The Care and Feeding of a Praying and Fasting Heart

prayerfasting_001Welcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing vittles cooked up to help you run the Godly and good race!

Today’s menu consists of some quality fare about Fasting and Prayer by Richard Wagner [on fasting] and Tim Keller [on prayer].

Concerning spiritual disciplines in general, and the discipline of silence, meditation, prayer, and fasting, in particular, Pastor-Author Burk Parsons wisely observed, “The missionary and martyr Jim Elliott (1927–1956) wrote, “The devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds…Satan is quite aware of the power of silence.” It is difficult to escape the busyness, noise, and crowds of life. We are bombarded by a host of amusements and contraptions, most of which we have enthusiastically welcomed into our lives, homes, communities, and churches. We have conditioned ourselves to distraction, and we are leading the next generation down the same path in a hurry. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private.” We stand at a crossroads, and we will either rediscover the lost virtues of listening, meditating, and thinking, or we will amuse ourselves to death.”

I don’t know about you fine marathoners running the good race for Christ (2 Timothy 4:7; Galatians 5:7), but I could certainly use more of the disciplines of quiet, prayer, and fasting. I hope the feast of ideas concerning these spiritual disciplines below inspire you and me to get after it. Why? For the sake of exposing us to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and serving others as He did and does incarnationally through His Saints.

by Richard Wagner, Christianity for Dummies.

The focus of fasting should not be on the lack of food.

Fasting from food can be done for a variety of purposes, either physical or spiritual. So abstaining from food alone doesn’t constitute a Christian fast. Instead, a Christian fast is accompanied by a special focus on prayer during the fast, often substituting the time you’d spend eating with prayer.

Fasting provides a real-life illustration of dependency.

Although modern man thrives on the idea of being independent, beholden to no one, fasting helps you put the facts in the proper perspective. It’s easy to believe in your independence with a full stomach, but when you start to feel hunger pains in your belly after missing a meal or two, you awaken to your body’s dependency on food to survive. Fasting reveals a physical reliance on food that points to the ultimate dependency – the fact that you’re dependent on God for things far more important than food.

Fasting fosters concentration on God and his will.

Oswald Chambers once said that fasting means “concentration,” because when you’re fasting, you have a heightened sense of attentiveness. Food or any physical sensation can satisfy, fill you up, and dull your senses and spiritual ears. In contrast, a hungry stomach makes you more aware and alert to what God is trying to say to you.

Fasting offers a way to impose self-control in your life.

It gives you a “splash in the face” to awaken you to the need for the personal strength of will that you need to grow spiritually. When you restrain yourself physically, you’ll find it easier to apply this same self-discipline in your spiritual life.

One last thing—everyone can participate.

Not everyone may be able to fast from food (pregnant women and diabetics for example), but everyone can give up something in order to focus on God (e.g. unplugging the television for 24 hours could also be an effective way of joining the fast)!”

Kingdom Prayer
by Pastor Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC

“People are used to thinking about prayer as a means to get their personal needs met. However we should understand prayer as a means to praise and adore God, to know Him, to come into His presence and be changed by Him.

We need to better learn how to pray, repent and petition God as a people.

Biblically and historically, the one non-negotiable, universal ingredient in times of spiritual renewal is corporate, prevailing, intensive and kingdom-centered prayer.

What is that?

It is focused on God’s presence and kingdom.

Jack Miller talks about the difference between “maintenance prayer” and “frontline” prayer meetings. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and totally focused on physical needs inside the church. But frontline prayer has three basic traits:

1) A request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves;

2) A compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church;

3) A yearning to know God, to see His face, to see His glory.

It is most interesting to study Biblical prayer for revival, such as in Acts 4 or Exodus 33 or Nehemiah 1, where these three elements are easy to see. Notice in Acts 4, for example, that the disciples, whose lives had been threatened, did not ask for protection for themselves and their families, but only boldness to keep preaching!

It is bold and specific.

The characteristics of this kind of prayer include:

1) Pacesetters in prayer spend time in self-examination. Without a strong understanding of grace, this can be morbid and depressing. But in the context of the gospel, it is purifying and strengthening. They “take off their ornaments” (Exod. 33:1-6). They examine selves for idols and set them aside.

2) They then begin to make the big request—a sight of the glory of God. That includes asking: a) for a personal experience of the glory/presence of God (“that I may know you” – Exod. 33:13); b) for the people’s experience of the glory of God (v. 15); and c) that the world might see the glory of God through his people (v. 16).

Moses asks that God’s presence would be obvious to all: “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” This is a prayer that the world be awed and amazed by a show of God’s power and radiance in the church, that it would become truly the new humanity that is a sign of the future kingdom.

It is prevailing and corporate.

By this we mean simply that prayer should be constant, not sporadic and brief. Why? Are we to think that God wants to see us grovel? Why do we not simply put our request in and wait?

Sporadic, brief prayer shows a lack of dependence, a self-sufficiency, a circumstance-driven not life-long love of God; and thus we have not built an altar that God can honor with his fire.

We must pray without ceasing, pray long, pray hard, and we will find that the very process is bringing about that which we are asking for—to have our hard hearts melted, to tear down barriers, and to have the glory of God break through… first within us and then to glorify God to the world through us.”

Fasting and prayer should be an ongoing habit of the born-again heart, part and parcel of our response to God’s grace and the famine of the heart that God’s feast of the heart has satisfied within us… purely by His manifold mercies… and as Sons and Daughters of God in Christ Jesus. Saved to Serve.

In Romans 12:1-2, St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Without the mercy of God we will have no grounds for transformation as our heart lacks any ability to change in and of itself. Left to our own devices our heart can change only in terms of increased rebellion, ego, pride, and pretense… not increased worship of God, zeal for His mission, urgency for “Today…” (Psalm 95:7-8), and other-centeredness… Not to be served but to serve, and give our life as a ransom for others (Matthew 20:28)!

Amen. And Amen.

‘Till we sup again,

Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer, by Dr. Bill Bright

Revival and Fasting, by Pastor John Piper

The Discipline of Fasting, by Donald Whitney

How to Pray, by Tim Keller [The Lord’s Prayer and Sermon]

The Most High A Prayer-Hearing God, by Puritan-Revivalist Jonathan Edwards

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