Last night I spoke to our people from Ezra 8, when Ezra is about to lead the second group of Jews from Babylon back to their homeland of Jerusalem. They are about to leave a place they have lived for 70 years. They are looking at a many-mile trek with the threat of bandits and other threats. They have all of their possessions with them.
It reminds me of the old western movies when the wagon train travels for many miles to reach a new destination. It seems like in most of those movies the train has to cross at least one raging river at some point. Ezra and his people must have felt some of the same fear of the unknown.
Ezra knows that they need God's guidance and His provision. So, as their leader he calls for a fast.
21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
He calls the people to seek their God for a day. Notice, they fasted and prayed for three things:
1) That they would humble themselves before God
2) For God's guidance and safety on their journey
3) For God to take care of their possessions
Sometimes at night I stand or kneel in my children's rooms and pray things like, Lord, please guide me for them. Please lead me and help me know how to lead them. I think Ezra and his people felt that kind of concern. I know many times when we go on a vacation when we leave the house I feel inside something like, God, please take care of the house and our stuff while we are gone. That's what Ezra was seeking God for - Lord, please guide us so our families will be ok, and please take care of our stuff!
Last night I called our people to fast and pray this week.
As a new church we are at a juncture where we need to make some decisions for the fall. We are particularly praying about where we need to meet in order to worship together on Sunday mornings. As I outlined last night, there are several options on the table. But at this point we want to seek God in a special way.
Fasting is a very biblical concept. It involves going without food, or certain types of food, for a specific period of time in order to give that time to seeking the Lord. If physically able, a person can skip a meal or meals and instead spend that time in prayer, worship, and intercession. I suggested skipping one meal, or skipping the same meal for several days, or doing what the Jews did on Yom Kippur - fast supper, breakfast and lunch, and then eat a small meal for supper. Whatever you do, the point is to seek God in a special way.
We are fasting and praying for the same basic things as did Ezra:
1) To humble ourselves as a people before God
2) To ask God to guide, provide, and care for us a a church
3) To ask God to provide the "stuff" we need - particularly the right meeting place
In the book of Acts, chapter 13, you see the church fasting and praying together.
1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
It was as the church was worshiping and fasting (seeking God together), the Lord gave them the instructions for Saul (Paul) and Barnabus to go on their first missionary journey.
I encourage you to spend time seeking the Lord in a special way this week. We are trusting God to guide us, and we are humbling ourselves before Him asking Him to work.