Want to learn more about building a life of prayer? Me too. Meet me here on Wednesdays for an ongoing series exploring prayer using Dr. Andrew Murray's book, With Christ in the School of Prayer. I'm honored to learn alongside you.
It can’t be coincidence that our thirteenth lesson, on prayer and fasting, falls on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the great fast of the church year: Lent.
We begin with a story of the disciples questioning Jesus why they could not cast out demons as they had done before.
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. Matthew 17 KJV*
Dr. Murray explains that faith “is the simplest, [and] highest exercise of the spiritual life, where our spirit yields itself in perfect receptivity to God’s Spirit and so is strengthened to its highest activity. This faith depends entirely upon the state of the spiritual life; only when this is strong and in full health, when the Spirit of God has full sway in our life, is there the power of faith to do its mighty deeds.”
“…faith needs a life of prayer in which to grow and keep strong.”
And “…prayer needs fasting for its full and perfect development.”
“Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible; fasting, the other, with which we let loose and cast away the visible. In nothing is man more closely connected with the world of sense than in his need of food, and his enjoyment of it. It was the fruit, good for food, with which man was tempted and fell in Paradise. It was with bread to be made of stones that Jesus, when an hungered, was tempted in the wilderness, and in fasting that He triumphed. The body has been redeemed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit; it is in body as well as spirit, it is very specially, Scripture says, in eating and drinking, we are to glorify God. It is to be feared that there are many Christians to whom this eating to the glory of God has not yet become a spiritual reality.”
I love this picture of the two disciplines working in harmony, prayer stretching faith towards the things unseen and fasting releasing our hands from the temporal, earthly things that hold us down.
While ordinary Christians imagine that all that is not positively forbidden and sinful is lawful to them, and seek to retain as much as possible of this world, with its property, its literature, its enjoyments, the truly consecrated soul is as the soldier who carries only what he needs for the warfare. Laying aside every weight, as well as the easily besetting sin, afraid of entangling himself with the affairs of this life, he seeks to lead a Nazarite life, as one specially set apart for the Lord and His service. Without such voluntary separation, even from what is lawful, no one will attain power in prayer: this kind goeth not out but by fasting and prayer.
We are not required to fast, but for those who are seeking the life of prayer, to join the Lord in His work, fasting is a discipline that frees our faith and releases us from the slavery of our senses.
Like a lot of evangelicals, I have had a somewhat lazy approach to this discipline. In the last few years however, as our family has been following the Church calendar more closely, we have found Lent to be a special time of separating, denying ourselves and growing faith.
For forty days, the Church gives a tithe of its year to the Lord, setting aside these weeks for repentance, examination and fasting. Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the great fast.
If you are not familiar with Lent, perhaps you would like to read more about it and consider the ways in which you might set aside some of the normal and everyday in order to prepare your heart for the coming of Christ at Easter. (There is a good article for Protestants who are just learning about the idea here.)
Last year, I began putting together a small notebook of readings and disciplines for this season. I have printed out a weekly plan to help me keep my focus and not forget my purpose in these days. There are links at the bottom of this post to my plans, for those who are interested.
Even if observing Lent is not of interest to you, there is a great deal of importance in fasting and separating ourselves intentionally from the hold of the world and our flesh. Let us be sensitive and aware, listening to the Spirit to see if He would indeed call us to this deeper practice.
Next week I'll be sharing my thoughts on chapter 14: ‘When ye stand praying, forgive;’Or, Prayer and Love.
The entire prayer series can be found here: Wednesday prayer series
For most of us, fasting is an unfamiliar discipline. Our desires do not run towards self-denial. Lord, help us in our weakness. May we desire closeness to You more than we desire our own comfort and fulfillment. Lord, we have asked You to teach us to pray and every week You have stretched us and challenged us. Let us not shrink back now from Your challenge. Speak to each one of us about how You would have us set ourselves apart to You. Stir the desire within us to shed the weight of this world and its hold on us.
On this day in particular, Lord -Ash Wednesday - we remember that we are but dust. Out of dust we came and from dust we will return. Teach us to number our days so that we will gain a heart of wisdom.
May we not become carelessly enmeshed in the things of this temporal world and so forget our true home in You. If fasting will help us remember this Lord, then give us the grace to fast.
Thank You Lord for your help and for Your word.
in the priceless name of Jesus,
During Lent, I will be following a simple plan I've laid out in the link below: reading through the Psalms twice, memorizing a portion of Psalm 51 and fasting weekly. Feel free to click on the link below to download my Lenten plans: UPDATE: Thank you for your emails. I think I have the link fixed now. Please let me know if you still can't access the file and I'll send it along to you.