Why We Fast

In the past I’ve written articles on how to better fast and how to end a fast, but I have never talked about why we fast. I know from personal experience that I can be fasting and not know why. I can be focusing on all the wrong things instead of what fasting is truly accomplishing.

I should start by saying: fasting earns us nothing.

We don’t fast to get more favor from the Lord or to be “more pleasing” to Him. We can’t do anything that would add to what Jesus did on the cross. Our righteousness, goodness, and deservedness starts and ends at the cross. God doesn’t listen to our prayers more just because we’re fasting. We don’t get any access to God while fasting that we wouldn’t of had without it. We need to shake free from asceticism, the belief that we can reach a higher spiritual level by our works, and rest in the finished work of the cross.

I should also say: fasting informs God of nothing.

Often over-zealous Christians believe that fasting shows God the urgency of a situation they’re praying for. They believe if they toil for hours in prayer and fasting God will hear their request and answer. But those people often forget that He’s God. He knows everything. No one can tell Him something that He doesn’t already know. Unlike us, He realizes the importance (or lack thereof) of every situation. He knew about every circumstance before time began, and He knew His response to each and every prayer before any circumstance came to pass or before any prayer was prayed.

So we then do we fast? We fast for us.

When I say that we fast “for us”, I do not mean to say that we are the end to which we are fasting. Rather, we fast because we are constantly trying to substitute ourselves for God as the true end. We fast because our flesh hates God and wants nothing to do with Him. We fast because our desires are not for Him. We fast to create hunger for God by intentional weakness. The weaker our flesh and its desires become, the greater our spirit (and His Spirit’s influence) starts ruling our lives.

In past fasts, I’ve looked for one thing that I could give up, whether media, food, etc. I’ve treated fasting like I was offering a great sacrifice to God. In hindsight, I was looking for the very least I could do. The point of fasting is about becoming as weak as you can be. Again, it’s intentional weakness. I tell people that if your flesh isn’t terribly uncomfortable, agonizingly so, you’re not fasting right. I’m not talking about food either. It’s amazing how I can go without food for a week but I can’t go without reading the news for a day; that to leave my iPhone off all day is such a struggle and that my flesh longs for it. My flesh agonizes without it.

We often substitute what we are fasting with something else. I may fast lunch but I replace that time I’m eating with surfing the internet instead. I should be using the time I would normally eat lunch with to spend time with God. That’s how fasting is supposed to work. We strip (aka “fast”) all the meaningless things we can, making our flesh intentionally weak, so that we can draw near to God. 

I remember one day when God said, “Crumbs.” I asked “What are crumbs? What do you mean?” He responded, “Crumbs are all the little things in your life you eat that fill you up so that you’re not hungry for Me. You snack all day on crumbs so you never come to the feast I’ve prepared for you.”

Our lives are full of trivial things. We spend so much time on our phones, checking our social networks, watching the news, surfing the internet, and goofing off. While these things aren’t evil, they are crumbs that tend to feed our flesh and strengthen it to the point that we don’t desire God. There’s a feast of glory that God has prepared for us. Yet we rather eat the crumbs of our flesh and maybe a little food that comes from the table when we hear a sermon, but we never take a seat at the table. We never feast on God when we’re alone.

There is a feast in the Bible. Let us fast so we may partake at the table.

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What is intercedewith.me?

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I’m so excited to announce (at least here on my blog) the launch of a new social prayer website, intercedewith.me. Here is the “about” information from the website:

First Assembly DeLand is passionate about equipping the Church with tools for building a life of prayer in each individual believer’s heart, a house of prayer in each believer’s home, and a culture of prayer in each partner ministry. The frenzy of modern life makes it hard to sustain a secret life in God. To that end, we built intercedewith.me to help you build prayer into your daily life. Visit the site whenever you find yourself with a free moment – in line, on your lunch break, in the evenings before you turn on the TV – and take some time to engage in prayer with the current focus.

