We begin our Fall fast today and I'm so encouraged by the enthusiasm expressed to seek God together. This is not just a hunger strike. We deny ourselves food in order to feast on Jesus. It's worthwhile to set aside some time each day privately to pray, so that we're not just wishing and waiting for a chance to eat again. God desires to meet us all with great love and power. Gathering each night to worship and pray together also helps give us a sense of journeying together, so I encourage you to be at those times.
Each day over the next three days, I'll send out a short blog to provide some thematic guidelines to help us as we journey together. I want to look at the reasons why God's people fasted in Scripture. Today I want to look at a very common reason. God's people fasted when they were in distress and God met with them powerfully in that distress.
When Nehemiah heard that the returning exiles to Jerusalem were in great trouble and disgrace, and that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and its gates burned with fire, he was greatly distressed.
"When I heard these things I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: 'O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, let your ears be attentive and your eyes be open to hear the prayers your servant is praying before you night and day for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you....O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant.... grant your servant success.' " Nehemiah 1: 2-10
Some helpful insights and questions to ask around this passage:
1. What do you see around you that is broken and burned, that causes you to be distressed? Nehemiah mourned and wept. Let's take some time to think, mourn and weep about our nation, our county and our city. Ask God for a heart of distress, so that you can pray with compassion. Pray into a particular area of brokenness in our culture. Is it fatherlessness, sex-trafficking, poverty, the porn industry, the high rate of divorce, racism, materialism, hardness of heart towards the Gospel, drug addiction, Christian hypocrisy, Christian persecution? Pray that God would restore it. In Acts 17 Paul saw that there were many idols in Athens and he was greatly distressed. What are the idols in our cities that distress us?
2. What is broken and burned in your own life, in your relationships, family or marriage? Notice how Nehemiah includes himself in the prayer of confession for Israel's sin. "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed..." Allow the Holy Spirit to convict you and bring you to repentance instead of simply pointing out others' brokenness. Ask Him to point out if there is some brokenness passed on from your father's house that needs healing. Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. What are the idols in our own lives that should distress us? Allow the Lord to expose them so that we can repent of them.
3. What are some practical steps that God is calling you to take to bring restoration to distressing situations? Nehemiah's fasting and prayer was a precursor to empowered action. "Grant your servant success." Note that his prayer begins with distress but ends in a prayer for success, which God answered. This shows us the power of prayer and fasting.
May God break our hearts, lead us to repentance, and grant us success in our distress.