The present pandemic has been a shock to the system of every church in the country as public meetings have been banned for the time being. Church ministers and elders have scrambled to work out how to keep ministering the word to their people in such straitened times, with varying degrees of success.
In the providence of God the church has been presented with new opportunities for witness and evangelism, and for this we give thanks. Parallel to that, the Lord in his wisdom has withdrawn the freedom for his church to meet to worship. It is not inappropriate to look on this as a chastisement on the church generally for reasons, perhaps, that we have still to work out. These are certainly extraordinary times. But one way to seek the Lord in this is to fast and pray.
Last Wednesday our presbytery (EPCEW) called our people and others to a day of prayer and fasting. It was hastily arranged and at short notice. Most of us ministers have never or rarely taught on the ins and outs of fasting as a spiritual discipline. We were certainly chastened to realise that!
In a ZOOM meeting of Presbytery last Friday we encouraged each other to consider doing so again this coming Wednesday (tomorrow), though this time not issue a general call. One of our number recommended reading in advance Wilhelmus A’Brakel on fasting. The chapter is the first in Volume 4 of his “A Christian’s Reasonable Service“, which you can find in PDF form at monergism.com.
To help us, I thought it might be helpful to produce a quick summary of A’Brakel’s chapter. (It helped me!) He obviously says much more in explanation – for that you need to look at the linked page above – but here’s my summary:
What is fasting?
Fasting is a special religious exercise in which a believer deprives himself for a day from all that invigorates the body, humbling himself in body and soul before God as a means to obtain what he desires.
Some notes on this definition:
- it is a religious exercise – poverty, avarice, illness, health reasons , prevention because of business are not applicable here.
- it is a special exercise – It is not a daily activity such as prayer, reading, thanksgiving, and singing. Rather, it is practiced at special seasons of need.
- it is a depriving one’s self of all that invigorates the body – to bring the body for that given day into a condition of withdrawal, distress, pliableness, and weakness.
- it is the deprivation of food
- deprivation of external ornamentation [i.e. the proverbial sackcloth and ashes]
- deprivation of entertainment
- refrain from the labours of our calling
- refrain from sleep
- guard against the commission of sins
- it is a humbling of ourselves of body and soul
- soul and body are intimately related, so humbling the body humbles the soul.
- “Sorrow over the deficiency of the soul engenders sorrow about that which the body is lacking, and a deficiency in the body engenders sorrow over the deficiency of the soul.“
- humbling consists in:
- The confession of sin, accompanied with grief and shame.
- Declaring ourselves to be worthy of judgment and a subscribing to justice if the Lord were to execute those merited judgments upon us.
- A supplicating for grace, frequently accompanied with weeping.
- A renewal of the covenant with the wholehearted intent to forsake former sins and to live a godly life.
- The giving of alms.
- for a 24-hour period.
- We are not called to follow Jesus in his 40 days in the wilderness.
- In the 7-day fasts in scripture , something was eaten in the evening.
- The following qualification applies for those who are weak: “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6)
Public and Private Fasting
- when the government calls it because of national need;
- when a synod, classis, or elders of a particular congregation designate a day of fasting for the church under their supervision, doing so due to an extraordinary need in the church.
- when some individual friends agree to set apart a day;
- when a father institutes a day of fasting for his family;
- when an individual sets apart a day for himself.
Exhortation to fasting
- Hasn’t God commanded it?
- Have not the church and the saints of all ages practiced this and left us an example to be followed?
- If a public fast has been proclaimed, conduct yourself well in doing so. God’s eye will be upon you in a special manner.
- If some of the godly have agreed to set apart a day, endeavor to join them, and stir up some other godly person to do likewise. The Lord will most certainly be among you; He will come to you and bless you. It will engender a sweet bond of mutual love. The Lord will manifest that this is pleasing to Him.
- remove obstacles beforehand
- confess your aversion for such a day of prayer as a sin before the Lord, and ask that you may be fit to conduct yourself well on this day of prayer.
- Rejoice in the evening that you have food to eat, since you are not worthy of one bite of bread.
- Thank the Lord that He gives it to you in His favour—as having been purchased with the blood of Christ.
- Give close attention as to how God responds to your day of prayer, for God will respond to it.