Intercedewith.me is the brain child of my good friend Mark, our pastor, and myself. We have been trying for years to get a greater amount of people at our church to pray. We’ve experimented with many different things and while some people did engage, we realized that some people saw “prayer times” as a special service or an elitist thing to do. Many people didn’t see it as something practical or something that they could do at anytime or anywhere. We were praying and thinking of ways to help and teach our church to pray throughout the day. We wanted to show them that prayer is for everyone and doesn’t have to be hours long to be effective. I’ve talked before how, sometimes, 15 second prayers, prayed throughout the day, are better than a whole hour once a day. It’s all about constant communication and conversation.

It was in that heart that intercedewith.me was birthed. Mark had an idea of making a online, mobile-friendly site where people from all over could engage with a prayer focus and, if they wanted to, leave prayers about the prayer focus on the site. It was an amazing idea and something that I’ve never seen done before. While people are waiting in line at the grocery store, they can open the website on their phones, hear/see the prayer focus, and engage in prayer in their heart and online….all while still in line! We added the ability where people can also share the prayer focus and/or their prayers with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

As a designer, I understand the opportunity cost to the things we attempt to do. The theory is if we make something easy enough, people are more likely to do it. While praying does involve time, focus, and attention, intercedewith.me is not meant to replace a believer’s personal prayer life. Rather, it is to boost and encourage their prayer life by stirring their faith and passion as they join with others believers in prayer, just like corporate worship times should boost our desire to worship at home.

I encourage you to check the site out and engage with us as we pray throughout the week for different issues. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter to see when a new prayer focus is posted.

3 Prayers, 3 Minutes, 3pm

Our pastor and church leadership has asked our church to pray everyday at 3pm for three things for three minutes. I wanted to write a short blog post with some simple 15-30 second prayers that anyone can pray, using the verses assigned to each prayer focus.

Prayers For America

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV)

Here are a few prayers to pray:

Father, we thank You that You promise to listen to Your people when they turn to You and seek You. We pray that You would help turn our hearts to Jesus — to love Him and serve Him. May we as a nation would humble ourselves before His throne and seek Him. In Jesus name, amen.

Father, we pray for our nation. We repent and ask forgiveness. We have rejected You as our source and we have served other things that hold no life (Jeremiah 2:13). Forgive us and move us to turn from these things by showing us Your face. In Jesus name, amen.

Father, we pray that You would demonstrate Your power; that in places where true repentance is taking place, stretch our Your hand and heal their land from the drought that our nation is currently encountering. Fulfill Your word and show Your power in our land we pray in Jesus name, amen.

Click here for more prayers for America.

Prayers for Governmental Leaders

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)

Here are a couple prayers to pray:

Father, we pray for our governmental leaders. We pray that You would reveal Yourself to them in visions and dreams. In the middle of the night, we pray that You would speak to them like Samuel and draw their hearts to You. God, grant them repentance and a heart that follows You. You desire that all people be saved so pour out a spirit of wisdom and revelation upon them, so that they would know Jesus better (Ephesians 1:17). In Jesus name, amen.

Father, we pray for our governmental leaders. We pray that you would encourage them. You desire that we pray, bless, and thank You for the leaders that You have placed over us. We pray against evil words spoken against the people you have ordained to lead this nation. We pray that You would receive glory by what they do in office. May we live peacefully and quietly in this election time. Help us guard our mouths. We desire to be well pleasing to You. Give us grace to temper our words with love, blessing, thanksgiving, and prayer. In Jesus name, amen.

Click here for more thoughts and prayers for our governmental leaders.

Prayers For Israel

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3 ESV)

Here are a couple prayers to pray:

Father, we pray blessing over Israel. While many have hardened their heart against Your Son, Jesus, we pray that You would remove the scales from their eyes so that the Jewish people would accept Jesus as their God and Messiah. Remove every hinderance from Your people, whether it be theologies, enemies, laws, etc. May nothing overshadow the light of Jesus in Israel. In His name we pray, amen.

