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2011 Increase in Prayer and Fasting

James 5:16 “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

As many of you are aware, last week I presented our plan for 2011, “A year to increase.” Over the next four weeks we will discuss the five points of emphasis for increase: Increase in prayer and fasting, increase in the Word of God, increased giving, increase in missions and increase in the community of faith. Today we will begin by talking about an increase in prayer and fasting.

We start with prayer because, as many people have said, “everything begins with prayer.” I have thought a lot about that quote or saying and decided to look at it more closely. I love James’ statement about prayer. We are all righteous:

I Corinthians 1:30 “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption—“

We are all righteous and so our prayers are promised to be powerful and effective! The key is, we must pray! There are three points I hope to make about prayer this morning and then we will finish by talking about fasting.

1. Everything that happened in Scripture happened through prayer

Just a few examples I want to share to help show us that God does answer prayer and He uses prayer to involve us in His plans.

Luke 5:16 “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Before moving on, what do you do in or with your lonely places? Most of us do anything to avoid them, the Bible says that Jesus searched for them so that He could pray. Can I encourage you, the next time you feel lonely, instead of seeing it as a reason to find someone, consider it an invitation to pray.
Before Jesus was tempted by Satan He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days.

Luke 6 tells us that Jesus stayed up all night praying the night before He chose His 12 apostles.

John 17 records that just hours before Jesus was to be arrested and His apostles scattered that He chose to spend that time praying, for Himself, for His apostles and for the rest of us. What is shows is that Jesus saw prayer as His first priority but also as His best resource. In the same situation many of us would have seen prayer as a waste of time or not the best use of our time. We would need to prepare ourselves, prepare the apostles, run around getting everyone and everything ready, Jesus knew and teaches us all that prayer is our greatest need and our greatest resource.

John 18 shows us that in the moments that led to His arrest, Jesus separated Himself from everyone else and sat alone with His Father in prayer. He was ready to face His future because He had prepared Himself in prayer.

Let’s look at a few examples of the importance of prayer from the book of Acts.

Acts 1 and 2, leading up to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we are told that the 120 believers stayed together in “one accord, in one place” and continue in prayer.

Acts 4, after the first arrests of the apostles, they came back together and prayed resulting in a boldness and outpouring of power that shook the house that they met in.

Acts 9, after Saul of Tarsus’ encounter with Jesus, God told Ananias to go to Judas’ house on Straight street and that he would find Saul praying there.

Acts 10, when God first sent the gospel and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, He spoke it to Peter while he was found praying.

Acts 12, James the brother of John had been executed by Herod and it had caused so much joy among the Jews that he had Peter arrested and planned on killing him right after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Vs. 5 “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”

God answered those prayers and Peter was miraculously released from prison in the middle of the night.  Vs. 12 says that Peter went to the house of Mary “where many were gathered praying.”   

Acts 13 tells us that the first missionaries, Paul and Barnabas were sent out when the church was fasting and praying.

Revelation 1:9-10 says that the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” was given to John when he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”. This simply describes being in prayer and worship and a vision was given to him.

Everything significant that happened in Scripture followed someone, somewhere praying. The reason that our first emphasis of increase must be prayer, is when God moves, when He fulfills promises, changes hearts, pours out His revelation and changes lives people are found praying. So if we desire to see these things happen in our lives and in our community we must lead the way in prayer before we lead in anything else!

Everything that happens starts with prayer

2. How do you wait?

Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Last Sunday, after church, Dino came and shared with me that God had spoken to Him during service and asked Him “When have you soared like an eagle? When was the last time you ran and did not return tired?” Those questions from God were not rebukes but they were challenges and I also believe they were to show the opportunities that await when we devote ourselves to God.

Acts 1:4 “He (Jesus) commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father.”

1:14 “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication . . .”

Why did the first believers turn the command to wait into an opportunity to pray? I believe it was because they understood that waiting on God was different from waiting for God.

Looking back to Isaiah 40, the word translated as “wait” is the Hebrew word “qavah” (ka-va’) which means “to wait, look for, hope, expect; to collect, bind together”.

What is very interesting is that in the use of qavah, the words wait and hope can be substituted for each other. “Those who hope on the LORD.”

 Andy Stanley wrote this about the word: “Qavah is the word used to describe a thief or a robber who is hiding on the side of the road waiting for someone to pass by. It is waiting, but it is eager, leaning forward, anticipatory waiting: “Somethings about to happen, and I’m going to be ready. Somebody’s about to come, and I am waiting eagerly.”

So how do we wait? When God says to wait, when our circumstances say to wait, to do move on to something else? Do we just set aside the hope? Or do we wait expectantly, wait prayerfully, wait eagerly, wait diligently, wait radically? You see, our flesh and our society tells us that very little is worth waiting for, get it now pay for it later, that is not the nature of God or how we were created. We are told that waiting is frustrating, but here God says that waiting is strength building, hope building, joy building and faith building. Many of us say, “why does God always make me wait” as if it is a negative, I believe that Scripture shows us that God is not making you wait, He is letting us wait because in actually a time for joy, a time for preparation, a time for building and a time of excitement. So, again, how do we wait?

Consider your promises, or the promises that God has spoken for Burlington? How are we waiting, as if we need to make sure we stay on the right track or God will pull back His goodness? Or are we waiting like children the night before their birthdays? Like parents days before childbirth? Like a bride and a bridegroom  moments before their vows? We have believed the lie of the enemy that has told us that waiting is punishment, boring and unproductive. The reality is that the waiting is building, if we will wait in prayer.

