Prayer and Fasting (Matthew 6)

We were joined by David Shields, who covered the Biblical principles of Prayer and Fasting and presented their relevance to Christian lives today. David began by considering these as two of the many 'holy habits' that Christians should be regular engaging in.

Reading from 1 Timothy chapter 4, David highlighted the trend of many churches who attempt to appeal to the world's logic and the world's standard for living. This is in stark contrast to the words which Paul uses here to encourage Timothy. He encourages the young man to be set apart from the world, to put aside its expectations and strive to live fully for Christ.

This is no simple task. It takes time, effort and discipline. Just as those who train for a sport or learn a new instrument, we must make our walk with Christ a dedicated, habitual process that draws us closer to Him.

Prayer should be a habit. In Matthew chapter 6, the Lord gave us a wonderful pattern for prayer. Beginning 'Our Father' we are reminded of the privileged position that we have, to come and speak openly to the Creator of all things, as a son or daughter would speak to their own father. But we are also shown that prayer is not primarily about us, but about Him - 'thy will be done'. God's way is perfect, and a desire for His will is a desire for Him to do with us, and to us, what He feels need to be done. Sadly, we often have our own ideas on what God should do, and so miss out on the joy of seeing His will done in our lives and in the world around us.

Of course, we also have needs. The prayer of Matthew 6 acknowledges that. 'Give us this day...' - we ask God to provide our daily needs and daily guidance. Even in this, we ought to praise Him for the knowledge and power to sustain us and direct us. 'Forgive us our sins...' - we must accept our worthlessness before Him, knowing that we don't deserve to be heard, yet He hears us. Knowing that we don't deserved to be helped, yet He helps us. We don't deserve to be forgiven, yet, praise God, He forgives us our sins. 'Lead us not into temptation' - we ask Him to protect us, knowing that we cannot fulfil this request on our own.

Fasting is also implied here as an expectation on believers, rather than a command that needs to be made. Christ Himself fasted, as did the apostles and the early church as a whole. Praise, prayer and study are common in churches of our land, but where is the fasting? Is it because it is the only one of the so-called 'holy habits' that causes physical discomfort? Is it simply and sadly that we do not see such 'suffering' as a price that we are willing to pay for a closer walk God?

So how would we benefit from fasting? For one thing it would be a humbling experience, bringing a realisation of our own weakness before God. It would certainly test us, uncovering whether we have allowed food and other daily requirements to become a hinderance to our worship of the Lord. And it would remind us, as Scripture does, that man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

As with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to carry out this habit. We are not be as the Pharisees were, who went about with long faces so that everyone knew they were fasting. No, fasting, like prayer, is a deeply personal thing. It must be discret, between yourself and your heavenly Father, for God's glory and not for our own. Fasting will bring us closer to the Lord. He wants us to seek Him, and Him alone.

It is something we should not take lightly. On the day of judgement, many of the nation of Israel will be judged for their worshp of the golden calf and other idols, made by the hands of man. Our generation will be held to account for their worship of celebrities, television and mobile phones. What is it that is keeping us from being wholly given over to the service of God? Maybe that is the thing we should consider fasting from as we seek to draw nearer to Him.

Neglect not the gift that is in thee... meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. (1 Timothy 4:14-15).

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