Growing in Prayer and Fasting: Ways to Grow in God
Last time we discovered that we flourish as we express our prayers in journaling, as well as waiting for the Holy Spirit’s voice in reply. This reply often comes by remembered scriptures, words of encouragement and being drawn closer to Jesus). We also learned the popular model of ‘A.C.T.S.’: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Supplication includes praying for others; sometimes in the form of lists. The ‘Prayers of the People’ that we share at church would be in this category. I believe that God listens to these prayers. Yet, have you had times when you were interrupted by an urgent thought, a picture of someone you know in your memory and an intense desire to pray for them? This is intercessory prayer – prayer requests from the Holy Spirit himself. So you’ve obey that call and pray for that person. You feel that burden on your heart grow lighter. Sometimes you may weep while praying. Then soon after, you learn the person you prayed for had urgently needed help at that exact moment. Your prayers were used by God to get them out of some danger. The Apostle Paul encourages us in 1 Thess. 5:17 to pray without ceasing (or to pray continually). This doesn’t necessarily mean for us to literally be on our knees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but it does encourage us to have a prayerful attitude where you can offer up quick ‘arrow prayers’ to the Lord throughout the day. This attitude keeps us thankful. It also helps remind us that Jesus really is there with us all the time. This is “practicing the presence of God” (or abiding as mentioned in John 15: 1-17). This posture keeps you peaceful and centered on Him.
Remember to take your time in all forms of prayer. Don’t just pray quickly to get it over with. Slow down and listen – and be quiet before God. It can be difficult to hear God in the midst of an adrenaline rush. When you take that time, He may say something to you. He may lead you to specific scripture verses, or pour His love and peace into you as you wait on Him. You will find that time refreshing and a welcome break to a hectic day. Then you will be more energized and focused. Think of it as a divine refreshment break.
Fasting is often combined with prayer. My former priest Fr. John reminds us that we need to give something up and take something on during the Lenten season. This kind of fast is specific to Lent, since it is giving up one thing for a specific period of time. However, you can also set other times for specific fasts if you are called to do so by the Holy Spirit. Usually that item or activity that you surrender would be important to you. The activity you pick up could be extra time with God, or doing a ministry for him (This practice is meant to be a gift of devotion to God and bring you closer to Him).
Many people chose to give up chocolate. Your Lenten fast doesn’t have to be chocolate, although many people choose it as the thing to fast from because it’s their favourite thing. There are many things we can give up for a season. I remember going off coffee one year, and it wasn’t easy. Another year I gave up television, which was difficult at the time, but later on I didn’t watch much of it when I was in school nearly full time. A few years ago, I gave up credit cards, which was a good thing, though I have since relapsed.
You don’t have to limit your fasting to Lent. Tony and I went on weeklong vegetarian fast before a mission trip. It is also called a ‘Daniel fast’, since the Old Testament prophet Daniel fasted from meat and wine for 3 weeks while he prayed (Dan 10:2-3). We did this as a time of praying and waiting on God’s confirmation of our 2005 Kenya Alpha mission. During this week my mind cleared and my heart began to change concerning Tony’s role in the mission. While I did not yet get the guidance I needed, God was preparing Tony’s heart for that mission; even though he wasn’t yet willing to join me. I simply asked the Lord to speak to Tony about going to Kenya during my own devotional prayer time.
During that week Tony shared with me that he could sense God very strongly several times when he was working on his computer, and he prayed in response to God’s call, but he did not get direction on going on the mission trip. Eventually, Tony did hear the Holy Spirit speak to him about going with me on the mission, but this was in HIS time, not mine. Fasting in the context of prayer is meant to change the heart of the person who prays. It also helps that person get more in tune with God’s heart.
Now did any of these Lenten fasts bring me closer to God? I would have to say that in and of themselves, they did NOT bring me closer to God – but that is where the taking on something extra comes in. When one gives the Lord what you have given to him as a GIFT, not as an obligation, and in the time you would spend watching television, or eating dessert, etc, you would be spending that time with Him in a specific way, then it can become a blessing to you. One Lenten season I taught the Ways to Grow series at St. Paul’s and all of us were deeply blessed. I especially received as I poured out love, teaching and prayer to those who attended. This was the something extra that I took on that year.
Other fasts can be more intense than Lent. This includes fasting from one meal for prayer, to forty days fasting from food, but not liquids. Jesus spent this kind of fast in the Judean desert. Do we need to do this in our own walk with God? Perhaps – but I would advise taking small steps as you learn. I am still learning this discipline myself, and I know the Lord honours our efforts to grow in Him. He will guide you closer as you dare to walk closer to him. You won’t be sorry. Note: I also shared a longer talk on prayer and fasting that will be posted online separately for readers who need more than this bite-sized story.
Yours in Christ, Laurie-Ann Copple
Laurie-Ann recently moved to Nelson BC, and works for Vista Radio. She attends Kootenay Christian Fellowship and has roots at St Paul’s in Kanata ON.