Prayer and Fasting

Tomorrow is our annual day of prayer and fasting. Here at the beginning of a new year in the history of our congregation, we ask God for the continuing privilege of being a local expression of the body of Christ: “May we, Father, in this new year be guided by you and filled with your Spirit such that we will be fully pleasing to you in our corporate worship, in our love for one another, and in our making Christ known to those around us.”

Prayer
Here’s Paul A. Miller (A Praying Life, 2009) about how child-like faith (Mark 10:14-15) prays:

Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer. The only way to come to God is by taking off any spiritual mask. The real you has to meet the real God. He is a person. Instead of being frozen by your self-preoccupation, talk with God about your worries. Tell him where you are weary. If you don’t begin with where you are, then where you are will sneak in the back door. Your mind will wander to where you are weary. We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of — our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness — are what gets us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works. In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You’ll end up less selfish.

Fasting
Here’s Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991) about how fasting strengthens prayer:

There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father. When Ezra was about to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast in order for the people to seek the Lord earnestly for safe passage (Ezra 8:23). They were to face many dangers without military protection during their nine-hundred mile journey. This was no ordinary matter to be brought to God in prayer. The Bible does not teach that fasting is  kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying. God is always pleased to hear the prayers of his people. But he is also pleased when we choose to strengthen our prayers in a way he has ordained.

So tomorrow, with joy, let us thank God for past blessings and seek his initiatives through us for the future.

Originally posted on January 15, 2013.

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Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting and Psalm 127:1

Most years, on the occasion of our Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting, I find myself thinking about Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain; unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

Apply the verse to our context, and you get something like this: Unless the LORD builds Trinity Fellowship, we serve in our church in vain. But, in fact, will the Lord build up Trinity Fellowship? Yes, he is a God who promises to give good gifts to those who ask. And so we implore the Lord that he would cause growth throughout the congregation, and that he would guide our church in this new year. May he deepen our faith, fill our worship with his Spirit and his truth, energize our mutual love, and make our witness compelling. Then our labors, as acts of cooperation with God, will not prove to be futile. When I speak of our labors, I’m thinking of all the various activities and relationships throughout the congregation, carried out by all of us, in accord with the energies and gifts he gives us.

Read on, and various commentators will aid your contemplation of Psalm 127:1.

Work and family were the two constitutive dimensions of ordinary life in Israel. Life was set in the social unit of the family and supported by work. But both involved a mysterious uncertainty: work and family were human endeavors, but human action was not ultimately determinative in them. Work did not always come to fruition; marriage did not always produce children. The psalm is grounded in fundamental trust in the providence of God as the decisive factor in all of human life. —James Luther Mays, 1994.

The poet proves that everything depends upon the blessing of God. His examples are taken from the God-ordained life of the family and of the state. These are things which depend upon the blessing of God, without natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labors to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance. —Franz Delitzsch, 1867 (translated by Francis Bolton).

Unless the good hand of God be upon us we cannot prosperously build a place of worship for his name. –Adam Clarke, early nineteenth century.

The two human activities of verse 1 are samples of a great area of life: its enterprises and its conflicts, the work of creating and of conserving. For each of them this verse sees only two possibilities: either it will be the Lord’s doing or it will be pointless; there is no third option. –Derek Kidner, 1973.

He is far from thinking that human care and labor, which are employed in the building of houses and keeping of cities, are to be regarded as useless. These are more especially useful and effective when the Lord himself is the builder and keeper. The Holy Spirit is not the patron of lazy and inert men. –Wolfgang Musculus, sixteenth century.

Theologically the psalm anticipates a Pauline emphasis upon “good works” within a context of faith over against mere “works” (Eph. 2:9-10). Labor is to be a matter of collaboration with God (1 Cor. 15:10, 58). Under the new covenant there is an even closer intertwining of the believer’s fortunes with his Lord, as Jesus reaffirmed, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). –Leslie C. Allen, 1983.

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