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A Life Changing Experience
Fasting and Prayer
I was faced recently with a large crowd of people in Malaysia. I said to my Malaysian friends, "How many of you have been wonderfully blessed by the Spirit this year?" About 400 people put up their hands.
In Luke 6:40, Jesus says, "The disciple is not above his Lord." You cannot improve on Jesus. If Jesus had to fast 40 days, maybe you will have to fast 40 days. I then asked my Malaysian friends how many of them had fasted. No one put up their hands.
If we are going to get Jesus' results, we have got to pray and fast. In this 9th lesson, I want to deal with prayer and fasting in a time where over 600 churches are doing a 40 day fast in the Pacific rim. According to my e-mail information, at least 48 churches in Europe are following the Lord through a 40 day fast.
We have seen already that we have to bind the strong man. I believe it was out of the wilderness where He bound the strong man through fasting and prayer that Jesus began to do miracles in John, chapter 2.
So the place of prayer and fasting is scriptural. First, I believe self-denial in every form was taught by Jesus. Turn with me to Matthew 16:24. Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone will come after Me, He must deny Himself and take up His cross and follow Me." You cannot get to heaven unless you are born again. You cannot be a disciple unless you deny yourself.
Well, what about fasting? In Matthew 9:15, when they talked to Jesus about this, He prophesied clearly that after His resurrection, His disciples would fast. Jesus said, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn when He is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast."
Paul actually emphasized that through the Spirit a believer must overcome the pull of the human body. Romans 8:13 says that, "if we live according to the sinful nature, you will die. But if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live." But someone said to me, "Can I not smoke and get to heaven?" And I said, "Probably the more you smoke, the sooner you will go to heaven!" It is not to be recommended for defiling the temple of God.
Paul actually wept in Philippians 3:19 over those who minded earthly things and made a god of their stomach. He said their end and destiny is destruction. Their god is their stomach. Their glory is in their shame. Very often we put our time and money in earthly things, but we do not do the same for the affairs of our spirit.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "I beat my body and make it my slave, so having preached to others I will not be disqualified." When I was at Oxford University and we were having boat races, everyone was disciplined and going to bed on time. Now Paul says, they do it for an earthly crown. Let us do it for a heavenly crown!
I find that Paul often fasted. He said that in all things, "He wanted to approve himself as a minister of God -- in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, and stripes, and imprisonments, in weariness, and in fasting often." So he says to Christian couples as part of your normal living, please fast because then God will bless you. In fact the Corinthian church came behind in no spiritual gift.
But then he says in 1 Corinthians 7:5, "Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, that you may give yourself to fasting and prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control." So the normal married physical relationship was given up in this church by consent of each partner in order to spend time in fasting and prayer. No wonder they had so many spiritual gifts.
Specific instructions regarding fasting are important. They are given in the Bible. First of all, there is a variation in the types of fasting. I said to an Irishman, "Do you part-fast?" "Yes," he said, "I chew on one side of my mouth only." (smile) Now Daniel abstained from fancy foods. Daniel 10:3 says, "I ate no choice food. No meat or wine touched my lips." That is an example of a part-fast. He was a busy man, and you can see that it was difficult for him to have a total fast.
On the other hand, in Deuteronomy 9, Moses went up to the mountain. He stayed on the mountain for 40 days and ate no bread and drank no water, and Jesus did the same in Matthew 4:2. This is a supernatural fast. I do very strongly urge that you drink while abstaining from food.
Most importantly is that when you are coming back to a full diet - start with fruit drinks and work up slowly (like a baby) to solid food. This period should be equal to the length of your fast. Maybe for 3 or 4 days, you will have stomach problems because of undigested food and you will get headaches. But after those first few days, you will find that the most important thing is that when you begin to eat again - take it gradually.
It is not just the mechanics of fasting. The Bible emphasized motives for the fast, and particularly in Isaiah, chapter 58. Isaiah 58:3,4 says, "Why have we fasted and Thou does not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou does not notice? Behold on the day of your fasting you find your desire, and drive hard your workers. Behold you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist."
Verses 6-11 say, "Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer. You will cry, and He will says, 'Here I am.'"
"If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones. You will be like a watered garden, and alike a spring of water whose waters do not fail."
Great promises!! But the motivation is in service. Jesus also emphasizes the secret nature of fasting. In Matthew 6:17, Jesus says that when you fast to put oil on your head. Wash your face so that it is not obvious to men that you are fasting, but to your Heavenly Father Who is unseen. Your Heaven Father Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you openly.
Thirdly, each fast must be accompanied by self-examination and repentance over any known sin. Joel 2:12 says, "Even now, declares, the Lord - Return to Me with all your heart, in fasting, weeping and mourning."
How does this bring results? There are some examples given to encourage us. For instance, Moses, after fasting 40 days to get a revelation of the ten commandments, fasting another 40 days. This averted judgment and saved the nation.
He says in Deuteronomy 9:25, "I lay prostrate before the Lord these 40 days and 40 nights because the Lord said He would destroy you. But I interceded." In Deuteronomy 10:4, Moses said," And He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them to me."
Samuel asked the people of God, when they admitted their sin in need, to not be afraid to go forward. He said, "I am fasting." He snatched victory from defeat. The people said to Samuel to not stop crying out to God so that He would rescue them from the hand of the Philistines. Samuel took a second lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering and cried out to the Lord. While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines, throwing them in such a panic that they were defeated before the Israelites.