Father, we thank You for the blessings we have received from Israel, particularly salvation from Jesus. We pray that You would protect them and be jealous over them. Let none who plot against them succeed. Father, You said in Hosea 2 that You would draw Israel to yourself and speak tenderly to her. In these times of conflict and war, we pray that You would comfort Israel. Speak tenderly to her about her hopeful future and about Jesus. In His name we pray, amen.

For some thoughts on how to view and pray for Israel, click here.

Help To Better Pray For Our President

It’s election season again. During these times, it can be easy for us as Christians to get caught up in the verbal abuse of candidates instead of praying and blessing our governmental leaders like the Bible calls us to.

Here are a few helpful tips on how to better pray for our president.

(Note: I will be writing this article around President Obama, our current president)

Pray Humbly

Some of my favorite verses in the Bible are Matthew 5:3-7:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

These verses are key to us praying rightly and effectively for our president. These beatitudes are a progression. I talked about this progression before:

Being “poor in spirit” is simply to realize where you would be without the mercy and grace of God. It is a realization that you cannot save yourself and you are forever doomed without God intervening into your life. The next step is to mourn that you are living for far less than what God wants for your life (Matthew 5:4). After that happens, when you realize who you are apart from God and you mourn consistently for all the things you do apart from God…true meekness and humility set in (Matthew 5:5). Something comes over you that you realize that there is no judgment or consequence you don’t deserve. That causes a hungering and thirsting for God to start in your life (note: the true realization of weakness always draws us closer to the Sufficient One) and you start desiring God above all else (Matthew 5:6, 6:33) and then because of the hunger and because of the true humility…you are compassionate towards people. You feel for them. You desire mercy for those in the struggle and you pray and long for mercy for those who don’t want to struggle anymore.

I also stated a huge outcome that comes out of following these beatitudes:

We stop judging and start giving mercy to others (deserving or not) in view of our need for mercy.

I find that many of our prayers and comments that we use towards President Obama come from a place of pride. Somehow, we forget our sinful nature, our helpless state apart from Christ, and start judging the president for his. We become like the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

God calls us to pray for our president out of humility in view of our (and his) need for mercy.

Pray Contextually

I am a huge fan of praying the Bible. When we pray the Word (in correct context), we pray the perfect will of God. The problem comes when we start taking verses out of context and twisting their meaning.

I’ll use Psalm 109:8 as a example. This is a verse that is often quoted and prayed about President Obama from many Republicans/Tea-Partiers. Here is what it says:

May his days be few; may another take his office! (Psalm 109:8 ESV)

This, on the surface, looks like a great Biblical prayer to pray for a president you don’t like. There are a few issues with this though. First, this verse does nothing to bless or help our president. It’s the equivalent of praying for someone to get fired. It’s not mercy, it’s judgment. Secondly, and most importantly, it is a verse taken completely (and wrongly) out of context. Let’s look at what that portion of Scripture is talking about.

Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death. He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him! He clothed himself with cursing as his coat; may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones! May it be like a garment that he wraps around him, like a belt that he puts on every day! May this be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life! (Psalm 109:6-20 ESV)

This will not be a popular statement, but if you quote verse 8 towards Obama, you are wishing (consciously or not) this entire portion of Scripture on him. I think we all can agree that this portion of Scripture should never be praying towards another human being before the mark of the beast. Yet, because we don’t strive to be contextual or positive in our prayers, we say and pray things that are totally against God’s heart for the president.

The Bible is not meant to be a weapon used by our anger and self-righteousness. It is a guide on how to effectively touch God’s heart. Let’s remember mercy in all our prayers and use verses that correctly, and contextually, help give words to that end.

Pray more for the person instead of the issue

I fear that many of us tend to focus on a particular issue than about the person who is behind the issue. The reason why this is a problem is because God always cares about the person, but may or may not care about the issue. God cares more about the soul of our president than He does for universal healthcare. We have made lesser things the major things we focus on.

