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A Call To Corporate Fasting

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Be encouraged and inspired with this Bible-based sermon by Derek Prince.

Be encouraged and inspired with this Bible-based sermon by Derek Prince.

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Code: MA-4093-100-ENG

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Fasting is a very large subject. It’s amazing that it has been so completely overlooked for a number of centuries, probably, by a greater part of the Christian church. For instance, there are, I know, a good many Methodists in this area. How many Methodists are aware that John Wesley would not ordain to the Methodist ministry any man who did not commit himself to fast twice a week, Wednesday and Friday, till 4 p.m.? Wesley attached such importance to fasting that he didn’t feel a man who wouldn’t fast was qualified for the ministry. Somewhere in his journals he wrote something to this effect. He said, “I have concluded that a person who receives light on fasting and does not practice it will backslide as surely as a person who receives light on prayer and does not practice it.”

If you go through the history of the church without respect of whether it’s Catholic or Protestant, I doubt whether you will find any man or woman who has played a really significant part in shaping the destiny of the church who has not been a man or a woman of both prayer and fasting. I think, in a way, fasting is essential. It’s not an option. For those of you that face the situation that you’re facing in this land at the present time, there is no way that you can bypass fasting and come to the fulfillment of God’s purpose.

I am going to deal with this in very brief outline, I’m going to make a number of statements, successive statements and support them by just a selection of a few of the man available scriptures. First of all, let me define fasting. Fasting, I would say, could be defined simply as abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Just not having food because there isn’t any to eat is not in that sense fasting. Or, simply going without food because the doctor told you that you couldn’t eat, if you merely did it on the doctor’s orders would not really be in this sense fasting. There must be some spiritual purpose or motivation to make it what I would call fasting. I say abstaining from food. Sometimes it also includes abstaining from fluids. But, that is the exception rather than the rule. If you’re going to go into this I really would like to be sure that you read that little book of mine, How to Fast Successfullybecause there are dangers in fasting which that book points out. I do not have time to go into them but I don’t want to lead you into something without giving you an opportunity to avoid the dangers.

I’m going to make a number of statements. I’ll tell you what, I’ll read out the first four statements and then I’ll support them with scriptures. Number one, Jesus fasted himself. Number two, he expected his disciples to fast. Number three, the early church fasted. Number four, God’s people have fasted from Moses onwards. Let’s look at those four statements and just support them with scripture.

The first one, Jesus fasted himself. As Sister ?Breeve? said, Jesus is the pattern shepherd. We need to keep our eyes on him. I believe he’s the pattern in this respect. Let’s turn to Luke 4:1–2.

“And Jesus full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan, and was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness, for forty days while tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days: and when they had ended, he became hungry.”

Jesus went without food for forty days. Let me state that that might seem to some of you extreme, I’m certainly not enjoining it upon you. But I know many people who have fasted forty days, it’s perfectly possible to do it. Not without water. It’s supernatural when you do it without water. Moses did it without food or water twice. But Jesus did not do this with supernatural power, it’s a perfectly feasible activity for a human being. I’m not saying everybody should do it but I know many people who have done it.

Jesus was already full of the Holy Spirit, he’d already been attested by the Father. Why did he have to fast? Why couldn’t he just go out and start his ministry? Well, it’s very obvious, I think, that he had to deal with the devil before he could go forth into his ministry. Apparently, fasting, even for Jesus, was necessary for him to get the victory over the devil.

Then we read the record of the temptation that he endured in the desert. Then in verse 14 of that chapter it says:

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit...”

He was full of the Spirit when he went into the wilderness but when he returned it was in the power of the Spirit. You see that there’s a difference? I hear lots of people say, “I’ve been filled with the Spirit.” Praise God. But many of those people, there is really little evidence of the power of the Spirit in their lives. There’s a difference. Something has to happen in you for the power of the Spirit with which you have been filled to be released. Jesus did not enter into ministry until he had gone through this period of fasting in which he had met and overcome the devil.

John 14:12, Jesus himself says:

“He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these, because I go unto the Father.”

If we’re going to do the works that Jesus did I think we have to start where Jesus started. I don’t think we can climb the ladder missing out the first four rungs. Jesus started with fasting.

