Have you marked Saturday 13th July in your diary? The office-bearers have agreed to set that day aside as a day of special prayer for the church. We would want as many of you as possible to join us in that.

Often in the Bible when God’s people set aside time to pray, they also fasted. So we have agreed that we will fast for the whole day or part of it.

What is fasting? It simply means doing without food (and sometimes even without drink). In Old Testament times, all the Israelites fasted on the Day of Atonement. They also fasted on other special occasions. They fasted when they were praying for some special favour from God. Ezra 8:21: “There I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.” They fasted at times of crisis. Esther 4:15 (when enemies were planning to exterminate the whole Jewish nation): “Go gather together all the Jews who are in Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day..” They fasted when they had sinned and were seeking God’s forgiveness. 1 Samuel 6:6: “On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the LORD’.”

These are just a few of the occasions in the Old Testament, when people fasted. There are more than forty references in the Old Testament to fasting, either by individuals or by God’s people together.

The Lord Jesus assumed that his followers would fast too. Matthew 6:16: “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do..” While Jesus was with them on earth, the disciples generally did not fast, but Jesus said that they would fast after he had been taken from them. Mark 2:20 “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast”.

The churches of New Testament times (especially the leaders) did fast. Sometimes the Lord gave special guidance while people were fasting. When the time came for the church to take a step forward, people fasted. Acts 13:1-3: “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers…While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” When new leaders were appointed, people fasted. Acts 14:23: “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord”.

But why do we fast? What is the point of it?

The Bible actually says very little about the purpose of fasting. Some people who have fasted for long periods say that it can bring a strange clarity of mind, a detachment from the world around: they have found it easier to pray and to feel that they are truly in God’s presence. But when we fast just for a few hours or for a day, it usually isn’t like that. Rather the opposite. We’re troubled by nagging hunger-pangs which can actually make it harder to concentrate on praying. So why do it?

Maybe it’s as simple as this. It’s a sign that we’re really serious about our praying. It’s a way of saying to God, “I want this thing I’m praying for so much that it’s more important to me than anything – even my food. I’m hungry for a meal, but I’m more hungry to have your blessing”.In the end, we don’t have to understand why we fast. The important thing is that the Bible shows us that it should be a normal part of the Christian life and the life of the church.

We’ve never before announced a fast day for the church as a whole. There have been times when a few of the church members have agreed together to fast while praying about some special need (and I know that some of the prayers prayed at those times have been wonderfully answered). The leaders of the lads’ group have set aside days to fast and pray for God’s blessing on that group. But why do the leaders of the church think this is a time for the whole church to pray together in this way?

For many reasons. In many ways, this is a crucial time in the life of the church. We’re all aware of problems we’ve faced in the past months – I reflected a little on that in the last bulletin. We’re aware that Satan has been attacking us. Well then, surely we need to ask for God’s guidance and blessing in a special way. A number of church-members have taken up new duties.

Carl has joined the deaconate. Duncan has begun leading the missionary prayer meeting. We have several new Sunday-school teachers. We need to be praying for all these people in a special way. We recognise that David has been called by God to the ministry and we expect him to be called to a pastorate in due course. We need to be praying for him in a special way. Meanwhile, we need God to raise up new leaders among us – especially future elders. We need to be praying for this in a special way.

It is a very long time since we saw anyone converted from the area around us. We have never seen any of the youngsters converted who come into the Sunday-school from outside. We need to be pleading with God in a special way for the outpouring of his Spirit.

So, if you can, make July 13th a day of special prayer. Pray privately in your own home. Pray with your family. And if you can, join others in the church to pray. We intend to hold three short prayer-meetings – one at breakfast time, 8.30 am, at the manse. One at lunch-time, 1 pm, in Geoff & Carol’s home. One at tea-time, 5 pm, in Duncan & Heather’s home. Try to join us for one of them at least. Miss a meal to come.

Of course, there may be some folk who would be unwise to fast. Mothers nursing babies, folk with particular health problems, people who have to keep going in hard physical jobs all day. But for those of us who are able, let’s take the opportunity to fast as well as pray.

“Return to the LORD your God for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing.. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly.. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is your God?’ ” (Joel 2:13-14).

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