Sep 302012
 

Fasting & prayerPraying together with fasting is a forgotten discipline in modern times.

“I wonder whether we have ever fasted? I wonder whether it has ever occurred to us that we ought to be considering the question of fasting? The fact is, is it not, that this whole subject seems to have dropped right out of our lives and right out of our whole Christian thinking”. (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

People fasted throughout the whole bible from the Old Testament to the New. It carried on through church history and was practiced by many pioneers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. Jesus expected that his followers would fast. “Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying ‘why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them ‘can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast’”. (Matthew 9:14-15)

…And after giving instructions on The Lord’s Prayer Jesus says “…when you fast…”, (Matthew 6:16). Notice he didn’t say “if”, but “when”. It was part of His instruction on prayer.

Examples from the Bible

You may have many questions about fasting, such as ‘how should I fast?’, ‘what should I fast from?’, ‘and for what purpose?’. These questions can be answered as we look through specific examples in the bible. I won’t look at all of them but here below are just a few.

Being in and enjoying God’s presence

Exodus 34:28. (However I would not recommend you go for 40 days without food or water, or you really will be in God’s presence!!!). Luke 2:37

During a personal crisis

1 Samuel 1:7. Hannah was desperate for a child and she prayed and fasted for years until God answered her prayer.

Fasting when you are mourning

1 Samuel 31:13

When praying for healing

2 Samuel 12:16. This is a sobering passage which demonstrates that fasting does not guarantee success. God is sovereign and He will not always change His judgements.

Fasting for protection

Ezra 8:21-23. Ezra and the people of Israel prayed and fasted before embarking on a dangerous journey.

Fasting when going into dangerous situations

Esther 4:16. Esther was about to take her life into her hands by approaching the king without being summoned, so she called for her people the Jews to fast and pray that she would gain his favour.

Fasting as part of repentance

Daniel 9:3. Daniel fasted and repented on behalf of the people. Many times in the Old Testament the Israelites returned to God in repentance and fasting demonstrated the seriousness of their repentance eg. Joel 1:14. God even has compassion on a godless city like Nineveh as they all turned to God in repentance and fasting. (Jonah 3:7).

Direction for ministry (guidance)

Acts 13:1-3. While the church were worshipping and fasting the Holy Spirit led them to send out Paul and Barnabas.

Fasting helps us take control over our bodies (the flesh)

1 Corinthians 9:27. When we fast we are saying to our bodies that we will not be mastered by the flesh and it’s desires.

Different types of fasting

As we have seen, there are many different reasons for fasting. In the same way there are many different ways to fast:

· A total fast where you drink only water.

· A liquid fast where you limit yourself to drinking a variety of liquids and soups but abstain from solid food.

· A fast from rich food such as the fast carried out by Daniel and his friends in Daniel chapter 1, eating only vegetables.

· A fast from watching the television. This fast of course is not mentioned in the bible, but can be considered a fast as long as the time saved by abstaining from watching the TV is given over to prayer and seeking God.

You can be creative by fasting from other things personal to you that take up your time and attention.

Fasting can also be for different lengths of time:

· 1 Day (Leviticus 23:27);

· 10 days (Daniel 1:12);

· 21 days (Daniel 10:2);

· 40 days (Matthew 4:2).

If you have never fasted before I would suggest fasting for just one meal to begin with, and building up from there. However it is very important that you consult your doctor before undertaking any kind of fast if you have any medical conditions.

Some practical guidelines for fasting

· Always drink plenty of water when fasting.

· Be aware that during the first few days of a fast your body will start to detoxify and you will suffer with bad breath. Use mouthwash!

· Take time to get alone with God as often as possible without any distractions. Read your bible. Have a pen and notebook to hand to record whatever God may say to you.

· When you break your fast, don’t eat a great big meal all at once but rather gradually build up your food intake slowly.

· Remember you are under grace. If you slip up, repent, receive forgiveness and carry on. Whatever fast you decide on is between you and God-He is not demanding!

Conclusion

To fast means to put God first. Fasting is an attitude of our hearts as we interrupt our normal life in order to pray and seek God for His will in our lives, to effectively move obstacles and burdens that we may encounter, and to simply tell God that He is the most important one in our lives. It is a discipline that quickly turns into a delight as God rewards our devotion with His presence.