Secondly, Jesus expected his disciples to fast. Let’s turn to the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6. The sermon on the mount is generally regarded as the kind of charter for discipleship. In this first part of chapter 6 Jesus speaks about three things: giving alms, praying and fasting. In essence, he puts them on precisely the same level. In each case when he speaks about them he does not say “if,” he says “when.” He says when you give alms, when you pray and when you fast. I suppose everybody here would agree that all disciples of Jesus are expected to pray. I think most of us would agree that we’re expected to give alms. If we don’t agree about that, probably there’s some adjustment needed in our lives. Jesus put fasting on precisely the same level with giving alms and praying. Let’s read what he says merely about fasting. Verse 16, this translation says:

“Whenever you fast...”

Most of the translations simply say, “and when you fast.”

“...do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do” for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen as fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face...”

Don’t make a show of yourself, it’s not done to impress people with how holy you are.

“...so that you may not be seen fasting by man, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you [or reward you].”

There’s a guarantee of a reward. If you don’t practice fasting you don’t get that reward. But the reward is promised. Jesus assumed that all his disciples would fast. Since they were coming from a background of the Old Testament and of the law of Moses it was a natural assumption because all Jewish people fasted. They were absolutely required to fast. They forfeited their right to be part of the Jewish people if they did not fast.

It wasn’t that Jesus was dropping some bombshell on his disciples. As a matter of fact, the question was asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like the Pharisees and the disciples of John?” Jesus said the time is coming when they will fast, don’t worry about that. That’s in Mark 2 if you want the reference.

Third, the early church fasted, the church of the New Testament. Acts 13:1–4.

“Now there was at Antioch in the church that was there prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”

Five men are mentioned who are described as prophets and teachers.

“While they were ministering to the Lord, and fasting...”

So one way that we minister to the Lord is by fasting. When we are fasting we’re turning our mind away from people and to the Lord.

“While they were ministering to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, for the work which I have called them.”

So, in the process of fasting they received a very vital revelation as to God’s next step which is exactly where you people are at. I venture to say to you you have no right to expect to discover God’s next step if you don’t take the scriptural way to discover it. The Lord showed them two men who were to be sent out for the next extension of his program of evangelization.

But even so, they didn’t immediately send those men out. Verse 3 says:

“When they has fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”

So, they fasted in order to learn the will of God, and having learned the will of God they fasted and prayed in order that God’s will might be fulfilled in those men.

Then it says, and I think it’s a very significant phrase:

“So they, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia...”

Out of that the Holy Spirit got his way.

Now, these two men Barnabas and Saul took what is known as the first missionary journey, went through parts of Asia Minor, gathered groups of disciples. And, as they returned back over the route they had traveled they established those groups of disciples as churches. I just pause to mention because it’s in line with what I was saying yesterday. The transition from being just disciples to being churches was effected when elders were appointed. Without elders they were just disciples, but when elders were appointed they became churches, assemblies, governmental bodies. We read this in Acts 14, beginning at verse 21 and reading through verse 23.

“And after they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe], and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch [where they had already preached], strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed them elders in every church...”

Notice the word “church” is introduced where the word “elders” is introduced. Before that they were just what maybe some of your people are, groups of disciples. Without government they could not be churches. But the appointment of elders gave them government and entitled them to the name church.

I was having a talk with one brother here yesterday and he said, “We’re a prayer group, we’re a church.” I said, “Frankly, not by my standards.” It takes more than a prayer group to make a church.

So, here’s a little comment on that. Without elders they aren’t churches.

Now, let’s go back to verse 23.

“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church...”

And notice the elders are plural, the leadership is always plural, it’s always collective.

“...having prayed with fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”

So, there are two situations in which the early church leaders collectively. It wasn’t an individual fast, it was a collective fast. They got together, they agreed about it.

I think they’re the two most crucial decisions that most affected the development of the early church. Number one was they got the revelation to send out apostles. Number two, the apostles, having won converts and made disciples, got the revelation as to who were to be elders. I’ve studied this question in some detail. I believe that on apostles and elders the real life of God’s people hinges. Those are the two crucial appointments. Apostles and elders. In each case in the New Testament they were not achieved without prayer and fasting.

