone else about it and stick to it.
· Make the most of Ash Wednesday as a start date—mark the beginning of Lent by fasting for the day, meeting to pray with others or devoting time to read and meditate on scripture
· What if I fail? ‘His mercies are new every morning’ (Lam 3:22,23) Be honest about it, repent, get over it and start again!
2. Set aside:
When we set aside time for God it is as much about taking something up as putting other things down. Things you could ‘take up’:
· Hungry church prayer meeting: 8-10pm, Wed 30 March
· Join a devotional prayer and worship session - Wednesday and Thursday lunchtimes in the Oxford Prayer Room ONE THING
· Visit www.oxfordprayerroom.org: come and pray for Oxford, for a particular people group or a specific nation
· Consider writing a prayer journal during Lent
· Make a plan to study and meditate on Jesus journey from the wilderness temptation to the cross in the lead up to Easter. (There are lots of resources online.)
· Stretch your faith and pray for someone when they express a need—right there and then. Expect God to answer prayers!
· Start a prayer triplet
· Commit to pray for a few specific people over Lent, ask them how you can best pray for them (whether Christians or non-Christians) and follow up—ask how it’s going/share words of encouragement
· Eagerly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians) and seek opportunities to grow in these things.
3. Put aside:
· In the Bible, fasting is mostly about food and/or drink. The physical cost is a demonstration of our dedication to God and causes us to lean on Him. Here are some possible ways to fast:
* fast from alcohol or caffeine
* fast from chocolate/sweet things
* fast from meat
* fast from food one day a week in Lent
* fast one meal a day for the length of Lent
· Fasting is not to be confused with dieting. If you suffer from an eating disorder or struggle in your relationship to food, we recommend not fasting food, but if you do feel prompted to fast in some way please seek medical advice before fasting. Always be accountable to someone else regarding how and when you fast, and how you are coping with it.
· Additionally, it is good to cut out distractions, why not also fast one or some of the following—or anything else that currently gets a lot of your time and devotion:
* TV or films
* social networking (Facebook or Twitter)
* magazines, trashy novels
* watching/following sport
* clothes shopping
* if you are married: sex (by mutual agreement!)
* late nights or lie-ins
Finally: be excited and expectant! However you choose to fast and pray this Lent, make knowing Him your goal and deep desire.
“‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you’ declares the Lord” Jeremiah 29:13,14
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