Today, February 20 Mercy Church will be observing a day of prayer and fasting. In light of that, I wanted to provide both a why and how to help guide you through today, which is why this email has two parts. The first is an article I wrote to Mercy Church last year before a day of fasting leading up to Easter. The message feels even more timely today and we have many with us who weren’t here a year ago. I invite you to take a second and read it. The second part of this post has two prayer guides for you for tomorrow. One to help you pray in the morning, and one in the afternoon. My hope is this helps you throughout the day. I’m looking forward to seeing each of you tonight at our Providence Road campus at 6:30 pm.
The Cooperation of Fasting and Prayer in the Christian Life
From April 8th, 2019
The first time I can remember fasting was as a college sophomore. A group of guys I was in a bible study with were feeling (pridefully) like we were ready for some more “next level” Christian practices and to a bunch of 20 yr old guys, withholding… from food… sounded about as extreme as moving to a monastery for 2 months (which we explored but was cost prohibitive on our ramen budget). So, we took a day and we didn’t eat. And the results at the end of the day were not surprising: we were hungry. The problem was that we fasted just to fast. Our next level practice was detached from an entry-level belief: We need God.
The story of God’s people in scripture shows time and time again that when they wanted to express their desperation for God, they fasted as they prayed. The people of God are a praying people from the beginning to end of scripture. Yet there are moments of intense longing where the authors of scripture make a point to tell us their prayers were accompanied with fasting.
When Ezra was about to lead the exiles back to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast for the people of the Lord to seek a safe passage (Ezra 8.23). When the 11 tribes prepared for war against the tribe of Benjamin they fasted and prayed for guidance over whether or not it was God’s desire for them (Judges 20). When the Ninevites believed God through Jonah’s preaching they expressed repentance through prayer and fasting (Jonah 3.5-8). When Jesus himself needed God to sustain him in the midst of temptation he prayed and fasted (Matthew 4.1-11). Before the early church agreed to send out Barnabas and Saul to do missionary work they prayed and fasted for the Lord’s confirmation on their calling.
Fasting is a way God’s people express their dependence on God as we seek him in prayer. Mercy Family, we need God. Each of us needs him and we need him as a church family. We can probably list off a number of things we feel we need from him, but above all we need him. We need God. We need him to draw us closer to himself. He is the fountain of life.
The most important thing to remember is that fasting never earns the favor of God or increases God’s willingness to answer our prayers. The Gospel is that God could not feel more favorably about you than does in Christ.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that trains your heart to love God and His glory more. Spiritual disciplines are not meritorious or power-generating in themselves, they help connect us to power. As Puritan John Owen says, “Fasting, memorization, meditation and Bible reading have their place in order… but they are to be looked on as the streams, whereas we often (mistakenly) look on them as the fountain.” When we love God with a pure heart, God can pour out His blessings in an unfettered way on us. (James 4:1–2; 5:16; Isaiah 59:1–2.)
Morning Prayer Time – Living Out of Our Adoption
As you begin your time in prayer, turn to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.
“Our Father in Heaven”
One of the most assumed and therefore neglected doctrines in the Christian life is the doctrine of adoption. According to Scripture, we were once orphans, who were under the guardianship of the law. The law wasn’t our parent, the law was a guardian. There to tell us what was right and wrong but not able to give us the relationship we need as children. When Christ came, the scripture says he made a way for us to be adopted as sons and daughters of God. We are no longer orphans under the guardianship of the law, we are children of God!
- Begin your time in prayer THANKING God that he is your father through faith in Christ. Talk to him candidly like a child would. Tell him how much you love him and how thankful you are to be his child.
- Ask him to help you trust him as a child would. And confess to him areas where you still aren’t trusting him.
This is the call for God’s name to be made holy in our lives and among the nations.
- Pray first that your life would look more like Jesus today than it did yesterday. That his name would be more valuable to you down in your heart than anything else. Prayer is about going to God FOR GOD. In this moment, tell him you want to know him and you want your life to be about him above anything else.
- Pray for God to save the lost! that his name would be hallowed, or exalted, by your “one.” The one person who is far from God but close to you. Pray that person will find salvation in Christ in 2020.