Fourth statement, God’s people have fasted from Moses onwards. Turn to Leviticus 16. This is the ordinance for the Day of Atonement, the most sacred day in the calendar of the Jewish people from Moses until now. If you know Jewish people, they call it Yom Kippur. That means the Day of Atonement. Here was the one day in the whole calendar of the Old Testament when the high priest went beyond the second veil with the blood of the sacrifice to make atonement for his own sins and the sins of the people. It was a crucial part of God’s provision for his people. We aren’t going to read about the ceremony with which the high priest went in but what I want to direct your attention to is the fact that all of God’s people had to be involved because while this ceremony for the propitiation of their sins was being carried out, they were required to fast. It was not optional. This is the way it’s stated beginning now in verse 29 of Leviticus 16.

“And this shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month [that’s Yom Kippur], you shall humble your souls, and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you: for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls, it is a permanent statute.”

You say that doesn’t say anything about fasting. Oh, yes it does. Because, the appointed way for God’s people to humble their souls was by fasting. It’s interesting, the New International Version, which I’m not reading, says “you shall fast.” God didn’t have to say you shall fast because they already knew what humbling their souls meant.

Now, just by way of confirmation, if you turn to Acts 27:9, this is a description of the beginning of Paul’s journey to Rome, and the fact that it’s Paul’s journey to Rome is not significant. I want to bring out one phrase.

“And when considerable time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them.”

You see that? The fast. In your margin, I’m sure, it tells you that’s the Day of Atonement. All right. So, the Day of Atonement was known as the fast. But, when God instituted it he didn’t say “you shall fast.” He said, “you shall humble your souls.”

And, from Moses till today the Jewish people all over the world have continuously observed that day of fasting. For something well over 3,000 years and still do today.

I was talking to a Jewish man just before I left Jerusalem. He told me that he had spent a week fasting because he was sick and he was seeking healing. He said, “Nothing happened, I didn’t get healed.” I said, “You didn’t get healed but don’t tell me nothing happened. Something did happen, that’s why we’re talking together this particular day.” I said, “The Jewish people, your people have fasted every year for more than 3,000 years. Many times they may have said nothing happened but, I tell you, there wouldn’t be a Jewish people in the world today if they hadn’t fasted.” That’s one of the great secrets of the amazing and miraculous perpetuation of the Jewish people.

Let’s just recapitulate those four statements and then I’m going on. Number one, Jesus fasted himself. Number two, he expected his disciples to fast. Number three, the early church fasted. And, I would add particularly in making decisions about leadership. And number four, God’s people have fasted from Moses onwards.

Now, the next question asked is what’s the good of fasting, what does it do? Let me suggest to you that even if you didn’t know what good it did, if God told you to fast you ought to fast. As a matter of fact, we generally learn the benefit of what God requires us to do by doing it. God does not always give us a list of all the benefits that will come from obedience. He says just obey. The people who don’t obey very seldom discover the benefits. The benefits are discovered by those who obey.

I’m going to offer you four things that fasting does. Again, I’ll read them out and then we’ll go over a few scriptures. What does fasting do? Number one, it is a way to humble ourselves. Number two, it purifies our faith. Number three, it brings insight into the spiritual realm. And, number four, it makes way for the Holy Spirit. I’ll read those statements again because they’re important. Number one, it is a way to humble ourselves. Number two, it purifies our faith. Number three, it brings insight into the spiritual realm. And, number four, it makes a way for the Holy Spirit.

Let’s look at a few scriptures to substantiate those statements. First of all, it is a way to humble ourselves. We’ve already seen that when God told Israel to humble themselves they knew that the way to do it was to fast. It’s interesting that in the ordinances for the Day of Atonement God said any person who does not do it will be cut off from his people.

There’s also an interesting aspect to that which I think will be easier for Catholics to appreciate than Protestants. In fact, I think it’s a ball right in the Catholic court. The high priest provided the propitiation, it was all based on his sacrifice. Nevertheless, the people couldn’t enjoy the benefits of the sacrifice unless they contributed their part which was fasting. It’s a beautiful balance really between divine grace and human responsibility. Although the high priest could carry out the entire sacrifice perfectly, God said to his people, “Unless you fast you won’t have the benefit from it.” See, we’re always on this see saw between grace and works. And everybody knows you can’t sit on one end of the see saw and leave the other up in the air forever because you’ll get nowhere. But there’s a beautiful example of the balance. It is all grace but it’s not apart from works.

Now let’s look to the statements about humbling ourselves. Psalm 35:13. I just take this without going into the context. It’s a statement by David.

“But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting...”

David, who is really one of the great men of the Old Testament, knew that in order to humble his soul one appointed way was fasting.

