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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Chapter Twenty-One: Experiencing the Benefits of Fasting

“When I heard  these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah 1:4

Main Idea

In this chapter, the author relates a story of a church that experienced major spiritual oppression. They had a history of short pastorates. There seemed to be a spiritual smog that hung over the church.

Several people, independent of one another had commented on how they felt despair and depression when they drove up the long church driveway. When a new pastor arrived, he sensed the same phenomena. Driving to church one morning, he literally saw a darkness hovering over the building. The sense of despair was so powerful that he literally had to hold on to the edge of his desk to keep from getting up and walking out.

He began to pray.

He began to preach a series on prayer and fasting. At the end of one of his sermons, he asked others in the congregation to join him to fast and pray in a spirit of repentance, asking God to lead them to restoration. Not long afterwards, the spiritual smog began to lift. People testified to conquering long-term habits and visitors once again attended the church.

The spiritual battle was so intense that it left the new pastor feeling unloved and unappreciated. He described it like a fifteen-round boxing match, in which he felt he had reached his limits and had no strength to get up off the mat.

He began to weep and cried out to the Lord to forgive him for his lack of love for the church. He asked God to give him a new heart for his people, the heart of a shepherd. Just then the sun broke through the clouds. He looked at the beauty of the sun rays and said, “Lord, do the same thing in my heart.”

Gradually the work that was done in his heart began to spread throughout the congregation.

We see in the Scriptures that when Jerusalem was destroyed, a remnant was left in Jerusalem for 70 years. Though, they had survived the captivity, they were distressed and mocked by others around them. The city was destroyed and the walls were broken down.

An air of hopelessness loomed over the people.

When Nehemiah heard the words, he wept and mourned for days and began to fast and pray. God moved in response to his prayers and gave him success in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

Fasting has both physical benefits and spiritual benefits.

Physically, it gives the body a rest aiding in the cleansing of the body and in the elimination of toxins. This helps us to focus. In the same way, fasting helps us to eliminate distractions and concentrate on God. It strengthens and intensifies our prayer life and helps to purify us spiritually. During times of fasting and prayer God may reveal areas of our lives that we need to give over to God. Areas such as…fear, anxiety, greed, jealousy, pride and/or anger, etc. It is during times of prayer that God may show us what is hindering us and give us a renewed sense of His power that is at work in our lives.

It is important to note that nowhere in the Scriptures are we told that fasting is meritorious. We don’t fast to earn brownie points with God. We fast and pray to eliminate distractions and to focus on God.

My Story

It is so easy to be distracted. I have found that even a simple fast…such as denying myself a Starbucks during the day or a couple of meals enables me to be more aware of God and my need for Him throughout the day. When I am prompted by hunger or a hankering for a Starbucks, I am reminded to pray.

Being more conscious of God during the day makes me more tender to the needs of those around me and more in tune, if I might say, to the things that please God. I also find it easier to share my faith with a clerk or a person standing in the grocery line.

It is also during these times that God ministers to my spirit…He comforts me, gives wisdom and understanding  when I’m going through difficult times, and gently reveals areas of weakness or sin that hurts me and others.

Though, the way to joy is often through pain…it is at that place that I often receive my greatest blessings.

Challenge

Prayer and fasting is a life-time journey. What small step can you take in this direction? If possible, journal your experience. It will be an encouragement to you for years to come.

 

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Chapter 20: Learning When to Fast

Daniel 9: 3 (ESV) “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”

Main Idea

Fasting helps enable a follower of Christ to become closer and more connected with his/her Creator. Fasting also restricts the desires of the body in order to focus our energy on God.

My Story

I recently had to make a hard decision that would impact the lives of several people. God called me to fast from television, social media, and do day fasts from food. This fast aided me to pray more fervently and discover God’s will in a situation. God’s words resonated more clearly in the silence.

Discussion

Though the Bible primarily discusses fasting in terms of food, it also implies fasting in other areas of life. The point of fasting is to give up something in order to use that energy focusing on God and listening to him. Fasting is a crucial part of the process of becoming a stronger follower of Christ. When we fast, we can break through barriers and take down strong holds that have been built up as a hindrance between God and his people. We are called by God to fast, in order for God to say something to us that requires undivided attention.

Challenge

The first step in fasting is to listen to God to know when and from what to fast. When he tells you to fast, do so immediately. Remember, fasting is meant to be challenging, but at the same time peaceful and relaxing. Make sure to spend time with God using the extra opportunities created by the fast. Focus completely on God whenever you feel the deprivations of your fast and listen to His still, small voice.

 

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Chapter 19: Understanding How God Works

Luke 11:1—”…one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray'” (NET Bible).

Main Idea

Thrasher comes to us with the idea that one of God’s ways of accomplishing His work is to place a prayer burden on someone’s’ heart. If that person is sensitive to the prayer burden, she can pray in response, and the work of God is set in motion. As A.B Simpson wrote, “There is no wonder more supernatural and divine in the life of a believer than the mystery and the ministry of prayer…the hand of the child touching the arm of the Father and moving the wheel of the universe.”

My Story

What an awesome thought—that we have the ability to work with and alongside God in accomplishing His work and His will in others’ lives. I do not think any of us fully understand or comprehend the power that is at hand when we come humbly before God to help in His work through prayer.

