- A pick up in regular attendance of 75+
- 40 saved and/or rededicated
- 30 baptized
- 30 new members added to church membership
- Without a large one time donation of $10,000 or more, church brought in over $100,000.00.
- Numerous projects started and completed (office, nursery, social hall, toddler nursery, bathrooms, foyer, stairs, upstairs hallway, classrooms upstairs, sanctuary stage, sound system)
- Debts paid off (church van, church carpet)
- Record attendance of 170 for one service (160 next highest)
- Six (6) regular services of 100+ in attendance
- Divine healing (skin cancer, rotator cuff, etc.)
This is just a summary and it's all happened in less than a year. We're really excited about what's to come in 2015 and we've got several new things on the way in terms of ministries (youth, kids, mini-kids, nursery, etc.). But the only way change will continue to come and progress will continue to be made is for us to remain focused on the goal. That goal is simply to glorify our Lord Jesus Christ and be His hands and feet. This past year was bathed in prayer on a regular basis and the Lord blessed us indeed. There is power in prayer. As we kick off a new year of ministry at Bell Street Church of God, I am calling us to a time of prayer and fasting for 21 days.
The truth is, many people have never fasted before and don't know what it is or how it is to be done. Others argue that it's unnecessary and gimmicky. What I hope to do in this post is to (a) give a concise Biblical outlook on fasting and its command for today and then (b) detail the ways in which others can participate in our 21 day fast beginning Sunday, January 4, 2015 and lasting until Sunday, January 25, 2015.
Arguments about Fasting
1. "We have the Holy Spirit. There is no need to fast anymore."
This is a common response to fasting. The overwhelming idea of fasting is to draw closer to God, to be more attune with Him, and to seek Him for needs and/or spiritual awakening. It is undeniably true that an individual can draw closer to God and seek Him for things and be answered in their attempts without fasting. It is true that the Holy Spirit lives in us and therefore provides a direct connection to the Father through Christ our Mediator. This is standard Christianity.
However, as with anything, there are levels. If you explore five different couples' marriages, you'll probably find different levels within those marriages. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are fun. Some are boring. Some communicate. Some do not. Some have one level of intimacy and affection. Some lack it altogether. As human beings, we understand levels. There are indeed levels in our relationship with God. These levels simply exist on our side though. God cannot love you more than He already does. He gave up everything just to save us and receive us to Himself. No amount of good deeds or in this case, fasting, will make God love you more. The level that I speak of is our attuning with God.
God may be touched, spoken to, and heard from on a regular basis. His desire for you and me is to have a relationship, a father / child relationship, that is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden (i.e. God, Adam, and Eve). Through Jesus Christ, the barriers of having that relationship have been removed. We can be as close to God as we want or as far away from Him as we want. Fasting then becomes less about trying to please God as much as it is about us making ourselves more aware of Him in our lives. Fasting empties an individual and teaches us to rely on the Spirit's strength. Fasting brings our level of receptivity to a higher place where we are able to discern the leading of the Spirit, experience greater intimacy with God, and be filled with peace.
Jesus was asked a question from John the Baptist's disciples in Matthew 9. They came to Him and asked why His disciples never fasted when they and the Pharisees did it on a regular basis. Jesus' response is interesting. In light of the Holy Spirit coming to dwell in us as Comforter and the Spirit of Christ, Jesus says that there will come a time where His disciples won't have Him and that's when they will fast. What did Jesus mean when He stated that the "bridegroom" would be taken from them? Jesus gives us maybe one of the clearest relational needs for fasting in His explanation. Knowing full well the plan to send the Spirit to us, Jesus speaks of the literal, physical reunion to take place between Himself and man in Heaven where there will be no more temptation, sin, and strife. Yes, we will see Jesus face to face. We will feel His touch and see Him as He speaks. We will literally see our names spoken from His lips. We will get to feel the greatest embrace ever known to creation. We are all longing for that day. We long to be reunited with Christ, our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. Jesus makes it clear that when physical contact is no longer possible, His disciples will fast and in doing so, will find one of the greatest levels of intimacy with Him that can be had on this side of Heaven.