Look also in Ezra 8:21–23. At this point Ezra was gathering a company of exiles in Babylon to begin a long and dangerous journey back to Jerusalem. They were taking with them their wives and their little children and also many of the precious vessels that were being returned to the temple in Jerusalem. That was the silver and gold of great value. They had to make a long, dangerous journey from Babylon to Jerusalem through a country which was occupied by a people who were enemies and by brigands and robbers. The question was how were they to obtain a safe passage. And Ezra was confronted with two options, it’s very interesting. He could have gone to the king of Persia and said, “Give us a company of soldiers and horsemen to protect us on the way.” But he says as we will read, “I was ashamed to do that because I just told the king that our God looks after the people who trust in him. I didn’t see how after that I could go and ask him for a company of soldiers and horsemen.” So, in a sense, what I would call the carnal solution had been ruled out by Ezra’s own testimony. Have you ever done that, testified and then had to live up to your testimony?

What was the spiritual? The spiritual was fasting. Many times, I think, as John has been saying, we’re faced with that option. It can be the carnal or it can be the spiritual. But if you want God it has to be the spiritual. If you’re content with the king of Persia’s soldiers and horsemen, all right. But all you’ll get is soldiers and horsemen.

Let’s read this. Ezra 8, beginning at verse 21.

“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.”

Notice why did they fast? That they might humble themselves. Does the King James say “humble ourselves” or “afflict ourselves?” Afflict. Does it say “ourselves?” Yes? “That we might afflict ourselves.” There again I think that’s much easier for Catholics to conceive of than Protestants. I’m going to say in a little while why we need to afflict our souls. Here’s the appointed way to do it.

Verse 22:

“For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way: because we had said to the king, The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek him; but his power and his anger are against all those who forsake him.”

He just testified God will take care of us. Then he would be embarrassed to say, “Well, now God, please give us a large company of soldiers and horsemen.” But he knew that they were going to have a long, dangerous journey. It was a four-month journey. What was the alternative? How could they enlist the supernatural protection and direction of God? The answer is by fasting.

“So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter: and he listened to our entreaty.”

The King James says “he was entreated of us.” They got what they prayed for. And if you read the rest of the scripture they came through in perfect safety without being attacked or molested. They lost no lives and they lost none of the vessels of the temple.

There’s a very beautiful picture of the two ways of going about this. The natural, the supernatural. But the key to the supernatural is afflicting our souls through fasting.

Why do we need to afflict our souls? I think I just touched on something in one of my previous talks on my understanding of the nature of man that he is spirit, soul and body. It certainly isn’t possible to give a complete unfolding of that teaching but let me suggest to you that the soul in Biblical terminology corresponds to what I think we call the ego. It’s the “I” part, it’s the self assertive part, it’s the part that says, “I want, I think, I feel, I’m important, look at me, help me, bless me, pray for me.” I believe it’s what is referred to by John in his first epistle, he speaks about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Many of us know well what the lust of the flesh is. We know what the lust of the eyes is. But I wonder how many of us understand what’s meant by the boastful pride of life? I think it means a soul dominated personality. Relying on ourselves, doing it our way, thinking our thoughts, making us the center. I believe fasting is the appointed way to suppress that rebellious, self assertive ego and say you’re not as important as you think. You may want but you’re not going to have.

If you’re not used to fasting you can pretty well be sure that somewhere halfway through the day your soul will say, “I’m hungry, you’re neglecting me. I’m not happy. I feel miserable. I don’t like this.”

I always remember the testimony of a lawyer who is a friend of mine in Washington, D.C. I think he heard me preach on fasting and he decided he was going to fast. He’d never done it before and he had a miserable day. About halfway through the day he passed a pastry shop with all these delicious pastries in the window and he just was—it was agony to pass it. He had this kind of clear, legal mind, this concept of crime and punishment so at the end of the day he gave his stomach a talking to and he said, “Now stomach, you’ve made a lot of trouble for me today and for that reason I’m going to punish you. I’m going to fast tomorrow as well!” You see, that is bringing the rebellious side of our nature into subjection to what we know is the will and the mind of God. If your soul is giving you trouble, try humbling it.