I also think that most of our prayers are about wisdom more than salvation, mercy or revelation. Now I think praying for our president to have wisdom is a great prayer, but it is a short-term prayer. A person can only be president for a decade at the absolute longest. While his position will require much wisdom, those four or eight (or possibly ten) years will be quickly spent. What will happen to him then? What will happen after people stop praying for wisdom for him? What about his soul? Much better is it to pray for him to fall in love with Jesus and fear Him than it is to pray for wisdom alone. So pray for wisdom. Just don’t forget about the eternal.

Example Prayers

To help show how these three points work together, here are a few short 15-second prayers for President Obama. These prayers are taken from Ephesians 1:17-18, 2 Peter 3:9, Timothy 2:1-4 and others.

  • Father, I thank You for President Obama. I pray that You would give Him a spirit of wisdom and revelation…so that he would know Jesus better. Open the eyes of his heart. Enlighten them to the glory of the cross of Jesus. Make Yourself known to him. Visit him, speak to Him, reveal Yourself to him. In Jesus’ name, amen.
  • Father, I thank you that you are as patient towards President Obama as you are to me. You don’t desire any to perish but that all would come to repentance. So I ask that You would draw him closer to You. Convict his heart with Your truth and give him the grace to respond. Continue pouring out your mercy and patience on him. In Jesus’ name, amen.
  • Father, grant President Obama peace, both temporally by calming stress and frustration in his life and eternally by leading him to find the peace that Your Son purchased on the cross. Protect him from wicked men. Put godly men of influence (Daniels, Josephs, etc.) in his life and on his staff. Bless his family. Keep them healthy and safe. Use the Obamas to glorify Your Name in the earth. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Four Scriptures To Pray Over America

Praying for a nation and for God’s will can sometimes be a little tricky. You don’t want to pray that God will bless your nation with abundance when they are rebelling against God. Yet you also want to stand in the gap and pray against judgment and that God in His mercy will draw people to Him. So what do you do?

You can never go wrong praying from the Bible for something. When we pray the Bible, we are praying the will of God.

This is important. The Bible tells us God’s heart and by praying it we are appealing to God for what He already wants.

Here are my four favorite scriptures that I pray over America. They can also be applied to any nation. I have italicized the parts I really focus on.

O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2 ESV)

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28 ESV)

Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men! (Psalm 9:19-20 ESV)

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:10-22 ESV)

Help To Better End A Fast

This is a follow-up post to Help To Better Fast. I believe that fasting can change people, cities and even nations. That said, I believe it’s what we do after the fast ends that brings about the longterm difference. I consider seasons of fasting to be like a powerful conference — God can speak to you during it, you can feel moved, dreams can be reawakened, but if you don’t follow through after it’s all over then it’s been little of actual value for the long run. These are just a few practical things and a few spiritual things to make sure your fast is as effective in the long run as it was in the short run.

Don’t binge

Practically speaking, this means that if you haven’t eaten food for over 3 days then you should take it slow. If you haven’t ate anything for a week or so, don’t try eating steak right away, no matter how good it smells. I promise you it will be painful later, if not dangerous. Start off with bread, soup and salad. This is why Olive Garden is my favorite place to end a fast. The soup, salad and breadsticks combo is filling yet safe to eat.

Spiritually speaking, this means that you should not try to make up all your lost time by binging on media, food, or other things that you were fasting. Especially with longer fasts, you have trained yourself to eat and live a certain way. Do your best to keep the godly parts of that.

No spiritual vacations

Tailing off the end of point one, it is imperative that you decide not to take any spiritual time off after the fast is over. The few weeks after a fast is over, when the flesh is regaining it’s normal strength, are the most important to cement habits and practices you established when your flesh was weak during fasting. I encourage you to strive to keep your same prayer and devotional schedule the same as it was while you were fasting till it becomes a normal day to day habit and something ingrained into your life.

Fast again (and regularly)

Fasting should be a regular spiritual discipline in our lives. It’s a excellent way to keep our hearts and spirits in check and to make sure we’re not slipping into apathy or coldness of heart. I encourage you to plan and schedule your next fasting time before you end your current fast. I say this cause your spirit will look forward to it but your flesh will fight it tooth and nail once you end your fast. I know that most people are more quick to say “we should fast more” at the end of the fast than they are a week later. Schedule your fasting time and stick to it.