It's important to note that the only one keeping you and I from knowing God more is ourselves. Fasting teaches us to disregard and lay off the weights that tie us down and keep us from serving the Lord radically and openly. Hebrews 12 begins with these precise instructions on fulfilling the journey to Heaven. Fasting doesn't make you God's favorite, but it does help you clean your life out through sacrificial denial, introspective searching, and spiritual awareness. And as we learn those disciplines, we will find that the "static" between heaven and earth that so often exists begins to dissipate and our relationship with God becomes so much more clearer. So yes, you can receive answers to prayer and know God without fasting. But you can also allow your relationship with Him to rise to another level of reciprocity.
2. "Fasting is a waste of time because it's trying to bribe God."
I struggled with this idea for a long time. At some point, I found myself picturing a scenario where God held the answers to my situations and I went on a hunger strike until He gave them to me. It's for this reason, I struggled the most with fasting. I couldn't get that image out of my head. I knew God couldn't be bribed and wouldn't be impressed by me starving myself. I would only be causing myself pain and agony and laying it at God's expense. I had also had my fair share of run in's with fasting for something only to see it not come to pass and feeling like a fool and a failure. I totally got the idea of fasting to know Him more, but I struggled with the notion of fasting to receive. That's until I read Ezra 8:21, Daniel 6:18, Acts 9 and 27:9, 33.
In Ezra 8:21, we see a fast that takes place for a need. In Daniel 6:18, we see a fast beginning due to trouble. In Acts 9, we see a fast beginning due to desperation. In Acts 27, we see a fast beginning due to spiritual conflict. The Bible lists some 311 specific individuals who fasted ranging from 1 day to 40 days. Almost all of them are in response to a need or a calamity. And for the most part, the fasts accomplished what the individual set out to accomplish. The greatest example of fasting not producing the desired result is when David fasted that his baby may live in which the baby ultimately died.
So if we can't bribe God, but yet we are to fast to touch God and receive from Him, where do we draw the line? For me, I found a solution to my dilemma. It's a change of thought as it pertains to receiving from the Lord. We have trained ourselves to think of God as a Santa Claus of sorts sitting on His throne with all the answers to our problems in a bag. So we pray and pray hard. We fast and fast long. We try and live perfect. We try to do all the holy things the Bible seems to speak of in anticipation that in doing all of these things, God will reach in that bag and throw us a bone. We have the same view of Him as it pertains to negative things to. It's why the world asks the question, "Where was God," when bad things happen. It's why people say that a God who is love wouldn't do "this" or "that." It's that image again . . . God up on His throne throwing good and bad things down to the earth based on who prays the best, lives the best, and gives up the most. Have you ever thought this way? Come on. Admit it. You probably are right now. In fact this ideology is so thought of that we've developed spiritual rhetoric to back it up. When God doesn't answer someone's prayer, we'll attribute it to sin in their life, or that candy bar they ate half way through a fast, or not really "giving it their all." We find every way possible to take the blame off of God when He doesn't answer. Why do we do that? We do this simply because we believe that if we pray enough and do enough, God will give us things. We quote the verses where Jesus told us to ask anything in His name and it would be done and then chalk up the "failed" prayers as being a result of a lack of faith. But if the amount of faith needed to move a mountain is the size of a mustard seed, we have a problem. I've seen faith in action and I'd like to think it was greater than a mustard seed, yet no mountain moved. It's the great dilemma of Christianity. How do we or should we even, try to explain why God does and doesn't answer prayers?
