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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 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 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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Chapter Sixteen: Understanding Jesus’ Pattern of Prayer

Mark 1:35: “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”

Main Idea

For Christ-followers, prayer is both gift and obligation. How can we pray better in light of these simultaneous, contradictory motivations? When we look at how Scripture records Jesus’ prayer pattern, we see that he prayed 1) before important events and decisions, 2) after significant achievements, 3) during unusual busyness, and 4) whenever needs overwhelmed. In other words, his words and actions were merely the needlepoint design threaded through the warp and woof of his prayer life. Prayer provided the sturdy canvas for everything else and allowed the world to see clearly the design he intended. His faithful communication with the Father bestowed confidence in decisions and actions, ongoing fruit from achievements, strength and guidance for navigating circumstances, and provision for demands beyond human ability.

My Story

Thrasher writes, “No one ever just decides to be a man or woman of prayer. God awakens people through their sense of needs” (117). How true I find that statement. We habitually rely on our own or others’ human resources until we recognize a deficiency—and some of us (me) regularly take longer than others to reach this point. As I read this chapter, God gently prodded me to fall on my knees.

Facing relocation to Kansas in coming months along with shoulder surgery and my standard motherhood and PhD work, I am experiencing a time of decisions, achievements, busyness, and needs. How I wish my prayer discipline matched my desire for God’s resources! I find myself wallowing in emotional fogs and mud pits of self-pity. This behavior might suit a hoary porker headed for the slaughterhouse, but not a child of the King. Not a child whose father has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh 1:5 NIV), “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28–29 NAS95), and “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (6:34).

As Peter preached, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26–27 NIV, my emphasis).

Am I overwhelmed by tasks? Pray for priorities and stamina. Am I anxious about finding a house? Pray for God to prepare a place for us where he can use us to his glory. Am I peevish about what I must release from my tight fist? Pray that God will remind me of his purpose and that he directs my steps. Pray that I will seek my father. For I know if I will seek, I will find.

God commands me to pray so that I will know he superintends the outcome, not me. In the process, I receive his assurance, his mercy, his perspective, and his power.

Discussion

Do the threads sewn each day by your words and actions create a clear picture of the God of the universe working on your behalf? If not, perhaps your foundation fabric needs strengthening and straightening. Do you pray before decisions, after achievements, during times of busyness, and whenever you see a need? This prayer discipline prevents broken or skewed threads that result from gaps in the warp or uneven tension in the woof. It recognizes that “‘in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28a).

Challenge

Thrasher recommends that we “write down the four patterns of prayer in Jesus’ life, and ask the Lord what application and guidance it gives.” Have you done this yet? In what times do you avoid seeking the Lord? Seek his face and receive the gift.

Psalm 10:17: “O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear” (NAS95).

 
 

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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 5: Experiencing the Spirit’s Motivation in Prayer

Romans 8:26 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.” (NET Bible)

Main Idea

In Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20, God teaches us to “pray in the Holy Spirit.” Jesus called the Holy Spirit a “helper,” the support in our weakness whose help we can lean on as we pray. The Holy Spirit makes prayer a reality in the believer’s life and everyday situations. We trust the Spirit of God who produces in us a Christ-like fervency and compassion.

The Holy Spirit motivates us to pray with zealous striving and agonizing.

My Story

A few years ago, I had a conflict with someone very dear to me and the situation was too close to be seen objectively. Every time I tried to pray, I became angry and bitter and couldn’t speak the words that God would have wanted me to say. But my intense feelings made me submit before God. The Holy Spirit created within me an emotional cry that was not an eloquent plea for this person’s soul, but an impassioned voice that cried out to God for mercy on their behalf. The Holy Spirit interceded before the throne for this person in a way I couldn’t feel at that time and that I never could have expressed. All I had to do was surrender to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and humble myself before God, even if my heart was not in it.

Discussion

How do we cooperate with the Holy Spirit and allow Him to speak for us?

Challenge

First Step: We respond to the Holy Spirit as he reveals the needs in our lives and of those around us.

Second Step: We acknowledge our inability to accomplish any of this without God: “We must realize that we cannot change our own hearts or the heart of another person.”

Third Step: Let this become our continual attitude and depend on the Holy Spirit to renew us as we confess and take on our spiritual responsibilities which are far too much for our own strength. Real spiritual emotion and compassion is the product of the Holy Spirit. We depend on the Holy Spirit of God for our motivation in prayer.

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

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

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Book Study, Prayer

 

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