This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
Part of series, “What is Holiness?—Volume 1”
We’re going to proclaim a passage from 1Peter chapter 5. Our proclamations we take the you’s and make them we’s so that we are saying “we do it,” you see. I can’t think how it starts.
“God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt us in due time,
We 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 this morning I spoke about the bride making herself ready. And I want to tell you that this is only the run-up to my talks on holiness, because it says the bride was clothed with the acts of righteousness. I felt that we can’t arrive at acts of righteousness, we certainly can’t go on to holiness. As I understand it you can be righteous without being holy, but you cannot be holy without being righteous.
This morning I pinpointed two specific acts of righteousness, which were; Number 1—orphans and widows, Number 2—proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom to all nations.
Now I have one more act of righteousness which I feel I absolutely must deal with before we move on into the theme of holiness. This, that I want to speak about, is intercession and prayer. I believe God has placed on the church an obligation of intercession. If we are God has placed on the church an obligation of intercession. And we are not intercessors we are not fulfilling our obligation.
I particularly want to emphasize the importance of fasting. I don’t believe anybody can really achieve holiness without practicing fasting. It’s one of those things that has been dropping out but now is returning. Thank God. There’s a real re-emphasis on fasting and prayer I was recently in a meeting together with Bill Bright who’s the founder and president of Campus Crusade. He is now in his 70’s and in the last few years he has conducted three forty-day fasts. Now his fasts are not total. He takes juice and it’s a very different thing if you take juice and you don’t. It’s completely different. I believe both are legitimate, but I just want to be clear. And at the end of this first forty-day fast he felt, and he has shared widely, that God told him if he could persuade two million Christians in the United States to fast and pray for forty days God would send a great revival. And I think he’s not so far away from his target my guess is. A lot of people have responded.
We, Ruth and I were in a conference conducted by Campus Crusade called Fasting and Prayer 96, wasn’t it, in St. Louis. It was very interesting. It was from what—Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon. About four thousand people were gathered, I would say from every section of the church. It really amused me because their worship was just one young man who was accompanied by a piano. It was some of the purest worship I’ve participated in in a long while. And there was real, I would say real harmony. And some of the Baptists preached like Pentecostals, I’d have to agree with that. Especially one man who had pastored and fasted forty days and his wife had been healed from cancer during that period. He was on fire! I have to say I have a very warm place in my heart for Bill Bright. I don’t know whether you’re in any way familiar with Campus Crusade. But they’re the people who are responsible for the Jesus Filmwhich I suppose is the most effective evangelistic tool that has ever been produced.
So now, I want to talk about intercession leading up to fasting. And I want to begin with Isaiah 59 verses 14 through 16. To me this is a picture of our contemporary society.
Justice is turned back,
And righteousness stands afar off;
For truth is fallen in the street,
And equity cannot enter.
When I survey the political scene I just say to myself, “Truth has fallen in the street.” Then it continues,
So truth fails,
And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
I believe we’re getting pretty near that stage. You don’t have to be actively aggressively righteous. You just have not to be evil and people will pick you out and pick on you. Now this is the Lord’s reaction.
So truth fails,
And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the LORD saw it and it displeased Him
That there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
I believe that probably could pretty accurately describe God’s attitude to many sections of the church today. He wonders that there’s no intercessors.
Then I’d like to turn to Ezekiel 22. The trouble with this chapter is when I turn to it I never can get out of it. But I just want to take it to emphasize God’s emphasis on intercession. We’ll begin at verse 23. Ezekiel 22, beginning at verse 23, and I want you to notice there are four groups of people who are charged with delinquency. But in the English it so happens they will begin “P” with makes it easier. This is the order: the Prophets, the Priests, the Princes and the People. And notice God does not begin with the princes, the secular rulers. He begins with His professing people—the prophets and the priests. And that’s where the trouble always begins if you can trace it to its cause. Secular rulers may be evil, but they’re never the primary source of evil. It’s the people who claim to represent God and do not, that are the primary source of the problem.