For me, I came to a formative decision. I think some of the issue lies in the notion that God always answers by first of all saying yes and second of all by some miraculous gift giving. The Bible is clear that we are to fast when we are in need, but in the process, I believe we must make ourselves open to however God decides to respond. It doesn't have to be the proverbial mountain moving all at once from an invisible hand. Sometimes God answers through people. Sometimes God answers us not by giving us what we want, but by showing us what is keeping us from receiving. Sometimes God answers us by asking more of us (see the rich young ruler in Mark 10). And sometimes God just says that His grace is sufficient (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). In these cases, we are fasting for God to meet a need, but we're fasting trusting Him to answer in whichever way He deems fit. In this case, fasting is certainly not bribing God, but rather a inquisition for Him to meet our need according to His will and to reveal to us His plan. These are somewhat difficult ideas for the gift giving God viewer to accept, but when we understand God's economy to be more than depositing prayers and withdrawing rewards from Heaven's ATM and we begin to understand the relationship factor that exists between us and God, then we can begin to understand the process by which He answers.
One example would be a 14 year old asking for a brand new car. Legally, there is nothing wrong with purchasing a car for a 14 year old as long as he doesn't drive it. And in that case, one might could argue that the purchase was unnecessary at worst and bad timing at best. I think sometimes we're asking God for things that either are unnecessary or that we're truly unprepared for. I think we have to trust God that He knows what we need, when we need it, and how we need it. He isn't some cruel dictator divvying out blessings to His favorites. Instead, He's a loving Father who is able to see beyond our "needs" to our needs. We often quote Jeremiah 29:11, but miss the fact that the verse says that God has "plans" for us. The idea of a plan derives detail. I think we have to accept that God's plan for our life is detailed and just because we think we need something or should receive something doesn't necessitate a need to God. In fact, He knows what we have need of before we ask. I wonder sometimes if we shouldn't be praying and fasting for God to show us what needs to be done in our lives, what stumbling blocks are in the way, what relationships need to be mended, what forgiveness needs to be given, so that we may receive from Him.
So no, fasting isn't bribing God. Fasting is simply bringing what we believe to be a need to Him and asking Him to answer in whatever way He deems right.
3. "Fasting is supposed to be private so you announcing it like this is not scriptural."
This is another thing I struggled with to some degree when the 21 Day Fast became the newest fad in churches. Called the "Daniel Fast," many a church has embarked on the journey of eating veggies and so forth for 21 days to start off a year. "Daniel Fast" cookbooks started showing up in Christian bookstores showing participants how to eat their favorite foods during the fast without eating what was prohibited. And I couldn't help then, and still can't help now thinking the fast might just be a waste.
The very idea of fasting is self-denial for the sake of being more open to hear the voice of the Lord and to encounter His presence and direction. Biblical fasting always involved seeking and giving something up. I have a hard time reconciling giving up food or foods for fasting and simultaneously searching for ways to eat as if you haven't. I'm not going to say a person can't fast this way. I've learned not to be so quick to judge on some things. But I will say that in my opinion, this type of fasting leans more towards dieting rather than self-denial and seeking.
So does this mean the collective fast is wrong? Of course not. Matthew 6 deals almost exclusively with the Christian disciplines and how they are to be practiced in private. Fasting is listed in verses 16-18. Taken by themselves, one may derive that all fasting should be secret. However, this is not what Jesus is saying and there are ample examples of scripture to prove it.
First, Jesus was simply comparing the way the Pharisees fasted to the way fasting should be done properly. Jesus says that when we fast, we shouldn't walk around making ourselves look downtrodden and poor so as to garner attention. The Pharisees would literally take ash and paint it on their faces so everyone would know when they were fasting and think highly of them. Jesus said not to do this. He said that if we go about angling for attention due to our fasting, then we'll get it from men, but miss the reward from Heaven. Nowhere does Jesus say not to tell anyone you're fasting or not to share it with a group. His directive here is more about attention instead of sharing.
