Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Notes on Prayer and Fasting

Several years ago I gathered the following notes for Grace Baptist Church to guide us in the work of prayer and fasting. Samuel Miller has an excellent essay on this subject, as does Don Whitney, in his book on Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Today, our church is fasting and praying for the advance of the gospel on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. There are 60 people groups on the island, 52 of which are unreached by the gospel. We sent a team there last summer and later this summer plan to send one of our members to work there for a year.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that has been largely neglected in our indulgent society. But it is a biblical practice and helps focus and intensify prayer. Perhaps the following notes will provide a starting point for your own study of this topic in God's Word and a new, or renewed practice of fasting for God to work in powerful ways in our day.

Notes on Fasting

As we approach the day of prayer and fasting, consider the following thoughts on the place of fasting for believers. Ask the Lord to enable us truly to repent of our sins and humble ourselves as a congregation before Him. Pray that He would revive us and restore His powerful presence among us as a church, and as a nation. Prepare this week to set aside this Saturday for special prayer and fasting. Take time this week to review these notes. Look up the Scriptures cited. Plan to join in this effort on Wednesday, March 31, 2010.

What is Fasting?

*Fasting is a Christian's voluntary abstinence from food and other legitimate enjoyments for spiritual purposes.

"To make the matter complete, we would add that fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not only be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some spiritual purpose."

-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"Whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer."
-John Calvin.

Fasting helps the believer to concentrate the mind and body on spiritual concerns so that fervent, extra-ordinary prayer might be given to those concerns. Various kinds of fasts are mentioned in the Bible:

-A Normal Fast involves abstaining from all food, but not from water. (Mt. 4:2

-A Partial Fast is a limitation of the diet but not abstention from all food. (Dan. 1:12; Mt. 3:4)

-An Absolute Fast is the avoidance of all food & liquid, even water. (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9).

-A Supernatural Fast which require God's supernatural intervention into the bodily processes and are not repeatable apart from the lord's specific calling & miraculous provision. (Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8)

-A Private Fast is the one referred to most often by Jesus, and should be done without calling attention to oneself. (Mt. 6:16-18)

-Congregational Fasts involve the church participating together. (Joel 2:15-16; Acts 13:2)

-A National Fast is a call to the nation to fast. (2 Chron. 20:3; Neh.9:1; Jonah 3:5-8) (The US Congress has called 3 national fasts, under John Adams, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln)

-There was one Regular Fast under the Old Covenant. (Lev. 16:29-31)

-Occasional Fasts which occur on special occasions as the need arises. (Mt. 9:15)

On Wednesday, we will be fasting as a congregation. Most will enter into this as a normal fast. Some will participate with an absolute fast. Others will engage in a partial fast. Your physical and medical health should be taken into consideration before fasting. Even those who for medical and health reasons should not abstain from food can abstain from other legitimate enjoyments such as, TV, internet browsing, recreation, entertainment, etc.

Fasting Should Be Done for a Purpose

-To Strengthen Prayer (Ezra 8:3)

-To Seek God's Guidance (Judges 20-v. 26; Acts 14:23)

-To Express Grief (1 Sam. 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:11-12; 1 Jn. 1:9; 1 Sam. 20:34)

-To Seek Divine Deliverance/Protection (2 Chron. 20:3-4; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16)

-To Express Repentance and a Return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8)

-To Humble Oneself before God (Ps. 35:13)

-To Express Concern for the Word of God (Neh. 1:3-4; Dan. 9:3)

-To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Oneself to God (Matt. 4:1-2)

-To Express Love and Devotion to God (Lk. 2: 37; Zechariah 7:5)

We will be fasting to help focus our attention on the desperate need of the Gospel to break through on the island of Sumatra. Pray for the believers who are there. Pray for more workers to be sent. Pray for the Spirit to own the Word throughout that island to the salvation of many in this generation.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Southern Baptists Need a Great Commission Resurgence

Reading and listening to various responses to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report give a glimpse into the state of Southern Baptist life. Like any family, Southern Baptists are a mixed bag with a wide variety of both strengths and weaknesses. It would be hard if not impossible to summarize the "state of the convention" in a few sentences because of this variety as well as the very nature of our structure as an association of independent churches.

Maybe I'll write about the discouraging perspectives that are coming out of certain chambers of bureaucracy at a future date. For now, let me simply note that I am encouraged that so many seem to be growing weary of the unhealthy attitudes and actions that have characterized too much of our convention life over the last 30 years. Triumphalism, provincialism, partisanship, banality, triviality, dishonesty and bravado have no place among an association of churches with as many spiritual needs as the SBC has. No longer can denominational leaders throw a pep rally and expect masses to turn out, much less get fired up over glitzy new programs and outlandish promises. Southern Baptists, especially the rising generation--what's left of them--are increasingly unimpressed with such tactics.

Fueling this denominational ennui is a growing awareness of the lostness of the world and the need to marshal resources to the darkest places on earth. When this point is brought up you can expect to hear from certain sectors that "lost is lost" and "a lost person in Alabama is just as lost a person in Afghanistan." No one doubts that, but, as Danny Akin has rightly noted, "All lost people are equally lost. However, all lost people do not have equal access to the gospel. That is what the GCR is about."

Perhaps no one gets this better than Jerry Rankin, the soon-to-be-retired head of the International Mission Board of the SBC. If you are not reading his blog, you should be. He is a prophetic voice at this pivotal time in the convention. Recently, I was pointed to these clip from a message he preached at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis. He speaks about a dear friend and a region of the world that has captured my heart and the heart of the church that I serve for the last 12 years. We have adopted two unreached people groups from there and sent members to work among them. We have rejoiced at costly the planting of a church in among one of those groups.

Jerry Rankin gets it. Why do Southern Baptists need a Great Commission Resurgence? Watch and learn.

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