“Son of man, say to her: ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’
I remember one of my students in Kenya, in 1958 maybe. He took this verse and he said, “The only thing that can cleanse a land is the rain of the Holy Spirit.” And that’s never departed from me. A land that has not received the rain of the Holy Spirit is not cleansed. Then he says,
“The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion [and we won’t read all the verses. Verse 26]
“Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy,
[Verse 27] “Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey,
[We return in verse 28 to the prophets.] “Her prophets have plastered them with untempered mortar,
And I feel that’s basically what the church is doing. They’re plastering with untempered mortar. It’s very clear that when the rain comes and the floods, they’ll wash it all away. We are not being confronted with the real basic issues of sin and righteousness and responsibility. Then finally, verse 29,
“The people of the land have used oppressions,”
But you’ll notice they’re the last to be blamed. We can accuse the drug addicts and the homosexuals and so on, but they’re just right at the end of the story. It begins with the prophets and then the priests—the clergy—and having read a few selections of what the clergy have been saying about homosexuality, I have to say it fits exactly. Thank God for the bishops of Africa. Oh, I wanted to stand up and shout for Africa. Now we come to the climax of this chapter. Verse 30, this is God speaking.
“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.”
What a tragic statement, “I found no one, not one man.” Notice that he was expected to do things, two things. First of all to build up a wall. You see in our contemporary culture basically, all the walls of separation have been broken down. Particularly, in my opinion, the separation between male and female which is basic. It’s the original separation at creation. And I have lived long enough to see it enacted before my eyes.
One thing that God says in Deuteronomy is for women to wear men’s clothing or men to wear women’s clothing is an abomination. I don’t think the Lord is setting fashions. What He’s saying is, women need to dress in such a way you can see they’re women, and men need to dress in such a way you can see they’re men. Other things have happened. Men have stopped, most of them not all of them thank God, wearing beards and women have cut their hair. So there’s two other main distinguishing features have been obliterated. And so this man whom God was looking for had to rebuild the walls of separation. He had to restore the boundaries. And then he had to stand in the gap before the people, between the people and the Lord. That’s the intercessor. An intercessor means one who comes in between.
Abraham was an intercessor on behalf of Sodom. The Lord and two angels visited Abraham’s home and afterwards they went on their way. The angels apparently went ahead. The Lord lingered and Abraham stood before Him, and he stood between the Lord and Sodom, and he bargained from fifty down to ten. The Lord eventually said, “If I find ten righteous I’ll spare the city for their sake.” He did not find the ten. But Abraham standing between the Lord and the objects of His wrath is a perfect picture of the intercessor—the one who stands in between.
Another thing that has impressed me about this Scripture is the Lord said, “I sought for a man among them.” And I believe an intercessor has to represent the people for whom he intercedes. I’ve spent, what, thirty years of my life in the United States, and I’m deeply grateful to the Christians of America for many kindnesses and blessings. But I do not believe I can be an intercessor for America, because it isn’t really my country. I believe it has to be a person from among the people who stands there and says, “If you strike them Lord, you’re going to have to strike me first.” That’s the intercessor.
Now I want to tie this in with fasting, because I believe that fasting is really an essential part of intercession. I believe it’s an essential spiritual discipline. I don’t believe anybody can achieve holiness who doesn’t practice fasting.
When I was a young pastor, newly in the ministry, I read through John Wesley’s journals in four volumes, which is quite a lot. At that time we Pentecostals were saying, “We’ve got it all! And we’ve got the whole gospel!” After I read John Wesley I thought to myself, “If we’ve got it all what did he have?” because he had a lot more than we do. One thing, he would not ordain a man to the Methodist ministry who would not commit himself to fast and pray, I think till on Wednesday and Friday till four P.M. That was a minimum requirement. And since that’s disappeared the character of the Methodist ministry has definitely changed.
So let me now just do a little basic study on fasting. Going back, first of all, to Leviticus chapter 16 which is the order for the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. And interestingly enough basically Jewish people all over the world have observed this as a day of fasting for about three thousand four hundred years. And they still do. Even ones that are not in any sense seriously religious. Not all of them do. More and more people are departing from it. And for them fasting was doing without anything but water. No, no water. That’s right, neither food nor water for approximately twenty-six hours, from sunset one day to sunset the following day.
Now this is the basis on which this is set down. I should tell you what verse I’m in, 16:29,
“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 sojourns among you.”
Now the word afflictI think modern translations have changed it. But it’s a very powerful word. It’s used to describe a man who humbles a woman by sexually assaulting her. It’s a very forceful word.
“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.”
