Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prayer and Fasting

Matthew 6:5-18

23 June 2013

The Model Prayer

5 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


Fasting to Be Seen Only by God

16 "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.


Last week we began chapter 6 of the Sermon on the Mount as it addressed the major theme of the chapter of not practicing our righteousness before others. From 6:1 to 6:33 we are given the examples of seeking God's Kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus illustrates how we go about "practicing our righteousness" through giving, prayer, fasting, money, and worry. Today we will look at two of these topics: prayer and fasting

This past year we have discussed both of these topics in our classes, and have spent several weeks on the topic of prayer (even using this passage). These two disciplines of the Christian Life are intended to be practiced consistently, so it is imperative that we come across them from time to time.

Motives matter! As we have gone through this sermon defeating self-righteousness, Jesus has consistently shown that actions alone are not enough to reflect the holiness of God. He is exposing unholy attitudes that will nullify righteous works, and erase heavenly rewards.

Prayer and Fasting are Assumed

Beyond the larger context of the practicing of righteousness in this passage, one should immediately notice that Jesus says, "when you pray" and "when you fast." There is an assumption from Jesus of His followers that they will be a people that fast and pray. These were all common practices among his Jewish audience and were often practiced in the early church

In the context of the sermon this clause, "when you" is placed to point out the different ways that Christians are to act compared to those who seek self-righteousness life the Pharisees. Prayers are essential to the Christian life and fasting is used for fervent prayer, a total emersion in seeking God. So every one of us will participate in prayer and fervent prayer with fasting; and when we do the good and righteous works it's important to examine ourselves, so that no selfish motive will turn us into seekers of earthly honor and praise for ourselves.

Both prayer and fasting are disciplines of the faith set down from the Old Testament. Like giving, prayer and fasting are things that we are supposed to do. They are assumed in the Christian life. With this stated, the larger question is, "Why don't we do them?"

To not pray is to not communicate with God, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Healer, etc. It is through prayer that we are connected to God, the giver of Life and sole source of power. In any other arena we would find it foolish to cut off our power source, but we often do so in the realm of prayer. Communication is important in any relationship and Jesus died to reconcile us to God, to give us that personal relationship as a gift of grace.

Fasting, also, is the way in which we find our dependence upon God. In our society we are ever striving for more independence, but through the discipline of fasting we are able to find ourselves dependent upon God reminded of our position to Him.

Both of these disciplines are essential to the Christian Life, we must move from having a flippant attitude toward prayer and fasting to seeing them as essential, assumed practices we follow.

Prayer is to the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Spirit

With so many studies on prayer, and with this prayer being one of the most memorized in the world, we must not miss out on the teaching found here and gloss over the simple truths of prayer. For this lesson we will look at prayer from the basis of the trinity, the Father, Son and Spirit.

First of all prayer is to be offered to God, and specifically here to the Father. Many of us know this by heart, "Our Father…", yet we must note that it is addressed to God the Father. Now much can be made about the Fatherhood of God here, but we want to highlight the direction of our prayers are to solely go to God the Father.

When we pray to God the Father we must remember we are not praying to anyone else. Not to Mary, or any official Saints; our prayers belong to God. The self-righteousness Jesus highlights here are the prayers of other religious types who are trying to impress people with their personal piety. We have all heard these prayers before and perhaps are even cynical about them. Here is a test to see if your prayers are self-righteous or directed to God: when you finished praying do you feel like you have worshiped or do you feel like you did a good job. When we rightly pray to God we understand our position before Him and are left thankful and worshipful, all thought of pride is gone.

Second, we must pray in the Son. The ability that we have to communicate with God comes through the work of Christ in our lives. In this passage we have the Son, Jesus, teaching us how to pray, but it is only for those who have "ears to hear." In John 8:48 Jesus also says, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God." Though unbelievers can pray to God, prayer is most operative for those who believe in Jesus as Lord. When an unbeliever prays he is seeking the position and relationship we have in Jesus, reconciled to our Father in Heaven. In this Model Prayer Jesus mentions that we must forgive others so that God can forgive us, but any forgiveness from God has to come solely through Jesus Christ, who paid the price of our forgiveness. When we pray we need to be mindful of our position to God because of our unity with the Son.

Third, we must pray in the power of the Spirit. Jesus tells his disciples the last week of His life that he must go so that the Spirit may come. John 16:13 says, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." This guiding of the Spirit in all truth is also true of our prayer lives. We need to make sure that we are praying in the power of the Spirit and not just offering up our thoughts alone. For when we pray in the Spirit we are able to worship, we are reminded of sins that we need to ask forgiveness, we are even able to pray things "too deep for words"
(For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26).

Fasting is Beneficial

Finally, we must see the benefits of fasting. As we look around the churches in America, and especially Baptist churches, it is not an overstatement to say that this discipline has almost been lost. It is true there are people who regularly fast, but it is not common. This is not what Jesus intended, nor is it the practice of the early church. Twice a week the early church members would fast as a part of their spiritual life. So in our contemporary setting where this discipline is lost we need to address two important questions. 1. What is fasting? 2. Why should we fast?

The first question is What is fasting? The dictionary definition is: "an abstinence from food, or a limiting of one's food, especially when voluntary and as a religious observance." In short, fasting is not eating for the sake of religious reasons. Most religions have fasts as part of their rituals. In particular a time period is chosen for a person to abstain from food (and other drinks). So one would perhaps not eat from sunup to sundown and only drink water; one could take a 24 hour fast; one could take a fast of a week. The human body can go 30-40 days without food (so a fast is not detrimental to the average person's health, though some cases should confer with a doctor). There are other "types" of fast (from TV, Facebook, etc.) and these are in the similar spirit and are beneficial, but should not replace the fast from food.

The second question is, why should we fast? The answer is for spiritual benefits. Not only is it assumed that we should fast, but there are quite a few benefits from fasting. First, it places us in the correct relationship with God. By removing food, a necessity for life, from our routine we are able to focus on the main necessity for life: God. During these times of fasting one could take the normal meal time and use it for fervent prayer relying on God to sustain us, both disciplines that are also spiritually beneficial. Second, it allows us to remove dependences in our lives. Though the main thing we abstain from is food, it teaches that not only can we do with less food, but we can do with less _______. When we find our sole dependence on God we release ourselves from other dependencies, fasting greatly aids this process. Finally, fasting can help us find clarity from God. Many times we are uncertain what God wants us to do: a move, a job promotion, dating and marriage, legal matters, etc. When these times occur a period of fasting can help clear the mind and seek God's will in our lives.

Life Group Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you regularly pray?
  2. What does your prayer time look like?
  3. Do you regularly fast?
  4. What benefits have you received from fasting?

No comments:

Post a Comment