Fasting As A Form of Worship

The leaders at Southside Bible Fellowship are calling for a church-wide fast from (Monday) March 26th through our Concert of Prayer (4-6pm) on Sunday April 1st.  Directly after our Concert of Prayer we will collectively break our fast with a meal of soup and bread.  Please keep reading to consider your options…

“I humbled my soul with fasting”  (Psalm 35:13b)

In Psalm 35 King David is crying out in agonized intercession to be rescued from his enemies. Part of David’s prayer is that he has bowed-down his soul with fasting.  It is widely accepted that our soul consists of our intellect, will, and emotions.  According to Matthew 6, Isaiah 58, and Psalm 35 the overall objective of fasting is to humble our soul (or to cause our intellect, will, and emotions to bow down) so that the desires and the purposes of God can become more prominent!  When we deny our appetites and soulish longings and turn to the Lord through worship, Christian meditation, supplication, and intercession there is a supernatural grace released upon us to see God’s heart and will.  The idea is to set aside regular times during a fast in order to seek the Lord and cry out for His kingdom to increase and for His will to be done – IN us and THROUGH us.

Matthew 6 describes and instructs us in three primary spiritual disciplines.  The chapter opens by encouraging us not to practice our “acts of righteousness” publicly; and if we do, we shall have no reward from our Father in heaven.  The three spiritual disciplines are giving, prayer (we are to pray secretly, sincerely, and specifically), and fasting.

Isaiah 58 is probably the best and most concise instruction on the spiritual discipline of fasting in the Bible.  Verse six lists the four reasons for fasting:  “To loosen the bonds of wickedness,”  “To undo the bands of the yoke,”  “To let the oppressed go free,” and to “break every yoke.”  Verses 8-14 contain some amazing promises concerning the fruits, or benefits, of fasting.

A simple definition for fasting would be voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings for spiritual reasons.  The Bible speaks of it not as an option but as an expected and regularly practiced spiritual discipline.  The following are some of the purposes for fasting; these also convey some of the benefits of fasting:

1.   Fasting will sharpen our focus in prayer.  (After we get beyond the initial discomfort caused by our various addictions such as coffee, sugar, etc.)

2.   Fasting will cause us to be more sensitive to God’s guidance in our lives.

3.   Fasting is a sign of humble repentance and expressing to God our desire to be responsively obedient to His will and direction for our lives – both individually and as a church.

4.   It was common in biblical times to fast when the need for protection and/or deliverance was great.  An excellent example is when Queen Esther called for her people to fast with her when she appealed to the king to spare the Jews (see Esther 4:16).

5.   As David articulated in Psalm 35, fasting can be an expression of simple humility before God.

6.   Fasting, or the servant-leaders calling for a fast, can be the result of God’s people seeing a need and expressing their concern.  When Nehemiah heard about the great distress, reproach, and the broken down walls in Jerusalem the Bible tells us that he sat down and wept and mourned for days, and then fasted and prayed until the Lord revealed His plans (see Nehemiah 1:3-4).

7.   When Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness after His baptism He was strengthened spiritually against the strong temptations of Satan.  In fact, in Luke 4:14 it says that, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit(emphasis added).

8.   Fasting can be simply an act of worship and adoration with no other purpose than to ascribe glory and honor to God.

There are many different ways to fast.  We can fast food and just drink water or juice, we can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (this has been called a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17), we can choose not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates, we can fast one or two meals a day, we can fast from sun-up to sun-down.  Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).  We can fast television or the internet and pray instead!  Before we fast it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate.

