Prayer helps us align our heart and mind to join the free and sovereign work of God for fruitful ministry.
Fruitful ministry is never the calculable result of correct strategies and plentiful resources, but the free and sovereign work of God. This is why we believe that all our ministries should be birthed out of, and bathed in, prayer. Even when confronted with the pressure of genuine, ministerial need that required the fullness of Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), the Apostles delegated the task to others in order to “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). This account reveals the utmost priority of prayer and ministry of the word in the life of the church. As John Piper writes in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, “Most … interruptions and most of our busyness are ministry related, not ‘worldly.’ The great threat to our prayer and our meditation on the Word of God is good ministry activity.” There are many great things that we can do as a church, but none of them are more important than prayer and ministry of the Word. So please join us every Wednesday from 7-8:15pm for our Mid-Week Prayer Services, and also at the end of each month, as we take a break from Community Groups in order to fast and pray for three days leading up to the last Prayer Service of the month.
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
There are many Christians who believe that prayer is important, yet do not pray, simply because they have not implemented their intention by deciding exactly when and where they will pray. Jesus chose a time, “very early in the morning,” and a place, “a desolate place,” to pray, and this was his habit (cf. Luke 5:16; 6:12; Matthew 14:23).
A recent study confirms the importance of this principle. In this study:
Commit to a time and place for prayer, and build a habit that will sustain you for a lifetime.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
For people who struggle to establish a substantive prayer life, meditation on Scripture is often the missing piece. As we can see in Psalm 19, David’s prayers were not merely his words, but his meditations. Thomas Manton explains:
Meditation is a middle sort of duty between the word and prayer, and hath respect to both. The word feedeth meditation, and meditation feedeth prayer. These duties must always go hand in hand; meditation must follow hearing and precede prayer. To hear and not to meditate is unfruitful. We may hear and hear, but it is like putting a thing into a bag with holes. … It is rashness to pray and not to meditate. What we take in by the word we digest by meditation and let out by prayer. These three duties must be ordered that one may not jostle out the other. Men are barren, dry, and sapless in their prayers for want of exercising themselves in holy thoughts.1
This is why our Prayer Guides begin with Scriptural reflection. Even when our hearts are indisposed to prayer, meditating on God and his wonderful works can stir our hearts into prayer.
1 Thomas Manton, The Works of Thomas Manton (Worthington, PA: Maranatha Publications, n.d.), 272-273 as wtd. In Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 88.
To “fast” is to abstain from food and/or drink as an act of individual or corporate worship (Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2). The ordinary fast involves abstaining from all food and drink except for water. Describing Jesus’s fast, Luke 4:2 specifies that he “ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry,” but it makes no mention of drinking or being thirsty (cf. Matt. 4:2). Some fasts impose dietary restrictions (e.g. “delicacies, … meat or wine,” Daniel 10:3), but not complete abstinence. Historically, some Christians have observed partial fasts by eating only a few simple foods or much smaller portions of food than usual. Other fasts call for abstinence from all food and drink, including water (Ezra 10:6; Est. 4:16; Acts. 9:9). The absolute fast appears to be limited to particularly dire circumstances. The biblical examples restrict the absolute fast to three days, and this is consistent with the fact that abstaining from water for more than three days is physically perilous. One exception to this is the supernatural fast, in which people like Moses and Elijah fasted from food and drink for forty days and forty nights (Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8). These examples, however, are supernatural, and not to be followed apart from clear and specific divine directive.
The self-denial at the heart of fasting can rightly be extended to abstinence from things other than food and drink. Paul writes:
“The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor.7:3-5).
The husbands and wives, therefore, may fast from sex, “for a limited time, [in order to] devote [themselves] to prayer.” This principle of fasting from something in order to devote oneself to prayer has numerous applications. Fasting from TV, social media, phones, smoking, eating out, etc. can check compulsive behaviors that compete with our exclusive devotion to, and affection for, God.
Though fasting is not mandated by Scripture, numerous examples do commend it, and Jesus said, “when you fast” (Matthew 6:17), not “if you fast,” and his instructions concerning fasting reveals his expectation that his followers would fast.
Prayer and fasting often appear in tandem throughout the Bible, because fasting aids our prayer (Neh. 1:3-4; Dan. 9:3). Each hunger pang or growl of the stomach is a reminder to pray, and the time normally spent eating can be devoted to prayer. But more than that, fasting feeds our earnest intercessions and supplications before God in the following ways:
Jesus taught that some who hear the word of God “are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).” These parables illustrate how inordinate desires can prevent gospel growth and fruitfulness. Fasting is a discipline that curbs our physical appetite and sharpens our spiritual senses (Dan. 9; Acts 13:2). “Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels.”1 By subduing our appetite for food, we can restrain other appetites that threaten to control us, whether it is a minor obsession with coffee or serious addictions to cigarettes, alcohol, or pornography. Andrew Murray’s comment is insightful, “We are creatures of the senses: our mind is helped by what comes to us embodied in concrete form; fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”2 By fasting, we declare that our hunger for God is greater than our hunger for food—that we do “not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
Depriving ourselves of what we normally take for granted and feel entitled to has an humbling effect on the soul, so it is said that David “humbled [his] soul with fasting” (Ps. 69:10). God inclines his ear and looks toward the humble (Isa. 66:2; Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5), and prayer and fasting are both ways in which we humble ourselves before God.
1 Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 20th Anniversary Edition (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), 56.
2 Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer (Dickinson, ND: Revival Press, 2016), 56.
It is inadvisable for pregnant or nursing mothers, people who are diabetic or anemic, prone to anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders, and people who have other special health conditions to fast. If you are unsure about your fitness to fast, you should get a physical exam. If you are taking any medication, you should also consult your doctor before making changes to your dosage.
If you have never fasted before, you should start slowly, perhaps fasting for only a meal or two, with juices and/or chicken stock to assuage the hunger. If abstaining from drinks other than water, you should stop drinking coffee and tea at least three days before a fast to avoid withdrawal headaches during the fast. It is unwise to “stock up” by eating large meals before the fast. In fact, smaller portions for a day or two leading up to the fast are more helpful. Dressing warmly, resting sufficiently (~8 hours of sleep), and hydrating frequently (4-8 glasses of water throughout the day) are important during a fast.
Weekly Prayer Meeting