Fasting Prayer

Like many churches across the nation we will be marking the beginning of 2016 by holding a week of prayer. Talking and listening to God in prayer helps prepare the way for him to use us. I know of 15 people who prayed the ‘sinners’ prayer during 2015, most of these during the autumn term. This is the great mission that we are on – to see more and more people coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Our desire is that in 2016 we will see even more people taking that life changing step.

We each have a part to play in talking about Jesus, however the bottom line is that it is the Holy Spirit who waters the seed and brings people to faith in Christ. The work begins with prayer. Jesus commanded us to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field.

How did Jesus prepare himself for his ministry? The answer, as many of you will know, is that he went out into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to fast[1]. It is clear from the New Testament that fasting was a part of the spiritual life of the church, especially around times of decision making and strategising[2]. Jesus himself seemed to assume that it was something that his followers would do after he ascended to heaven[3].

What then is the benefit of fasting? Many people seem to have the idea that fasting is a way to make prayer more powerful, if you like to twist God’s arm. I am not sure where this idea comes from. However it seems to me that fasting is more about us drawing closer to God in intimacy. By resisting a natural appetite for food we are declaring that we have a greater hunger, a hunger for God. The discomfort of an empty belly reminds us to choose to push deeper into Christ. It also frees up time in a busy schedule that we can use to spend in prayer.

I would encourage you to fast during our week of prayer and use this opportunity to press into God. There are many different levels of fasting, from missing one or two meals during the week through to fasting for the whole week. You could choose to miss the same meal each day for the week, you could miss all meals on one or more days.

Whatever you choose to do I pray that God will richly bless you as you join in our prayer times together during the week.

[1] Matthew 4:2

[2] Acts 13:2-3; 14:23

[3] Luke 5:33-35

 

This blog post featured in the January 2016 edition of Lifelines

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Run the Race

Later this month approximately 1,000 runners will take part in the Hook Fun Run and Road Race covering distances from 2.5 miles right up to 10 miles. I am sure that the organisers have placed a request for a bright sunny day so that all the participants, marshals, supporters and spectators have a pleasant and enjoyable experience. On the day there are four races and there will be prizes for a limited number of people in various gender and age categories. For the vast majority of runners who won’t win prizes the goal for the day will be about taking part and they will be satisfied with their finisher’s medal and a well-earned rest in the afternoon.

Even fun runners will usually make some effort to prepare for the run by going on a few practice jogs to check that they have some chance of completing the distance. Clothing and shoes are selected by the competitors to ensure they are suitably equipped to run efficiently and reduce the risk of injury. On the day itself runners will have certain goals; a personal best to be achieved, a rival that they want to beat or simply to survive and get round the course. It is this preparation and goal setting that is being alluded to in the New Testament when the Christian life is said to be like running a race.

Deciding to follow Jesus is not like taking out an insurance policy where you pay the premium and then forget about it until you need to make a claim. Following Jesus involves a lifelong commitment to a self-disciplined life. It involves setting aside distractions and self interest in order to ensure that we are able to complete the course.

What is the primary goal of a follower of Jesus? It is to become like Him in character. As we focus on Him and choose to follow in his footsteps on a daily basis his Holy Spirit gradually brings about change so that we become like him. If we lose sight of the goal of becoming like Jesus then we risk falling into one of two traps. Trap one is that we become disillusioned and give up on being a follower of Jesus. Trap two is that we focus on outward religious observance.

Lots of runners find that they need the encouragement of running mates to successfully achieve their goals. The only way to successfully complete the Christian life is to do so with Jesus as your running mate. Will you choose to run the race?

This blog post featured in the May 2015 edition of Hook Focus

Life in the Spirit

Recently I attended a meeting where someone posed the question “What is discipleship?” which set me thinking. But before we can even begin to answer that question we first need to ask “What is a Disciple?”

“Easy,” we might say, “simply turn to the pages of the New Testament and start listing James and John, Peter and Andrew and the rest of the twelve Jesus called to follow him. Those are the 12 disciples.” So we might conclude that a disciple is someone who has been with Jesus. I sometimes find myself wondering wistfully what it would have been like to be one of those first 12 disciples and to have the privilege of spending 3 years, 24/7 with Jesus; walking the same dusty roads, sleeping on the same dusty floors and eating food from the same battered table.

Yet it is clear from the Great Commission where he tells us to ‘make disciples of all nations[1] that Jesus saw the group of people called disciples as extending far beyond the 12 to include ourselves. But how can this be when we can’t be with Jesus like the twelve were? Or can we?

Jesus promised that when he went to heaven he would leave behind the Holy Spirit to be our comforter or ‘advocate to help us and be with us forever’.[2] Take a moment to ponder the significance of this promise. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit has been given to us so that, like the 12 disciples, we can be in Jesus’ company every moment of every day, wherever we are!

We will begin this autumn term with a series called ‘Life in the Spirit’. My prayer is that we do more than simply learn truth about the Holy Spirit over the coming weeks. Unless we have a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit that causes us to encounter Jesus day by day we are liable to drift from being in relationship with him as his disciples and become merely historians who know about Jesus. Join me in praying that this series will lead us into a fresh encounter with Jesus as we open up our lives to Him.

[1] Matthew 28:19

[2] John 14:16

 

This blog post featured in the September 2014 edition of Lifelines

Catch the Flame

Over the next few months the world’s gaze will be upon London as the 30th modern Olympic Games gets underway. Starting on 19th May the Olympic torch will traverse the country in readiness for the opening ceremony in July. The symbol of the Olympic Flame can be traced back to ancient Greece and a fire that burned constantly in Olympia. According to mythology this was to commemorate the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus.

For Christians the image of fire reminds us of the flames that appeared on the heads of the apostles on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit came upon them. This event marked the birth of the church and the fulfilment of promises from God that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord would be saved. Traditionally Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter and this year falls on 27th May.

To celebrate these two events Life Church and St John’s Church are partnering with our friends from Miracle Street for the ‘Catch the Flame’ weekend. On the Saturday afternoon we shall be holding a family fun day in Hartletts Park with an Olympic theme. This will be followed on the Sunday afternoon by an open air celebration of Pentecost, also in Hartletts Park. We hope that you will join us for these exciting events as together we ‘Catch the Flame’

This blog post featured in the May 2012 edition of Hook Focus