THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES OF FASTING AND PRAYER
Matt. 6: 5-8. 16-18
I want to share with you this morning on the SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES OF FASTING AND
PRAYER. The problem with that title is the difficult word, DISCIPLINE! Yes, fasting and
prayer are what we call spiritual disciplines that by their very nature require hard work and
training, but please so not misunderstand me - both fasting and prayer as spiritual disciplines are
not energized nor accomplished by our will power or determination but rather prompted and
powered by the Spirit Of God.
When I think of discipline and training, I think of the upcoming WINTER OLYMPICS and all
that discipline and training that is undertaken by each olympic athlete. Think of it this way this
morning - The Holy Spirit is the Trainer and Coach who is able to make each one of us an
olympian when it comes to fasting and prayer.
Let’s first of all look at FASTING and see why it is such a vital spiritual discipline. By the way,
fasting is mentioned more in Scripture than baptism. Fasting is simply the denial of food for a
specific period of time. Now the words discipline and denial are not exactly key words in our
over-indulgent culture, so why in the passage read this morning does Jesus encourage his disciples
to fast? Let me give you three reasons this morning. . . .
First realize that as a spiritual discipline, fasting is NOT AN END IN ITSELF but rather a means
to a greater end as it precedes either the spiritual discipline that Gus talked about last Sunday -
that of studying the Word of God or the spiritual discipline that we will talk about in a few
minutes - that of prayer. Fasting is not just an exercise in self0denial but rather a re-investment of
time and energy into time spent with the Lord in either prayer or Bible Study. The bottom line is
that fasting ENRICHES our time spent with the Lord.
Second, there is also a sense in which food dulls our spirits and the absence of food quickens our
spirits. You know how after a large meal you feel kind of content comfortable and perhaps even
lethargic? Think of that as kind of being DRUNK OR LOGGY WITH FOOD. Fasting then is a
way in which our spirits are SUPER-CHARGED for the very presence of God. It is like prayer
and our time in the Word being similar to driving a car and then when you add fasting, it is like
adding a super-charger under the hood and you experience a whole new driving excitement.
Fasting serves like the practice before the big “prayer game,” or like the bullpen before you take
the pitcher’s mound.
Third, Fasting CLEARS AWAY THE DISTRACTIONS and allows us to clearly hear the voice
of the Lord for DIRECTION in our lives through the Word of God or Prayer.
Now let’s talk about the spiritual discipline of PRAYER! In the passage this morning, Jesus says
that prayer is SINCERE because it is to be offered to God. You say, “that’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Then why at times are we so concerned about what others think of our prayer - what words we
use? -how it sounds? Jesus is not saying here that we should not pray in our times of public
worship - I believe that He is saying that the effectiveness of our public prayer is determined by
the SECRET prayer in the closet. Bob Cook one said that we all have a sort of routine prayer in
our system and one we get rid of that, real praying begins.
So the spiritual discipline of prayer is sincere, secret and also SPIRIT PROMPTED! That is what
we read in Romans 8: 26.27 (Look it up later) We live in a world of INSTANT EVERYTHING
and so we often are looking for INSTANT PRAYER - you know. Big Blessings for Small
Installments. We even feel like we need to have an INSTANT START when we begin to pray.
R.A. Torry once said that we should never utter a single syllable in prayer until we are conscious
that we are in the presence of God and that sometimes requires a “holy pause.” Sometimes that
holy pause requires that we clear the desktop of our lives - we get rid of the clutter and trash that
seems to accumulate through the week. Once to visualize the need I placed a trash can at the
door of the Sanctuary to remind the congregation that it was time to make a deposit of anything
that would interfere with the holy pause that was needed for proper worship and prayer in coming
into the presence of God. Spirit - prompted prayer is of the prevailing variety where there is no
rush to leave the presence of the Lord and where we do not do all the talking but give Him time
to speak with us. Years ago I had a special phone that I bought at a thrift store as a prop and that
I adapted - I hack-sawed off the ear piece as a reminder of the kind of phone we sometimes use to
call heaven - you know the kind where it is impossible to listen and we do all the talking.
Spirit- prompted prayer does not ask for that which is just an Extension of our own ABILITIES
or what we can accomplish We do not ask for PEANUTS when we serve a God who majors in
Let me get practical this morning and give you some EXAMPLES of how you can cooperate with
the Spirit of God in prayer being prompted in your life. The Holy Spirit authored Scripture -
Right? Then why not PRAY THE SCRIPTURE - you can pray a verse or even a whole chapter -
you might find this valuable if like me there are times when your mind might tend to wander as
you are praying. Turn to James 1:19 and let me pray this verse for me this morning - you can
listen in. (Pray James 1:19)
Ever pray using the ALPHABET and letting the Spirit prompt each letter? Again let me pray a
prayer of INTERCESSION for others and you can listen in. (Pray for Ann, Bill McKelly, Caleb,
Dave Hicks, Emily Frazier, Fred, Gus) Please note that the Holy Spirit will prompt you to pray
for family, friends, missionaries, people who need to know the Lord and your pastors. The Spirit
will also prompt prayers of PRAISE - Again, let me use the alphabet - (Pray a prayer of Praise -
God you are Awesome, Beautiful, Caring, for your Direction, Eternal Life, Faithfulness, Grace,
Prayer that is Spirit - prompted is also prayer that comes from a HEART THAT IS BROKEN by
God. The Spirit makes sure that what breaks the heart of God also breaks our hearts. Sometimes
that means that we come to tears when we pray - we weep - we cry out to God because He has
implanted His heart in ours as we especially pray for those who need the Savior.
Let me conclude with a PICTURE of what prayer really is. One evening several years ago, we
were sitting in the living room. We had just finished celebrating our son Kevin’s Thirtieth
birthday. He was sitting in this big stuffed chair holding grandson #3 - Nate who is eight months
old. Number two - Caleb - age 3 - came over and crawled into his dad’s lap and finally number
one - Josiah - age five crawled into Kevin’s lap as well. All three of my grandsons fit into that
lap; they were all talking at once and seeking Kevin’s attention - Kevin was not only giving his full
attention to all three at once; He was also cuddling them, hugging them and miraculously
responding verbally to each one of his sons. Each of the boys were simply enjoying being there in
dad’s lap and dad was enjoying them all being there together. It was dad’s time with the boys and
I got a picture of what prayer really is . Prayer is simply crawling up into God’s lap and enjoying
being there and enjoying the fact that God enjoys us being there.