Rebuilding a Future Nehemiah Part V

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December 16, 2014 by directorfsm

Response to Brokenness Continued

 

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,

           

            Nehemiah 1:2-4

 

           

            Last week we learned the first responses of Nehemiah to the news of Jerusalem being in a state of brokenness was to weep and mourn. We explored a number of biblical reasons for weeping and mourning. Many of these were because of some illness or tragedy, yet we also learned that there are equally as many reasons for us to weep tears of joy.

 

            This week we will examine the second part of Nehemiah’s response when he fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. Because of the scope of this short phrase I am going to look at fasting today.

 

            In the bible fasting is mentioned over 70 times. The practice of fasting is not taught in the first 5 books of Moses where God lays down the Law. One can infer then that fasting is not commanded of God to His children. However it is found in the historical books, Psalms and the prophet’s writings. From that one can easily surmise that while God does order the practice neither does He forbid it.

 

            The Hebrew word found in our text that is translated as fasting is Tsuwm  (Tsoom) which means to abstain from food. Thus biblical fasting is the decision to abstain or go without food but to what reason and end must be explored.

 

            In many evangelical churches today fasting is almost never spoken of, or if it is in a rather negative context. I think this comes from the warning Christ gives in Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. In an effort to not appear puffed up, many have completely ignored fasting as an effective tool in our personal spiritual tool boxes. But note Jesus is not telling them to avoid fasting, no he is saying avoid doing it wrongly.

 

            Let’s us look at some of the tradition of fasting. As noted there are some 70 references to it in the bible. In addition the following historical church documents speak of it:

 

“The Westminster Confession spoke briefly of fasting in the context of public worship:

 

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner (21.5; emphasis added).

 

In the Larger Catechism this is put more strikingly: “What are the duties required in the second commandment? The duties required in the second commandment are . . . religious fasting” (Q&A 108).

 

In the Assembly’s Directory for the Public Worship of God, an entire section was taken up with “Public Solemn Fasting.” The context is either a time of trouble or a time of seeking God’s blessing:”

 

            Let us look at when fasting is appropriate:

 

1) Upon hearing sad and distressful news as in our main text. Nehemiah hears of the troubles in Jerusalem and not only weeps and prays but also fasts. His grief over the brokenness of his fellow Jews is so intense that tears and prayer alone are not sufficient to appease his mind.

 

2) For Guidance And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)

            Grand decisions require grand advice and no one can provide better advice than God. Before choosing to ordain (or commission) elders/pastors the Apostles prayed and fasted seeking God’s advice on the matter

            The Israelites sought the Lord through fasting when they had been defeated in battle by the tribe of Benjamin. They were asking for guidance on what they should do and how to proceed (Judges 20:26-28).

            Today we too should seek God’s advice in life’s BIG decisions. In fact it would do us good to seek it in all decisions. The choice is yours to fast or not.

 

3) Help in Prayer! Have you ever had trouble praying? I know I have had periods in my life that seemed like deserts where prayer was concerned. Fasting may be a solution for that.

 

            Note in 2 Sam chap 12, King David fasts and prays for his son that he had with Bathsheba. David knew he had sinned against God and wanted intense prayer to intercede on behalf of his son. We know God did not grant David’s petition yet two things are noteworthy. First David did not complain, he was satisfied and content with God’s decision to let David’s son die. David knew he had screwed up and through repentance he also knew there are consequences to our poor decisions. David manned up and acknowledged the sovereignty of God. Secondly you would think the bible would have pointed out David’s acknowledgement and atonement for his sins. Instead we are led to believe it is a given that a true believer will always do so.

 

 

4) To Humble Ourselves Before God, sometimes as an act of repentance, remorse or even apology prayer may not seem enough and we can fast as an act of contrition.

 

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. PS 35:13

 

When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. PS 69:10

 

            I am sure we can all think of many more reasons to humble ourselves before God maybe the best is a reminder of just who HE is.

 

5) In our Worship of God,

 

            Fasting can be a way to worship God. By fasting we can give God what he desires:

 

 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise PS 5116-17

 

6) For Spiritual Strength, I would venture to say that all of us have some weak points in our spiritual amour. To deny this is to deceive ourselves and invite the devil in. As hard as we try to repair the weak area we sometimes fail and that can be a good time to fast and pray.

 

            In Luke 4:1-11 while Jesus faced the temptation of Satan, He fasted for 40 days. Did HE the living God have to fast to defeat Satan? No of course not but there is a principle of spiritual strength that is demonstrated in fasting that we find in the life of Christ.

            These are all good reasons to fast but we cannot forget that all must be done with a proper attitude.  At the beginnings of the sermon I quoted Matt 6:16 where Christ warns of fasting as a hypocrite. He goes on in verse 18 to say: That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

            Fasting (even corporate/family) should always be done as an act between you and God alone. When a friend or co-worker asks why you are not eating today there is no need to announce “I am fasting for God” no an appropriate answer is simply I am just not eating today. Fasting for biblical purposes should ALWAYS draw us closer to God. Any other result and we have wasted our time.

            No discussion on fasting would be proper without a warning! Always seek medical advice before fasting. Some folks like me take certain medications must be taken with food. So fasting for me might not be the same for you. There are any number of reasons why fasting can be spiritually helpful and just as many where it can be physically harmful to the unprepared.

            I would like to point out that there are many reasons folks today ignore fasting in there walk with the Lord. Some legitimate (health and lack of spiritual urging) many just plain bogus. John Calvin in his commentary on the book of Joel (14:45) says it is all spiritual laziness. . . . this practice {FASTING} has not been abolished by the gospel. And it hence appears how much we have departed from the right and lawful order of things; for at this day it would be new and unusual to proclaim a fast. How so? Because the greater part are become hardened; and as they know not commonly what repentance is, so they understand not what the profession of repentance means; for they understand not what sin is, what the wrath of God is, what grace is. It is then no wonder that they are so secure, and that when praying for pardon is mentioned, it is a thing wholly unknown at this day. But though people in general are thus stupid, it is yet our duty to learn from the Prophets what has always been the actual mode of proceeding among the people of God, and to labor as much as we can, that this may be known, so that when there shall come an occasion for a public repentance, even the most ignorant may understand that this practice has ever prevailed in the Church of God, and that it did not prevail through inconsiderate zeal of men, but through the will of God himself .

            This most common excuse toady may be “I am too busy”.  I know I my life there are days that seem overwhelming. I have so much on my plate I feel like I need a crane to lift it. But an old Army saying of mine applies “The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters” Do you really want to stand before God someday and tell Him “I was too busy for you”?

            Finally we as a people are spiritually ill-informed or uninformed about the subject. We have decided fasting is not for us based not upon our own research or wise counsel of elders. No we heard something from someone who knows little or nothing about much of anything yet that is who we are base our opinion on.

            In closing I am not advocating everyone begin fasting. I am advocating that like Nehemiah when we need the strong counsel of God we should not neglect this method of drawing closer to Him.

 

In HIS Service

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