When I was going through my treatments for breast cancer, my husband and I were consistently amazed at daily situations that in our own strength were difficult, but easier, less stressful and not as overwhelming as they could have been. We attribute that to the power of prayer from many others who were praying on our behalf.

Thrasher tells us some points that are pertinent to God’s working in one’s own life or in the lives of others. First,  prayer is to be of first importance, not just for ourselves but also in the church as it gathers together. We need to be drawn into His presence as He impresses on us that for which we should pray. Secondly, we see that what God impresses on us is prayer burdens for others. What we do not realize is the magnitude of the power of God through prayer. Andrew Murray said so well, and it should give us much to think on, that “we understand then that our true aim must not be to work much and have prayer enough to keep the work right, but, to pray much (emphasis my own) and then work enough for the power and blessing obtained in prayer to find its way through us to men.” Thrasher finishes by encouraging us once again that the fruitfulness of God’s ways comes through us realizing that God “desires you and me to commit to Him the prayer burdens that He entrusts to us.” This is an amazing concept that God would entrust us with prayer burdens to accomplish His work in the world. “Prayer strikes the winning blow” says S.D Gordon. When one fully comprehends this truth, it should sober us to be more diligent in acting upon the prayer burdens with which God impresses us.

Discussion

We need to ask ourselves—what prayer burdens has God put on my heart? We need to realize that others are blessed beyond measure by our desire to pray for them. But it will be a battle. Corrie ten Boom said, “The devil smiles when we make plans. He laughs when we get busy. But he trembles when we pray, especially when we pray together.” Richard Foster encourages us in saying “that just because you do not think that your prayer life is important does not mean that God thinks it is not important.”

Therefore, Thrasher encourages us to be wise in asking God to “teach us to pray.” As we do this we can trust that God will work and lay on us the prayer burdens for which we need to be praying. This will accomplish His work in the world as we are faithful to Him. There is nothing more important! We need to lay hold of this incredible opportunity: that we “can cooperate with God and lift the spirit of an individual, half a world away” from ourselves.

So I ask you—what prayer burdens is God putting on your heart? You need to ask yourself—am I sensitive enough to “hear” God’s spirit and to be praying for what He asks me to pray for? Do I follow through with actually praying and continuing to pray (I Thess. 5:17) for those He has placed before me? Be aware this week as He brings prayer burdens to you and “just do it!.” This helps us begin to understand how God works in other’s lives and in our own.

Let us know your thoughts. And don’t forget to journal!

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Book Study, Prayer

 

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Chapter Eighteen: Realizing God’s Desire to Bless You

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him…and to keep the LORD’s commands and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” Deuteronomy 10:12-13

Main Idea

God’s ways and His commands are for our good!

Like a loving father who holds the hands of his small children while navigating a mine field…his instructions are not meant to bring them harm. His intent is to protect them and to bless them. Though his children may not understand the limits on their freedom, nor why he says to walk this way and not that way. They learn to trust his heart.

In the same way,God loves HIs children and wants to bless us!!

Prayer is a means of reaching into the storehouse of God’s treasures and receiving His blessings.

Thrasher reminds us that when we pray it is important to remember who God is…that He is a loving Creator and our Redeemer. We must remember to view God through the glasses of His Son whose blood washed us from our sins, rather than through the glasses of our guilty conscience. When the glasses get dirty, and they will…we come to HIm for cleansing! Then we can approach His throne boldly, because we come in the name of His Son who pleases Him. (Hebrews 4:14-16; Luke 3:32)

Think about it. God is kind to men who are ungrateful, and even gives good gifts to evil men. (Luke 6:35) When it rains, He doesn’t just rain on the fields of the righteous, nor does the sun only shine for the just. God loves His creation.(Matthew 5:43-44) He is good and desires to bless all men, how much more so His children!

My Story

When I first came to Christ I was very aware of my sin and my unworthiness, and so grateful that He had forgiven me. I was clean, my guilt was lifted and I was full of joy…I walked on air!

Somehow over the years, I began to expect more of myself and less of Him. My unworthiness began to overwhelm me. How can I say I’m a Christian and do this or do that? It is as though my focus began to shift from looking upward, to looking inward.

All the while, God’s wonderful treasure box lay dormant.

I was too proud to admit that I had failed again. I forgot that He still stands ready to forgive and to bless. How wonderful to be reminded that our LORD has done the work and that He encourages me to come boldly before Him in the name of His Son who intercedes for me.

As I have learned to reach into the treasure box through prayer, I am often giddy with joy. Just this past week, I brought to Him a burden on my heart. He brought Scripture to my mind so I that I could walk in truth, and trust Him to deliver. Later, I called a friend to share how God had encouraged me, then found out that very day that God had already prepared an answer to my prayer. By the time I got off the phone, both my friend and I were rejoicing in the goodness of God!

What a difference it makes to know that God delights in our prayers and wants to do whatever He can to encourage our faith. For the Scriptures say, that His eyes move to and fro all over the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Discussion

Do you see God as good? If not, this might be a good place to begin. Ask God to open your eyes to see Him as He is. This cannot be done without spending time in His Book. It is there that the curtains of heaven are drawn back and He gives us a glimpse of who He is.

For “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

Then start praying. I have found that that the very thing that weighs me down is a good place to start. There is a knowledge of God that comes through prayer and actually seeing God work!

Challenge

Ready to visit God’s storehouse? Let’s pray…one of the gifts in the treasure box is peace.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by PRAYER and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

 

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