Have you ever fasted? By this, I mean, have you ever set apart a period of time (be it 2, 4, 8 or 12 hours or more) where your focus is on God in specific prayers? In place of eating or drinking or doing anything else, you separate yourself from the normal, drawing into God’s presence with a specific agenda. The concept of fasting is associated with specific, urgent, heart wrenching pleas to the Throne of Glory. Putting it slightly differently, fasting expresses your total dependency upon God. Personally, I feel this Biblical discipline has largely been lost or ignored by the church. I recall my time of pastoring a certain church how our Quarterly Day of Fasting and Prayer dwindled off to only two people. The idea was to seek God’s help, guidance and provision for the church to fulfill its ministry and conduct evangelism effectively. Once, a lady came to me saying she needed to stop smoking but could not. My counsel was that she take one day per week to fast and use this time to seek God for deliverance and healing … but she choose not to. Did she want to stop smoking or did she not want to depend upon God as she agonized in prayer?
Now consider Ezra’s proclamation that the people fast as well as the attitude of this fast:
Ezr 8:21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.
Remember this journey would take four months (Ezra 7:9). They and their families would travel on foot with all their possessions on donkeys (and maybe camels). These routes were extremely dangerous, as raiding parties, hijackers and criminals often attacked caravans passing along these desert road (Job 1:13-15, 17). The need for God’s protection was paramount as they were on their way to fulfill the instruction of God, rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem for the re-establishment of the nation in their home land, living under the reign of the God of Heaven. The next verse is quite revealing:
Ezr 8:22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road …
The reason this verse is so revealing is because Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for military support as he and his party travelled to Jerusalem. Why? Because this would expose a lack of faith in and dependency on the God of Heaven. He had made a huge deal where it came to trusting this God. Look at how the verse continues:
Ezr 8:22 … because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”
See that? He had told the king that as they trust God, God will protect them. Remember, this is the king who is supporting them to return from exile with every benefit required, and Ezra and his fellow leaders boasted about how God would protect them all the way home. Another need regarding protection was the huge value of the silver, gold and bronze of verses 26 and 27:
Ezr 8:26-27 I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.
(Check the foot margin of your Bible for actual quantities and values.) Surely, they were desperate for God to help them. They could not turn to the king of Persia, so they had no option other than to turn to the King of Heaven. So, what does this time of fasting show us about them then and us now?
- The work is set apart by God. It was required by Ezra and his team was to establish exactly who wanted them to do the rebuilding of the temple. This is not a trivial matter. God wanted them in Jerusalem according to His prior prophecies through other prophets. This work is God’s work and it is exactly the same in the church today. God owns the work! It’s all of God, and no person may claim the work as his or hers. It is important to understand this because …
- The work is God empowered. No one can do God’s work in their own strength. Everyone who works in their own strength fails. Ezra and his party needed the empowerment of God. No one can build the church on a foundation that is not God’s … and the energy, boldness, expertise, resources and tools must come from God. It’s His work!
- The work needs to be supported by serious prayer. This is where the fasting kicks in. You can’t fake fasting (you can’t pretend) if the work is God’s and the power to do His work needs to come from Him. You need, as Ezra and his people did, to submit before God in true fasting and prayer, seeking His power to be upon His work. Without this, the work will fail. The church prayer meeting is known as the power house of the church. Often the failure of a church can be traced back to the pastor’s prayerlessness, the church council’s prayerlessness and the church’s prayerlessness!
- The Israelites’ fasting and prayer shows total dependency upon God. They have confidence to trust God for this very dangerous return journey and they have confidence to show the king that their God will honour His work by granting them a successful return journey. The church prayer meeting must reflect dependence on God or else it’s fake! When the church depends upon God it will not fear the world, the flesh or the devil. The basis to their confidence and their safety is because of their submission to God through fasting and prayer. To what extent are you displaying confidence in God to meet your church’s needs, your personal and family needs and the need for finding a vaccine for COVID?
Dear God, change my heart, helping me to depend upon You in fasting and prayer for Your workings in me. Amen.