Thoughts on the SBC, Part 3: Fasting Together
In the recent statements by our SBC president Steve Gaines, he asked that we all enter a time of prayer and fasting. I would encourage you to read his whole statement here.
I have sent a message to my own church that describes a few of the issues currently happening in our convention. It goes with a request that they also take time to enter this season of intentional prayer. It is not that God needs the SBC to survive but we want the SBC to be useful for His mission. To do so, we must be a humble people who are happy in Gospel unity.
My friends at Facts and Trends asked me to offer a short piece about the nature of fasting. Please jump over to their site and read the my article “What is the Biblical Role of Fasting?” to get a sense of why we should engage in this important spiritual discipline. It is a brief piece that summarizes some of my thoughts from the chapter of the same topic in Habits for Our Holiness. For individuals, fasting can accomplish three things:
- Establish God-centered living
- Reveal what controls us
- Confirm our dependence upon God
When we fast collectively, we can engage these ideas together as a people. As it relates to our current SBC environment, I think that fasting is an appropriate response and I’m happy that Steve Gaines has called us to it. For my part, I will be engaging in a season of fasting and prayer along with others beginning May 22. I will ask the Lord to give me wisdom about the length of the fast and intensity of it as the Annual Meeting approaches. So, as you consider entering into this collective fast with other Southern Baptists, we need to do so for the proper reasons.
Through the prophet Isaiah, we are given an important word about why the people of God should fast.
Isn’t this the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness,to untie the ropes of the yoke,to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood? Then your light will appear like the dawn,and your recovery will come quickly.Your righteousness will go before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer;when you cry out, he will say, ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 58:6-9a, CSB)
The passage gives numerous reasons for fasting. The language of breaking chains, untying ropes, setting oppressed people free, and tearing apart yokes gives a very certain meaning. Fasting is a time to break a sin’s hold on us. Through denial of earthly pleasure through food, we can more pointedly rely on God’s presence to satisfy us. Then, sin’s illusion of satisfaction is laid bare for us to see. The denial we make to the body reveals the deception of sin’s temptations. As we more closely focus on God during our fast, we find His sustaining work in us to be more joyous than anything the world or the enemy can offer.
Fasting is a time to care for the needy. We are told that during the fast, we can welcome others into our lives to receive what we are denying to ourselves. In the time Isaiah’s prophecy was delivered, it was the cue for the Israelites to care for their countrymen while in exile.
Fasting is a time to allow God’s reputation and glory to characterize us. The discipline focuses our attention on relying on God for our needs, happiness, and self-worth. It is a time that results in intimacy with the Father. The Bible also shows fasting as a time of seeking God’s protection. The rear guard has military connotations. In fasting you seek God as your defense against life’s disasters or in the midst of spiritual warfare. It is a time to humbly display that God is at work in your life.
Fasting gives you an opportunity to receive an answer from the Lord. In verse 9, He said, “At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer; when you cry out, He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Fasting is an intense time to bring our needs before God. The prophet delivered the message that we are to cry out to Him for an answer. Fasting is not a time for timidity. During it, be bold. Ask God for answers. Seek Him for power. It is a time for our deep desire for being filled with the Holy Spirit to be expressed to Him.
Fasting is a time to confess our sin. In both 2 Samuel 12 and Nehemiah 9, we read of God’s people fasting while they navigate through a time of confession and repentance. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan reminds King David of his adultery with Bathsheba and the king’s instruction that caused Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to die in battle. At being confronted with the consequences of his sin, David enters a time of prayer and fasting that leads him toward repentance.
Fasting is an act of worship in and of itself. Acts 13 describes the church members in the city of Antioch as “ministering to the Lord and fasting” (v. 2) when the Holy Spirit spoke to them. Though fasting is often associated with negative circumstances such as confession, tragedy, or needing God’s answer to a dire situation, in Acts 13 we see a different reason for it. Fasting is a form of worship. For the early believers, they were likely seeking God’s power for ministry. After all, they lived in the hostile environment of the Roman Empire. But it is a powerful example to us that believers sometimes fast simply to focus more closely on worshiping God.
Fast when new leaders need are chosen. A final example of fasting we can point to is found in Acts 14. Once Paul and his devoted associate Barnabas had gone through the areas of Lystra and Iconium, they returned to Antioch, which was now the proverbial home base of the church. They prayed and fasted to commission the newly appointed elders of the churches (Acts 14:23).
In this passage and in numerous places throughout church history, fasting has been a practice in the process of choosing new leaders for the church. It is such a critical decision that it certainly warrants the type of attention that fasting brings into our prayer lives. Paul and the early leaders did not send the new elders to their places of service without this type of intense prayer. Fasting reminds us that we need God’s wisdom for commissioning leaders. It is not just a passing idea in Acts that leaders were chosen through times of intense fasting and prayer. When a church is in need of leadership, it must first look to the Lord and not to the person who seems most qualified by worldly standards. Israel did that once and they got King Saul because of it. In the church, we are relying on Christ as our King and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power for discerning the right choice.
All of these are necessary reasons for our season of life as individuals, congregations, and as a convention. I hope that you will enter with me into this time of intense prayer for us. The King and His mission deserve our undivided attention.