We see plenty of other examples in the Bible where Israel's kings would call a corporate fast to seek the face of God. Israel was to enter into a collective fast on the Day of Atonement. Jehosophat ordered a collective fast when facing invasions from neighboring countries. Paul ordered a collective fast while on a ship being tossed about by a great storm the Bible calls "Euroclydon." The three Hebrew boys along with Daniel entered into a limited fast together as they refrained from eating the king's meat and delicacies for a period of days. In other words, there is nothing against collective fasts being called by a church or a group of people. In fact, scripture proves that collective fasts are important when it comes to a group of people getting a response from Heaven. Thus, our church will participate in a collective fast as we pray together for God's will to be done in our church, in our services, in our evangelism, and in our efforts. We will also pray that God will lead us and guide us throughout the year as we seek to continue to progress in the vision He's given us. Fasting in this sense will bring us into one mind and one accord with the purposes and plans of God for us.
4. "I can't fast and God understands that."
Actually, you can fast. Everyone can fast. Everyone is called to fast. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16 "when you fast," not "if you fast." Fasting certainly isn't a requirement for Heaven, but a complete lack of desire to ever participate may be a stumbling point in the future. In fact, fasting is so important that Jesus said in Mark 9:29 that there are some things that cannot happen without prayer AND fasting. He was referencing the disciples' questions of why they were unsuccessful at casting a demon out. In fact when Jesus was called to intervene, He actually rebuked the disciples. His reasoning behind why the demon couldn't be cast out tells us that the disciples lacked either prayer or fasting or both. As we fight strongholds and sin in this world, Jesus is clear. There are some things that will not break in our lives until we move beyond prayer and add fasting. Faith needs prayer for its development and full growth, and prayer needs fasting for the same reason.
Now let's get technical. Some people can't go without eating due to medical issues. The Bible gives a great alternative in following the fast that Daniel participated in for 21 days in which the individual can eat certain foods during the fasting period. So a person can still eat for medical reasons and still fast as well.
What is very clear is that the Bible doesn't say there is a right and wrong way to fast. The overall meaning of the word "fast" is to go without food with the emphasis typically being going without all food. However, the example of Daniel referenced earlier proves that fasting can be done while eating certain foods or while eating in general. What can be understood is that fasting is something a person needs to feel led to participate in and needs to hear from God in how to participate. God may instruct a person to completely quit eating for a number of days. If He does, then it would be disobedient to not do so regardless of the reasons. God may instruct someone to do a "Daniel Fast" or to even give up eating a meal or two per day for a period of time. The fast ultimately is to be determined by the individual after careful prayer and consideration. However, a true fast involves food. This isn't to say that God won't deal with you and me about "fasting" TV or Facebook or something else. But this type of "fasting," is more along the lines of simple obedience and discipline. Fasting in the Biblical will always involve food or some sort.
So yes, everyone can fast and no, God doesn't understand if you say you can't. Is it hard? You bet! Can it be painful? Without a doubt! Is it unpleasant? Absolutely! Is it rewarding? More than you can imagine. Apparently the disciples learned their lesson in Mark 9, because there isn't another record of them having to call Jesus on the scene to clean up their mess. Imagine being able to break free from something that's had a hold on you or your family for years. Fasting breaks things off of us. Imagine feeling a closeness and an intimacy with the Lord like you've never felt before. It can happen as fasting empties us of ourselves that we may experience more of Him. Imagine getting counsel and direction straight from the throne room. It happens when we deny ourselves and seek after God with our whole hearts. Fasting opens up the spiritual realm by denying our physical bodies. If we truly want power with God and power to change things, Jesus' words are still clear. Some things will only break when God's people pray AND fast. You can do it!
Ways to Participate
There are three main ways someone can participate in the 21 Day Fast. Whichever way you may choose needs to be chosen after prayerfully considering what the Lord would have you to do. Don't be so quick to say that you can't make it or do something. Remember, we often quote that we can do all things through Christ and that nothing is impossible. Let's take that logic and apply it to fasting. Otherwise, we're being selective and that's hypocritical.
