Hungry For What’s Next
HUNGRY FOR WHAT’S NEXT
PRAYER AND FASTING SERVICE
Acts 9:1-9, Acts 13:1-3, Acts 14:19-23
In Matthew 9:14-17 the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciple do not fast. His response, “ Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast”. Fasting was not a huge part of Jesus’ ministry. Besides his own fasting while he was being tested by the Devil in the wilderness, we see no place that his disciples fasted in the Gospels. In fact, Jesus and his disciples were often accused of being drunkards because they did not indulge in extreme asceticism and enjoyed celebrating and fellowshipping with less than reputable people.
Still, Jesus had no problem with fasting itself. His only problem was if fasting was done for show and not for God. He said that his disciples would fast. But beyond the Gospel’s themselves we find only three places in Acts where fasting is explicitly mentioned. And as I read these passages I was surprised that fasting did not seem to be a practice the church engaged in for mourning or repentance.
If you think about it that makes sense. Our Father in heaven, who are Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us, is not stingy in his forgiveness. He tells us he is not an unjust judge that we have to pester, he is our loving Father and will give us good gifts, especially the Holy Spirit if we ask Him. 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. No where is there mentioned a need to add fasting to our confession. In the Old Testament people tore their clothes and fasted for repentance yet is not even clear that the Lord actually desired such actions even then. The people ask God in Isaiah 58 why they fasted and he did not respond. This is God’s response to them, “Behold on the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” Fasting in the eyes of the Lord should make us hungry for God and the mission He has for the world. It is a tool to push us outward towards missions not something we do while crying in a corner.
If we look at the three places that fasting is mentioned in the New Testament we see the obvious reason why the church fasted. In Acts Chapter 9 we are told of the story of Saul being struck blind by the Lord Jesus. Saul a persecutor of the church, Saul a man who was so convinced of the righteousness of his war against followers of Jesus, this man had his world upended in a moment. Saul was sincere. But he was sincerely wrong. And the Lord was not gentle with Him. For three days after his encounter Saul neither eat nor drank. This was a complete fast. A supernatural fast. For we know that the body can’t survive much more than three days without water.
In Acts 13 and again in Acts 14 we are told that the church prayed and fasted. As I read these texts I wondered what bound them all together. Why are these the only three places that fasting is mentioned in the life of the church? What is special about these circumstances? And the answer was clear to me.
God’s people were hungry for what is next.
Paul had his world turned upside down. He wasn’t praying for the Lord to forgive him. I would guess he knew the Lord had forgiven him because he was still alive. His entire world had been torn apart by the Lord Jesus and now Saul was waiting. Waiting for what was next.
Likewise in Acts 13 we are told that the church in Antioch is worshiping the Lord and fasting and the Holy Spirit says to them, “ Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” We are told in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. We are told in Antioch that people gravitated to the preaching of the Word and the church grew. The Apostles in Jerusalem heard about what God was doing in Antioch and they sent Barnabas to check it out. Barnabas was so impressed he went to Tarsus to get Saul and they ministered there for an entire year. Things were going well in the church. They even had the resources to provide for the church in Judea when a famine struck the land.
Saul and Barnabas didn’t have to leave. But the Holy Spirit alone compelled the community to let them go. Again in Acts 14 the church prayed and fasted before they commissioned Elders to leadership. You see the pattern here don’t you? During times of transition, during critical points of decision, the church prayed and fasted. Sometimes this occurred during a time of crisis, as was the case with Saul, or with changes of leadership, but it seems in the case of commissioning Saul and Barnabas it was just the regular discipline of the church. And through this practice the Holy Spirit spoke a word to them that changed their plans.
Our church has certainly reached a point of decision. We cannot hold onto what came before. We do not know what lies ahead. What must we let go of? What must we hold onto? Who will rise up to lead? We will never know if we are not hungry for what is next.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.