A Day of Prayer & Fasting1
Like many of you, I have watched with horror, anger, and grief over the chaotic and panic-stricken scenes being broadcast from Afghanistan as the Taliban resumed power. I’m sickened by images of people falling from airplanes, young women pleading to escape expected sexual violence, and reports of parents passing their children over barbed wire fences in hopes that at least the kids might escape the fearsome regime that is surging into power. I find myself deeply saddened whenever my mind goes to our Christian brothers and sisters who have already received threatening messages and enduring violence for confessing the name of Christ.
I feel utterly helpless. No one is asking Wayne Veenstra about US foreign policy and these atrocities are happening 6800 miles away. What could I possibly do?
In one sense, I can do nothing. I’m not powerful enough, resourced enough, smart enough to do anything; however, with our Bibles in hand we know that this is not all there is to be said for we have a heavenly Father who works through the prayers of his people to do great things.
Fasting: What and Why?
We know that we can pray, but I want to gently recommend one other thing the Bible would have us do. We are invited to seek God with prayer and fasting. Fasting is the practice of voluntarily abstaining from a legitimate thing for a certain period of time for a spiritual purpose (for an example of a non-dietary fast, see 1 Cor. 7:5). Most often, fasting involves abstaining from food for a day (Lev. 16:29, 31) or longer (Esther 4:16; Matthew 4:2). It is a practice that has its roots in the Old and New Testaments and is a well-established practice in church history.
There are several reasons why God’s people fast in the Bible: as part of the Day of Atonement pointing God’s people toward their sinful condition (Lev. 16), as an expression of grief (2 Sam. 1:12), as a display of sorrow for sin (1 Sam. 7:6), as an act of humility before the Lord (Ezr. 8:21), and to seek God’s help (2 Sam. 12:16-23). Fasting should never be forced, nor done to merit favor before God, or done as an act of self-promoting religiosity (Matt. 6:16-18); however, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount indicate there is an expectation that there would be times of fasting among his disciples.
James Faris, standing within the Presbyterian tradition, draws our attention to another Biblical reason to fast. God’s people fasted when they faced a great threat or overwhelming enemy. In such cases, fasting linked with prayer was meant to “afflict the body for the sharpening of the soul” as God’s people set their hopes afresh on God. On fasting, Faris writes,
“Fasting is hard. It teaches us in the body that we are weak and sinful. It humbles us. It reminds us that we lack the strength and ability to effect any good or positive change in and of ourselves. The Lord gives this physical expression to accompany and intensify prayer as we are reminded that we are weak and that our enemies are far greater than we can overcome on our own.”
This is what we see in 2 Chronicles 20:1–4, where the bloodthirsty armies on Judah’s doorstep prompted fearful King Jehoshaphat to “set his face to seek the Lord, and [proclaim] a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord…”
In this example, fasting is one of the Bible’s responses to the feelings of helplessness we so often encounter when we see the vast and complex problems in the world around us. It helps us to avoid the trap of the activist mentality wherein we assume that social problems are merely a matter of fighting for the right laws or the opposite trap of giving way to apathy and despair. Instead, we humble ourselves before God asking for the Maker of the Universe to act in power.
An Invitation to Join Others in the OPC
At the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly in July, a motion was approved to call for a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, August 21, 2021. The circumstances surrounding this call to prayer and fasting—originally proposed in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and other political unrest—have changed somewhat, but our helplessness and need for God to act have not.
So, the Harvest Session would invite you to join your brothers and sisters in the OPC for a day of prayer and fasting. These are days where our helplessness is especially evident. Look around at your family, your neighbor, or the nightly news on Fox or CNN. Given that we are weak and helpless, let’s seek the Lord together: for our families, for the church, for our city, for this country, for the people in Afghanistan and Haiti, and ultimately, for the Lord’s name to be glorified throughout all the earth.
In His Service,
Activism, Apathy, or Affliction?
by James Faris
James Faris, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in Indiana, writes on how fasting helps us bring to the Lord the angst and anger we experience when the world is falling apart. (Pastor Wayne)
Fasting and the Pursuit of God
by Harrison Perkins
This article looks more at the warrant for fasting in the Bible and Church History. (Pastor Wayne)
Praying for Afghanistan
Our brothers and sisters in Christ are being directly and dangerously impacted by the actions of our country and the Taliban takeover. But our God has ordained prayer as a means of His grace and power. Here are three articles to help inform our prayers.
Amidst all the things we can’t do, there is one mighty thing we can do. Pray. (Pastor Wayne & Dale)