We continue Christ’s Sermon on the Mount moving into the intertwined topics of giving, prayer, fasting, contentment and worry.
In this final day of our Week of Prayer and Fasting, let’s remember just how powerful prayer can be. Take, for example this statement:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NKJV)
As we pray, we’re going to battle, but not in our own strength. The warfare is spiritual and so are our weapons. If the enemy has a stronghold it can be pulled down. God specializes in tearing down the walls and breaking the bonds that imprison His people.
Let’s go to battle this day, asking the Lord to destroy the strongholds of the devil and set the captives free.
In the midst of this week of prayer and fasting that we’re taking part in as a church, let these words of the psalmist David be an encouragement to you as you pray.
To the Chief Musician. On a stringed instrument. A Psalm of David.
1 Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
2 From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
4 I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah
5 For You, O God, have heard my vows;
You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
6 You will prolong the king’s life,
His years as many generations.
7 He shall abide before God forever.
Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him!
8 So I will sing praise to Your name forever,
That I may daily perform my vows.
Prayers do not have to be long to be effective. Perhaps the best example of a super effective short prayer is found in Nehemiah. In this case Nehemiah offered up a prayer in the midst of a conversation. The answer he received sent him on the mission that would forever define his life.
“Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?'”
“So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.'”
“Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), ‘How long will your journey be? And when will you return?’ So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” – Nehemiah 2:4-6 (NKJV)
How long was that prayer? A couple of seconds at most? Yet under the circumstances, in the presence of the king with Jerusalem lying in ruins, we can be sure this prayer was offered from the depths of Nehemiah’s heart.
We must take care, however, to see this prayer in its larger context. One chapter earlier, when Nehemiah first heard of the needs in Jerusalem, this was his response:
“So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” – Nehemiah 1:4 (NKJV)
How long is “many days”? The text gives us a clue. Four months elapsed (Chislev to Nisan) from the beginning of Nehemiah’s fasting and prayer until his moment of truth before the king. No doubt that four months of private mourning, fasting and praying gave that later prayer much of its strength and direction in those few crucial seconds.
The Lord often teaches us when things go wrong. So it was for His first disciples and so it is for us. A valuable lesson on preparation is found right after the Transfiguration. Jesus, Peter, James and John get down from the mountain to find a crowd gathered and Christ’s other disciples in the midst of a dispute.
And He asked the scribes, ‘What are you disputing about with them?’ Then one of the crowd answered and said, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to You, because he has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, and gnashes his teeth, and he becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they might cast it out, but they were not able.'” – Mark 9:16-18 (M-Text)
So Jesus, as usual, solved the problem, but the disciples were left wondering as to just why they fell so short.
And after He entered into a house, His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why were we not able to cast it out?’ So He said to them, ‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.'” – Mark 9:28-29 (M-Text)
Opportunities for ministry often come at unexpected times. When they do, it’s important to be ready. Fasting and prayer should not only be something we engage in at a time of great need – though there is nothing wrong with that. It should be a form of preparation for the needs that are yet to come.