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First of all, Ruth and I are going to make a proclamation which is taken from 1 Peter 5:6–11. It’s more lengthy than the ones we’ve been making and it’s theme is humbling ourselves.
“‘...God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt us in due time, having cast all our care upon Him, for He cares for us. We are sober, we are vigilant; because our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. We resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by our brotherhood in the world. But the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after we have suffered a while, will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle us. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Now we’re going to turn to Leviticus 16:29–31. This is about the day of atonement—what the Jewish people call Yom Kippur, which is still the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar 3,400 years from the time these words were spoken. Speaking about this day of atonement Moses says, the Lord is speaking through Moses:
“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.”
That’s a most emphatic statement. “It’s a statute forever.” This is never to change. And as I said for 3,400 years or so, the Jewish people have always observed Yom Kippur. Even if they were in a concentration camp, they would observe it as a day of fasting. In Acts 27:9, you don’t need to turn there, but it is called “the Fast.” So that establishes the Scriptural fact which could be established in many ways, that when God said afflict your souls, He meant Fast.
I ministered once years ago with I think a Baptist brother who was called Clarence Fast, and I always said Fast (with British accent), but I concluded he had the right to decide what way he wanted his name pronounced so I went along with him and said Fast (American pronunciation). But it doesn’t come easily to me, even now.
Anyhow, we’re talking about... My definition of fasting is going without food for spiritual purposes. It’s not necessarily going without drink, although the Jewish people for Yom Kippur for about twenty-five hours, they normally go without food or water. It’s dangerous to go more than seventy-two hours without water and I would never recommend you to do it. I did know a preacher called Tommy Hicks who turned Argentina upside down some considerable time ago and he went seventeen days. Moses went forty days without food or water, but don’t ever attempt to go beyond seventy-two hours unless you’re in a supernatural realm with God as Moses was. But, fasting is not just going without food. It’s going without food for spiritual purposes.
Why did God require that the Israelites afflict their souls? That word afflict is a very powerful word. It’s also used to describe what a man does to a woman when he rapes her. It’s to subdue, to humble, to humiliate. And God requires that we humble, subdue and humiliate our souls. And He said to the Israelites, “If you don’t do it every year, you are no longer My people.” So God attaches tremendous importance to this act.
Why? I think you have to understand the function of the soul. Humanity is a triune being, made in the likeness of a triune God. Spirit, soul, and body. I don’t want to get into an analysis of this, but essentially the soul is the ego. It’s the “I.” And there are three main functions of the soul according to most theologians—intellect, will, and emotions. Or put will first. Will, intellect, and emotions. So translating it into simple language, your soul is the thing that says, “I want, I think, I feel.” And it’s very arrogant and self-assertive in every one of us. And God says, “If you really want My blessing you’re going to have to learn to subdue that arrogant, self-assertive ego in every one of you.”
I think of a lawyer in Washington, D.C., many years ago when I spoke about fasting. And he decided it’s a good thing to do. “I’ll fast for twenty-four hours.” Well he had a miserable day. Every time he went near a restaurant or whatever, a place where food was served, he just hardly could resist going in. But he made it to the end of the day. So then he gave his stomach a talking-to. He said, “Now stomach, you’ve made a lot of problems for me today. You’ve been very unruly, and so I’m going to punish you. I’m going to fast tomorrow as well.” And that is subduing your soul. It’s bringing it under the discipline and control of God. And God says, “If you don’t do that you are not My people.” That’s what He said to Israel. I’m not saying He says it to you, although I don’t see why He should make any difference.
In Psalm 35:13 David speaks this way. I’ll only read the latter part of that.
“...My clothing was sackcloth; [sackcloth is the mark of mourning, and fasting and mourning go very closely together.] I humbled my soul with fasting...”
This version says, “I humbled myself.” It’s unfortunate that the modern English translations often put self where the Hebrew says soul. Which is legitimate, but it obscures the fact that what David was dealing with was his soul. “I humbled my soul with fasting.” That’s one reason why David survived. He had a lot of problems and he didn’t always do the right thing, but he learned how to humble himself, humble his soul. That’s what made him a great man of God. And I believe every successful servant of the Lord has to learn to humble his or her soul. There are other ways to do it, but fasting is really the Biblical way to do it.