Notice the priest did his part, but they did not receive the benefit of it unless they did their part in fasting. I think this applies for what Jesus did for us. He’s the High Priest, He’s made the atonement. But to benefit from it we have to fulfill the conditions. And then it goes on,
“It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.
There’s definitely one thing that God emphasized. Never claim to be a Jew if you don’t observe this day.
Now the question I want to deal with very briefly is why should we afflict our souls? My answer is the soul, as I understand it we are spirit, soul and body. The spirit is the part that came from God, the body is the part that came from the earth, the soul is brought about by the union of the spirit and body. The soul is the ego. It’s the individual. It’s the thing that says “I will” or “I won’t.” It’s the thing that makes decisions. It’s the self-assertive, arrogant, demanding thing in each of us. And God says, “That has to be humbled.” You have to afflict it. You have to say to your soul, “It’s not what you want. It’s what God wants. It’s not what you think. It’s what God says. It’s not what you feel like. It’s what God has ordained.”
So I believe this is a thing that concerns every human being. Every one of us has a soul and by nature we are rebels. It’s the soul that is the rebel. You see, not only did Adam rebel, but he never had any children until he was a rebel. And every descendant of Adam is a rebel by nature. When we are saved it’s not enough to have our sins forgiven. That’s wonderful. But we have to have the rebel dealt with. And he was dealt with by execution. Our old man wascrucified with Jesus. That’s the death of the rebel. And there’re two quite distinct aspects of the atonement. Many people claim to have their sins forgiven, but they’ve never dealt with the rebel, and they go out and continue in rebellion. So we have to bring that soul into submission.
I always think of a lawyer in Washington, D.C. So this lawyer heard me teach on fasting and he decided that he’d fast for a day. He told us this personally. He had a miserable day. Every time he went near a restaurant, any kind of food, everything, he wanted to go in. But he survived. So at the end of the day he gave his stomach a talking to. And he said, “Stomach, you’ve made a lot of problems for me today. You’ve been very rebellious, and to punish you I’m going to fast tomorrow as well.” So that’s the way to deal with a rebellious stomach.
In Psalm 35 verse 13 David says, I’ll just read one sentence.
“I humbled myself with fasting;”
But the Hebrew says, “I humbled my soulwith fasting.”He was dealing with the soulish element. Then we, Ruth and I, quoted from 1 Peter chapter 5, “Therefore we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt us in due time.” Humbling ourselves—one Biblical effective way to do it is fasting.
Now I want to take quickly some historical examples of people in the Bible who fasted and what happened. First of all I’d like to turn to a group of men that are not often thought about. The men are Jabesh Gilead in 1Samuel, the last verse of 1Samuel. 1Samuel 31 verse 13. Now at this point Israel were in a terrible situation. The Philistines had defeated their armies and killed Saul and his sons and hung their bodies up on the wall of Beth Shan. Meanwhile David, who would have been some kind of an answer to the situation, returned to where he was based and discovered that the Amalekites had taken his whole base, taken all his wives, children and taken them captive. So he was off on a journey in pursuit of Amalekites.
I mean, Israel was in the worse situation that they had been since they entered the land. And at this point the men of Jabesh Gilead owed a debt to Saul because he had rescued them when an Amalekite king was going to put out the right eye of everybody. This is very real to me because in about 1950 something, I began to see the truth of fasting in a fresh way. And I decided to fast a week. I think it was November. It was very chilly. I wondered to myself, “Has anybody ever fasted a week and survived you know? I wonder if it’s possible to do it.” And then I read the last verse of 1 Samuel, the men of Jabesh Gilead fasted seven days. I said, “If they can do it, I can do it.” And they were men responsible for cattle and so on. They couldn’t give up all their activities. They had to go through with at least some of their normal activities. But it’s very interesting because it was the turning point in the history of Israel.
If you look at 1 Samuel it’s a history of division, decline and defeat. If you look at 2 Samuel it’s a record of victory, unification, and the establishment of the kingdom. What’s the turning point? The men of Jabesh Gilead. Their fasting for seven days changed the history of their people. And I believe if you want to be a history changer, there’s no more effective way to do it than fasting.
Then we’re all familiar with the story of Nineveh. In Jonah, I trust we’re all familiar, if not we can look at it. Jonah 3 verses 4 through 10. Now you know the background of the story. Jonah had been commissioned by the Lord to go to Nineveh but he didn’t want to go. I believe myself because the Assyrians were the national enemies of Israel and Jonah reckoned mercy to the Assyrians would be trouble for Israel. That’s my reasoning of it. Anyhow, for whatever reason, he didn’t go. And you know the story. He ended up in the belly of a large fish, and there he had a change of heart.
