By Candy Arrington
When our minister called our church to a 40-day period of prayer and fasting, I huffed inwardly, knowing involvement would mean personal adjustment and sacrifice. However, almost immediately I committed to participate because I wanted to be a part of the church-wide experience. The only other time I had joined in a church-wide fast was as a teenager and I wanted to approach this corporate time of prayer and fasting with a different attitude and focus, and from a more adult perspective.
Here are some elements that made this church-wide fast successful:
A wide range of options for participation.
Each person was allowed to decide the type of fast they wanted to do and how they would implement their fast. Some fasted from eating specific foods. Others fasted one meal a day or fasted one day a week. Still others abstained from some form of technology or entertainment for the entire 40-day period. The intention was to give up something pleasurable that would require sacrifice and self-denial.
“Our life group leader challenged us to give up something that we would really miss each day and would be a challenge for us. I decided to fast from Pinterest, which might not sound like a big sacrifice, but for me, it was,” said Anna. “I have more than 13,700 pins and 189 boards and use Pinterest for everything from recipes and craft projects to activities for our third grade Sunday School class.”
“During the 40 days, I fasted from Facebook and all electronic games, basically everything on my phone except calling and texting and an emailed devotional,” said Hannah. “During the time I would normally be on my phone, I either read my Bible, a book about God, or prayed.”
Mark and Karen fasted from dinner every Monday night and used the time to pray for the church leaders and programs, our country, and individuals. “It was so good for us as a couple, we continued to fast and pray on Mondays after the 40 days were over,” said Karen.
A common goal
While many people had personal goals, the main focus of the fast was to prepare our congregation to commit financially to a much-needed facility renovation and upgrade project. Having a common focus enhanced the experience of oneness and purpose. In Scripture, corporate fasting always had a specific purpose. Group and individual fasting were standard practices in the Old Testament.
No public accountability
Our accountability during this period of fasting was to God. No one received prizes for maintaining the fast or was shamed for failing to observe their proposed fasting goals. While it may seem not having to account for ourselves would make it easy to “cheat,” in fact knowing our accountability was to God held us to a higher standard.
An emphasis on prayer.
During this 40-day period, our church enhanced our usual Wednesday night prayer service. People gathered to pray silently or in groups and then our minister prayed through Scripture related to adoration, praise, confession, thanksgiving, and the attributes of God. Prayer was our sole focus. The women of the church, led by our minister’s wife, participated in a special time of prayer of preparation prior to the beginning of the church-wide fast. During the fast, our minister preached a series of sermons on obedience, unity, praise, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and the resurrection.
Our minister led us with an attitude of humility, gratitude, and prayer. His leadership was by example, fasting totally from certain foods and adopting an attitude of humility and focus on God. “We designated a 40-day period when we set aside food or another means, so God could speak and show himself to us. God worked on all of us in so many ways during the 40 days of prayer and fasting,” said Dr. Don Wilton. “It was an amazing time of spiritual growth and unity.”
Here is what our church members experienced as a result of our fast:
We are such a me-first society that practicing any form of self-denial is sort of a foreign concept. But when you take focus off self and move it toward God, spiritual growth usually occurs. The people in our church experienced the power of prayer in the form of healing, breakthroughs in difficult relationships, and direction from God.
Fasting gives a glimpse of the self-focus and lack of discipline most of us don’t want to see in ourselves. Fasting requires self-denial, but it is also an opportunity to examine and confess to God areas of weakness and sin we often ignore.
Many gained a new vision for our church and its effectiveness in the community as well as the need for personal changes. For the first time in 40 years, James saw his appetite for pornography as what is really is—sin. Although he returned to pornography after the fast, several months later, James admitted his pornography obsession was an addiction and took steps to break free from its bondage by entering a recovery program.
Our people experienced a spirit of oneness and purpose during the fast that lingered beyond the 40-day period. “Our life group is closer now because we shared more openly during the fast and encouraged each other,” said Anna. “We realized that even the people who look put together struggle.”
While the ultimate goal of the fast was a commitment to funding church facility repairs and renovations, commitments were made in other areas. As a result, many recommitted themselves to their relationship with the Lord and to their families. A record number of people committed to short-term missions involvement throughout the U.S. and internationally. Others became involved in local outreach programs.
For many, corporate fasting brought about lasting changes. Some decided to change eating patterns and habits. Others saw the need to focus more on relationships rather than being so tied to technology. All of us gained an awareness of the need to be more God-focused. “I realized I was constantly telling myself I was too busy to read my Bible and pray, but in reality was wasting so much time on websites and social media, and that was time I could and should have been focusing on God,” said Anna. “Now I purposefully make time for the Lord and mindfully listen to him.”
Candy Arrington is a freelance writer in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The following are examples of corporate fasts in the Bible:
• Esther and her people prayed for favor with the king to prevent their destruction (Esther 4:16).
• God’s people were called to fast and gather in a solemn assembly, returning to the Lord (Joel 2:13-16).
• The king of Nineveh called for a fast for his people and their animals as a form of repentance following Jonah’s warning (Jonah 3:6-10).
• Samuel gathered all Israel and they fasted and confessed their sin against God (1 Samuel 7:5, 6).
• The Israelites gathered, fasted, and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors (Nehemiah 9:1).
• Ezra called the people together to fast, humble themselves before God, and ask him for a safe journey (Ezra 8:21-23).
• The church at Antioch fasted prior to sending out Saul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-13).