Now, we’ve already quoted together 1 Peter chapter 5, where Peter says, “Humble yourselves.” So the Scriptural way to do it, the Scriptural way—there are other ways—but the primary way to humble our souls is by fasting.
Now I want to give you a few historical examples. First from the Old Testament and then from the New. When I was saved in 1941, if you can believe that there were people alive on earth at that time, I was very ignorant of Scripture. I wasn’t altogether ignorant of the Bible because as an Anglican, and one of the great strengths of the Anglican church is they do read the Scriptures in every service. So I knew the Scriptures in a sense historically, but I had no spiritual understanding. I was twenty-four years old. I’d been educated at the best institutions in Britain. I had never met a person who told me he was born again. I didn’t know that such an experience was possible. And then I had a very dramatic encounter with Jesus in the middle of the night in an army barrack room. Let me tell you this. You can do a lot of things and stay the same. You can pray. You can join a church. You can sign a decision card. You can do all sorts of things and stay the same. But, when you meet Jesus you will never be the same again. That’s revolutionary. I’m due to speak to a group of young people Saturday evening and I want to bring them a revolutionary message, because the gospel is a revolutionary message. When it isn’t revolutionary, it isn’t the gospel.
So, in His own way, and I didn’t know that the Lord spoke to people at that time, but He indicated to me that He wanted me to fast one day a week in 1941. I have to say, without being boastful, that I’ve done that ever since, from 1941 until the present time. Often I’ve fasted longer, as much as three weeks or more. But I calculated the other day that having done that for however many years I’ve been a Christian, I have fasted more than three thousand days, which is more than eight years. If the Lord had said to me, “I want you to fast eight years,” I would have been appalled. But taking it one week at a time, I made it through. I will tell you I will never go back on the practice of fasting. It is too important.
So, let’s look at some of the people that did it. Turn to the end of 1 Samuel, the last verse of 1 Samuel, it’s very interesting. I was already a pastor in England, in London, and I decided I was going to fast for a week. Then I thought to myself, “Has anyone ever fasted for a week and survived.” I thought, “Will I live through it.” And let me tell you Americans if you’ve never been to England, the English people warm their bodies, not their houses. So I knew it was going to be chilly and it was. So I was thinking you know, could anybody ever fast seven days and survive. And I happened to look at the last verse of 1 Samuel and it says about the men of Jabesh Gilead:
“Then they took down their bones [that’s the bones of Saul and his sons] and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh Gilead, and fasted seven days.”
Those are the last words of 1 Samuel. I said to myself, “If they could do it, I can do it.” After all, they were farmers. They had their cattle to attend to, their other agricultural duties. They weren’t able to just sit around and do nothing. And they fasted seven days. And God opened my heart and understanding to see how revolutionary this is, this little three or four words at the end of 1 Samuel. Because 1 Samuel in the history of Israel is the book of decline, division and defeat. And at the end of 1 Samuel, the Philistines had defeated the Israelites and driven them out of their cities so that they fled over the Jordan eastward, and David whose the one hope of the nation returns to Ziklag and finds that the Amalekites have taken the city and burned it and taken away all the wives and the children of David and his men. You couldn’t choose a moment of greater disaster. But if you look in 2 Samuel it’s the reverse. It’s a book of recovery, reunion and victory. And what was the turning point? The men of Jabesh Gilead. I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize the significance of fasting. That’s what brought the change, the turning point.
So let’s look at some others. Let’s look at that well-known character Jonah. Jonah chapter 3. I’m sure most people here know the story of Jonah. He was a prophet, and God told him to go to Nineveh, east. And he got up and went west. The exact opposite direction. I’ve analyzed every step that Jonah took from then onwards was a step downwards. He went down from the mountains to the plain, from the plain into the city, from the city into the ship, and from the ship into the sea. So let that be a warning to you. Don’t backslide. Because from that moment onwards, every step you take will be a step downwards.
