Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

But as for me, when they were sick,My clothing was sackcloth;I humbled myself with FASTING; And my PRAYER would return to my own heart.”

Psalm 35:13

Today’s “Special” is kind of cute, IF you ask me! A boy with a chimpanzee on his shoulder was walking down the road when he passed a policeman who said, “Now now, young lad! I think you had better take that chimp to the zoo.” The next day, the boy was walking down the road with the chimp on his shoulder again, when he passed the same policeman. The policeman said, “Hey there, I thought I told you to take that chimp to the zoo!” The boy answered, “I did! And today I’m taking him to the movies!” Too cute not to share!

Today, we continue with our theme of faith. Last week we looked at Luke 18:8b, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”. Today’s texts will show us how to understand what true “prayer and fasting” is. Does this describe the church you attend? Does this describe YOUR faith?

Where is the origin of this phrase? Look up Psalm 35:10-18, noting especially verse 13 (quoted above). David had the identity of our Savior in many things, as should we. He identified with the poor, as should we. But his holy life was a snare to people he calls “ruthless” (verse 11). See verse 12, “they repay me evil for good, and leave my soul forlorn.” You know those kinds of people. Remember Matthew 27:17, “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed.” He Who loved them with an everlasting love was now the Object of their deadly plot. In the garden, King Jesus prayed, “not My will but Thine be done.” In turn, what did His Old Testament forerunner, King David, do? Note verse 13: “he humbled himself with FASTING and PRAYERS! He set aside QUALITY TIME for their souls before the Lord. He deprived himself of food as well as regular enjoyments, that he might commit them before the Lord. This is a tough, but good, example!

How about the prophet DANIEL? In Chapter 9, when he understood by way of his fellow prophet, Jeremiah, that the years of captivity in Babylon would be (Wow!) seventy years long, what did Daniel do? He…PRAYED! Look at verse 3: “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” [my emphasis]. Listen also to verse 13: “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth.” Daniel, himself a prophet, a servant of the King of kings, did what on a regular basis? He read the Scriptures! And when he read the Scriptures and understood future things (as can we!), how did he confess? Look at these truths from verses 4-6: before the “great and awesome God” [by the way, are YOU learning to use “awesome” as ONLY referring to God?], he confessed the sins and shortcomings of the people – with which he identified! Is this how WE pray as a church? Or are our prayers still “now I lay me down to sleep”?

Look at Acts 14:23: “ So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” [my emphasis!]. This is New Testament usage! Paul & Barnabas, missionaries of the church, made decisions for church leadership. How did they do that? Did they see who gave them the most money? Did they see who were the nicest? Did they even see who were the most faithful? NO! They prayed and fasted! FIRST! They set aside a season before the Lord to seek His face.

Perhaps your church is like this: You are about to have your annual meeting, where the new officers of the church will be elected. The nominating committee has been chosen, and the members of the committee are looking over the list of church members to see who is qualified for each office. But what should they do FIRST??? Yes, by now you know. They PRAYED! And before that meeting, whenever the thought of that meeting came to their minds, they PRAYED! In fact, most of them took the time to set aside a day in each week to neglect their personal needs and wants and think ONLY about that upcoming nomination committee meeting! And AT THE SAME TIME, many members of the church were…PRAYING! And at least once a week, a day was set aside during the week to…PRAY! Prayer was raised up for those members of the committee, and for the decisions they were called by God to make. Do you think God blessed that nomination committee meeting with His presence, help, and leading? He sure did!

OK! OK! You ask, “I think I’ve got PRAYER down pretty good. But what about FASTING? I know how “PRAYER AND FASTING” is used in these 3 main passages in the Old and New Testaments. How DO I fast? Do I simply stop eating? My doctor wouldn’t be too happy with that!”. Would yours be happy? Some of you are from a church background which celebrates “Lent”. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Lent” this way: “a period of 40 days before Easter during which many Christians do not eat certain foods or do certain pleasurable activities as a way of remembering the suffering of Jesus Christ.” Is that it?

Well, once again, what does the Bible say that true fasting is before God? There are many passages on fasting, but let’s finish by looking at Isaiah 58:6:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:

To loose the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the heavy burdens,

To let the oppressed go free,

And that you break every yoke?”

The fast that honors God is the one that puts “wings to prayer”! It is one which is NOT religious but real! It is one that loves the helpless and the unlovely. It is one that doesn’t see ourselves as having “arrived and have it all together”, but rather are daily seeking the Lord as a community in prayer.

THAT’S a major way we should be FASTING AND PRAYING!

A number of years ago, a church was preparing to build a multi-purpose youth center/gym, and they were going to a local bank to borrow the money to pay their new contractor. The leaders of the church said, “let us as a church set aside this coming Wednesday as a day of PRAYER AND FASTING. Whenever you get an hunger for food, PRAY!” And many of the church family did. Later in the day, one of the elders stopped one of his church family on the street and said,

“Have you been FASTING AND PRAYING?”

“Yes, all day long”.

“Good! God has answered in a mighty way! The bank was all set to give us the money. But when I mentioned the contractor’s name, the bank leaders said, ‘Sorry. We cannot lend you the money if he is your contractor. He has a poor reputation with this bank.’”

God intervened, and that church went a new direction that God orchestrated.

Remember our theme: “…However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8b). In particular, will He find individuals who are setting Jesus aside as the only One worthy of our lives? AND will He find that the habit of your church will be a church which is both regular and consistent in PRAYER AND FASTING?

Do we now? Isn’t Jesus – the One Who gave Himself for our sins – worthy of that kind of church which is known to be the church that PRAYS AND FASTS?