Let me just mention this. Years ago, in 1971 I think, when the Charismatic Movement was kind of just beginning to make the headlines, the people in Seattle—what’s the name of the man who’s now with the Lord? [Ruth- Dennis Bennett] Dennis Bennett—his church and some other pastors decided to have a meeting to get the charismatic preachers together because we were all ships sailing past one another in the night. We had very little relationship with one another. Some were saying one thing and some were saying another. So get them together. So we got together, I think at least forty, and they were really a remarkable assortment of people. There were Catholics. There were Anglicans or Episcopalians, Baptists, and guess who? People like me. I mean it was a marvel that we survived. We spent one whole day on water baptism. We spent half a day on demons and I was the brunt of the whole attack. But they had not funds so they said we’ll arrange for two or three of you to go out every night and preach in a certain church somewhere and get the money in. And they said we’ll guarantee you you’ll never go twice with the same preacher. So the first night they sent me out with a Lutheran. Now my first wife was a former Lutheran and for her a Lutheran pastor was like a red rag to a bull, for many reasons which I won’t go into. So I found myself with this dear Lutheran brother and I thought, “Well, that’s it. Now I’ve done my job.” Next night the same assortment—the Lutheran and me. The third night the same. Well you know I came to a conclusion at the end that there’s at least one good Lutheran. His name was Larry Christensen. I’m sure he is known to many of you.
Well, then the pastors commented on these meetings, and I’d been a pastor in Seattle so I knew most of them. They said, “It’s a strange thing, these meetings are not planned to make an impact on the city of Seattle, they were planned to raise the preacher’s fares. But they’ve made more impact than meetings that were planned for that purpose.”
So in the big Boeing jet going back from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale, I was sitting there pondering this. Why did these meetings make in impact more than other meetings? Well, I felt I had a little conversation with the Lord. Now this is subjective. You don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to. I said, “Lord, why did these meetings have such an impact?” And the Lord said to me, “Now tell me, with whom did I have more problems? With Jonah or with the city of Nineveh?”
I said, “Well Lord, when you got Jonah into line you had no problems with the city of Nineveh.” And I understood the Lord to say, “When I get the preachers in line I’ll have no problems with the people.” So we had a serious responsibility and I’m not saying, He didn’t say, “The other preachers,” incidentally.
So here we have this picture of Jonah. Now I think anybody that’s been inside a fish for three days and three nights and has come out, has a different perspective on life. So here’s Jonah now. He walks into the city and he just says in a casual way, “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” Now it wasn’t the words, it was the conviction with which he spoke. And the whole city repented. And this is what they did. Now the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. They knew, as the people of the Middle East have always known, what to do when you want to humble yourself. They proclaimed a fast.
Then word came to the kind of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.
And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
“Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink water.
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. [Because Nineveh was a violent city.]
Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?”
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said he would do among them, and He did not do it.
That’s very remarkable in a way because just one prophet and the whole history of Nineveh changed. It’s rather interesting because Israel had many prophets sent to them by the Lord. But they never responded in the same way that the city of Nineveh responded. But ultimately Assyria became God’s instrument of judgment on the Northern Kingdom. But, there’s an example of a whole community humbling themselves before God. I don’t believe we ever humble ourselves in vain.
I’d like to turn to Esther. I assume that you’re basically familiar with the story. Haman the Agagite had persuaded the king to sign a decree for the annihilation of all the Jews on a certain day. And he was definitely in the occult because he cast lots to determine the day. Esther was there, the queen, but it was not known that she was Jewish. Her cousin, Mordecai, instructed her. So we read a little from Esther chapter 4 verse 10.
Then 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?”
And I have to say Esther’s one of the most beautiful characters in the Bible.
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Sushan, [that’s the capital] and fast for me; neither eat or drink for three days, night and day. 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. If I perish, I perish. I’m going to do it anyhow.
Then Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.
Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.
That also blesses me that I think, in a way, it was not permitted to go into the king’s court in sackcloth. I think once the church has truly humbled itself, God is waiting for the church to put on her queenly robes and go into the king. And then it continues.
So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand.