Jonah is rather a favorite character of mine. I think I want to relate something that happened in I think 1970. It could be 1971. In the sort of dewy early days of the Charismatic Revival when the dew was still fresh on the grass, which has now evaporated. I had become associate with three well known preachers; Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson and Don Basham. I mean we were very simple, but we let it be known that God had put us together. Well that was a threat to everybody else in the body of Christ basically. And so at that time, Dennis Bennett the rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington, was one of the sort of star leaders of the Charismatic movement. So the people, the leaders in Seattle, and I had been a pastor in Seattle for a short while, decided they had to do something about it because there was so much discord, and division, and misunderstanding. So they invited all the known charismatic preachers who were traveling crisscrossing America like ships that pass in the night and never meet, to come to Seattle for I think three or four days of being together. They said we don’t have any money to pay for your fare, but every evening we’ll send you out in pairs to a local church and that way you can raise the money for your fare. It was not a very spiritual reason for sending us out, but that was what it was. And they guaranteed us that you will never go out twice with the same preacher.
Well, the first night I want out with Larry Christensen. The second night I went out with Larry Christensen. The third night I went out with Larry Christensen. Well you have know, and Johannes and Erna will understand this, for my wife’s background as a Danish former Lutheran, the Lutherans—well actually a Lutheran pastor was like a red rag to a bull to Lydia. It took her almost to the end of her days to overcome that. So I didn’t really believe there were any good Lutherans. I have to say it to my shame. But after I had been three nights together with Larry Christensen, I said to myself, “I have to agree there’s at least one good Lutheran.” And we’ve been friends ever since.
But, anyhow, we sat there about thirty or forty people gathered in a large room and looked at one another, and we didn’t know what to do. Eventually one of the Catholic brothers said, “I have to tell you, brothers, the truth. I’m afraid of you all.” Everybody said the same. I don’t know what was accomplished. We spent one full day discussing water baptism, and that particular scenario where you’ve got Catholics and Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Baptists and Pentecostals and what have you, water baptism was an extremely controversial thing. They spent half a day on demons where I was really the focus of... Anyhow we went through it and I made friends that have lasted for the rest of my life, and I thank God for that.
But, anyhow, at the end I had been a pastor there briefly, so I knew some of the pastors, and they were talking amongst themselves and they said, “You know, we didn’t arrange these meetings to impact the city of Seattle. We arranged the meetings to pay the preacher’s fares. But in actual fact, they’ve made more impact on the city of Seattle than any meetings we arranged to do that.” So I was in the plane, now this is very subjective, but I was in the plane flying back to Fort Lauderdale and I was kind of meditating, “How come that meetings that were not arranged with the purpose of impacting the city made more impact on the city than meetings that were arranged for that purpose?” And I felt I had a little conversation with the Lord. This is subjective. Well, I felt the Lord said to me, “Tell me with whom did I have more problems? With Jonah or the people of Nineveh?”
So, I thought it over and I said, “Lord, when you got Jonah straightened out you had no problems with the people of Nineveh.” And I felt the Lord said to me, “When I get the preachers straightened out, I’ll have no problems with the people.” And he did not say “the other preachers.” I want you to know this. I think there’s a profound truth in that. Later on, together with Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson and Don Basham and Ern Baxter, we were to bring the body of Christ together. It was easy. You can get God’s people together. You know what is difficult to get together. It’s the preachers, the ministers. But we realized this and I say it without any attitude of criticism, it isn’t the sheep that separate the body, it’s the shepherds. You can get sheep together, but to get shepherds together takes a miracle.
Anyhow that’s my little introduction to my story of Jonah. Now you know Jonah was given a second chance. Thank God for a second chance. And he walked into the city if you read in chapter 3.
“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.”
