Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on fasting; Date: 1 March 09

For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar

 

 

For Victory

 

A new Christian began to work at a hospital for children with disabilities. One day he met a 16-year-old boy – “Stevie” – who was a victim of Down’s syndrome. He was a self-mutilator who was driven to cry out and beat himself in the face constantly. The staff psychologist at the school had secured permission from state officials to administer electric shock therapy to Stevie for a six-month period. But he just got worse and worse instead of better. His face began to feel like dry alligator skin because he beat himself continuously. Finally, the attendants tied Stevie’s hands in splints so that he couldn’t bend his arms to reach his face. The only problem was that the other children in his dormitory ward developed a new game once they figured out that Stevie’s hands were bound at his sides.They liked to run up behind him and push him so hard that he would lose his balance and fall down. Since Stevie could no longer instinctively shield the face with his arms because of the splints, every time the kids on the ward played their game and pushed him, Stevie would land facedown on the floor without any way to protect himself or soften the landing.

What was the answer for Stevie? Most of the time the nurses would find him with blood streaming from his nose, lips, and mouth. Whenever the new Christian would come, Stevie could sense God’s love coming from him and he would put his head on his shoulder and just weep. Finally the new Christian said: “Lord, You told me that You sent me here to love these children. What is the answer for Stevie?” Very clearly he heard the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “This kind goes not out but by prayer and fastingThis was from the Bible – Matthew 17:21. So the new Christian didn’t eat and didn’t drink. On the fourth day the Lord spoke to him and said, “You can drinkand so he started drinking water. But he did not break the fast until the fourteenth day and the Lord said, “Now pray for Stevie

When he arrived for his shift at the school that day, he took Stevie into his little office cubicle and said, “Stevie, I know your mind may not understand what I’m saying, but your spirit is eternal. I want to tell you that I am a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve come to preach good news to you. I want you to know that Jesus Christ came to set the captives freeThen he said, “In the name of Jesus, you evil spirit of mutilation, you let him go now in the name of JesusSuddenly Stevie’s body was flung about eight feet away from him and hit the other wall of the cubicle! When Stevie hit the wall, his body was elevated about three feet above the floor, and then he slid down to the floor and let out a long sigh. Immediately the new Christian smelled an incredibly foul smell of rotten eggs and burning sulfur in the room, which gradually faded away. He quickly went to Stevie, cradled him in his arms, and removed his splints while he watched with wide eyes. Then Stevie began to bend his arms and gently feel his face. He watched him softly touch his eyes, his nose, and his ears; then he started sobbing. He had realized that for the first time he was not being driven to beat himself. He was gently touching his face. He had been delivered (Mahesh Chavda: The Hidden Power Of Prayer & Fasting, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 1998, p9-14).

This morning I am excited to preach about fasting. The Holy Spirit taught an important lesson to the new Christian who cared for Stephen and he seems to be teaching us the very same lesson: “Do you have a Stephen in your midst? Do you want power in this church? Do you need a breakthrough? Then, know what you need to do: This kind – this problem – these obstacles – do not yield – do not go out – but by prayer and fastingI am excited because the topic of fasting was not on my radar screen for preaching – my preaching plan had another focus – but then God spoke to this one and that one and a few people over here … More than once I was asked to consider a congregational fast and every single time I hesitated because we have not had much teaching on the subject. In fact, we had none. But then other pastors and other local congregations became excited about fasting as a community and even this week Adam Stiller visited me on Monday and brought me a gift – a book on fasting [Jentezen Franklin: Fasting] – which he himself could not put down (and now ordered twenty-one copies for distribution among our members). However, this very book had already been given to me by another Living Grace member a few months ago – Paul Crighton. We can all have a sense of excitement. This is God speaking to us and he is saying to Living Grace: “I am leading you into fasting

Who among us here has had any experience with fasting? Hands up, please. This is a good number of us. According to the Bible the discipline of fasting is available and essential for all Christians. However, when I was growing up, I had never heard of anyone doing a fast (except stories about my grand-father who always fasted on Good Friday with an often grumpy mood and sour face) and I was not taught much about fasting even at the church seminary. Then, a few years ago a young couple in our church – Brett and Kirsty Humphrey – probably made the biggest impact on me when it comes to fasting. For about two years they fasted one day per week because they felt that God led them to this practice and then – after two years – God released them again from this practice. I was an interested observer.