Which was the signal of acceptance. That’s the end of the story. Now that was a very serious fast. The whole population, or the whole Jewish population, fasted for seventy-two hours without food or water. I have done that twice and they say that it’s dangerous to go any longer than that without water. So if you’re thinking about it, be cautious. I did not know a man I met whose name was—had a big revival in the Argentine—can you remember who he was, Tommy Hicks. Anybody remember Tommy Hicks? He fasted seventeen days without food or water. But that I think was supernatural. And Moses of course was twice forty days without food or water, but that was definitely supernatural. Unless you’re in the supernatural, don’t go beyond seventy-two hours without water. Without food you can go a long while. All right, that’s Esther. We know the story, the whole situation was totally reversed.
Then let’s look at one other example. Ezra and the returning exiles in Ezra chapter 8, beginning at verse 21. Now these were the exiles from Jerusalem gathered in the Persian capital preparing to return to rebuild the temple and the whole community of Israel. They faced a long journey through difficult country where there were brigands and hostile tribes. The question was how were they to be protected? Here is Ezra’s answer beginning in verse 21.
Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.
And remember they had many of the sacred vessels of the temple, extremely precious and uniquely valuable. But you notice, they humbled themselves. I think the Jews have always knows from Moses onwards, if you need to humble yourselves, fasting is the way to do it.
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.”
That’s kind of testifying yourself into a situation where you don’t have much alternative. And that’s one good reason for testifying. You have to live up to your testimony. So he says,
So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.
They came through safely. They lost nothing, no people, no valuables, nothing. I think it was about a three-month journey if I remember rightly. But there is a key to committing to the Lord an undertaking. I delight to preach on this in America because the Pilgrims who are merely dropouts in English history, but are the founders of the American Commonwealth, were exiled from England because of religious persecution. They gathered in Holland and on a certain day, Robinson who was their leader, knew they were about to set sail for the New World. He did exactly what Ezra did. He proclaimed a fast, they humbled themselves and God granted them a safe journey to the New World. I always remind American people that's really the basis of your history and you need to remember it was born out of prayer and fasting. But it’s an example for all of us.
Then we turn to fasting in the New Testament. You know who the number one example is? Jesus. In Matthew chapter 4 verses 1 and 2.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.
I take that to mean that he was drinking but not eating, because otherwise he would have been more thirsty than hungry. Luke chapter 4. I just want to point this out to you. Verse 1,
Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness... and fasted forty days.
Now if you go on to verse 14,
Then Jesus returned in the powerof the Spirit to Galilee.
So it’s one thing to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s another thing to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what brought the difference was forty days of prayer and fasting. And I do believe that many people are being filled with the Holy Spirit, but not in many has the power of the Holy Spirit really been released. I think that Jesus is our pattern. I’m not saying for how long. That’s something between you and the Lord. But I do believe that fasting is the key that releases the power of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life and ministry if it’s done with the right motives of course.
Then if you take the teaching of Jesus in Matthew chapter 6 which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, you have three “when’s.” Matthew 6 verse 2 Jesus said,
“Therefore, when you do a charitable deed,
It used to be “you do alms” but we don’t use that word now. You know why we don’t use it now? We don’t need it. People don’t do it. But Jesus assumed alms is what you give to the poor. Well Jesus said, “When you give alms...” I dislike the phrase a charitable deed.It’s sort of.... There’s some words that are dropping out. You know why? Because there is no need for them. The word meekhas almost dropped out. Why? Because there are so few people to whom it applies. To me it’s a tragedy because humble and meek are not the same. Humble is your inner attitude. Meek is your way of conducting yourself. Anyhow, Jesus said, “When you do your charitable deed.” Then he said in verse 5, “When you pray.” And of course He led up to the Lord’s prayer. But in verse 16 He said, “Moreover, when you fast...” It seems to be obvious that Jesus assumed that all His disciples would give to the poor, would pray and would fast. There’s no “if” there at all. It’s “when, when, when.” And most Christians would agree the Sermon on the Mount is the basic blueprint for leading the Christian life.
The Jewish people as you probably know always fasted. Sometimes they did it with wrong motives, but fasting was a normal part of their religious duties. The Pharisee said, “I fast twice in the week." Of course he did it with the wrong motives, but still he did it. I think fasting is one of the great missing pieces that’s dropped out of our jigsaw. We can’t complete the jigsaw without that.