Well, I said to myself, “That’s amazing. Why did Jonah’s simple statement have such a powerful affect on such a large and wicked city?” I concluded was because he’d been through the belly of the whale. I mean he didn’t speak about God’s judgment from a theoretical aspect. It was very real to him. And the amazing thing is, the entire population of Nineveh, this very wicked, violent city, repented from the chief man, the king, down to the lowest. They proclaimed a fast and no one was permitted to eat or drink. Not even the cattle. The whole city fasted. There’s no other fast that I know of like that anywhere in the Bible. The interesting thing is, Nineveh had one prophet once and repented, Israel had many prophets many times and never had a parallel repentance.
You know they say “familiarity breeds contempt.” And I’m afraid that’s true for some of us. We’re so familiar with the Bible that it’s impact we don’t feel.
Anyhow, I don’t need to go into the story of Nineveh in any great detail. The fact is that one day, or possibly more than one day of fasting, changed the entire history of Nineveh. And Nineveh was spared God’s judgment for more than one hundred years. The interesting thing is, Nineveh was spared, northern Israel was not spared, and Nineveh was the instrument of God’s judgment on northern Israel. There’s a lesson for that. So there’s one entire city, a pagan wicked city, whose whole history was changed through prayer and fasting.
Then we look at the story of Esther in the book of Esther 4. You know all of you the story of Esther I hope. I think I have the privilege of speaking to people who know their Bibles. If you speak in England today to the younger people, they haven’t a clue as to what the Bible has to say. You can speak to them about Peter and they don’t know who Peter was. Some of them don’t even know who Jesus was. That’s a terrible situation but we have to do something about it. So this is very interesting in a way because Israel, the Jewish people, never really fasted and repented while they were a free and independent nation. But when they were taken into captivity and Haman plotted to destroy all the Jewish people, for the first time the whole Jewish people repented and fasted. I think in a way, that perhaps applies to us here. We’re still free and independent to a measure. Are we going to use our freedom the right way, or are we going to wait until it’s taken away from us? And then do what the Jews did in Shushan? Then they humbled themselves. They’d learned what the rod of God would do. They’d been under the discipline of God.
I pray, dear brothers and sisters, we may not have to go that way. Because it could easily happen. It could easily happen that we loose our independence, we’d loose our freedom, and them we’ll be sorry that we didn’t use it better. Anyhow, let’s just look. You know the decree had gone out that every Jew was to be annihilated. And Mordecai, who was Esther’s cousin, had got Esther into the position of being queen, but it wasn’t known that she was Jewish. And so Mordecai sent a message to Esther in the king’s palace and verse 13:
“And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ Then Esther told them to return this answer to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. [That’s 72 hours.] My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!’ [That’s commitment you see. Whether I live or die is not the matter. The question is I’ll do what my duty is to do.] Then Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded.”
Then we read on how Esther put on her royal robes and went in to the presence of the king, the inner court. And the law was anybody who does that without being invited is put to death, unless the king stretches out his golden scepter. I always like this. She fasted and prayed but when she went into the king she put on her royal robe. And there was a law that no one could go into the presence of the king fasting. And I think the church has got to come to a place that after we’ve fasted we put on our royal robes. We behave like a queen.
I have a little series of messages called, “Esther: the Queen God is Looking For” or something like that. Oh, I’ve been so impressed by Esther. And she changed the history of her people. She and the Jews that fasted. You see, if you want to change history, the most effective tool is fasting and prayer, because it’s self-humbling. We get out of the way and let God free to do His thing.
Then there’s Ezra and the returning exiles. Ezra 8:21–23. Now Ezra was commissioned by the King of Persia to lead a company of Jewish exiles returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. It’s a long journey, again amidst very unruly savage tribes. It’s a dangerous journey and Ezra had not only the wives and the children, but he had all the precious vessels from the temple. Now his question was, “How are we to be protected?” He said, “I could have asked the king for an escort of soldiers and horsemen, but I had been telling the king that our God takes care of those who serve Him.” That’s the problem about testifying, then you have to live up to your testimony. That’s one reason for testifying. So this is what happened.
“Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, ‘The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.’ So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”
They came through safely. They didn’t lose a person. They didn’t lose anything.