- Pray for the nations to come to know the saving name of Christ. Pray for our short term team in Greece right now that the Lord will give them favor in sharing the gospel.
To pray this part of the Lord’s prayer is to surrender your life completely to God. This prayer is inviting God’s agenda to supplant your own. This prayer will only ever be said truthfully if it comes from a place of security in God being your father who loves you. If you believe he does love you and does know what you need before you ask, then again today invite his kingdom and his will to reign in your heart, head, and life
- Pray to him like Christ in the garden “God not my will, but yours be done.”
- Ask him to relieve bitterness and anger where certain things haven’t gone according to your will. Ask him to heal you in those spaces with the peace that comes from trusting him.
- Ask for the Holy Spirit to show you, clearly, what steps you need to take to follow God’s will and not your own today.
- Pray for Mercy Church – that God would give us collective wisdom and unity around his will and not our own for our church this year.
The second half of the Lord’s prayer will be the focus of your mid-day prayer time.
Afternoon Prayer Time – Trusting in our Provider
If the first half of the Lord’s prayer focuses on the vertical relationship between us and God, The second half of the Lord’s prayer turns and seeks God’s help by looking horizontally at the world around us. By this time, you may be feeling a little bit hungry. Fear not…that feeling is an opportunity to draw near to God! When we fast, we withhold the food we are normally dependent on. In the moments of hunger during a fast, I am to turn my heart and mind to the Lord and pray for him to sustain me and for him to be enough for me (Matt 4.4). Often the greatest enemies of closeness to God are his blessings that we have transformed into our obsessions. So as we fast, we ask the Lord to reveal where we are depending on something other than him. This means prayer will function like a conversation with God where you talk some of the time but you also listen and allow the Spirit of God to assess your life.
“Give us today our daily bread”
To pray for daily bread is to ask God to provide enough to strengthen us to accomplish his will and purposes for us today. It’s to acknowledge God as the provider and to, therefore, believe that what he has provided is sufficient for us. Depending on your life situation, this prayer will strike different tones. For those prone to self-sufficiency, ‘daily’ bread is a prayer against excessiveness and greed. It is a prayer for contentment in the sufficiency the Lord provides. For others, this is the cry of faith that believes the Lord can provide food and shelter and clothing and bill payments when we can’t see how. For all of us, it is the call of a child who does not know or care how our father provides, only that he does.
- First Go to God for God! Pray he increases our hunger for him as a church!
- Go to God with your needs. Tell him what you feel like you need right now. What is in front of you that is overwhelming? Tell your father who loves you!
- Pray for the needs of your community group members.
- Go to God with your self-sufficiency. Tell him you want provision from him, not from yourself. Surrender to him as your provider.
This is a prayer asking for God to restore us to the right relationship with him that our sin had corrupted. It’s the prayer of one who knows that his sin creates a debt to God that only God can pay. It’s the prayer of someone whose understanding of the gospel is made apparent by his forgiveness of those who have sinned against him. One caveat: this part of the prayer is more of an aspiration more than a limitation. If forgiving others is a requirement of receiving God’s forgiveness, none of us would be forgiven! And yet, a desire and readiness to forgive others does seem to be the sign of one who understands their forgiveness in Christ. This is no small prayer.
- Repent of your sin to God and receive his forgiveness in Christ
- Ask God to soften your heart to those who have sinned against you to the point where you can see them the same way Christ sees you.
- Ask God for the strength to forgive those who have hurt you.
This closing prayer is a prayer for deliverance! It is the prayer of children who know there is an enemy but do not know where and when he will strike. It is a prayer of dependence by those who know they need a deliverer.
- Ask God to protect you from the temptations of the enemy. Pray that today would reveal areas where the enemy is tempting you to trust something other than God for your rest, security, and satisfaction.
- Ask God to protect Mercy Church from the attack of the enemy. Pray God would keep the wolves away and would deliver Mercy from following any plans motivated by any desires that are not given from the Holy Spirit.
Thank you for praying with us today. We are excited to pray together tonight at Providence Road at 6:30 pm and see what the Lord has in store. See you soon!