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.
In 1991, my wife and I visited what is now the Czech Republic. Freedom from the long, painful night of Soviet oppression and persecution had only recently come. We were there to preach, teach, and offer encouragement to the faithful Christians for whom the nightmare of suffering was still a painful memory. The vivid highlight of that visit was sharing with the congregation of the Maranatha Church in Pilsen. It was one of the most exciting experiences of worship and church life in which I have ever participated.
The church’s sanctuary had been turned into a university lecture hall by the communist regime, but now the government had returned it to the congregation. The risers that had been built and the student’s desks were still there. More than five hundred people were present for worship, 75 percent of them younger than thirty . . . all of whom had become Christians during the past four years.
Twenty-five people had struggled as a congregation for thirty years to stay alive, and the story they told was this: For more than thirty years, eight women, only three of them now living, had prayed together every week. Six years before my visit, a young man heard about this group, joined them, and the prayer group began to grow. That young man was now one of the pastors of the church, where hundreds were worshipping every week, and many young people who had grown up in a governmentally forced atheist culture were coming to Christian faith.
The witness of the congregation was that they were alive as a Christian congregation because of the prayers of those eight faithful women. I have never witnessed more joy, more hope, and more confidence than I saw in these people of God unashamedly dependent upon the Holy Spirit. God’s presence and power were palpable. I came away rejoicing in the witness of eight women who had been faithful in intercession.
That is one of the experiences that has intensified my desire to be more faithful in intercession, an exciting dimension of our life of prayer. Let me seek to put intercession in perspective to the whole of prayer.
Prayer is one of the deepest impulses of the human soul. In James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, there is an arresting scene in which a young boy announces before his grandmother and the world that he no longer believes in God. The wise and unperturbed woman replies, “Ain’t no way you can’t believe in God . . . You just try holding your breath long enough to die.” It can’t be done. No less than breathing or the sucking of a newborn infant, prayer is instinctive human behavior. Prayer is an expression of who we basically are. Certainly, as essential as eating and drinking are to our physical well-being, praying is essential to who we are as whole persons. Though quoted often, the truth of it must not be minimized by familiarity: “For thee were we made, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Sooner or later, sensitive to our insatiable spiritual longing and searching for fulfillment and meaning, we begin to recognize that we cannot depend on our own resources or count on our own works to achieve meaning or grow closer to God.
Reflect on Your Own Soul Poverty
In his first beatitude, Jesus said those are blessed who are aware of the limitation of their own resources, and know their dependence on God is essential to find meaning and joy. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3 NRSV).
In his book The Pursuit of God A. W. Tozer talks about Jesus’ designation of the “poor in spirit” in terms of “soul poverty,” saying “The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things. The blessed ones who possess the kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the ‘poor in spirit.’ They have reached an inward state paralleling the outward circumstances of the common beggar in the streets of Jerusalem.”
Lodge the term “soul poverty” firmly in your mind. What does where you located yourself on the scale above say about soul poverty in your life?
One of my favorite writers, Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest, a recovering alcoholic, and one who is painfully honest about his soul poverty, shares a challenging blessing: “May all your expectations be frustrated, may all your plans be thwarted, may all your desires be withered into nothingness, that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.”* Can you receive a blessing like this? What keeps you from it?
As you move through the day, be sensitive and seek to be attuned to the voice of need within you. In those moments, rather than trying to overcome it with your own strength, try praying a prayer that expresses your dependence on God to meet that need.
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.
*Brennan Manning, Posers, Fakers and Wannabes (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003), 10.