In Ezra 10:6, it reads that, "Ezra rose from before the house of God and went into the chamber of Jehohanan. Although he went there, he did not eat bread, nor drink water, for he was mourning over the unfaithfulness of the exiles."
Even wicked Ahab deferred the judgment of God in fasting. 1 Kings 21:27-29 says, "And it came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sack-cloth and fasted, and he lay in sack-cloth and went about despondently." Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, "Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son's days." If an ungodly king like Ahab with a wife like Jezebel can turn the heart of God through fasting, how much more can you and I?
In fact when Daniel fasted, he got revelations. He was shown the king's dream when failure would have led to his own execution. Then later the angel visited him with details of future world history.
In fact Daniel 10:2 says, "I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all, until the entire three weeks were completed."
In verse 5 Daniel says, "I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz."
Verses 8 and 9 say, "So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength. But I heard the sound of his words, and as soon as I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground."
In verses 10, 11, and 12 it reads, "Then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, 'O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.' And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling."
"Then he said to me, 'Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.'"
Verse 14 says, "Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future." How marvelous that God can speak to a full time politician through fasting and prayer.
Jesus, in Luke 4:1, returned from the Jordan and led BY the Spirit into the fasting. This is the key. There, tempted by the devil, he ate nothing. But He returned (Luke 4:14)from the desert, haven beaten the devil, in the POWER of the Spirit. News about Him spread through the whole country-side. Once we get back to Jesus' method of binding the devil, overcoming our body, this country has yet to see what God will do through fasting and prayer.
In fact, Paul fasted after his conversion. Acts 9:9 says, "For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink." Verse 17 says, "Ananias entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Wonderful! The greatest missionary in the New Testament was fasting and praying as a key to the beginning of his ministry.
Similarly, in the Antioch church, while they were worshipping the Lord (Acts 13:2) and fasting, the Lord set apart Barnabus and Saul for the work to which He had called them. Verse 3 says that "when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away."
Paul's choice of local church elders was only after a similar procedure. In Act 14:23, Paul and Barnabus appointed elders for them in each church with prayer and fasting. How vital to get the plans of God rather then say, "Please bless our committee."
I want to give you six simple suggestions regarding prayer and fasting. First, sort out your motives. Even be about fasting for your enemies. In Psalm 35:13, David said when his enemies were ill, he put on sack-cloth and humbled himself with fasting. Praise God! He fasted for his enemies. He fasted for Saul, who tried to kill him.
Secondly, make sure in the fasting that you are free from known disobedience. In Jeremiah 14:10, the Lord says to this people, "Even so they have loved to wander, they have not kept their feet in check. Therefore the Lord does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account."
In verses 11 and 12, Jeremiah says, "So the Lord said to me. 'Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry." So make sure, before your fast, that you are listening to God and totally obedient.
Thirdly, make sure that the Holy Spirit is leading you, rather than just a routine fast. "Were they fasting?" says Zechariah 7:5. "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? And when you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?"
I knew a man who felt through fasting that we get power. A girlfriend left him and things were going wrong. He then went through several different churches, never staying around long enough for anyone to know him. Through fasting, he heard this voice, saying "You'll be some great man." He ended in a mental hospital.
I telephoned my friend, Bill, saying that I was concerned about this. Bill said that yes, the man would die in three days unless he stopped his fasting. Fortunately, the man who was fasting wrote a note and I was called in. Nobody had missed him because he went through different churches. It is so important in fasting and prayer to be fasting with guidance and with a group.
I went into see him and said "Brother, you have these symptoms, and you are a medical student. You will be in dead in three days unless you stop this fast, and stop listening to this voice." Thank God the man immediately did that. The hospital knew how to care for this man physically, and thank God, he is now wonderfully used and married. He is a professional man, doing a wonderful job in Northern Ireland. But it was SO close. Make sure you are led by the Holy Spirit, and not by any other motivation in fasting and prayer.
Fourthly, remember that after getting over the discomforts of fasting (particularly the first 3 days)when your stomach is churning undigested food, you may proceed and the desire for food will fade as your stomach goes to sleep. But, when you do get hungry, please come back gradually to a full diet. Do not eat fish and chips, or eat anything heavy too quickly.
Fifthly, when you have fasted and God has given you these promises of blessing, you may find that you will have to wait before you get the result. Do not boast of your fast. Use fasts to release others and spend more time with God. Do not be like the Pharisee in Luke 18:12 that shared how they fasted (boasting). Be sure that you are fasting with the motivation to give glory to God and bless other people.
Finally, you will find that sometimes there is a difficulty even in the fasting as you as you are weak and open to all kinds of spiritual atmospheres, and the devil will attack you. So spend the time in prayer - not working. So often when people work and fast, it tells on their heart. Set aside a time by the guidance of the Spirit. Do it gradually over a period so that you know what you are doing. Have an end in view.
Remember that spiritual sensitivity is not happy with a full stomach. It is fast and pray--not fast and work. So in fasting, you are sowing the seed. Look to the Lord to give you your full reward at the end of time.
You say, "Well, I'd like to know I was going to heaven." You can. It is as simple as a-b-c. Admit you have a need. Come, whether you are fasting or not, and say, "Lord, I am a sinner. Thank You, Lord. You died for me." Believe that when He died and gave you His blood that His blood cleanses from all sin. Do not remember the past. God has forgiven and God has forgotten. Then confess and say - Yes, I have asked Jesus Christ into my life. I am moving in the power of God.
Above all, remember that as you fast, keep your eyes on Jesus. He has conquered all the power of the enemy. He wants you to bind the strong man in your own life and spoil his goods.