Then let’s look at the leaders in the New Testament for a little while, people such as many of yourselves. Acts chapter 13 verses 1 and 2.
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. [Notice Saul is last in the list.]
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 this... Most would agree this is a critical turning point. Many people say it’s the beginning of missionary outreach. It’s important to understand it was born out of prayer and fasting. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, they got to the point where they could hear the Lord’s voice telling them what to do. Then it says,
Then, having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
So they not only fasted to get the revelation, but they fasted to commit their missionaries, which is not a Biblical word. It’s very interesting if you wonder how apostolic ministries can develop, canhere’s a pattern. These people were prophets and teachers. They fasted and prayed, God spoke and sent out two, and in chapter 14, these two are twice called apostles. 14 verse 4,
But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this
So when did they become apostles? When they were sent out from a local church by the instruction of the Holy Spirit. So if you are looking for apostolic ministries in today’s church here is a simple Biblical pattern by which God can do it. I’m not saying He will, but at least it’s not shut out.
And then we read further on when they had finished their ministry and were appointing elders in Acts 14 verse 23,
So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord...”
So sending out, if you want to say missionaries which is not a Biblical word, sending out apostles or appointing elders, both of them were done with prayer and fasting. And these are the two key decisions that a local church has to make. Whom to send out and whom to appoint as elders. And there really isn’t any Scriptural precedent for doing it without fasting.
Now let’s turn to Joel. Now I have to confess to you that there’s a lot of things in the prophecy of Joel I don’t understand. I never have really been able to put it all together, but I just want to bring out one simple fact. Joel 2 verses 15 and 17. And I’m not going to try to give the historical context because it is very difficult. But it says,
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation,
That means set the congregation apart for this particular period of fasting.
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and nursing babes;
Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber,
And the bride from her dressing room.
Let the priests, who minister to the LORD,
Weep between the porch and the altar;
You’ll find there that all the leadership of the church, the local church is included, the pastors, the priests and the elders. Now then we need to read on in chapter 2, to verse 28. God is still speaking and it says,
And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Now I am aware that Peter quotes that on the Day of Pentecost and he changes the “afterward” to “in the last days” but that doesn’t set aside the original. After what? After they’ve done what they were told. So again, as I see it, the Scriptural key to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is when God’s people humble themselves with prayer and fasting.
Now just one simple question. How do we humble ourselves? Most of us are familiar with the passage that 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 will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and heal their land.
But how do we humble ourselves? I want to give you two extremely simple ways to do it. In 1 John chapter 1 verse 9, 1 John 1 verse 9,
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I suggest that there’s no better way to humble yourself before God than to confess your sins. If you sincerely confess your sins you cannot approach Him with an attitude of pride. So that’s how to humble yourself before God. I want to point out to you that God has never committed Himself to forgive sins that we are not willing to confess. It doesn’t say He will not forgive any kind of sins, but if we refuse to confess a sin God will not forgive.
Then in James 5:16,
Confess your trespasses...
But it should be sins. It’s the same word for sinused all through the New Testament. I suspect, this is just my personal opinion, that the translators of the King James Version wanted to disassociate themselves with having to confess sins to a priest, so they used a different word. But the word is sins. You can check that in any concordance you like.
Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed.
Again, that’s a very simple way to humble yourself, because you can hardly confess your sins to somebody and remain proud. That’s one reason why we sometimes find it so difficult to do it, because it deals with pride. I mean, that’s a recipe for healing breaches between husband and wife. If the husband says to his wife, “Sweetheart, I have to confess I was very rude to you. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. Forgive me.” He cannot remain proud in that particular moment. And if the wife says, “Well I have to confess that I didn’t respect you the way I should have respected you and I said some things about you that I shouldn’t have said. Forgive me.” That deals with pride. I mean, it doesn’t deal with pride permanently, because you have to go on maintaining the thing.
Here is the Scriptural recipe for humbling yourself: confessing sin. It sounds very easy, but it’s not always easy to do it. The people that are the hardest to forgive are the people that live closest to you. I mean, you have no problem forgiving the postman. But what about the person who shares your bed? That’s another matter. That’s really where it has to begin. “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves...” And God never undertakes to make us humble. You cannot find a place. God always puts the responsibility on us to humble ourselves.