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” (John Piper “A hunger for God”)

 September 30, 2012  Posted by at 7:16 am Fasting, Prayer 1 Response »
Sep 262012
 

Have you ever fasted and prayed? I’m sure you have prayed, but have you ever fasted at the same time?

My church is just entering a season of prayer and fasting (22 days) and If you attend my church or not, I thought it would be a good idea to explain why you should consider fasting to go along with your prayers.

There are many reasons to pray and fast but the main reason I do it is to connect with God, to seek His presence, to hear from Him and to tell Him that He is number 1 in my life (Ok that’s more than one reason but you get the idea)

Fasting seems to be a neglected practice generally and so there may be some uncertainty as to what it actually is. Let me briefly list out what I don’t think it is;

  • Not a diet plan (not biblical fasting anyway)
  • Not a means to twist God’s arm
  • Not a thing to brag about or impress others
  • Not a ‘religious’ exercise to gain heavenly brownie points

In its simplest form, fasting is going without food (generally) and setting the time you would prepare and eat food to praying and seeking God.

It’s such a big subject that I will tackle it over a number of blogs, looking at the biblical reasons and examples, different forms, how to do it, what we can gain etc

It doesn’t have to be over a number of days, just missing a meal would be a good start. why not consider it? You may be surprised at the result and it won’t be as bad as you first fear.

I am going away tomorrow for a few days to the ‘Intimacy and Identity – Father Heart Conference” in Bedford and so I shall try to write a review about that before continuing with my fasting series next week.

God bless

 September 26, 2012  Posted by at 4:10 pm Fasting, Prayer No Responses »
Sep 212012
 

Join a church 2In my last blog we took a brief look at the big picture of God choosing to have a people for Himself. Now we shall look at the following question:

Why should we join a local church?

In the book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost we see 120 cowering followers of Jesus waiting fearfully in an upper room, not even quite sure what they are waiting for. Suddenly the Holy Spirit comes and fills them with power, Peter preaches and 3,000 people are added to their number. The word “added” is important here-it is evidence that a local church was organised and had actual members. We see later in Acts how elders are established and how home groups spring up as people fellowship together and practice their new found spiritual gifts. (Incidentally ‘lone ranger’ is not listed in the bible as a spiritual gift!!).

We see further through the book of Acts how churches are planted and established and how leadership in each congregation is developed. None of this would have happened without organisational and membership structures. Have you ever tried to organise and motivate people into a team who are not committed to each other or to you as a leader? If you haven’t I’m sure you can imagine what it would be like.

Leadership

Most of the letters that Paul and the other apostles wrote were to specific churches, for example the churches at Ephesus and Corinth. Much of the content of these letters included how Christians should be and act with one another and how they should submit to leadership. A lot of this would not make sense if people were not committed members of these congregations. A good example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 5: a member of the church is found to be immoral and Paul urges them to put this man out of fellowship. How could they have put him ‘out’ of fellowship if he was not ‘in’ in the first place?

This leads me to the role of leadership and specifically Elders. Elders are exhorted to look after those under their care. In Acts 20 v 28 it says “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Again in 1Peter 5 v 2-3 it says “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”. On the other hand the members of the church are instructed to “have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Hebrews 13 v 17). None of this makes sense unless a person is submitted to a leader through church membership. A leader cannot perform his shepherding care if no-one is submitted to Him.

Analogy of the body

Paul uses a very good analogy of what the church should be like in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

This for me is one of the strongest arguments for having church membership. God has put us together to rely on one another and be part of each other. If you are an errant body part you need to get back into the body. How strange a body would be if an eye was over here and a hand over there etc… It wouldn’t be an effective body at all.

There is something unnatural about a Christian attaching himself to a body of believers and not being a member of the body”. John Piper (sermon, July 13, 2008)

Gifts

Another reason for being a member in a local church is so that we can use our gifts in a safe environment, whether they be spiritual gifts or practical ones. In the local church we can prophesy knowing that our contribution will be ‘weighed’; we can practice hospitality; teach and encourage. We can also exercise our gifts of serving or helps; we can be part of a programme that ministers to the poor. We can find a myriad number of ways to serve in the context of membership within a local church.