Now, all you well-educated Americans will know what I’m going to tell you. But being British I made a discovery. I discovered that right at the source of the history of this nation is united collective prayer and fasting. Did you know that? It was a shocking discovery to me. Because you know, for the English people, the pilgrims were really drop-outs. They just sailed west and dropped out of British history. And that’s about all I know of the pilgrims. But I believe it was 1973, I don’t remember exactly, John Tolcott who I believe is going to be here with us—he’s Mr. Plymouth, Massachusetts—invited me to go to Plymouth and conduct some memorial services celebrating the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the landing of the pilgrims. Well, I thought, that’s a great honor. But I thought I’d better find out something about the pilgrims. So I did a little research and I discovered that I now know more about the pilgrims than most Americans. In fact, when I began to share what I discovered in congregations across this nation, most of the people had never even heard of the people I was talking about. It’s absolutely shocking how the forces of the enemy have kept the American people ignorant of their own origin.
I’m going to read a little to you now and I’m going to boast a little bit about Cambridge. There isn’t much to boast about in Cambridge, but I’m from Cambridge. You know I was a student and scholar and a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. I’m reading now from my little book Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting:
“Having obtained my own degrees in the University of Cambridge, and having held a fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge, I was particularly interested to see how many of the pilgrims’ spiritual leaders had received their education at Cambridge. [Now, I think most of the people in Cambridge don’t have any clue to this fact.] Three of those most closely associated with the pilgrim’s story were Richard Clyfton, John Robinson, and William Brewster. Clyfton was the elder of the original congregation at Scrooby, in England. Robinson was the elder of the pilgrims’ congregation at Leyden, in Holland [where they had to go to maintain religious liberty]. Brewster was the elder who actually traveled over on the Mayflower... All three of these men received their education at Cambridge.”
I mean, Cambridge has no idea about this. They don’t know. And most Americans don’t know. Here I am from Cambridge and I’ve become slightly proud of Cambridge in the light of that. There’s very little else to be proud about.
Now, John Robinson was the one who went with the pilgrims to Holland where they found religious protection and they were free to practice, which they were not free in England at that time. When they were in Leyden and they were planning to set out, and they went by way of Plymouth in England to this continent, before they left Leyden they had a collective day of prayer and fasting. The whole congregation—men, women and children. And this is the end of Robinson’s address as given by Verna Hall in her Christian History of the Constitution. This is what Robinson told these people.
“We are now ere long to part [I feel so much of the emotion that they felt at this time] asunder, and the Lord knoweth whether he [Robinson] should live to see our face again. But whether the Lord had appointed it or not, he charged us before God and His blessed angels, to follow him no further than he followed Christ; and if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of His, to be ready to receive it, as ever we were to receive any truth by his ministry; for he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of His holy Word.”
I like that attitude. We don’t know it all. There’s more to that. And so they had a day of solemn day of prayer and fasting. Got on the ship and set sail, and ended up by way of Plymouth, England, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In many ways that was the seed out of which this great nation has grown. I think in many ways it’s time to return to your roots, to realize there were other forces at work. There were occult powers that were also at work. But nevertheless, this was the main stream of the life of this nation from its source.
All right, we’re going to go to the New Testament. A lot of people say, “Oh, that was Old Testament. That’s the kind of thing they did in the Old Testament.” Brothers and sisters, you’re mistaken. The number one example of fasting in the New Testament is who? Jesus. Let’s turn to Luke 4:1. This is the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.
“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.”
That is occasionally a truth, that you can fast for a period and not be hungry, but when the fast is over that’s when you become hungry. But that was the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He did nothing in public ministry until He had spent forty days in prayer and fasting seeking God.
And it says in verse 1 of chapter 4, “Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit...” But if you read the end of that period of fasting in verse 14, it says, “The Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit...” I want you to know there’s a difference. It’s one thing to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s another thing to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. What bridged the gap? Fasting and prayer. Lots of Christians that I know are filled with the Spirit but they don’t have much power. Because they have not subdued the old opposing ego within them. The Scriptural way to do that is by fasting and prayer.