The second statement about what does fasting do, it purifies our faith. I’d like to just take an example from Esther, one of the beautiful women of the Bible who in many ways became the savior of her nation. You remember, all the Jews in the Persian Empire were scheduled for extermination and there was no natural way to avert this total disaster. So, the Jewish people turned to the spiritual realm once again. They set aside three days of prayer and fasting. Esther who was the queen and was Jewish but whose race was not known was told by her Uncle Mordecai, “It’s your responsibility to go into the king and plead for mercy for your people.” She said, “You know the law. If any person goes into the presence of the king and he hasn’t been summoned by the king, the penalty is death. I haven’t been summoned into the king’s presence for thirty days.” Mordecai said, “It’s your responsibility. If you don’t do it, you’ll perish but deliverance will arise for our people from some other source.” So, Esther gave them this reply in chapter 4, verse 15.

“Then Esther to them to reply to Mordecai, Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Shushan [the capital city], and fast for me, do not eat or drink for three days, night or day...”

Notice this was one occasion when they neither ate nor drank.

“...I and my maidens also will fast in the same way; and thus I will go into the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”

Now, what is faith? You know, one of the hardest things to discern if faith. Do I have faith? Many times when I think I have faith I don’t have it. Other times I really don’t feel I have any faith and I’m surprised at the results. See, faith is spiritual, it’s not soulish. It’s not emotion, it’s not theology. It’s in that inner realm of our nature which is very hard for us to discern. And, in a way, when you come to the end of all your theology and you’ve got no more emotion left, then that little thing that’s left inside you and says, “If I perish, I perish, but I’m going to do it” that’s faith. And God permits us not merely through fasting but in other ways to be stripped of everything soulish that we may come down to bare faith. You don’t really need a lot of faith. What you need is pure faith. Jesus said if you’ve got faith like a mustard seed—which is the smallest of all seeds—you can move a mountain. It isn’t so much the quantity, it’s the quality.

Because of our carnal, soulish nature, it takes the dealings of God to bring us to the place where we just really have pure faith. See, my faith is not ultimately in my ability, my experience, my knowledge of scripture. My faith is in God’s faithfulness. People get into a lot of problems when they start trying to do things in faith in themselves. Many times we don’t even discern it until we get into trouble and then we realize it wasn’t real faith.

I had a friend who is an evangelist from New Zealand. He’s a man of real faith. I mean, I’ve seen very remarkable things. He was convinced because Jesus walked on the water he ought to walk on the water. So, he was staying in a motel somewhere in the United States and there was the swimming pool and he decided the time had come so he stepped out on the water. Then he said, “When I was at the bottom I realized all the reasons why I shouldn’t have done it!” He was no fool. He was a man of real faith.

But you see, that was soulish, it was the self exalting ego. I think Jesus underwent every one of the tests of those three temptations: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. The lust of the flesh, make these stones bread. The lust of the eyes, the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them. But the other, the subtlest of all is go up into the pinnacle of the temple and throw yourself down. Do a miracle to show the people how great you are. Jesus wouldn’t do it. That would have been the pride of life, that would have been the self exalting ego. He turned away from it, he turned away from it fasting. It’s important.

Let me say something. You know there’s a first Adam and there’s a last Adam. The first Adam is the parent of our human race, the last Adam is Jesus. Let me point out something very, very simple and yet, in a way, profound. The first Adam fell through eating. The last Adam overcame through fasting. That goes, really, to the root of human motivation. I don’t think you can plumb the full depth of that truth.

See, when you deal with people’s stomachs you’re dealing with where they’re really at. In most congregations there are two things you can preach about where the hallelujahs cease. One if fasting and the other is offerings. When you touch people’s stomachs or when you touch their money, unless they’re truly spiritual their response is a groan.

Time and time again in time of fasting I’ve seen the real nature of the problem. In fact, I testified how I’d been tormented with that spirit of depression and I struggled every way and couldn’t get the victory. Well, I was fasting one day and I read Isaiah 61:3, “the garment of praise in place of the spirit of heaviness.” I identified my enemy. That revelation came in a period of fasting. I could think of many, many times in my life when I’ve struggled with a situation or a problem and didn’t know how to get the handle on it, I knew there was something there but I couldn’t discern it. In a period of fasting the revelation, the identity of what I’m actually dealing with has been brought forth by the Holy Spirit.