Discipleship

In a local church there will always be somebody who can disciple you in whatever area you need it. You may be a new parent and you can look to couples who have successfully brought up children; you may feel you don’t pray very successfully and you can get alongside real prayer warriors and learn from their passion. Of course, your own contribution is vital as you in turn disciple others and play your part in the growth of your church.

Conclusion

Just because membership of a local church is not highlighted in a specific verse, the concept of being a member is implied countless times in the New Testament. It’s not necessary to keep looking for the ‘perfect’ church because it doesn’t exist and if you did find it and joined, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore! Until we get to glory, every Christian has imperfections and we will all have difficulties with each other from time to time. But God in His wisdom has chosen this imperfect group to be His people, bought with His own blood, to declare His glory to the rest of creation. We are His people and His delight and He has chosen us to be built together in Him. If you are still not quite convinced, go through the New Testament again and see the skill with which God builds his church together and then consider getting stuck in where you are. You have a part to play.

 September 21, 2012  Posted by at 12:00 am Community, The Church No Responses »
Sep 132012
 

Why join a churchI did it MY way

We live in a  very ‘me’ centred culture. The prevailing questions we ask ourselves are; “what do I want?” or “what is good for me?” Everything is geared towards being individualistic and considering others is way down our list of priorities

This can influence our decisions concerning our commitment to the church we attend. We may be of the opinion that if we have been going somewhere for a while and it now doesn’t  suit my needs, it’s ok to move on and look elsewhere. This is commitment only when it suits us.

This is not exclusively a 20th century viewpoint of course. In our humanness our natural inclination is to be selfish and “look after number 1”. In fact we may find that the vast majority of people wouldn’t consider this to be a selfish viewpoint at all.

However when we become Christians this all changes, as we hand over control of our lives to Jesus Christ and submit ourselves to His authority. Our mindset now is to please Him. We also become part of His body ‘the church’.

Membership is vital

Some would argue that when you become a Christian you do become part of Christ’s ‘universal’ church, which of course is true. They would also say that nowhere in the bible does it command that you should join a church, which is also true. But to then make the assumption that it is not necessary to join a local church is like adding 2 plus 2 and making 5.

In the rest of this post and in the next one, I want to argue from the bible why joining a local church is not only necessary but absolutely vital, not just for you but also for the other members of the church you are joining. Pay special attention to this post if you are in the following 2 categories:

  • You stay at home for ‘Church’, subscribing to God TV or listening to preaching podcasts and worship services online. You are well fed but you are accountable to no-one as your contact with other Christians is minimal.
  • You attend a local church but have never committed to whatever joining process is required. You may be well acquainted with a few people but for whatever reason you have not fully signed up.

For everyone else, I hope to show you what a great decision you made by joining your local church and hopefully inspire you to get even more involved. My hope is also to help enable you to engage in discussion with people in the above two categories. If you are not a Christian, please read my previous post on ‘the gospel’ – discover the God who loves you and join a local church!

God’s chosen people

Looking at the ‘big picture’ of the bible we see throughout that God has chosen a special people to have a relationship with in order to demonstrate how great He is to the whole world. This is of course a very special relationship. There is very little in the bible about God’s relationship with individuals, it is almost always in the context of His people. When God does relate with an individual, it is usually so they can pass on a message to His people.

In the Old Testament we see the formation of the nation of Israel (God’s people) and his interaction with them, how he blesses them and disciplines them and shows them great patience, wooing them back to Himself as they turn away from Him again and again. When we proceed into the New Testament we see the development of the church no longer made up solely of the Israelites, but now through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to include Gentiles and in fact anyone who trusts in the finished work of Christ to save them. This ‘Church’ is God’s possession, also called Jesus’ bride and will be made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. This ‘universal’ church is now made up of many local churches that you and I are to be a part of. The New Testament closes with the glorious wedding supper of Christ and His church as they prepare to spend eternity together in the new heavens and earth. If you are a Christian, however hard life may be now, this is the wonderful future we have to look forward to.

Next time I will look at the reasons (and benefits) as to why we should join a local church.

 September 13, 2012  Posted by at 10:51 pm Community, The Church No Responses »