Prayer and Fasting

Prayer and Fasting  Prayer

The Motives for Prayer - The following passages offer three reasons for prayer.

Bible Reading: Judges 16:23-31

Key Bible Verse: Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “Sovereign LORD, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” (BJudges 16:28)

What does Samson’s prayer indicate about the state of Samson’s relationship with God?

How is your relationship with God doing? Take a moment to consider how close you are walking with him right now.

Reflection: Prayer can restore relationship with God. In spite of Samson’s past, God still answered his prayer and destroyed the pagan temple and worshipers. God still loved him. He was willing to hear Samson’s prayer of confession and repentance and use him this final time. One of the effects of sin in our life is to keep us from feeling like praying. But perfect moral behavior is not a condition for prayer. Don’t let guilt feelings over sin keep you from your only means of restoration. No matter how long you have been away from God, he is ready to hear from you and restore you to a right relationship. Every situation can be salvaged if you are willing to turn again to him. If God could still work in Samson’s situation, he can certainly make something worthwhile out of yours.

Bible Reading: Genesis 18:16-33

Key Bible Verse: The other men turned and headed toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham. Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes?” (Genesis 18:22-24)

In this passage of Genesis, what was Abraham’s concern about God’s nature?

What questions do you have for God about your life right now?

Reflection: Prayer is an opportunity to bring our will into line with God’s plan. Did Abraham change God’s mind? Of course not. The more likely answer is that God changed Abraham’s mind. Abraham knew that God is just and that he punishes sin, but he may have wondered about God’s mercy. Abraham seemed to be probing God’s mind to see how merciful he really was. He left his conversation with God convinced that God was both kind and fair. Our prayers won’t change God’s mind, but they may change ours just as Abraham’s prayer changed his. Prayer helps us better understand the mind of God.

Bible Reading:  Hebrews 4:14-16

Key Bible Verse: So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16)

In verse 15, what is the reason we are given for why we can come to the throne of God with boldness? What will we receive there?

How do you usually approach the Lord in prayer? How does this verse change or confirm your attitude?

Reflection: Prayer is an awesome privilege. Prayer is our approach to God, and we are to come boldly. Some Christians approach God meekly with heads hung low, afraid to ask him to meet their needs. Others pray flippantly, giving little thought to what they say. Come with reverence because he is your King. But also come with bold assurance because he is your Friend and Counselor.

Models for Prayer - The following passages offer three models for prayer.

Bible Reading:  Matthew 6:5-15

Key Bible Verse: When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!  (Mattew 6:8-8)

Why isn’t it necessary to pray with ritual or repetition to God?

How do you usually pray? Take a moment to reflect on your prayer life and how it reflects your relationship with God.

Reflection: We should pray with humility and sincerity. Some people, especially the religious leaders, wanted to be seen as “holy,” and public prayer was one way to get attention. Jesus saw through their self-righteous acts, however, and taught that the essence of prayer is not public style, but private communication with God. There is a place for public prayer, but to pray only where others will notice you indicates that your real audience is not God.

Key Bible Verse: Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.  (Matthew 6:9-13)

On a piece of paper, rewrite each sentence of this prayer in your own words. Use it as a guide to help you enter into the full meaning of the Lord’s Prayer each time you say the words.

Reflection: This model prayer by Jesus highlights at least five aspects of prayer. First, biblical prayer is personal. The phrase “Our Father in heaven” indicates that God is not only majestic and holy, but also personal and loving. The first line of this model prayer is a statement of praise and a commitment to honor God’s holy name. We can honor God’s name by being careful to use it respectfully. If we use God’s name lightly, we aren’t remembering God’s holiness.

Second, biblical prayer recognizes God’s position. The phrase “May your Kingdom come soon” is a reference to God’s spiritual reign, not Israel’s freedom from Rome. God’s kingdom was announced in the covenant with Abraham (8:11; Luke 13:28), is present as Christ reigns in the believer’s heart (Luke 17:21), and will be complete when all evil is destroyed and God establishes the new heaven and earth  (Revelation 21:1).

Third, biblical prayer recognizes our position. When we pray “May your will be done,” we are not resigning ourselves to fate, but praying that God’s perfect purpose will be accomplished in this world as well as in the next.

Fourth, biblical prayer demonstrates complete dependence. When we pray “Give us today the food we need” we are acknowledging that God is our Sustainer and Provider. It is a misconception to think that we provide for our own needs. We must trust God daily to provide what he knows we need.

Fifth, biblical prayer asks God for guidance. God doesn’t lead us into temptations, but sometimes he allows us to be tested by them. As disciples, we should pray to be delivered from these trying times and from Satan (“the evil one”) and his deceit. All Christians struggle with temptation. Sometimes it is so subtle that we don’t even realize what is happening to us. God has promised that he “will not allow the temptation to be more than we can stand” (1. Corintians 10:13). Ask God to help you recognize temptation and to give you strength to overcome it and choose God’s way instead.