Just let me give you a scripture which doesn’t specifically relate to fasting but I think it is in line with what I’m talking about. 2Corinthians 4:17–18. I’ve never applied these verses in this way but I’m rather amazed at how well they apply.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

See, there’s the two realms. The visible, the temporal, the impermanent, the transient. The spiritual, the invisible, the eternal. Paul suggests that it takes affliction to focus our gaze on the eternal. When everything is going well with you and you’re comfortable and healthy, you’ve got enough money; the spiritual and the eternal tends to become a little vague and misty, it’s somewhere over there, there’s something going on. I’m pretty happy where I am.

Paul says in just the next chapter when we’re at home in the body we’re absent from the Lord. When we’re too much at home in this world we are not really in contact with the next. At the age of 66, which is my present age, I’m sufficiently realistic to know that I’m not going to go on living forever. I believe that by the grace of God I’ll live until my earthly task is completed if I’m faithful. Which, to me, is the important thing. But I find myself asking myself when the time comes for me to step into the next world am I going to be ready or am I still going to be weighed down by the things of earth? I think it’s very important that when God calls us home we’re ready to leave. This world is not our home, that we all know—I think. The next world is. One thing about every child, you know, it knows what its home is like. It may not know what the rest of the city is like, it may not have any lessons in geography but it knows its home.

I think of a story that appeared in British newspapers years back about a little boy that wandered from his home. I think it was in the city of Glasgow. He got out in the streets and got lost. He sat on the curb and just wept. Along came the big English bobby and said, “What’s the matter?” He said, “I’m lost, I don’t know where my home is. I don’t know where my daddy and mommy are.” The policeman said, “Do you know the address?” The boy said no. The policeman said, “Come with me to the police station until we can find out.” He started to lead the little fellow along by the hand and they got to a certain point which in Glasgow is called the cross, a junction, and as they got there the little fellow tugged the policeman’s hand and said, “It’s all right, I know the way home from here.”

That’s a little parable because you may be lost but when you get to the cross then you know the way home. I would like to ask you how real is your home to you? If you’re really a child of God and heaven is your home, you should be getting acquainted with your home because you’re not going to be here forever—even the youngest of you.

Paul, who was a man of much fasting and many afflictions, had a clear vision of eternity and eternal values. I’m always asking myself because God has been good to me. Even in these last years he’s given us an unusually beautiful home in Jerusalem which we never planned or asked for. I’m always asking myself am I being too much attracted by the things of time, where is my treasure because that’s where my heart will be. I do believe fasting practiced with the right motives is a discipline that weans us from the things of time.

I want to emphasize motive, I haven’t dealt with that. But, the 58th chapter of Isaiah is a condemnation of Israel because they fasted but not with the right motives. So, let me just put in that caveat that if your motives are wrong don’t expect the blessing of God.

Let’s look at one other statement which I didn’t turn to. In 2Corinthians 5:7, just the next chapter, a very simple statement.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

The things we are dealing with are not things that can be seen and we need to do everything to make our spiritual sight keen.

The fourth statement about what does fasting do, it makes way for the Holy Spirit. I want to quote just two scriptures. First of all, Ephesians 3:20.

“Now to him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us...”

Let’s not read any further. That first part has already been quoted to you that we need the exceeding abundantly beyond. We cannot rest content with what our own ability and effort can achieve.

But in the second part of that verse Paul indicates that God’s being able to do the exceeding abundantly beyond or above depends on his power working in us. What he will do is according to the measure of the power of God working in us. It’s not guaranteed, it’s dependent on our allowing the power of God to work in us.

What is the power of God that works in us? I think it’s the Holy Spirit, without a doubt. So, in other words, to get the exceeding abundantly beyond or above we have to make way for the Holy Spirit to work in us. What God will do will be dependent on the degree to which the Holy Spirit works in us.

Now, side by side with that just take Galatians 5:17.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: for these are in opposition to one another: so that you may not do the things that you please.”

That’s a very important statement. There are two things that are in direct opposition to one another. What are they? The Spirit of God and our carnal nature. The flesh doesn’t mean the physical body, you understand, but it means the nature that we received when we were born with this physical body. Which is, essentially the nature of a rebel. As I said, I think, yesterday, there’s a rebel inside every one of us—what the Bible calls the flesh, the old man, the body or the body of sin. That old nature so closely associated with our physical body is in diametrical opposition to the Holy Spirit.

