Join us in March 2023 for our online course, How to Pray and Fast for Life and Awakening. In this short course we will sit with Jesus and listen to Him as he turns both prayer and fasting on their sides and brings quite surprising and distinctive teaching on the who, what, when, why, and where of it all. You can’t sit with Jesus for any length of time without being both inspired and equipped. We will come away knowing more of God and with some real helps and handles on praying and fasting with Jesus for life and awakening. Register here.
George Mueller established an “orphan house” in Bristol, England, to care for orphans who would have otherwise been left helpless and homeless in an uncaring society. Mueller was convinced that God’s command for his life was to do what he could to meet the need of these parentless children. His orphanage became world-famous because he was absolutely convinced that God would provide every need. He never asked for money; there was no particular church support, no fund drives, no regular benefactors, only prayer to the God who promised to supply.
One night, Mueller’s staff came to him with the bad news that there was no food in the house for breakfast the next morning, and they wanted to know what to do. Mueller told them to set the table as if all were normal and then not to worry about it. The director then went into his room, got down on his knees, and poured out the need to his heavenly Father. Then he went to sleep, confident that the Lord would take care of it.
Early the next morning, a knock came on the orphanage door. It was a neighborhood baker with a load of bread and rolls. The man said that, during the night, he had gotten the feeling that the children needed some food, and the feeling was so overpowering that he simply had to go down to his shop and bake something for them. A few minutes later, another knock came on the door . . . this one from a local dairyman whose cart had broken down near the orphanage. The man knew that his milk would spoil before the cart was repaired, so he asked if the orphanage would like to have the milk.
That kind of story was repeated over and over again: George Mueller praying and God providing. Long after the orphan house was established and its witness known throughout the Christian world, Mueller gave this explanation as to what it was all about:
If I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an orphan house, there would be something which, with the Lord’s blessing, might be insrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God, besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted, of the reality of the things of God. This, then, was the primary reason for establishing the orphan house . . . The first and primary object of the work was (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith without anyone being asked by me or my fellow laborers whereby it may be seen, that God is faithful still, and hears prayers still.*
It is easy to miss what I believe is the most important dimension of Mueller’s testimony, however. The mission was to care for children, yes, but not just for the sake of caring for the children, but for “strengthening the faith of the children of God, besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted, of the reality of the things of God.” He wanted to demonstrate God’s faithfulness.
An intercessory life is the presence of the reality of the things of God and demonstrates God’s faithfulness. I think of that in two ways: one, taking light into dark places, and two, standing in the gap for the sake of justice and righteousness.
Jesus said, “I am . . . you are the light of the world” (John 8:12; Matt. 5:14). The place for the light is in the dark. Some of us need to confess that we would rather shine where there is light than where it is dark. It’s easy to shine in the light; we are comfortable there, and there is little chance of stumbling and falling. But what difference do we make? It is in the dark that light makes its purposeful difference.
During my years as pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, my wife, Jerry, became a volunteer chaplain in the Shelby County Jail, working with women. The job entailed some educational programs and many practical, mundane things: contacting family members, helping the inmates understand the system, interpreting rules and regulations, and serving as a go-between to the jail officials and judges. It was an intercessory work: connecting, meeting, and being present as the Lord’s emissary.
Jerry engaged women in our congregation to pray for the women in jail. She invited the inmates to share their concerns in writing, and she would deliver those to an intercessor who would pray for that particular person. While corporate prayer was going on by all of the women for the jail . . . the guards, and those who worked daily with the women and their families . . . individuals were praying for the personal concerns of a particular person.
When this had gone on for about two months, an inmate suggested they make intercession a two-way process. Why not invite the women in our congregation to share their needs and allow the inmates to pray for them? It was a powerful dynamic: upper-middle-class (primarily white) women praying for and being prayed for by poor (primarily African-American), incarcerated women.
Light was taken into a “dark place,” but now light was shining from that dark place into the “dark places” of those who presumably were “living in the light.”
One day Jerry said to me, “You travel to Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and over the nation to preach. Why don’t you come and preach to my women in the jail?” A novel idea! Why had I not thought of that? So I joined Jerry and the Christ Church praise band for many Thursday evening services. That was my first experience of jail preaching. What meaning . . . taking light into a dark place! And amazingly, receiving light out of that dark place.
Eventually, we moved from Memphis, and after being away for a year, returned to preach in the special Lenten services in downtown Calvary Episcopal Church. This series gets a lot of public attention; it is a noonday worship every weekday during the Lenten season, with visiting preachers from across the nation. I was to preach three midday services.
When Jerry and I arrived for the first, my host told me there was a woman in the parlor who had been there for an hour, waiting to greet us. We recognized her immediately. She had been in jail, had been ministered to by Jerry, had attended our worship, had accepted Christ, and I had baptized her. She wanted us to know how well things were going in her life and that she was seeking to be a light in her family and community.
Jesus said you don’t light a candle to put under a bushel, but on a candlestick, so that it will light the darkness. The purpose of a candle is not to illuminate itself but to illuminate the world. We need to remember that the darker the place, the brighter any light will shine. We must be done with the notion that in deep darkness you need something dramatic . . . a searchlight or a beacon; our praying and our intercessory presence as a simple candle can provide enough light. The size of the light and the degree of the darkness are not the issues; compassion and intentionality are.
All of us long to be better at prayer. Many of us desire to fast in a meaningful and sustainable way. Most all of us have tried many things at many times and found most of them perhaps meaningful, and even helpful, but ultimately unsustainable.
We want to find a way into these ancient practices that is beyond our own self-driven ethic of commitment. We want to leave behind the world of oughts and shoulds.
While the Bible has much to say about prayer and fasting, we somehow need to see what the Bible says from another point of view. It is just so easy to get inspired and then get tired. We don’t so much need more lessons as we need a better Teacher. That teacher is Jesus of Nazareth—our Rabbi, The Messiah.
In this short course we will sit with Jesus and listen to Him as he turns both prayer and fasting on their sides and brings quite surprising and distinctive teaching on the who, what, when, why, and where of it all. You can’t sit with Jesus for any length of time without being both inspired and equipped.
J.D. Walt (and special guests) will guide us on this learning journey with his well loved “Wake-Up Call” approach. Don’t miss this. Get the book bundle if you can (though not required). We will come away knowing more of God and with some real helps and handles on praying and fasting with Jesus for life and awakening. Register here.
*David Platt, Radical (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010), 55.