Summary: Fasting and prayer is imperative to receiving God’s will in our lives.
September 7, 2003
Text: Ezra 8:21-23; 6:3
Subject: Prayer and Fasting
Title: Let the House Be Built
I love to read stories about how children perceive God. Most of the time, they are so innocent. Jesus said concerning children, “”whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means inherit it.” I want to read you some letters written to pastors by children so you can get a glimpse of things through the eyes of children.
Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven someday because I know my brother won’t be there.
Dear Pastor, I know God loves everybody but He never met my sister.
Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday. Especially when it was finished.
Dear Pastor, How does God know the good people from the bad people? Do you tell Him or does He read about it in the newspapers?
Dear Pastor, Please pray for all the airline pilots. I am flying to California tomorrow.
Dear Pastor, Please say a prayer for our Little League team. We need God’s help or a new pitcher. Thank you
I thought those were quite cute and innocent. They show a lack of understanding on the part of kids. It may be that the innocence seen here is the kind of innocence that invokes the power of God in the lives of His people. It seems that the more we know and understand about the word of God, the less likely we become to accept it for what it is – the word of God! Today we look at Ezra and see how he understood the concepts of prayer and fasting. He was leading the second wave of captives back to Jerusalem with children and possessions. They would be an easy target for highway robbers. But Ezra knew what it would take to arrive safely. He turned to the Lord and placed all his trust in Him. As we try to ascertain what the word is saying to us today let’s first look at what King Cyrus says in 6:3, “Let the temple be rebuilt…”
I. Proclaiming a Fast.
A. What is the purpose of a fast? Ezra gives us a good answer to that. He says it is, “that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek from Him the right way…” The NIV translates “the right way” as “a safe journey”. It literally means a straight path free from obstructions. In other words, they are fasting in order to seek God’s face to know His will for their journey. Isaiah 58 informs us that fasting is not just about giving up food. It is about attitude. Verse 3, ‘Why have we fasted’, they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls and You take no notice?’ You see, Israel had wrong motives for fasting. It was all about them and not about the Lord. We’ve fasted – why didn’t You do something? Verse 6 the Lord says, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen; to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?” Why couldn’t the disciples cast the demon out of the boy when his father brought him to them (Mark 9:14-29)? Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Fasting is not about self-will but God’s will. Now when we fast how do we know God’s will?
B. We pray, “Thy will be done one earth…” If you stop and think about it, which makes more sense – to seek God’s will for your life and follow it – or to go your own way and continually ask God to bail you out of your mess? Ezra 7:8 tells us that is what Ezra did. “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord…”. If we follow God’s word and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, we can avoid difficulty. We can seek from Him a right way or a safe journey. Jesus prayed, “Lead us not into temptation…” God will not lead you temptation but shows you the clear way to avoid it. We do not always walk according to the word. Jesus knew that and that is why He continued, “but deliver us from evil.” If we do miss God’s will for our lives we can pray that He would deliver us from it.
C. Pray for God’s protection. As the captives were returning to Jerusalem with their families and belongings, they would have been subject to raids from Bedouin robbers along the way. Their fast was for God’s protection as they continued in His will by going the right way. Who among you have either experienced for yourselves or have heard stories of travelers who were kept from harm by an intervening act of God. Paul was so in tune to the prompting of the Spirit that he knew which direction to go. Did Paul ever make mistakes? Did he ever go down the wrong path? He tried to, but when he felt the check in his spirit not to go, he didn’t. Ezra was believing that the same God who called him to lead the captives back to Jerusalem would show him the right way to go to keep them safe. As believers in Jesus Christ we have ever right to trust in God’s protection – not as much for our safety as for His glory. What did Ezra do to glorify God?