3. Why are we increasing by praying for our city and the world?

Matthew 9:36-38 “But when He (Jesus) saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion or them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

As I shared last week, when Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes He responded by telling His disciples that they needed to pray. To repeat more from last week, there are 4.5 billion people in the world that are bound for hell because they have yet to surrender their lives to Jesus. If Jesus’ response was to tell His apostles to pray then I believe that His response continues to be the same, and while He will tell us and lead us to go, that does not erase His first command concerning the harvest, we must pray for laborers, for revelation, for redemption and reconciliation.

Ezekiel 22:30 “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.”

God said that He poured out His anger, His indignation on Israel because He could not find anyone that would be willing to intercede, to bear the burden of prayer. We live in a world that may be worthy of judgment, but I believe that today God is still looking for those that will pray, that will join Jesus in intercession and that will pray for mercy to triumph over judgment and for none to perish. If God has to pour out His wrath in our generation may it never be because He did not find anyone praying on behalf of the world.

4. Why fasting?

So far I have gotten a lot of response to next year’s plan. I feel it is important to share part of the response with you, everyone that is concerned is concerned most about fasting! That is OK and I understand it, but I also feel like I need to try to explain why fasting is necessary.

As I shared last week, in Matthew 9 Jesus shared that His disciples, His followers (which we are a part of) would fast when He was no longer physically on earth. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

First off, Jesus does not say “if you fast”, He says, “when you fast”. He is making this very clear, fasting is going to be and is supposed to be a part of your life. He also makes it very clear, fasting creates a reward. The reason fasting is so difficult for us is that the enemy has convinced us that it is hard and that it is costly, Jesus on the other hand speaks of fasting as a regular part of life and as rewarding. The enemy always desires to keep you from being rewarded so he attempts to keep you from things that bring rewards!

Earlier this year God spoke to Kirk very clearly though fasting, I have asked him to share his experience with you today.

Isaiah 58:4-9

Not as we have fasted before, not a day to afflict our souls. God is not asking us to afflict ourselves so that we can somehow win His approval and be heard. Mike Bickle writes that the fast God desires is one that “loosens the bonds of wickedness in our lives; undo heavy burdens in the lives of others; help the oppressed be set free as we minister to them by the anointing of the Spirit; break every yoke of the religious spirit; give bread to the hungry and provide the poor with housing; allow the light of revelation in Gods’ Word to break forth in us like the morning; allow our emotional and physical health to speedily spring forth; cause righteousness to break forth in the places where we struggle and cause the glory and the power of the Lord to operate in our ministries.”   

This year I am asking us to fast not so that God will hear us but so that we will hear God. I am asking us to fast as worship, as love, as a part of wanting a deeper relationship with Him.

I asked God to show me clearly what the fast He desires is like and to show me what it looks like. As I asked God reminded me of an experience that Noah and I had several years ago. In 2004, when Noah was 3, I went with a team of others to the Philippines for a 17 day missions trip. The entire time I was gone I missed him terribly. Dino and I sat in our room and talked about our kids, what they were doing, what we missed and how excited they would and we would be to be home with them. During the course of the time away I believe I called home three times. Each time I called I could not wait to talk to Melissa and Noah. Melissa and I would talk and then when it was time for me to talk to Noah he was busy. He missed me, he really did. He talked about me, prayed for me, looked at my picture and talked about how much he could not wait for me to get home, but when I called, he was watching a movie, or playing with toys, or out with Grandma. The thing that God spoke to me is that this is how many of us approach our relationship with Him and our prayer lives. We love Him, we want Him, we talk about Him and even speak to Him, but our lives sometimes get in the way of when He calls, when he reaches out, when He shows us His desire.

One of the happiest experiences of my life happened when I came home. I have to admit, I was disappointed when Noah was too busy to talk, but I understood, it was Ok, I was not angry, hurt or questioning of his love for me. I think God is the same way with us, He is not angry, or hurt or questioning our lives, but I believe that He knows that He has so much more for us, and such a huge desire to be with us that He wants us to know that He has more.

When I got home it was a Sunday, early afternoon, that is when we had 1:30 services. Melissa was thrilled to see me and so was Noah, but it was almost time for them to head out for church. Melissa got ready as Noah sat on my lap and held the little toy that I had gotten for him. When Melissa was ready to leave, Noah would not go, he would not get off of my lap. That afternoon he just sat with me, he held the toy and leaned against me. She came home and he was still sitting there. For that day, no tv, no movies, no friends, no toys could pull him away from me. It was to this day, one of the most wonderful days of my life. God spoke to my heart a couple of weeks ago and said, your day with Noah, that is the fast I long for, when you choose to forsake “lesser things” because you just want to be with me.

So that is what I am asking us to do, a year in which one day a week we choose God over food, worship over hungry and prayer over habit. It won’t be easy, it won’t be filled with wonder each week, but it will be good, productive, faith-building and love enlarging. I’ll talk more about the difficulties and the challenges of fasting later, but today I just wanted to leave you with the picture of fasting: wanting God more than anything else, choosing Him over everything.

So that is step one of the year to increase, prayer and fasting, not just more, but focused, sure, confident and loving. Ask God to lead you in prayer, but  I am asking you, commit to pray, commit to fast and commit to the rewards. Everything significant is led by prayer, I am asking us to let prayer lead us into an increase that will break yokes of bondage and open doors of love.