[Course 26 Index] [Prayer-School Index] [Mini-Series Index ] [Prev Lesson] [Next Lesson]
Some people consider fasting and prayer a very personal and private thing that is just between them and God. But there are times when believers will come together as a group to fast and pray for a specific cause. And it can be highly effective when people do that. For instance, God was going to destroy Nineveh but they repented and held a city-wide fast and prayed for forgiveness, and God forgave them. There was a time when the children of Israel needed direction from God as to whether or not to enter into a certain battle, and they held a corporate fast, seeking God for direction. And God gave them the direction they asked for in response to their fast and prayer (see Judges 20:26-28).
And even in the last decade, God has been mobilizing His body to come together with fasting and prayer. Let me share some history on this.
Some History On Corporate Fasts
Corporate fasts are not new to the body of Christ; they have been going on for years. But a lot of them were small and isolated, a church here or a group of intercessors there. But early in 1997, God began to seriously mobilize the body of Christ to come together for fasting and prayer. A lot of key and influential leaders began calling believers to fast and pray together for revival. For instance Dr. Bill Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ) called a 40 day fast Jan 2 to Feb 10, 1997. This was widely publicized in the United States through many different media, including magazines and newsletters, the Internet and letters to pastors. (I believe it was also publicized in Canada and western Europe.) Tens of thousands of people participated (in some degree or another) in the 40 day fast that Bill Bright called. Believers mobilized to corporately fast and pray for revival. Then Wesley Campbell (an influential leader from Canada) called for a companion fast to begin the day after Dr. Bright's fast ended and it went for another 40 days. (This second fast targeted those who had not participated in the first 40 day fast, and many people responded to that call.) Harvest Rock Church (an internationally known revival church in Southern California) called for a fast to begin Monday Feb 17, 1997 and go through Good Friday. There were similar fasts for revival called in Jan. and Feb. of 1997 in England, Ireland and Scotland for revival in Europe.
A whole bunch of fasting and prayer movements rose up in the first few months of 1997. Most of them were started independently of each other, rather than being a collaborative effort. Many of them were nationwide and crossed denominational barriers to mobilize the body of Christ to fast and pray and seek God for revival. A lot of people who had never fasted before felt God tug on their hearts to participate in these corporate 40 day fasts for revival. People seemed to agree that God was calling His Church to fast and pray for revival. And people responded to God's call.
Christians from all over the world rose to meet the challenge. A lot of them could not fast for the full 40 days, so they would participate as best as they could. Some would fast one day a week for the 40 day period. Others fasted for a week. Some could not abstain totally from food, so they did a Daniel fast (fruits and vegetables). But an amazing number of believers actually did a full 40 day fast in early 1997. Believers all over the world recognized that God was calling them to fast and pray, and they responded to His call.
The large public mobilization for corporate fasts has died down over the years, but God's people continue to fast and pray corporately as God prompts them. Corporate fasting started with a bang in 1997 and it looks like it is here to stay.
Are Corporate Fasts Scriptural?
The concept of corporate prayer raised an interesting issue for some people. It came from the passage in Matthew 6:17-18 where Jesus said, "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."
The question came up, "I thought that we were supposed to keep our fasting a secret, or it did not please God. So isn't it wrong to call a corporate fast where everyone knows who is fasting?"
The Matt. 6 passage actually gives us the answer to that question. Back up one verse to see the context of Jesus' statement. Jesus was not talking about all types of fasts. He was explicitly talking about people who's motivation to fast is to impress others and appear holy or religious. These people don't please God at all and their effort is wasted. Here is what He said in verse 16, "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." In other words, Jesus did not saying anything against corporate fasts here. Instead He said that God pays attention to the motive behind the fast.
If you fast to impress people and look pious, then God is not impressed. And if you happen to have that particular fault, then you need to take a corrective measure. You need to keep your fasting secret with God while you work on cleaning up your motivation for fasting.
There is a Bible precedent for corporate fasts in the Old Testament. God Himself commanded multiple fasts as part of the law He gave Moses. One fast was a partial fast, at Passover where Jews were asked to fast from leavened bread. This was a corporate fast -- everyone was expected to participate. And they were expected to think about how God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt when they observed this fast. It was not a secret, but it was a holy corporate fast for all of God's people to follow.
Then there is the fast of Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement" where all of Israel is commanded to fast and pray for atonement for their sins. This was given in Leviticus 16:29 and again in Leviticus 23:17. These verses say: "This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves [or must fast] and not do any work, whether native-born or an alien living among you." And "The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, [and fast] and present an offering made to the Lord by fire." In other words, God called a corporate fast for Yom Kippur.
God cannot be opposed to corporate fasts because He explicitly ordained a couple of them in the law.
The Bible history books give us examples of God-ordained leaders calling corporate fasts for special purposes. For instance, Ezra called a fast in Ezra 8:21,23: "Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.... So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer." Did you get that -- the people came together to corporately fast and pray, and God heard and answered their prayers.
We also see New Testament examples of corporate prayer. One of them is from Acts 13:1-3 where Paul and Barnabas were commissioned and sent to the Gentiles: "Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away."
There is another New Testament example of a corporate fast in Acts 14:21-23, where they appointed elders for recently planted churches: "And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.' So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed."
Thus we have both an Old Testament and a New Testament precedent for corporate fasts. God likes corporate fasts? Why? I believe that part of the reason God likes them is because He likes things that promote unity and believers working to gather towards a common goal. That is why Jesus said, "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in Heaven" (Matthew 18:19).