The Bible teaching is surprisingly strong on fasting. Jesus said – Matthew 6:1-18 – I read his words: “ … when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets … your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you … when you pray, do not … love to pray … on the street corners to be seen by others … go into your room … your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you … when you fast … put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting … your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. … “ With these words Jesus focused on three Christian core disciplines – one after the other: “ … when you give … when you pray … when you fast … “ and he made the same point about all of them: Neither giving – nor praying – nor fasting – is to be done for show – for proud posturing before others – but these actions are for God which he will reward, if they are for him. Giving – praying – fasting: Jesus assumed that all three are standard practice among Christians and all of them carry a reward.

Who wants to be rewarded by God? Who wants to gain the best from God? When it comes to fasting, the reward comes frequently in the form of power – incomparably great power – breakthrough – at times even changing the fate of an entire city – an entire nation. For instance, the prophet Jonah declared to the city of Niniveh – Jonah 3:4: “ … Forty more days and Niniveh will be overthrownHowever, the prophecy did not come to pass because – Jonah 3:5: “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackclothThe king and his nobles passed a degree, saying – Jonah 3:9: “ … Do not let any person or beast … taste anything; do not let them eat or drink … Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perishThese people repented with fasting and God did relent with compassion – did save the city – in the process even contradicted his own prophetic word of destruction – because the change of attitude – expressed in radical fasting (tasting neither food nor water) – drew a powerful response from God.

Fasting releases power and it is for quite practical reasons. One leader declared in the Bible – Ezra 8:21-23: “There … 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 … So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayerAccording to this example from the Bible – we fast and pray – we proclaim a fast – whenever we sense a more pressing need for God to keep us safe – our families and possessions.

There is victory in fasting. When a vast army was coming against God’s people, the king – 2 Chronicles 20:3: “ … resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all … “ with the result that the Lord himself set ambushes against the foreign army and – 2 Chronicles 20:25: “ … there was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it.” 2 Chronicles 20:29: “The fear of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel … “ There is amazing victory in fasting.

And – to make another brief comment – did you notice the key reason that drove the king to the fast? He wanted victory but there was something else. I repeat one verse. The king – 2 Chronicles 20:3: “ … resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all … “ When we fast, we hear God better. The king resolved to inquire of the Lord – therefore declared a fast – because he wanted to know from God the strategy for victory. The same goes for us. If we need God to speak to us clearly, we commit to fasting. [For instance, should I marry this person? Should I accept this job? Does it make sense to go on this overseas mission trip? If you need to hear God in a pressing matter, then fast.]

Likewise – when the first Christians needed to know who among them was called to be sent out as missionaries, they fasted. We read in the Bible – Acts 13:2-3: “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called themSo after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them offWhile we are fasting, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the strategy for walking in power and victory.

One more example. In Judges 20 – a rather interesting chapter in the Bible – God tells his people three times to attack the enemy but the first two times they suffered heavy casualties – thousands died – despite God’s assurances and command. Only when they attacked for the third time there was a comprehensive victory. Why? Why be in the will of God three times but nevertheless suffer defeat twice before gaining victory? At last there was a difference in their preparation. They fasted – Judges 20:26: “Then … all the people … sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LordThe next day they won a most comprehensive victory. Fasting is for power and victory.

And as a church we are in a season where we also need this power (we have “crossed the Jordan” – we are taking the “promised land” – we are doing battle in mission work) and therefore – it makes sense – God is now leading us into fasting. Why does fasting work? The practice is in the Bible but why should abstaining from food – long days without breakfast, without lunch and without dinner – make any difference in the world around us? I want to give three answers.

Firstly, there is power in fasting because God responds to passion. I will not labour the point but in the Bible Jesus confronted two churches with these words – Ephesians 2:4: “ . I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Ephesians 3:15-16: “ … you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm … I am [not pleased with you] … “ God deserves more from us than an uninterested shrug of our shoulders. [Deserves more than dispassionate prayers: “Okay God, I want to be saved.” “Okay God, I want you to provide me with food.” “Okay God, bless this church and city.”] God deserves the best from us (all honour and all glory and all praise) and his promise is to respond to passion – Hebrews 11:6: “ … he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … they will be filled[Luke 11:5-13: “ … because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you: Ask … seek … knock … how much more will your Father in heaven give … to those who ask him.”] Our hunger and thirst for God, honours him – the magnitude of his grace – and therefore God responds to passion and desperation and it is for that reason that he responds to fasting because he finds it irresistible – he is so pleased – when we demonstrate that we are more hungry for him than food.