So, insofar as the flesh is at work the Spirit is not at work. Insofar as the Spirit is at work the flesh is out of action. If we desire the full working of the Holy Spirit we need to put the old nature out of action. That, I believe, can be achieved in one way—there are many different ways—by fasting. Fasting says to that old nature, “You get out of the way. Today I’m inviting the Holy Spirit. Today my mind is toward God. Today I want what the Spirit wants. I’m siding with the Holy Spirit against my own carnal, self pleasing, self indulgent nature.”

See, you have the casting vote. I have the casting vote. Here’s the Spirit on one hand and the flesh on the other. Whichever way I vote is going to be the majority. If I vote for the flesh, the flesh wins. If I vote for the Spirit, the Spirit wins. You see, the Holy Spirit is very gentle. He doesn’t push his way in, we have to make a way for him.

I believe one of the most important things we can do is invite the Holy Spirit. Have you ever thought of that? It’s a thing I begun to cultivate lately. The two words I use are “invite” and “invoke.” I say, “Holy Spirit, we need you. Holy Spirit, we want you. Holy Spirit, you’re welcome. Anything that offends you we’ll try to set aside. But, we want you to know we need you.”

I think probably the biggest mistake of the Christian church is trying to do it without the Holy Spirit. That’s the big error of Israel, did you know that? It’s taken them up till now, 19 centuries to find out it doesn’t work. That’s a long while. In the 36th chapter of Ezekiel where God promises restoration to Israel he said, “I will put my Spirit within you and you will keep my laws.” The only way we can keep God’s laws are by his Spirit within us. Trying to do it in our own strength and our own religiosity is doomed to failure. But basically, the Holy Spirit waits to be invited.

I think I’ve used this example, but it comes very vividly into my mind, about the difference between grace and works. Or, being made righteous by keeping the law and being made righteous by grace. The law is perfect, it’s absolutely right. If you keep the whole law you’re perfectly right, you don’t need grace. But none of us have ever kept the whole law. The law is like a map, it’s a perfect map that says if you start here and go there you’ll enter heaven. Just follow the map. So, human nature being always desirous of being able to do it without God says, “All right, give me the map and I’ll start off.” At first it seems pretty easy going but after awhile the sun goes down and it gets dark and it starts to rain. You find yourself on the edge of a precipice and you don’t know whether you’re facing north, south, east or west. You say, “God, help me. I need you, I can’t make it on my own.” Along comes the Holy Spirit and you say, “Holy Spirit, you’re welcome. Thank you for coming. I need you. Listen, Holy Spirit, here’s the map, you take it.” The Holy Spirit says, “Thanks, I don’t need the map, I know the way already.”

So, the weather clears up and the Holy Spirit takes you by the hand and he leads you back to the right way. The path gets smooth again, the sun is shining. After a little while you say, “You know, really, I think I can do it on my own after all.” This is the history of religion. And the Holy Spirit says, “Okay, if that’s the way you feel, carry on. Just give me a call when you’re at the bottom of the precipice.” Really, I mean whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, the inner nature of human beings is not different. We are reluctant to depend on God. We’d rather do it any other way.

I’ve spent so much time with Jewish people, the last thing they’re willing to do is acknowledge that they need God. I mean, that’s not a total description of Jewish people but, I mean, God has done miracle after miracle for the state of Israel for over 30 years and they still haven’t walked on the path with God. They go on struggling in their own efforts. God goes just enough for them to keep them from actually going to the bottom of the precipice. You think, that’s Jewish people. Believe me, human nature right below the surface is just the same.

It’s interesting, when Paul talks about the old man he never says the old Jewish man or the old Gentile man or the old Catholic man. It’s the old man. He’s the same in everybody right down below the surface. There are cultural differences, there are other differences. But when you get to the root nature of the old man he’s a rebel in everybody and he doesn’t like depending on God.

Fasting is just one way we have said to the old man, “I don’t trust you, you’ve got me into enough trouble. I’m going to depend on the Holy Spirit. You stand aside and I’m going to let the Holy Spirit come in.”

Let’s turn for a moment to the program of Joel, that’s the end of the statement. Perhaps I should read them again. There are four statements about fasting and four statements about what does fasting do. Let me just recapitulate the four statements about fasting. Number one, Jesus fasted himself. Number two, he expected his disciples to fast. Number three, the early church fasted. Number four, God’s people have fasted from Moses onwards.

Then, statements about what does fasting do. Number one, it is a way to humble ourselves. Number two, it purifies our faith. Number three, it brings insight into the spiritual realm. Number four, it makes way for the Holy Spirit.