- Total Fast
In this fast, a person will seek to go without all food for the 21 day period. Liquids are acceptable in the forms of water and juices. This is a complete fast. The person doing this fast should take the times that they would normally eat and spend that time in prayer and the Word instead. There will be headaches, body aches, sleeplessness, and other symptoms which will arise during the fast. Unless a person has to eat for medication, going without food for a period of time is not harmful to the body. A 21 day fast will leave a person weak however and this fast should only be done after much prayer and consideration.
- Daniel Fast
In this fast, a person will eat the foods that Daniel ate when he fasted in Babylonian captivity. He refrained from all meats, breads, sugars, sweets, and drinks except water (juice is allowed). This type of fast allows those who must eat to do so during the 21 days. This fast is extremely difficult as the person doing it will still be eating, so there will be a temptation to fudge on the dinner list. Nevertheless, the person doing a Daniel Fast, should still take time to pray more and seek God more even though they are still eating. Some doing the Daniel Fast seek to do a total fast for the first 3 days and then add veggies, fruits, etc. during the last 18 days.
- Modified Fast
The modified fast is a combination of the first two. In this fast, a person decides to give up one or two meals each day for 21 days. In this way, a person is doing a modified total fast and a modified Daniel Fast to a degree. A person may give up breakfast, lunch, or supper for 21 days. Typically a person doing this type of fast will eat whatever they want during their meal time, but that will be all they will eat during the day. No snacking allowed.
To truly participate in a fast, food must be involved. The Hebrew word for "fast" is derived from a word meaning, "to go without food." No one in the Bible times ever considered it fasting if they decided to quit climbing their favorite rope or fishing for a period of time. We can certainly give things up for the Lord, but giving these things up doesn't truly constitute a true Biblical fast. If someone wants to give up something in addition to a food fast, then that is certainly alright. Fasting is supposed to be hard. It is supposed to be us dying to the desires and needs of our flesh and becoming connected and in tune with our spiritual desires and needs.
The Fasting Process
During this 21 day fast, I will be posting and handing our prayer sheets for each participant to be praying over during their times of fasting. We have a lot of things to be in prayer about. There are a number of people in our church and connected to those in our church that our sick, fighting cancer, needing a physical or financial miracle, or who need salvation. We also need to be praying for our church. The enemy will not sit back and watch God continue to bless us without attempting to discourage and distract us. We have new ministries starting that need to be covered in prayer. Our church family needs to be covered in prayer. We need God's provision as we continue to grow. I truly believe that as we pray and fast together, we will see amazing things take place. I will also be scheduling impromptu home prayer meetings where several will gather together in living rooms and join in prayer and agreement for needs to be met. Only those participating in the fast however should be involved.
January will be a serious time of prayer, fasting, and reflection for our church and I strongly encourage everyone who will to participate in one of the three ways listed above. Pray about it. Don't just assume what you can and cannot do. Ask God what you need to do. He will show you. Don't balk if you think it's too hard. "These kind only come out by prayer AND FASTING." There's some miracles that won't happen until we push the plate back and combine it with prayer.
So get ready for a real awakening revival to hit the church in January. It will be tough. It will be a battle, but the payoff will be amazing. God's glory will come down. Miracles will take place. Provision will happen. People will be healed, saved, and set free. It will happen!
A sign up sheet is being placed in the foyer and I'm asking everyone who plans to participate to sign up so we can know who is fasting. You won't have to specify the kind of fast you're doing. I only want to know how many are fasting in some way. Don't let the devil discourage you by telling you that you'll mess it up and won't be able to make it. The truth is, you may slip up a day or two during the 21 days, but God is looking at the heart, not your rigid will power. So don't let fear of failure keep you from what I believe will be one of the biggest blessings and spiritual awakenings of your life!
If you have any questions, please feel free to touch base with me. You don't have to be part of our church to participate either. I just ask that if you want to fast with our church, you let us know so we can include you in our prayer meetings and also agree with you on your needs.
Get ready Bell Street!!! Greater things are COMING!!!