On Sunday, the 17th, we began our study of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. This book describes the incredible events that transpired in the middle of the 5th century, BC. Nehemiah was a man living in the capital of the Persian Empire, the city of Susa. This city is in modern-day Iran, about 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf.
Nehemiah’s story is one of passion, commitment, perseverance, and ultimate triumph. However, it starts with people at their wit’s end. Nehemiah hears of the poor shape his homeland is in, and he’s moved to tears, prayer, fasting, and ultimately action. Throughout this year our church’s theme is “Game On!” As a church, we are striving to be fully engaged in following God wherever we are led.
For Nehemiah, this passionate engagement started with prayer – praising God, confessing sin, asking for help, and fasting. All four of these practices are essential for cultivating passion in life, and developing a deeper sense of purpose for our actions. In the church, we don’t talk about fasting nearly as much as these other activities. I’d like to briefly explore this spiritual discipline with you.
For many of us, when we consider the practice of fasting, we conjure up notions of guilt, obligation, or legalism. It’s as if God doesn’t want us to have fun or enjoy nice things, so while we fast, we are abstaining from various types of pleasure.
In Scripture, though, fasting is often discussed like it is in Nehemiah. It’s a practice that accompanies deep conviction. For Nehemiah, I get this sense that he’s so emotional about the bad news he’s received, he’s so passionate in his prayers and intercession, that he can’t even eat . His entire being is wrapped up in what he takes before the Lord.
Fasting, rather than a practice used to prove one’s devotion or pay some kind of penance, is a practice that cultivates and accompanies passion. It’s a way to pursue God more completely. We remind ourselves that God alone is our source of life. Fasting helps us see that we do not constantly need to acquire. It also serves a practical purpose. Every time we feel hunger pangs, we have a physiological reminder of what we are praying about.
This month, I invite you to experiment with a fast. If you’re anxious, start with something small. Maybe fast one meal in a day, and decide what you will pray/fast about before you do it. Or maybe consider fasting for a day – sundown to sundown might be a good place to start. The Jewish Sabbath would always start on Friday night and last until Saturday evening.
Don’t announce your plans to the world, but I would love to hear how your experiences go. If you would like to know more about this, let me know. I look forward to cultivating passion with you all this coming month!
Austin D. Hill