Now when Jesus taught, and of course the Sermon on the Mount is the main passage we look to, He used the word when three times. In verse 2 of Matthew chapter 6 he said, “When you do your charitable deeds...” He didn’t say if you do but when. He took it for granted they would do them. In verse 5 He says, “When you pray...” not if you pray but when. And in verse 16 He said, “When you fast...” Not if you fast, but when. He put fasting on exactly the same level with charitable deeds and prayer. And He assumed that all His disciples would do all three.
You remember I spoke earlier about the difference between being a disciple and a church member? This is one of the dividing lines. Disciples practice fasting. Church members may or may not.
And then we look in the Book of Acts at the principles that guided the church in its early days. We turn to Acts 13. This is generally called the first sending out of missionaries, although they didn’t use the word missionaries, they used the word apostles. It is an absolute turning point in the whole history of the church. And it says in verse 1:
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul [who later became Paul]. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”
So ministering to the Lord for those church leaders who are prophets and teachers included fasting. I believe, though I am not sure, that the NIV says “as they worshiped the Lord.” Is that right? So you see worshiping includes fasting. So don’t tell me you’re a worshiper if you never fast. That’s the Scriptural pattern.
So they got the revelation of the mind of the Lord, “You’ve got to send out Barnabas and Saul.” Then they fasted again please note. It goes on in verse 3:
“Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
So they fasted and prayed twice. Once to get the mind of the Lord. The second time to equip and empower the two who were sent out.
Now you read on into Acts 14:23 the consummation of their first missionary journey in their dealings are they established churches. And let me say, a group of people without elders is not a church. It’s elders that make a church, if they’re the right elders. So it says in verse 23:
“So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
So the two vital decisive moves in the development of the church, the sending out of apostles or missionaries, and the appointing of elders or leaders in the local church were both done with prayer and fasting. They are fundamental to the life of the church.
Let me just turn for a moment to Joel 2. I want to now look at the prophetic element in prayer and fasting. It’s a very long chapter and I cannot read it all. I hope that some of you may be prompted to read it for yourself. It’s a time of tremendous crisis. I don’t know exactly what time it refers to. Maybe some others may, but at any rate it’s a time when the destiny of the nation is at stake. This is the prophetic charge in Joel 2:15.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion, [That’s the shofar. That’s the most solemn call to God’s people to get attention.] Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; [That’s a time when you don’t do anything but seek the Lord-a sacred assembly.] Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room.”
So this is a total community, you understand. Just like it was with the pilgrims in Leyden. The whole community was involved, or is to be involved.
“Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give your heritage to reproach, That the heathen should rule over them, Why should they say among themselves, ‘Where is their God?’’”
So this is a time of national crisis. And God’s message to His people is, “Consecrate a fast.” And if you analyze the instructions of the Lord they begin with the leadership—the elders, the priests and the ministers. That’s, I believe, how it has to be. It’s the leadership that has to take the first step.
Now we won’t read the rest of that chapter until verse 25—(Ruth corrects him – it’s verse 28.) What do I have a wife for? I have a wife for a lot of reasons, that’s just one of them. The problem with me—I don’t need to go into my problems... It concerns my glasses. They didn’t make them right and I can’t read small print. I’m going to see an eye doctor soon about it. Anyhow, let’s not go into that. Joel 2:28:
“And it shall come to pass afterward [After what? Fasting.] That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy...”
We don’t need to go any further. What provokes the outpouring of the latter rain? Fasting. Congregational, collective fasting. I believe God has not changed. I believe that if the churches of America would do that in the same Spirit, they’d get the same result. I believe it is possible that this ungodly nation can still be shaken to it’s foundation by the power of God. I’m not saying it will happen. I think it depends on what we do. But I think it could happen if we do the right thing. Amen.
I just have one more thing to emphasize. How many of you know what 2 Chronicles 7:14 says?