Now just let me add a word of personal testimony. I was sovereignly saved in an army barrack room, actually an army billet to use the correct expression. But so few people know what a billet is that I stopped saying that. In the beautiful seaside town of Scarborough in Yorkshire. I have to say I really like the people of Yorkshire. I’m not a Yorkshireman, but they were so warm hearted. The people invited us home. They did all sorts of things for us. So I got invited home and ended up getting saved. That’s another reason for showing hospitality. Remember what I was saying.
I got saved not by the orthodox way. I got saved in the middle of the night on my back on the floor in my underwear with my arms up in the air. And I had never seen or heard of anything like that anywhere. I was just a nominal Anglican, and the Anglican church had never told me anything about that. I mean, I came out of a background of absolute spiritual ignorance. Now I did know the Bible because it was taught in school, see. That makes a difference. And incidentally the day I was baptized in the Spirit it was like everything I’d ever heard from the Bible came back to me. The people who knew me and knew how Godless I was were amazed that I knew so much Scripture. But it was there just waiting to be released.
Anyhow, then the Army in a few weeks, sent me overseas and I spent the next four and a half years in the Middle East. But an amazing thing, somehow—I didn’t know God spoke to people at times like that. I mean I didn’t have this kind of language—I just got the impression that God wanted me to fast one day a week. And believe me, I’d never been associated with people that fasted. So in 1941 I made up my mind I would fast one day every week. Now I was with soldiers who didn’t think much about fasting. I ended up in charge of a squad of stretcher-bearers who never bore stretchers. I had eight stretcher-bearers and two RASC drivers and myself, and we were eleven people living on one three-ton lorry. When we camped we dug our little holes and pitched our tents and we became knows as “Prince’s Pioneers.” It wasn’t my title. It was just what we were dubbed.
Anyhow, all through that time, one day every week—Wednesday—I fasted. Well you can’t be in a company of soldiers so close to you as that without people knowing that you’re fasting. So we were in Egypt at the time where the culture was Muslim, and so they came to call Wednesday Ramadan. You know what that is? Now I am far from being as spiritual as I ought to be, but I know that it made a difference. And the last thing I would ever wish to do is to give up that practice of fasting one day a week. And that’s not all I do, because I have fasted more than three weeks at a time. But I just want to say it works. It works.
When I was talking at this conference with Bill Bright, I made a little calculation. Since 1941 I have fasted more than three thousand days, which is more than eight years. If the Lord had said, “I want you to fast eight years,” I would have... But one day at a time, once a week and I thank God for it. I would be afraid to give up fasting. I think my spiritual life would suffer.
Now each of my wives has fasted with me. Lydia and then Ruth. And tomorrow being Wednesday, guess what we’ll be doing. So I really want to challenge you, because I don’t believe we will have revival in this nation until God’s people learn what it is to humble themselves with prayer and fasting. Call out upon God. And I believe God is willing to send revival.
I’ll not give the complete thing that God told me, but in 1953... I date my dates from the time of Billy Graham’s first crusade in Harringate at which I was a counselor. So I know it was before Harringate, so it was about 1953. About 2 A.M. I was wide-awake and the Lord spoke to me audibly. The only time I’ve actually heard Him speak. And this is part of what He said. “There shall be a great revival in the United States and Great Britain.” Then He told me things about my own life and ministry, which I’m not going to share. I believe that’s true. I believe there shall be a great revival. A lot of things that are called revival have nothing to do with revival. But I believe when God says a great revival, it’s going to be a great revival! I believe it’s going to start in the United States and it’s going to affect this country. I think that’s the only hope for this nation. There is no other hope. We’re sunk. We’re lost. We’ve departed so far from God and His standards and all that we know, that unless we can truly humble ourselves before Him and call upon His mercy, there is no hope. Hope is not in the politician. It’s not even in the church leaders. It’s in a humble minority who will afflict their souls with fasting. It has to be done with the right motive. You’ll need the leading of the Holy Spirit, because only the Holy Spirit can lead us to do it right.
I want to suggest to you as a matter of fact, and this is very daring and forgive me if I offend you, but while you people are all here you should take one day set apart for fasting. May the Lord bless you. Thank you for being so patient. Amen!
Let me say, incidentally, that I haven’t started to talk about holiness. This is just the run-up because I feel if you don’t establish what are the righteous acts that God requires, it’s vain to talk about holiness.
A free copy of this transcript is available to download and share for personal use.