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Chapter 22: Getting Started (The Help of Fasting)

“Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast…” Joel 2:15 (NASB)

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB)

Main Idea

In this chapter we are encouraged to follow these principles when preparing to fast:

1) Prepare yourself spiritually

2) Prepare yourself physically

3) Identify a purpose for your fast

4) Plan the particulars of your fast

Spiritual preparation involves making sure our motives are pure. Thrasher states that “Fasting is a humble response that puts us in a place to receive the life and victory Jesus has won for us.”* Fasting is not meant to curry God’s favor or impress others. It can never be used as a substitute to appease God for our lack of obedience. On the other hand, Thrasher reminds us that we should be thankful that God has created us for enjoying the food with which He blesses us.

Physical preparation involves making sure we are healthy enough physically to endure the type of fast we wish to undertake. This includes having good eating habits to begin with. We are also encouraged to consult a doctor if we have health concerns.

Identifying our Purpose may be the most important element in fasting. Our intention should be self-denial for the purpose of drawing near to God. The two scriptures mentioned above speak to this. In Joel we find an exhortation to “consecrate a fast.” The informal definition of “consecrate” from the New Oxford American Dictionary is “to devote (something) exclusively to a particular purpose.”** We need to define clearly why we want to fast and determine the object of our devotion. The chapter mentions several good spiritual purposes highlighted in scripture.

1) Fasting during a time of spiritual warfare (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).

2) Fasting to express your intense concern for the work of God (Nehemiah 1:4).

3) Fasting to express your grief (2 Samuel 1:11–12; 12:16, 21–23).

4) Fasting to keep your desires under the control of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:24–27; Romans 13:14).

5) Fasting for direction or a spiritual breakthrough in your life or ministry.

In our practice of fasting, Thrasher reminds us that, “God honors any effort of setting aside time to seek Him.”*  In 1 Samuel we see that God looks at our heart motives in whatever we do. We must always remember that the fast is designed to draw our hearts, thoughts, and prayers toward God.

Planning the particulars of our fast is also an important element in fasting. Several well-known Christian and Secular speakers have quoted this expression: “If you aim at nothing you are bound to hit it every time.” It is important to spell out the duration and the nature of your fast. The duration of your fast could be abstaining from anything from a single meal or snack to all foods for several days or weeks. The nature of your fast can range from a singular type of food to all food and drink. Your fast may even be from a non-food item. Fasting from favorite activities, such as the Internet, television, shopping, and books can all be included. Again, our intention is self-denial for the purpose of drawing near to God.

My Story

My story is a work in progress. I am just beginning to explore the spiritual discipline of fasting.

Recently, God has allowed my circumstances to place me on a compulsory fast.  A month ago I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. If I want to feel well and symptom-free, I need to abstain from gluten, which means all wheat and wheat-derived ingredients. Who really wants to eat a salad at a fast-food restaurant? I mean, why am I at a fast-food restaurant to begin with? A burger is not a burger without a bun!

It is obvious that it is God’s will that I fast. It is up to me to turn it into a spiritual opportunity to draw near to God. I have been using this as a springboard for prayer. Every time I realize that “I can’t eat that,” I try to turn the moment to prayer and thanksgiving.

Challenge

Do you fast? Have you found it to be a time of drawing near to God? If not, consider how you might fast in a more purposeful way in the coming month.

* Thrasher, William (2003-05-01). A Journey to Victorious Praying: Finding Discipline and Delight in Your Prayer Life (Kindle Location 1648). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

** (2010-04-01). The New Oxford American Dictionary (Kindle Locations 173832-173833). Oxford University Press.

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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Book Study, Prayer

 

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Chapter 17: Gaining Strength Through Prayer

Luke 18:1—”Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart.” (NET Bible)

Main Idea

“As you study the lives of godly men and women you will see that ‘prayer was no little habit tacked onto the periphery of their lives, it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years.'” 1.

This chapter highlights several well-known Christ-followers whose ministries have made a vital impact in our world today. Prayer played a vital role in their lives and unique ministries. While these stories are encouraging, often we feel overwhelmed because “praying like them” seems like an impossible task. Thrasher writes, “It is often the case that the study of prayer and its importance only leads to discouragement because the prayer lives of some of these ‘spiritual giants’ are so far beyond our experience that we despair after trying to imitate it for a short time.” 2.

My Story

I am reminded of an expression I heard often from Christian friends as I and my family navigated the waters of setting up house and learning a new language and culture in South America. “Poco a poco” (little by little) we start out to learn new things and become strong in them.