We are in a season of transition at Southside Bible Fellowship. There are several excellent reasons for us to embark on a corporate fast:  Over the last 2-3 years there has been relational tearing and woundedness. We want to fast and ask God to show us how to specifically engage in the ministry of reconciliation with those who have been hurt. We want to identify and “own” our past dysfunctions as a church — and repent and forsake them. We want to fast and ask God to once again visit us with salvations.  We want to fast for a fresh understanding of what it means to delight in God – as well as what it means for God to delight in us.  In addition, prayerfully consider any supplemental personal and family needs so that you will fast with a strong sense of God’s heart – asking for His “kingdom to come and His will to be done” IN you and THROUGH you.  May the Lord strengthen you and encourage you through a mighty demonstration of His power and might!!

Stages of Renewal

I listened to a lecture the other day that concluded with Mark Driscoll quoting Rick Warren on seven stages of renewal.  I can certainly see the pattern to be accurate in my experience and I thought it was very succinctly stated.

I have incorporated some of my thoughts and experience to each of the seven stages and conclude with two quotes that, from my viewpoint, help us to to engage the stages.

1. Personal renewal is about loving God and begins with acknowledging Jesus Christ as our greatest treasure and the object of worship. Personal renewal occurs as we recognize our spiritual poverty and surrender afresh to loving care and instruction of a God who is alive and available. The outflow of this active and intentional surrender is prayer, the reading and study of Scripture, and a growing worship of Jesus and connectedness with him – which renews us from the inside out.

2. Relational renewal is about authentically loving others.  As we embrace personal renewal with Jesus an initial effect is that we have new hope for people and pursue them in love. If married, relational renewal begins with our spouse. And, if we are parents our children ensue. Relational renewal allows us to be authentic around others, stop pretending and performing, and simply be in loving community where we are known and know others, with deep gratitude for the work of the gospel.

3. Missional renewal awakens in us a hope and love for the Great Co-mission. Once we have personal and relational renewal, the result is that God’s people want to be on mission together doing what God calls the church to accomplish. Without personal renewal, a church cannot have relational renewal. And, without both a church has no life or unity that allows them to press forward on mission with God together.

4. Internal cultural renewal happens as the fruit of personal, relational, and missional renewal forms a new culture of grace internally and new passion for lost people externally. In a church this results in people trusting their leaders and one another more, wanting to spend more time together, worshiping with greater intensity, and hanging out longer after services – as they begin to realize they are becoming a unified community.  This also increases innovation, a willingness to risk, and a burgeoning missiology.

5. Structural renewal is necessary once the personal, relational, missional, and internal renewals have been initiated and creates the need to change how a church operates. What structures have hindered growth?  What structures can be implemented so the church won’t have a bottleneck as the church grows? There is no perfect structure in Scripture because every situation is different. Rick Warren speaks of changing structures just about every year at Saddleback. We can’t put new wine in old wineskins. As a church begins to get healthier and healthier, the structure needs to change.

6. Institutional renewal happens when Christianity’s institutions change. Institutions – like seminaries and denominations are usually the last ones to change; they have difficulty with the change process. Unfortunately, institutions generally exist to preserve the change of the previous generation. It’s like a tree – the growth of a tree is not on the trunk but on the new branches. Institutions are like trunks. They provide stability not innovation.  Innovation happens at the local church level.

7. External cultural renewal is the fruit of personal, relational, missional, internal, structural, and institutional renewal. It might be best described as the outworking of Acts 2:43-47: A renewed sense of awe, wonders and signs taking place, refreshed and authentic community, mutual identification amongst classes and cultures, equality, unity, enthusiastic joy, heartfelt praise, favor with all the people, and salvations.

Here are two quotes that seem to reflect the attitude that initiates the process:

Charles Spurgeon was converted on January 6, 1850, and on February 1 he wrote the following prayer of consecration:

“O great and unsearchable God, who knows my heart, and tries all my ways; with a humble dependence upon the support of Your Holy Spirit, I yield up myself to You; as Your own reasonable sacrifice, I return to You your own. I would be forever, unreservedly, perpetually Yours; while I am on earth, I would serve You; and may I enjoy you and praise You for ever! Amen.”

James Burns, in Revival, Their Laws and Leaders writes:

“To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.”