However, if you are sitting here in church this morning and you are not so certain about your passion for God, may I encourage you. Try fasting and you will be in for a pleasant surprise. The hunger will come – and not only for food. As your taste buds take a break – as you discipline the body – you will rediscover another hunger which is the hunger of your soul and this hunger goes deep. When food no longer masks the problem, you also become aware of the other junk which does not really satisfy – the hours before the computer, mindless dating, the mobile phone, career ambition, shopping and drugs. Fast – do without food – and you have a chance to take stock of your life. You can use the hunger in fasting and make it focus on God. It works. Your feelings will follow what you know is true: It is God that satisfies. We need him even more than bread.

This was the first point: There is power in fasting because God responds to passion – desperate hunger for him. The second point is: There is power in fasting because we become certain of who we are. This is what happened to Jesus. At the age of thirty he was baptized with the Holy Spirit – baptized with power – for ministry but he was not ready to use any of this new power before he endured a period of fasting. I read from the Bible – Luke 3:22-23: “ … the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry … “ Lk 4:1-2: “Jesus, full of the Spirit, returned … and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days without food and God initiated this fast for a purpose. [God is the one initiating all of our fasts.] When we fast, we may expect to get closer to God and we may expect to have some amazing experiences with God. However, the truth is that in fasting it is the devil that is coming for a visit and we find ourselves in warfare with his temptations. In Jesus’ case – and this is most common also for us – the temptations focused on his identity. The devil said – three times – I paraphrase from the Bible – Luke 4:3-13: “ … If you are the Son of God, put an end to your hunger. Come on. Turn stones into bread. Aren’t you the Son of God? … If you are the Son of God, do not suffer this isolation. Throw yourself from a high building and let everyone see how the angels rescue you. Aren’t you the Son of God? … “

This is precisely what comes up in fasting. Who are you? Who are you in the desert? This prepares us for ministry. When we fast, God is testing our faith. He makes us perserve in the truth. No hunger – no deprivation – no persecution – no hardship – is to make us doubt – ever – who we are – the sons and daughters of God – loved by him – filled with his Spirit and power. If the devil was to succeed in making us doubt our identity, then we would become absolutely defenseless against his schemes. If you no longer know that you are a son – a daughter – then you no longer know that you have a dad – a Father in heaven – and therefore you no longer know what he promised you as his children – Ephesians 1:18-19: “ … the riches of his glorious inheritance … and his incomparably great power for us who believe … “

You may do it tough – as a church we may be stretched and become tired – many Christians in the world are persecuted – but God loves us as his children. This is who we are and therefore we are people with character. We are not selling out our identity for fame or fortune. It’s too precious to us. Fasting makes us confront who we are in the desert which makes us ready for ministry. The Bible says about Jesus – Luke 4:14: “He [original: Jesus] returned [from fasting] … in the power of the Spirit … “ – ready to face any challenges without becoming confused about who he was and what was promised to him.

This was the second point: There is power in fasting because we become certain of who we are. The third and last point is: There is power in fasting because this is where the battle is won. For years now I have had the following two sayings pinned to my office wall: “What if prayer is the work and the ministry is the result? What if prayer is not the preparation for the battle but the battle itselfWe can be busy busy busy with handing out flyers, cooking for people, preaching and teaching, writing letters to politicians, organize rallyes … – we can burn ourselves out – but none of this is going to achieve anything unless we wage war and win the battle first in fasting and prayer.

Fasting is a discipline and it is for warfare. Even last Sunday we reflected on Bible words from Ephesians 1:18-23 – I read them to you again: “ … that you may know … his incomparably great power for us who believe … “ What is this about? The same Bible book expands on the nature of the incomparably great power for us who believe and the nature of our battle (where this power is to be used) – Ephesians 6:10-18: “ … be strong in the Lord … For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms … “ What we learn from these verses is that whatever we do as a church is – at its core – spiritual. The battle is not won by arguing with flesh and blood – trusting in strategies of persuading people or being clever in putting pressure on the government. These things may happen and bear results – amazing results – but not before the battle is won in the spiritual with fasting and prayer.

When you look at Jesus, he had a most difficult time wrestling with the devil (hunger – temptations) during a forty day battle experience in the desert. But when he came out of the desert – when the praying and fasting was done – the battle – this is what the evidence suggests – had been won and the ministry was easy. We read in the Bible – Luke 4:32-37: “They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority … All the people were amazed and said to each other: ‘What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!’ … “ Luke 4:40-41: “ … the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people … “

The same dynamic reappears before Jesus’ greatest achievement – the cross – his death as the sacrifice for our sins – (and if you don’t know the meaning of the cross … ). The real battle was not won in the actual dying but before in hours of intense prayer. Before he died – the previous night – Jesus spent time in a garden on the Mount of Olives and this is what happened – I read from the Bible – Luke 22:41-44: “Jesus withdrew … knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup [of suffering] from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the groundThe anguish – the intense warfare – the sweat like blood – the need for an angel to come and help him – happened in the hours of prayer which gained Jesus the victory beforehand. There the battle for our salvation was won and the cross – the actual dying – was the result of this victory.