Bible Reading:  John 17:1-26

Key Bible Verse: I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:20-21)

According to this verse, why is it so important that Christians have unity with one another through Christ?

What can you learn about prayer from the example Jesus sets in this chapter?

Reflection: Biblical prayer recognizes the spiritual warfare around us. This entire chapter is Jesus’ prayer. From it, we learn that the world is a tremendous battleground where the forces under Satan’s power and those under God’s authority are at war. Satan and his forces are motivated by bitter hatred for Christ and his forces. Jesus prayed for his disciples, including those of us who follow him today. He prayed that God would keep his chosen believers safe from Satan’s power, setting them apart and making them pure and holy, uniting them through his truth.

Biblical prayer is not escape from the world, however. Jesus didn’t ask God to take believers out of the world, but instead to use them in the world. Because Jesus sends us into the world, we should not try to escape from the world, nor should we avoid all relationships with non-Christians. We are called to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16)), and we are to do the work that God sent us to do.

Bible Reading:  Colossians 1:1-14

Key Bible Verse: We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. (Col 1:3-4)

What reasons does Paul give for his eagerness to pray for the Colossians?

Memorize Paul’s prayer in verses 9-13. List several people for whom you can pray this prayer this week.

Reflection: We should pray for others. Sometimes we wonder how to pray for missionaries and other leaders we have never met. Paul had never met the Colossians, but he faithfully prayed for them. His prayers teach us how to pray for others, whether we know them or not. We can request that they (a) understand God’s will, (b) gain spiritual wisdom, (c) please and honor God, (d) bear good fruit, (e) grow in the knowledge of God, (f) be filled with God’s strength, (g) have great endurance and patience, (h) stay full of Christ’s joy, and (i) give thanks always. All believers have these same basic needs. When you don’t know how to pray for someone, use Paul’s prayer pattern for the Colossians.

Fasting - The following passages offer three notes on the discipline of fasting.

Bible Reading:  2. Chronicles 20:1-30

Key Bible Verse: Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the LORD for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting (2 Chron 20:3).

What circumstances prompted Jehoshaphat to call for a national fast?

What was Jehoshaphat’s goal in calling the fast?

What circumstances in your life or the life of your church, community, or nation might warrant a special fast?

Reflection: Fasting can be part of repentance. Jehoshaphat had made God angry by helping the wicked king Ahab. “When King Jehoshaphat of Judah arrived safely home in Jerusalem, Jehu son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him. ‘Why should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?’ he asked the king. ‘Because of what you have done, the Lord is very angry with you. Even so, there is some good in you, for you have removed the Asherah poles throughout the land, and you have committed yourself to seeking God.’” (2 Chron 19:1-3).

When the nation was faced with disaster, Jehoshaphat called upon the people to get serious with God by going without food (fasting) for a designated time. By separating themselves from the daily routine of food preparation and eating, they could devote that extra time to considering their sin and praying to God for help. Hunger pangs would reinforce their feelings of penitence and remind them of their weakness and their dependence upon God. Fasting still can be helpful today as we seek God’s will in special situations.

Bible Reading: Ezra 8:15-36

Key Bible Verse: And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled (Ezra 8:219.

How do the circumstances and goal of Ezra’s fast differ from the circumstances and goal of Jehoshaphat’s? How are they the same?

What did Ezra do in addition to fasting?

Reflection: Fasting can be part of prayer. Ezra knew God’s promises to protect his people, but he didn’t take them for granted. He also knew that God’s blessings are appropriated through prayer; so Ezra and the people humbled themselves by fasting and praying. And their prayers were answered. Fasting humbled them because going without food was a reminder of their complete dependence on God. Fasting also gave them more time to pray and meditate on God. Too often we pray glibly and superficially. Serious prayer, by contrast, requires concentration. It puts us in touch with God’s will and can really change us. Without serious prayer, we reduce God to a quick-service pharmacist with painkillers for our every ailment.

Bible Reading:   Matthew 6:16-18

Key Bible Verse: But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you (Matthew 6: 17-18).

What is the hypocrite’s purpose in fasting? How does this cause that person to behave?

What reason does Jesus give for fasting? What difference does this make in the way his followers behave when fasting?

How can you make fasting a regular part of your prayer life?

Reflection: Fasting needs to be done for the right reasons. Fasting is noble and difficult. It gives us time to pray, teaches self-discipline, reminds us that we can live with a lot less, and helps us appreciate God’s gifts. Jesus was not condemning fasting, but hypocrisy—fasting in order to gain public approval. Fasting was mandatory for the Jewish people once a year, on the Day of Atonement. “This will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you, and on that day you must deny yourselves. This day of rest will begin at sundown on the ninth day of the month and extend until sundown on the tenth day” (Leviticus 23:32)). The Pharisees voluntarily fasted twice a week to impress the people with their “holiness.” Jesus commended acts of self-sacrifice done quietly and sincerely. He wanted people to adopt spiritual disciplines for the right reasons, not from a selfish desire for praise.

This study is adapted from the Handbook of Bible Application (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2000), available everywhere books are sold.

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