Each January, both Discovery Pointe Church in Scarborough, Ontario and our “Mother Church,” Eastlake Community Church in Moneta, Virginia have gone through a corporate 21 days of prayer and fasting to start off the new year. This year we are doing a joint fast that starts this Sunday on January 8th.
If you are unfamiliar with this Biblical discipline, fasting is essentially abstaining from pleasures (usually food) for a spiritual purpose. While the discipline of fasting is not always enjoyable, the rewards of it are truly extraordinary. Just consider a few of these stories.
One of my friends from school was in the process of considering attending a Bible College. However, he was short of the financial resources necessary. While working at a local restaurant, he decided to participate in Eastlake’s 21 days of prayer and fasting. During that time, a random lady, whom he did not know before, pulled up to the drive-through where he was working. Moved on by God, she asked to meet with him, having no idea of his financial need. After learning of his financial situation, she made the decision to cover his entire first year of school — incredible.
During my time at Eastlake, I would see numbers of answers to prayer. I would see the transformation of a colonel in the Air Force who would give his life to Christ and go on to lead our Men’s Ministry after his wife fasted for him for 21 days. In 2014 I watched on the last Thursday of our 21 day fast as my senior pastor (Troy Keaton) walked into our worship leaders office (Ben Peak) and said that he believed God was going to allow us to purchase a 150 acre piece of land up the road from our church. I then sat back in amazement as a few months later this same piece of property would astonishingly be made available at a fraction of the price it was originally valued.
This past January (2016) at Discovery Pointe Church, a great man of God in our church, Alban Nedelko, had recently joined our congregation after moving from Albania. During this time, he decided to join us on our fast. However, he had come down with a fairly serious tooth infection. It is likely that the last thing he felt like doing was going on a fast to make him even more miserable! Besides, he was taking medication for his tooth that called for food to go along with it. Despite the challenges involved, Alban took the time to fast, trusting that God would take care of his tooth (a fairly serious problem given that they had just immigrated to Canada). Amazingly, it was not three days later till his entire infection went away and he has not had a problem with his tooth till this day. Similarly, God touched an amazing lady in our church, Dorothy, who has testified on multiple occasions about what God has done in her life through touching her failing eyesight and giving her full restoration. This led her doctor to state to her, “What are you doing that others are not?” Her response, “I’m praying!”
Personally, I have seen God do some incredible things through times of fasting. During an extended fast, I watched as God opened up the doors for us to lease the facility that we own at an incredible price that we can afford (not a sentence you hear too often in Toronto!). I have watched on numerous occasions as I have felt prompted of God to bring us different team members, only to see those prayers answered during or shortly after the fast was complete. For several years Janan and I had wanted to have children. In our 2016 prayer fast, Janan's 2016 prayer was for a child. Now, during this fast we are excited to find out the gender of our new gift scheduled to arrive in June. :)
Now, if you are someone who is skeptical to God, I can understand what you might be saying. “Ezra, lucky breaks or coincidences like this happen all the time.” I get it. Admittedly, sometimes Christians have been known to dramatize ordinary events and make them seem super spiritual. As a naturally skeptical individual, I might be saying the same thing if I were reading someone else’s accounts that I have just written (although I will say that the more I see God move the more my natural skepticism is replaced by expectant optimism).
But I think all of us, as Mark Zuckerberg's (CEO of Facebook) move towards religion has indicated, have this inner desire to experience a God who is real. Skepticism of the supernatural might be “cool” for a period of time. But when life’s deepest problems hit with the loss of a spouse, the pain of a broken relationship, or the failure in one’s career, it is then that we realize the deep longing in our lives can only be filled with a God that not only exists, but is active and present in our everyday lives.
So this New Year’s Season, I would just challenge you to take up this 21 days of prayer and fast challenge. Personally, I have found that I often enter into times of fasting with many misguided prayers. I have my list of things that I would like to see God change. But through times of fasting I have discovered that God is more interested in changing my character than he is about changing my situation. Ultimately, the purpose of fasting is not so that you or I can manipulate God’s hand to get what we want. Fasting is instead about seeking the face of God. It is not about us trying to get God’s attention (as pagan religions urge us to do). It is about us quieting our souls so that we can more clearly listen to the still small voice of God.
Do you have some big challenges in your life? Perhaps your home, job, or relationships are not what you would like. Or, maybe you just feel you have grown too comfortable and apathetic about life. I would just suggest that the key to getting through challenges is to stop trying to resolve them on your own (as I am inclinded to do) and instead spend the next 21 days focused on one goal: To turn down the noise of this world so that you can better hear the voice of God. I can promise you that the closer you draw to God the more your viewpoint will change. You will see your challenges in their proper perspective and more importantly you will gain a much better picture of God!