Probably all of us have watched the progress of an infant learning to crawl, pull up on things, and taking those first steps. It doesn’t take long before that same child is running.

So it is for prayer. We just need to start somewhere and not lose heart.

Discussion

What are the things that overwhelm you in your prayer life?

What are some ways you can poco a poco begin to grow stronger in your prayer life?

Challenge

Find and read this booklet: (and it is FREE*)

“Practice Of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence

In this short booklet a simple-minded monk journals about his every day life of service and continual prayer/conversation in the presence of his Lord. Simple. Touching. Inspiring.

*Project Gutenberg offers a kindle download for free: (of course Kindle software is free for Mac, PC, etc)  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=the+practice+of+the+presence+of+god

————————————————————————————————————————————————————– 1. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 31.

2.Thrasher, William (2003-05-01). A Journey to Victorious Praying: Finding Discipline and Delight in Your Prayer Life (Kindle Locations 2972-2973). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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Chapter 15: Realizing the Struggle of Prayer

Isaiah 30:15: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” (NIV).

Main Idea

One of the truly beautiful things about Christianity is intimate prayer with Jesus Christ. But prayer should be focused and centered on the living presence of God. A key difficulty many Christ followers struggle with is quieting their minds in prayer. But when we can, we form an unbreakable, cherished bond with God.

Story

We all receive up to 3500 sensory stimuli a day. With wireless and technological advances, we are bombarded with so many messages, we can easily overload. One of my greatest assets in working with children is my ability to do twenty things at once. I can talk to a co-worker, do my daily paperwork, treat my clients, all while arranging travel itineraries to yet another conference. Being an ADHD individual, my mind is at its best going twenty different directions. But when I sit down to pray, this “asset” becomes my greatest weakness. I can’t let go of the five loads of laundry demanding my attention in order to listen to the still small voice that God uses to speak to me. I find my most excellent rest in the small hours of the morning after I have exercised and before everyone is awake and the distractions are at a minimum. Only then do I stop and feel God’s beating heart, and we are one. I find peace and intimacy with the One who created me, the One who molded my personality. From this experience, I can say that in my weakness, God gives me rest.

Discussion

As a Christian grows in Christ, her status evolves from acquaintance to friendship to a deep relationship. But this only happens through prayer. Prayer is what binds our hearts and minds to the spiritual world, yet keeps us in the physical world. Therefore, it is crucial for every Christ-follower to devote time and effort in prayer.

Challenge

Every day, morning and night, give a certain amount of time to God, just praying. Focus your mind completely on Him. That may sound easy, but it is not. But with persistence, faith, determination, and the mighty power of God, you will overcome the barrier of distraction. It will not be a fight anymore, but only a pure joy to speak to the Author of your story, the Finisher of your faith, the King of your soul.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Chapter 12: Experiencing True Prosperity

John 15:7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Main Idea

True prosperity, as I can best discern from this chapter, describes a “prosperous” relationship with God. Prayer and Scripture go hand-in-hand when it comes to developing our relationship with God. Prayer is our way of speaking with God, and the Scriptures allow us to hear His voice.

Thrasher says, “Without prayer the study of Scripture can turn into a merely intellectual exercise. Prayer without Scripture will lack needed motivation and guidance.”

In this chapter, several points come to mind:

  1. Prayer is essential to time spent in the study of Scripture.
  2. Meditation on these readings is integral to our understanding of God’s intention and the application of His Word in our lives.
  3. The Scriptures offer examples of what to pray for and how to go about it.

My Story

I have had the privilege to sit under the teaching of many gifted, God-directed, Bible teachers and disciple-makers. Below is a link to a wonderful Christian Study aid created by The Navigators Christian Organization. This document demonstrates five ways to incorporate the Scriptures into our lives.

The “Word Hand Illustration by the Navigators Christian Organization.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Chapter 10: Achieving Victories You Never Thought Were Possible

Matthew 18:20 “For when two or three are assembled in my name, I am there in their midst” (NET Bible).

Main Idea

In this journey we call life, we are all faced with decisions—some more difficult than others. But it is the intercession of the Holy Spirit through other fellow Christians’ prayers that make the answers clear.

My Story

I remember times when the circumstances of being a mother seemed very much beyond my control. They burdened my heart and caused great sadness that overwhelmed me; I saw no simple answer. My children were in some difficult situations that I could not parent them through. I saw my role as a mother undermined and feared I would fail without help.

I have several friends with whom I have met for twenty years. They are lovely women who have undergone many of the same trials I have. We consider ourselves a prayer and accountability group. I can share my innermost thoughts and fears with them. We prayed over each situation regarding my children. God worked through them to bring peace to my troubled heart. After that, I only had to trust God, and wait to see what would happen.

