“So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants” (Ephesians 5: 16-17, MSG).
“One day as they were worshiping God—they were also fasting as they waited for guidance—the Holy Spirit spoke: “Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do” (Acts 13:2, MSG).
David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” (1 Samuel 30: 8, NIV).
The consecration and prayerful mode provided by fasting is a good opportunity to seek divine guidance in the affairs of life. From personal to corporate matters, God wants to share a bit of his wisdom with us. Each new day in this land of the living is like arriving in a new territory. Each day brings fresh opportunities and fresh trials. We never quite know which step will bring us to a turn in which blessings await us; or a turn in which fresh misunderstanding or pain may be lurking. To survive and thrive in this country we are called to live in, we have to watch our step, use our head, and make the most of every opportunity we are given. But this watchfulness is not a result of fear of being swallowed up by the ‘giants’ in the land, it is borne out of a desire to understand what the Lord wants. We don’t live in this territory of faith shriveled by fear and debilitating passions of worry and anxiety; ever cautious and timid. Instead, we live freely and fully – only as we understand what the will of the Lord is. Understanding the will of the Lord frees us to pursue life in that direction, freely and joyfully maximizing every opportunity provided by his will. “Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Do you know what God wants about your current situation? To be sure, this doesn’t mean being cock-sure about everything that is going to happen to you and or certainty about that grand plan God has for you for the next 50 years. No, this ‘knowing what the Lord wants” means taking each step prayerfully as we listen for God’s guidance.
We live in an age that believes that we basically know almost all there is to know. We live in a drive-through culture: drive-through pharmacy, drive-through restaurant, drive-through grocery store. So, we expect that divine guidance should always be communicated to us as we drive-through life’s busy terrain. We often do not have the patience or training to seek God’s wisdom and guidance through prayer and fasting. Some might even make a mockery of the idea of withdrawing from it all just to pray and seek God’s face. But there comes a time or two in every person’s walk when life places a demand on them to make very important decisions. At such times, we need the input of friends, pastors, professionals, or loved ones –input often shaped by the limited wisdom of this world. Our human advisors mean well and may be very knowledgeable, but cannot tell what tomorrow brings. Only God knows what the future looks like. He knows the future that we are heading into, he knows the path we are following, he knows what the destination looks like. He knows the heart of the people with whom we deal. He even knows our own heart better than ourselves. Sometimes, we lie to ourselves so much we begin to believe our own lies. But God knows our heart, and still loves us. He is committed to us, because of his immense love toward us. He is truth. He knows. In time of decision, big or small, he wants us to consult with him. In those life-defining decisions, we had better consult with him. Time of fasting is a wonderful opportunity to directly ask for God’s direction and guidance on specific issues.
The leaders of the Christian Church in Antioch took God’s guidance seriously in their work as ministers. All of them gathered to fast and pray. They were praying for God’s guidance to lead the people and to be able to serve as God wants them to serve. They were worshipping and waiting – waiting and expecting God to lead them somehow. One day as they were worshiping God—they were also fasting as they waited for guidance—the Holy Spirit spoke: “Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.” (Acts 13:2, MSG). They were fasting as they waited for guidance. I get this picture of a group of leaders who gave up all other important assignments just to wait on God, waiting until God speaks to them his guidance. They prayed. They sang songs. They listened. All the while, they were fasting. I wonder what would happen if that kind of image is duplicated among our church leaders in congregations across the country. Imagine the pastor and all his ministers fasting and waiting on God – not to endorse a decision he has already made, or to provide money to fund the next project – but to hear what the Lord has to say. Not that there is anything wrong with making quick decisions (God gave us a sound mind for that reason) or carrying out a new project. But imagine if the Lord actually directed those decisions or gave his word regarding our projects. Those leaders from Antioch were prophets and teachers. They could hear from God, and they certainly knew the Scriptures in and out. But they still waited in fasting until they heard from the Lord, corporately, locally. I don’t know about you, but there is something moving about that picture: any one of those men would have presumptuously claimed to know what the will of the Lord was, either by title or position or past accomplishments. But none of them did. Instead, together, as brothers in Christ, they fasted and prayed and sought God’s guidance until he spoke.
When God spoke, he asked them to release Paul and Barnabas unto the work he has called them to do. So, in obedience, these leaders blessed Paul and Barnabas and released them to the work God has chosen for them. Christendom is the better for it. Paul and Barnabas went on to reach many unreached peoples. Later, Paul was to write the epistles that have continued to be a blessing to Christians of all generations. But what if these leaders were not attentive to the will of the Lord? What if they did not understand what the will of the Lord was? What if they insisted that these two talented men might as well serve out whatever calling they had in that local Church at Antioch – loyal, submissive and supportive of their pastor while they wait for their ‘time’? Would we still have the kind of Paul we had? What if they felt threatened by Paul’s revelation from Christ and tried to put him under? We don’t know what would have happened if those men did not respond to the will of the Lord, but we are glad that they did. Fasting and worshipful prayer helped them discern the will of God. While seeking God’s guidance, they realized the right time to let go of these two men to serve God as he has called them, not grudgingly but joyfully.