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Now I began to preach that actually before IFA came into being. But recently the Lord spoke to me, I believe—now this is subjective, you are entitled to question it—the Lord said to me, “What you have been preaching is absolutely correct, but My people have never taken the first step. And if they don’t take the first step, the others don’t work.”
“If My people...” What is the first step? “...will humble themselves.” I don’t believe that collectively the church in America has humbled itself. I believe many of us have not humbled ourselves. You can do all the rest, but it won’t work. You see fasting doesn’t necessarily make you humble. The Pharisee who fasted twice in a week was proud of the fact. So fasting doesn’t earn you a merit badge that you can carry around. You have yourself. We have to humble ourselves.
And as I meditated on this I felt the Lord showed me a very simple practical way for us to humble ourselves, and I believe it absolutely has to work. You know what it is? Confess our sins. It says in 1 John 1:9:
“If we confess our sins to God, He is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
But God is not committed to do it if we do not confess. I don’t find anywhere in Scripture that God has committed Himself to forgive sins that we don’t confess. “If we confess our sins He is faithful...”
In confessing our sins to God we humble ourselves before God. You really cannot remain in an attitude of pride after you have just named all the awful things you have just been doing. At least I couldn’t.
Then there’s another aspect. That’s the vertical, but more difficult still, and perhaps just as important, is the horizontal. In James 5:16 it says, “confess.” This version says trespasses, but it’s sins. It’s the same word for sins as it is elsewhere. I think actually just to speculate a little bit, the translators of the King James wanted to avoid the impression that you had to confess to a priest. There’s a certain amount of political pressure in that translation, although it’s a glorious translation. Anyhow it says, and you can check this anyway you like:
“Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed...”
This is one of the keys to physical healing. Again I don’t see it practiced in most places. People just lay hands on and say, “Brother, God will heal you.” God says, “You may need to confess your sins before you get healed, because your unconfessed sin is a barrier that keeps your healing from you.” That’s not the only reason. There are many other reasons. But it’s one possible reason.
So I don’t believe that we can maintain an attitude of pride if we’ve confessed our sins to one another. If we sincerely confess. If a husband says to his wife, “Honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t treat you right. I spoke very rudely to you. I was very impatient with you. I didn’t give you the consideration you deserve.” He cannot be proud. Is that right? Or if a wife says to her husband, “I’m sorry but I just haven’t given you the respect I know I owe to you. I’ve been doing my own thing. Pleasing myself, just been self-centered. Forgive me. I haven’t been the kind of wife the Bible says I ought to be.” I don’t believe anybody who sincerely does that can remain proud. This is the key to humbling ourselves. It’s confessing our sins.
And as I said before, God doesn’t demand that we confess every sin that we ever committed. But if we refuse to confess a sin, I don’t believe God forgives it. So this is my recommendation that we put it into practice. I want to suggest that we take a little while in an undemonstrative way to confess our sins to God, right where we are now. You remember that to “One who knows to do good and doesn’t do it, it is sin.” There are not only sins or commission. There are sins of omission. I’m going to come to one of those in a later message if God wills and I live. I won’t go into it today. You’ll get it later.
But now I really sincerely suggest that we spend a little while, each one of us individually in the presence of the Lord and let the Holy Spirit put His finger on things. Before this meeting started, Ruth and I were here a day in advance as we like to be, and sovereignly God put His finger on a sin in each of our lives going back many years, that we had never really acknowledged and confessed. I don’t believe we could be in this meeting effectively without that. And I believe in a way God let that happen to us as a pattern for what needs to happen to many here. So let’s just be in whatever attitude you can be in with your eyes closed, or your eyes open, bowed or sitting. We can’t let you prostrate yourself. There just isn’t room, but let’s take a little while—about three minutes. We cannot complete this business here. I’ve no illusions about that. But I want you to just ask one question of yourself. Is there some person against whom I have sinned, to whom I need to make confession and ask for forgiveness. I’ll just let you think that over for a minute and ask the Holy Spirit to make it clear to you, and then I’m going to ask Joseph to come and lead us in worship, Joseph.