Each dire state of affairs was transformed into blessings by God. These experiences were so far beyond my control. But it was the common voicing of my needs and the needs of my friends that worked these miracles in my life. I would not be who I am today without these women. God has truly blessed me and I am ever so grateful to them and their giving hearts.

Discussion

Having the agreement of other hearts in prayer in one’s life can lead to deeper connections with God and his people on a human and spiritual level. The intercessory work of fellow believers creates a blessing and should be valued at each opportunity.

Challenge

  1. Ask God to bless you with a prayer partner, a person with whom you can pray and share your thoughts. This friendship can infuse spiritual knowledge into your life that is more than the power of your own prayers. If you are married, try to initiate this connection with your spouse. This could strengthen your relationship with one another and with God.
  2. From your rising to your setting, make prayer the first and last action of your day. Prayer can change anything, so try to find different times during the day to pray alone and with others. This will connect you with God at spontaneous moments and draw you closer to your fellow Christians.

(Adapted from A Journey to Victorious Praying by Bill Thrasher, Moody Publishers, 2003)

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Book Study, Prayer

 

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Chapter 8: Receiving Help When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:26 “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…”

Main Idea

In our weakness and human limitations, we don’t always know how to pray.

We often struggle with knowing what is best in a given situation. The Spirit of God helps us to pray. He who knows our hearts and the very mind of God, pleads the deep desires of our heart and helps us to pray according to the will of God.

In this chapter, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is our helper and brings the longings of our hearts before the throne of God.

The author gives a story of a personal friend who visited a bitter old woman. She wanted nothing to do with the church. So, he offered to pray. His heart was so broken for her situation, that tears rolled down his cheeks and no words could come from his lips. He felt like an utter failure. However, in his weakness “he leaned upon the Spirit of God who poured out tears of compassion.”  It was his tears that began to turn the heart of this bitter old woman.

Often, it is in our weakness that we pray our best prayers.

My Story

I remember a time when one of my daughters was dating. She had two young men pursuing her for marriage. I did not know how to pray.

I specifically remember being in a food court at a local mall and crying out to God from the depths of my heart. “You know all things. You know all hearts, what do I pray?”

Then, as clear as day the thought came to me. Pray that she seeks Me and loves Me with her whole heart. If she loves Me, she will love what I love… and the right decision will be made clear. When I came home, I found her on the sofa in tears. She had her Bible opened and was holding a missionary biography that she was reading. She asked if she could get a hotel room for the night, so she could spend some time alone in prayer.

It been over five years, since she and her hubby have said “I do.” Each passing year gives testimony of what we did not know, but He did. She chose well. One of the greatest joys outside of bringing our children into the world is watching them continue in what they’ve been taught and delighting in the spouses God has seen fit to give them.

Discussion

Are you in a situation where you do not know how to pray? Ask God to help you pray and listen.

Challenge

Sometimes what appears to be right at the moment, is not always the best. We need God’s help when we pray.

Is there a longing in your heart that is not being answered? Could it be that God is desiring to grant you an even deeper longing and desire of your heart?

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Book Study, Prayer

 

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Chapter 7: Being Guided in Prayer

Psalm 38:9: “O Lord, you understand my heart’s desire; my groaning is not hidden from you.” (NET Bible)

John 14:26: “But the (Helper) Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.” (NET Bible)

Main Idea

In this chapter, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is able to guide us in our prayer. This guidance from the Holy Spirit is dependent on our relationship with God. We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us “stay in touch with our hearts so that we may fellowship with God” and be sensitive to what, when, and for whom He wants us to pray.

My Story

In my world, the abyss of the “endless prayer list” can drive me to the place of not praying at all. How freeing to be able to ask God to help me be in touch with the desires of my heart and His.

No story of a miraculous prayer-prompt comes to me at this time as I think about this. What does come to mind though is a habit I have of asking God for a verse from His Word to send, write, pray, or share with a friend or loved one. Most often, the Helper brings to mind a verse, and I pray it out and send it on. Every once in a while, I hear that the verse was exactly what was needed at the right time. Even when I don’t hear anything, I am confident that his Word always accomplishes His purpose. “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).

Discussion

The word desire stands out in this chapter both in terms of my desire and God’s desire. How are these related to a relationship with God and prayer? Do I need to have my relationship with God at a certain place in order to pray effectively?

Challenge

In Luke 11, one of Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Thrasher encourages us to “ask God to deliver [us] from anything that is hindering [us] from praying [our hearts] to God.”

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in Book Study, Prayer

 

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