If the church leadership at Antioch provided a good example of seeking guidance from God as a group, David provides as an example of an individual intent on celebrating God’s guidance through each turn. David was not a perfect man by any standard. Still, one of the things that made David ultimately successful was his choice to constantly seek God’s guidance at different phases of his life. In one of those seasons, David was in transition. You know one of those in-between moments when you have started the journey but not quite gotten to your destination. Life is filled with those transitional moments. David was going through one of those. He was already ordained to be king of Israel. Feeling threatened, Saul, who was king at that time, sought to kill him. So David fled. Anointed king, but living like a fugitive. Blessed with a great future, but currently living in trials and difficulty. Destined for the palace, but making the desert his current home. David’s wanderings have finally brought him to Ziklag, where he settled down a bit. A group of men had followed him around faithfully. They believed in him. As they began to settle down, they started families. While he was away trying to help the president of the region in which he was settling, Amalekites raided his city, Ziklag, and took away all their family and belongings. David’s wives were gone too. When he returned with his men and saw what had happened, they were all broken. The men who had bonded with him all these years of pain and trials suddenly have had enough, and were whispering about stoning David to death.
In the midst of this crisis, David did something that is as important as it is revealing about his person. He went in to seek the Lord’s face. He wanted to get a word from the Lord about what he should do. Pursue after those raiders? Would he be able to recover their family members alive? Or will pursuing after these Amalekites only embolden them to kill their wives and children? Was it better to leave them as servants to those infidel Amalekites rather than risk getting them all killed? David consulted with the Lord. Like the leaders of the Church in Antioch, he waited for God to speak. Waiting, listening. Finally, God spoke to him: “Pursue them. You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” Now, David knew what the will of the Lord is. In pursuing after the raiders, he would not be acting recklessly or thoughtlessly. He would succeed in rescuing them. Oh the joy of understanding the will of the Lord, receiving a clear guidance from God. Now, David was encouraged. When he spoke, his followers knew there is hope. They perished the thought of killing David. They marched with him as they pursued after the band of raiders. And yes, they recovered all their family members, all belongings, plus extra bounty. God’s guidance helps us recover the fullness of life. God’s guidance helps us recover hope and joy in believing. God’s direction helps us avoid needless heart-aches. Fasting provides the intensity and focus to seek God and wait till we hear his voice. We wait and wait. We listen, intently, expectantly, till he guides.
Here is the thing that never ceases to amaze me: in his mercy, God tends to reveal his will one way or another to us whenever we eagerly seek him. He spoke to the leadership at Antioch. He spoke to David. He spoke to Hannah as she prayed, in this case through Eli the prophet (1 Samuel 1). He speaks. He longs to guide us. He wants to direct our path. No matter your church background, God wants to lead you as his child. When you fast, ask him specifically to lead you make the right decisions. Life is a series of choices and decisions. One bad choice often leads to another. But when we engage God through prayer and fasting, we surrender long enough to him to hear his direction.
How do I receive guidance from the Lord? Make out time to be with the Lord. That is where fasting may be helpful. You dedicate a time frame to be alone. Then we confess our sins and pride to the Lord. Often, a prideful heart is difficult to lead. We discuss the issue with the Lord as you would with a friend. I would often have a piece of paper on which I write down the pros and cons, the reasons for or against a particular decision or idea. I would directly ask the Lord for his wisdom and guidance. Like the leaders at Antioch, we pray but we also worship. We give him glory. We bless and extol his name. We revel in his wonders, and gaze into his face. We study the Scriptures and let his word speak to us privately. Then he begins to reveal hidden motives or arrogance or false assumptions we have had. We may get up from our knees without a clear word, but we are sure somehow that he will lead the way. We step out more confident that he is leading the way.
The only ‘seven-step’ guide to hearing from the Lord is to give ourselves completely to him, listen and obey. In that regard, I like how Romans 12:1-2 (MSG) puts it: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
It seems like the very first step to being readily led by God is a decision to take our everyday, ordinary lives and place them before God as an offering. Our waking, our going to school, our marriage, our work, nursing a baby, whatever. To bring all these ordinary, everyday aspects of life to the Lord and give it over to him, that is the beginning of receiving divine guidance. Letting God into the ‘dailiness’ of our journey is a pleasing offering to God. Why? Because he loves us so much he wants to be a part of our lives. He wants to participate and take active lead in our ordinary lives. When God becomes the center around which the routines of our ‘dailiness’ is carried out, it is a lot easier for us to receive his guidance during those life-defining moments.
“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” Understanding and following the will of the Lord involves embracing what God is doing for you and in you, right now, in this place. What is God doing? Not what we want to do, but what God is working out for us and through us? We may become so adjusted to our way of doing things that are we are not really paying attention to what God is doing. We may become consumed by what the cultures says is the right way that we may not be paying attention to God’s way. We may become so consumed in our ‘rightness’ that we are not listening for God’s wisdom. Understanding the will of the Lord requires paying attention to God, to his works, to his ways. He is working in us both to desire his will and to do it. When we look up and away from our wants and desires, we may be fortunate enough to recognize what he wants from us. Sometimes, we fight where we are located or the people we are associated with, so much that we don’t recognize what God is doing or saying through them. During fasting, as we have shown earlier, we wait on God long enough to see clearly what God is doing and fully embrace it. Saying ‘yes’ to God is the beginning of the freedom to follow in his steps. Fasting, with the conditions of humility and surrender that it engenders, fosters listening and responding to God’s will.
The Preceding are excerpts from the book, Fasting For Life (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1629986267). Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Feel free to check out the full book – it will be well worth your time.