Now, let me just close with two scriptures from the Old Testament. First of all, the program of Joel. The prophet Joel is the prophet of God’s end-time outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It’s because of the prophet Joel that we’re here. The prophet Joel was the prophet quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended. People said, “What’s all this?” He immediately turned to Joel. I think I’ve said the theme of Joel is first of all, desolation; second, restoration. Then after that there’s judgment but we’ll not turn to that.

If you look at Joel 1 it’s the scene of total desolation. Everything is desolate, there is nothing left. For instance, verse 6:

“A nation has invaded my land...”

Verse 7:

“He has made my vine waste, my fig tree splinters: he has stripped them bare and cast them away...”

Verse 10:

“The field is ruined, the land mourns; the grain is ruined: the new wine dries up, fresh oil fails.”

Verse 11:

“...the wheat and the barley; because the harvest of the field is destroyed.”

Verse 12:

“The vine is dried up, the fig tree fails; the pomegranate, the palm also, the apple tree, all the trees of the field dry up: indeed rejoicing dries up from the sons of men.”

You can look at it in detail, it’s a picture of total desolation. Every area of the inheritance of God’s people has been blighted. But, thank God it’s not the last word. The theme of chapter 2 is restoration through the outpoured Spirit. But, to bring about restoration, to make a turning point away from desolation to restoration the prophet Joel calls God’s people to do something. What is it? To fast, that’s right. Look in chapter 2, verse 12.

“Yet even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your hearts, and with fasting, weeping and mourning.”

And verse 15:

“Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and the nursing infants: let the bridegroom come out of his room, and the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar...”

I won’t read any further. See, the way to turn from desolation to restoration is by proclaiming a fast. It’s not an individual fast now, it’s a collective fast of God’s people. The responsibility for doing it rests on the leaders of God’s people. Look at the words. Verse 16:

“Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders...”

Verse 17:

“Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar...”

There are three groups of people especially challenged: the elders, the priests and the ministers. If you apply that to the Christian church it includes every area of leadership. Responsibility on the leaders is clear and I think it’s tremendous. If the leaders don’t do it the people will never do it effectively. Individuals may but the collective corporate action of the people will never come about.

In closing let me give you a favorite verse, 2Chronicles 7:14. This is a promise, I’m not going into the background. It’s a promise given by God. I believe that to apply it to this situation is scriptural and legitimate but I’m not going to take time to establish all that. 2Chronicles 7:14:

“If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

There’s an “if.” God says, “It depends on what my people do.” It says, “my people who are called by my name.” The Hebrew says literally “upon whom my name is called.” I believe that applies to us as Christians. Why are we Christians? Because the name of Christ is called upon us.

There are actually seven sections to that verse. There are four things that God requires his people to do and then there are three things that God says he will do in response. The four things that God asks his people to do are to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways. On that basis God says, “I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin—that’s the sin of my people, and I will heal their land.” It seems to me that’s where it’s at. We have talked a great deal about the healing of this land. God says there is a way. It depends on what my people do. If my people will do the four things I’ll do the three things.

The first thing God asks his people to do is what? Humble ourselves. We’ve seen the appointed scriptural way to humble ourselves. I’m so glad that I saw that because when God asked me to humble my self I used to get into an awful sort of emotional dither. I would say, “Am I humble, am I not humble? Where am I humble, where is humility? Do I feel it?” Then I saw that’s not where it’s at. God said, “If you want to humble yourself do what I say. I’ll take care of the consequences. Afflict your soul with fasting. Suppress that rebellious ego which exalts itself in your life continually against me.” It’s rather a good way to apply 2Corinthians 10:3,

“casting down imaginations [reasons], and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”

Inside every one of us there’s a high self exalting thing that rejects the knowledge an the ways of God. We need to cast it down. God has given us the spiritual weapons to do it, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but they are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.

Notice that God says that in response he will hear from heaven, he will forgive our sin, and he will heal our land. It’s the sin of God’s people that blocks God’s working. We’ve seen that in many different ways in this time together.

Let me give you again the words of Evan Roberts. Bend the church and bow the world. But when the church remains stiff necked, obstinate and stubborn and self assertive there is no way that God can touch the world. Because, God will never bypass his church. His church is the body of Christ. To bypass the church would be to dishonor Christ. He will not do that. For the destiny of our people and our land, I believe, is in our hands. Amen.

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