Do we understand how practical this is for us? Our prayer watch on Friday nights – from 9pm to 12am – is the most important church meeting of Living Grace. This is where we win the battle. This is where the power is gained for healing and preaching and setting people free from the kingdom of darkness. Do you need a breakthrough in your marriage – in your finances – in your health – in the salvation of a family member? Come and pray. There is no victory unless there is victory in prayer and fasting.

A healing evangelist from India writes: “Every time … meetings are arranged in prominent cities, we have to go through the same moments of agony as Jesus went through in the Garden of Gethsemane. In preparation for these meetings, we fast for many days, praying earnestly. Our gracious Lord will come down, and … impart to us … [what] we should preach. Then I will wait at the feet of our Lord for a new anointing [power], and grace to come down upon us and that particular city for demonstrating his power. This is the toughest time; I will shed tears of blood, undergoing the agony of Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane [cf. Luke 22:40-44]. An unbearable burden for the souls in that particular city will acutely surge into my heart.

At these times, in order to keep the people of that city under their continual bondage of sin, the evil spirits, ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2) and the ‘the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12) will appear before me; wrestling with them, I will pray on my knees, with great travail, sweating profusely. The great burden for the souls of the city will make me ‘labour in birth’, as mentioned … in Galatians 4:19. All of a sudden, our gracious Lord Jesus will appear, and at his sight, the evil spirits would bow down and disappear. Every dark cloud would vanish. My heart would become light again. Then the promise of Jesus will ring out: ‘That place has been given in your handsAt that time, a divine anointing will descend on me. I will be filled to overflowing, with an unparalleled faith that all the souls in that place belong to Jesus and not the devil. Only this unwavering faith will give me the authority to preach the Gospel in that place uncompromisingly and rebuke the powers of darkness that have kept the people bound in their bondage … “ (D.G.S. Dhinakaran: Gifts Of The Holy Spirit, South India: Word Of Christ, p268-269).

“That place has been given in your handsThis is what we want. We want the same promise ringing out to us. We want Toowoomba and the region. There is power in fasting because this is where the battle is won.[1] I repeat the three points: 1) There is power in fasting because God responds to passion. 2) There is power in fasting because we become certain of who we are – the children of God – his heirs. 3) There is power in fasting because this is where the battle is won.

Are we getting ready now to give fasting a go? We will get hungry and we won’t like the feeling of a grumbling stomach and the prospect of warfare may worry us. But God is in fasting. Jesus was led into the desert and fasting by the Holy Spirit – Luke 4:1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, … was led by the Spirit in the desert … he ate nothing during those days … “ Likewise, God put it on the heart of so many of us to declare a time of fasting and this is exciting. God is doing it. He is leading us into something new. He wants us to have incomparably great power and victory in life and mission.

And then, did you notice how the testimony finished? “ … All of a sudden, our gracious Lord Jesus will appear, and at his sight … every dark cloud would vanish. My heart would become light again … “ After the warfare – when victory is gained – Jesus will minister to us. How good will that be? It even happened to Jesus himself – Matthew 4:11 – I read from the Bible: “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended himFirst the battle, but then Jesus comes and the angels and then the authority to take ground from the enemy. How good will that be?

I come to a close. This week we want to fast as a church. You may determine yourself how much or how little you want to fast but the recommendation is that the first few days we fast from things like coffee, wine, TV or music. Then – later in the week – we want to have a fast where we abstain from food. The starting day may be Friday (maybe the prayer watch in the evening) and then – together – we want to break the fast with Holy Communion on Sunday which is going to be followed by a yummy lunch – something special – cooked up on the barbie. On the Friday as many of us as possible come to the prayer watch where we fast and pray together for victory.

We have three main objectives: 1) The healing of Greg Storey, 2) a new worship home for Living Grace and 3) financial provisions for the work of our church. Then, you may add your own – more personal needs – to the list. Target where you need victory in your life.

Are we ready? Do we have faith for this? We fast for a week. The first few days we cut out coffee or other pleasures and then abstain from food beginning some time on Friday until Sunday lunch. Are you ready for the discipline and warfare? Power and victory will come to this church. Amen.

 



[1] The battle is also won because fasting is an aggressive way of humbling ourselves before God (cf. Psalm 53:13; 69:6-10) which allows God to accomplish victory in his strength – not ours.