If you don’t know when to fast, pray and ask God when you should. He may call you to something weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. I highly encourage a few continual days of fasting every month at least. Again, this helps makes sure that every month we’re evaluating our hearts in the place of prayer and fasting. We ought to do it more than once a month, but monthly is better than never doing it.

For those monthly fasts, I highly encourage you to join the Global Bridegroom Fast (GBF). The fast is held the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of every month during the months of January to November, and the first Monday through Sunday of December, making a total of forty days of fasting each year. You can find out more information about the fast here.

Surround yourself with prayer

Decide to keep the atmosphere in your house and your life acclimatized to prayer. Choose to make sure your friendships and relationships are those who pray and who encourage you to pray in return. I also encourage you to start listening/watching the IHOP (International House of Prayer) 24/7 Prayer Stream. It’s free and it’s a way to use your speakers and/or TV in a way that’s not going to numb your spirit to God. You can view it free here.

Start a Bible study

Finally, the last thing I would suggest to make sure you don’t waste your fasting after you end your fast is to start a Bible study. This can be by yourself or it can be with your spouse, your family or a group of friends. The point of this is to move past the point you are during the fast, that you would grow after you fast not just during it. There are many great personal Bible studies. I personally recommend any from Beth Moore or Mike Bickle (free!). Many of these can be adapted for a small group. I also recommend doing any from John Piper as a group study (especially his Seeing & Savoring Jesus Christ DVD/book study). At the same time, sometimes the best thing to do is get together, open the Bible and pray and talk about it. Decide that you want to know Jesus better before the next fast and this will make sure that your fasting propels you somewhere deep in God.

Help To Better Pray

I decided to post some quick points and resources to help people pray, particularly for my church during this 28 day prayer initiative we’re in.

Pray 15-30 second prayers.

The point of prayer is not to give God a laundry list of things to do. It is two-way communication. It is intimacy. It is relationship. The point of praying is connecting and talking to God for the entire day, not just a hour in the morning. Try praying a quick 15 second prayer every time you think about it. Put notes around you so that you are reminded to pray these short prayers. Here is an example of a 15 second prayer:

Jesus, I pray for my church. I ask that you would pour out Your Spirit upon us. I pray that right now You would reveal Yourself to every member and every leader. Speak to their hearts and encourage them with Your love.

Praying quick prayers like that out loud or under your breath will keep your heart engaged with God throughout the day — and that is the point of prayer. It will train you to pray more and longer. It will also keep you connected to the Spirit to hear what He speaks to you. 15-30 second prayers will change your life completely if you do it consistenly.

Pray the Bible.

James says that we don’t have answers to our prayers cause we pray amiss, asking for our own selfish desires instead of what’s on the heart of God. When we pray the Word, we are assured we are praying the perfect will of God. Take a portion of Scripture and apply it to what you’re praying for. Here is an example prayer for the lost in the city using John 3:16 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1:

Father, You love all the world. You love the lost. You desire none to perish but all to believe in Jesus Your Son. I pray that Your Word would run swiftly in the city, that as Jesus is preached, You would convict hearts and bring them to salvation. Make people’s hearts tender to receive You I pray in Jesus name.

Here is what I advise doing when starting to pray:

Pray in the Spirit.

This is something that I find myself neglecting in prayer. I have a tendency to think of tongues as something used just for corporate prophecy, but it is primarily a tool for prayer. There is nothing that will engage and focus your heart to seek God and pray like praying in tongues. If you are not filled with the Spirit, ask the Lord to baptize you with this gift. He loves you and desires for all His children to have it. After you ask for the gift of tongues, open your mouth in faith and start speaking.

There are also times where we run out of words to pray or we don’t know what to pray for a certain focus. The Bible says that during these times, His Spirit prays through us the perfect will of God. He does this through tongues, groanings and utterings.

I hope this has helped equip you to better engage with God in the place of prayer.