Jesus’ Teaching
In the sermon on the Mount Jesus addresses a number of important spiritual practices including giving (6:1-4), praying (6:5-15) and fasting (6:16-18). In each case he places his main emphasis upon the motive. When we observe these spiritual practices it shouldn’t be to impress people nor are they a measure of our spiritual maturity. Practices such as giving, praying and fasting are important because God can use them to lead us in life and He will reward us.

Matthew 6:5-8 (NLT)
 “When you pray don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”

When you pray. Not if but when you pray. It’s a given that all of us should pray. We need to take the initiative, stir ourselves up to pray. In Acts 16, we find Paul as he went from city to city strengthening churches in their faith and also spreading the gospel, the first place he sought was  where prayer was happening.  Before anything else, he will go to the places where the people were already praying. Situations opened up as a result of prayer. (Acts 16 :13, 16, 25)

Paul like Jesus, lived in an atmosphere of prayer.  The spirit of prayer preceded breakthroughs and opened up opportunities to share the gospel and release the supernatural power of God. We too need to live in this atmosphere of prayer, where we are easily moved to pray for different things we encounter.

Matthew 6:16-18 (NLT)
And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and dishevelled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. 17 But when you fast, comb your hair[d] and wash your face. 18 Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When you fast ... implying we should. The bible clearly tells us that spiritual fasting intensifies prayer.  Jesus himself fasted for 40 days at the beginning of his ministry, releasing great power into his ministry. So He expects his followers would fast from time to time too. Paul enunciates fasting as a vital part of his life in (2 Cor 6 and 11:27 – in fasting often).

What is Fasting?
Fasting is voluntarily abstaining from food or other legitimate enjoyments, for a specified period, and for spiritual purposes. We can fast from food, technology or entertainment. Fasting is willing to set aside legitimate appetites of the body, whether its food, entertainment or technology for a specified period of time and concentrate on praying and seeking God. It not only lends a note of urgency and persistence to our praying but it is also a powerful personal discipline to train our will, to develop self-control and tune our spiritual sensitivity towards God. We don’t fast to try to manipulate or force God into action. God answers according to His will (1 Jn.5:14-15).

Instead fasting and praying aligns us to the purpose God has for us.  Often we have ‘tunnel vision’ and only see the immediate but God sees around the corner and moves us towards that. Though we may not fully understand the mystery of fasting and prayer but I believe when we willingly set aside ‘appetites’ of the flesh to seek God (a) we are clearing the space for Him to come and speak with us and (b) we are calling out to Him to quench our thirsty hearts with His Presence.

Spiritual Benefits of Fasting

Fasting can …
1. Help initiate revival and spiritual growth.  (Joel 2:12) (Jonah 3:5-10)
(2 Chr 7:14)  If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place.

Whenever the people of God became dull and complacent and they responded to the call of prayer and fasting they experienced revival. Spiritual fires lit up once more. From time to time we when find ourselves becoming complacent, dull in our spiritual lives, feel far away from God, the best thing we can do is to fast and pray for our own spiritual vitality to be restored. God never moves away from us. We are the ones who drift away from Him as we get distracted with the cares of the world.

2. Help us receive clear revelation and direction from God.  (Acts 13:2)
Church at Antioch Acts 13:1-3 and Acts 14:21-23 as the people worshipped and fasted together collectively, they received direction and revelation from the Holy Spirit for decisions or tasks ahead of them. The collective prayer and fasting played a vital role in the growth and development of the New Testament church.

Over the next few weeks as we prepare to fast and pray collectively as a church, be expectant that God will speak clearly into the life of our church for this season.

3. Help free people from spiritual bondages. 
(Mark 9:28-29). Jesus has just returned from Mt. Transfiguration and found his disciples frustrated because of their unsuccessful efforts to cast out a demon from a local boy. Jesus delivers him and then later when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer & fasting”

I believe God wants us to be ready to set people free from all sorts of spiritual bondages, especially in the days we are living in where the practice of occult, new age is so rife. As we fast and pray God will give us power and wisdom to move in spiritual authority.

4. Help push back or loosen the demonic powers over a situation.
(Daniel 10). God had revealed to Daniel great prophetic promises and grand disclosures of His purposes for his people but the bible says “they were a long time in coming about”.  Daniel began to fast and pray and as he was praying the Angel appeared said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.

I wonder how many situations today are awaiting us as a church where we begin to recognise (a) that maybe God’s appointed time for deliverance has come for some of our extended family members or spouse or children or parents, who are in need of Christ and (b) that as we take to prayer and fasting collectively as a church, the powers of darkness holding people captive can be pushed back or loosened.  The hearts of people are the battleground where the enemy seeks to keep them locked up in darkness and our fasting and praying in agreement during this season can bring about the promised deliverance we have been longing for.

5. Help us navigate the journey ahead with confidence.
(Ezra 8:21-23)   I proclaimed a fast so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him”.  So we fasted and petitioned our God about this and he answered our prayer.

The corporate prayer and fasting that Ezra undertook with his people helped them navigate the journey ahead with confidence. This action would have been a testimony for the future generations (their little ones) who accompanied them.

At CityLife as we begin a period of fasting and praying, like Ezra, we want God to help us navigate the journey ahead of us with confidence.  Not only for us but the next generation who will come after us.

6. Help deepen our intimacy with Jesus. 
(Matt 9:14-15)   One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and they asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples do not fast? Jesus answered “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them then they will fast.

Jesus was saying, since I am with them they don’t need to mourn or fast, however when the bridegroom is taken away (Jesus ascended to the Father) and before he comes a second time there is going to be fasting for the disciples. The context of fasting here is to convey our ‘deep longing for His Presence. There will always be this ache in the heart of God’s people for the ‘not yet kingdom of His Presence & Power” to manifest. Fasting here is a powerful statement that says to Jesus “I want you more than my food, entertainment and technology. You are more important to me than all these things”. I want to pursue you with all of my heart. I long for Your presence!  You are my treasure Jesus! I long for the day when you will return. Fasting here is an exclamation point, expressing our ache, hunger and desire for Jesus.

Getting Ready to Fast 
These are some great reflections around why fasting and praying is so profound and powerful
By nature, every one of us is inclined to take the path of least resistance. We want to avoid pain at all costs. We love shortcuts. We tend to avoid disciplines, however God says when we do fast and pray He will reward us.

  • Decide what you are going to fast from. Food, technology, entertainment or something else.
  • Block out a specific time that you will abstain from it so you can pray and seek God.
  • Be consistent. Stay with it. Stick to it.
  • Set a specific period of time.  
  • Set a specific objective.  What will you like to focus on in prayer during that time.
  • Prepare yourself spiritually.  Take time to read the word. Worship. Journal.

Sample Discussion Questions
1. How is your prayer life? Is it consistent or inconsistent?
2. Discuss how you can make it even more consistent.
3.  Have you ever fasted before?  If so how was your experience? 
4. Suggest one thing you could fast from in the next 3 weeks?
5.  Discuss which of the 6 spiritual benefits of fasting has spoken to you.

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