Keys to finding spiritual breakthrough
I remember years ago hearing a sermon from the founder of CRC Churches (our denomination), Leo Harris – he was talking about the 12 spies reporting on the Promised Land. As God had said, it was a land of milk and honey. But there were giants and walled cities. As Leo put it, where there are milk and honey, there’s bulls and bees!
As Christians and as churches, our job is to claim our promised inheritance, our Promised Land. It’s a land of blessing. But don’t think you won’t have to fight for that blessing. There are bulls and bees! There’s giants. The inheritance is ours, but we have to take it.
And that’s where prayer comes in. Some time ago, in my personal devotions, this verse jumped out of the page at me…
“You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6-7)
In Isaiah’s time, the focal gathering of God’s people was Jerusalem. In our own time, it’s the local church. God’s intention is to establish his kingdom and make it the praise of the earth, but that’s not going to happen without “you who call on the Lord”! That’s where the amazing partnership between us and the Lord finds its centre.
“Give yourselves no rest!” We need to stir ourselves on this one. We’re busy, all of us, but are we busy about the right things? We need to call on the Lord, often, regularly.
“And give him no rest!” Give him no rest!!! At one level, it doesn’t make sense, does it?! It’s his kingdom. It’s his praise. It’s his desired outcome. You’d think that as soon as we started to pray, he’d come through with the goods real quick. But, give him no rest! We have to pray this one through. If we want him to establish his kingdom in our region, which we do, and which he does also (it’s his dream more than it is ours!) – then we need to give him no rest!! It’s just like the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
At CCH, we aim to give ourselves no rest, and give the Lord no rest! To underline the urgency that we’re facing, we’re calling special days of fasting. That means, unless you’re in a stressed medical situation, go without food for the day.
Now fasting isn’t something that Western Christians do a lot, so I need to give you a few guidelines about it so that it doesn’t just become a religious task – God isn’t impressed just because you skip a meal or two.
I’ve read heaps of stuff on fasting and frankly, not all of it is particularly sound. It’s very easy to approach fasting as a work – “God will surely listen to me now because I’m not eating”. We need to understand that God responds to faith. It’s faith that moves mountains, not religious practices. So don’t let fasting be a work, it won’t be blessed! And fasting isn’t a fast-track into the power of God. That’s not true either.
In fact, in all the popular books that get written on fasting (there’s not a lot of them), I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone bringing the Bible’s cultural background into focus. For the ancient people, fasting was associated with mourning. If you read the Old Testament accounts of people fasting, you’ll see that it’s associated with wearing sackcloth and ashes – it’s a time of desperation, of urgency. They never fasted thinking that in doing so, they’d have an extra hour or so in the day to pray. That wasn’t what it was about. And they didn’t fast in order to subdue their ‘fleshly’ desires and let their spirit rule. It was about desperate or overwhelmed people pouring out their heart to God. Their need for a positive response from God was more compelling than their basic need for food.
Jesus highlighted this when he was asked how come his disciples weren’t fasting while everyone else’s were. His response… “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” For Jesus, fasting is inappropriate when blessing is surrounding his people at every turn. But despite the New Testament being one of unprecedented blessing and free grace from God, there would be times for mourning, of desperation. It’s at those times when fasting finds its natural place in the spiritual habits of Jesus’ followers.
So in calling the church to days of fasting and prayer, we’re underlining something important. It’s the land of milk and honey, but a lot of us individually aren’t experiencing that. We need to call out to the Lord for his miracle working power to be outworked dramatically among us. And as a church, we’re being held back in many areas from doing all that Jesus is calling us to.
None of this means that we’re not thankful for all that Jesus has already done in and through us. His power is amazingly at work throughout our church, saving people, answering prayer, providing. But there’s much, much more, and we can’t be content in the face of the serious needs that surround us.
Here’s a slightly doctored version of Acts 5:29-30…
“Now, Lord, consider the opposition that so many of your people are experiencing and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
And like the Christians of Acts 5, may it be true of us that the place where we meet will be shaken and we’re all filled with the Holy Spirit and speak the word of God boldly.