FASTING AND PRAYING THAT WORKS by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson
Nehemiah 1:4-11 4So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, 6please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.
Overall Background: As you may remember, Nehemiah was a cup-bearer to the King of Persia. A cup-bearer was not just a dishwasher or a butler or a waiter. A cup-bearer was a very influential person—he was the keeper of the signet ring; he was in charge of the administration of the account; he was a close confidant of the king. Next to the king’s wife, the cup-bearer was the most influential person in the kingdom. How did Nehemiah get to such a coveted position? It was not easy— Persia was the largest empire in the world, spanning three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe with as many as 50 million people. To get to such a high position, his parents probably had to send him to the best schools; he had to receive the best trainings; he had to know the right people; he had to prove himself. What an accomplishment for Nehemiah to reach such a great height of power and prestige and prominence!
Nevertheless, when he hears that the Jewish people in Jerusalem (700 miles away) were in great distress and reproach, the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and the gates are burned with fire, listen to his response in verse 4: “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days;” Nehemiah could have ignored the reports (not his family), blamed them for their condition, suggested someone else deal with that problem. Instead, he took it upon himself to do something about it. Bottom line: Nehemiah cared when he didn’t have to.
Application: The question for all of us this morning is “do we care?” Let me ask you a question—how do you respond to all the negative that is going on in our world? I am not suggesting that we become obsessed with all the bad news and become depressed but what do you do when you hear about the godlessness in our nation, breakdown of the family, rise in crime, rise in pornography, rise in apathy among our young people, loss of morality, loss of vision and hope, loss of innocence among our children? Do you look the other way? Do you blame somebody else? Do you think that someone somewhere is handling these problems? Or do we care?
Nehemiah cared…but he also knew that the task was too big, too risky, and too serious to just run out and just do something. Instead, listen to his response in verse 4 “I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah responded by fasting and praying.
Application: This morning all of us are facing situations– maybe it’s in a marriage, child/grandchild, finances/employment, health, habits/personality/attitudes/mind-set, something in our past/present/future. It is too big, too risky, and too serious. It keeps you awake at night. It weighs on your soul. It brings you to tears.
Look at your situation. Is it challenging? Is it impossible? Then it’s time to fast and pray.
Background: Fasting is found all over the Old Testament before the coming of Nehemiah.
- Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights—without bread and without water—before he received the Ten Commandments from God.
- Joshua fasted all day after the defeat of Israel at Ai.
- The people of Israel fasted all day before the Lord because of the civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel.
- Hannah fasted before the Lord because she could not have any children.
- Under Samuel, the people of Israel fasted all day in repentance for their sins.
- Jonathan fasted when he saw how his father, Saul, was treating David.
- When David and his men heard that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle, they fasted until evening.
- The prophet Joel called for a fast because of the plague of locusts and the famine in the land.
- When Jonah pronounced God’s judgment against Nineveh, the entire city fasted, even the king.
- Esther fasted for three days along with her maids and all the Jewish people in Shushan before she went before the king.
- Ezra called for a fast to seek God’s protection for those leaving Babylon for Israel.
- And the list goes on and on. Repeatedly, the people of God fasted when they were faced with difficult and impossible situations.
- What’s more – Scholars tell us that during the exile fasting became a common practice among the Jewish people.
Pressure will either drive us to indulge or it will drive us to get serious with God.
Fasting is simply God’s people setting aside food, entertainment, and any distraction to get serious with Him.
Fasting is no fun. I fast every week. I tell you this not to brag but to encourage you to do the same. I am not a very good faster. On days I fast, everything looks like food to me. All I can think of is fast food. But when you are faced with a need, a burden, and a problem that is too painful and fearful, you cannot help but push away from the table and go on your face before God.
You may say – “I don’t know how to fast.” We are not talking about 40 days and 40 nights. Can we not set aside a day to fast unto God? There are several great resources out there on fasting.
Elmer Towns, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts
The Study Guide is available as a free pdf download from the author’s website. If you follow the link on my blog site, you can get to it.
Application: I don’t know what is weighing on your heart – a loved one, a sickness, a past, a habit, a bill, our nation. It’s time to fast and pray before God. John Wesley said, “Fasting is a means not only of turning away the wrath of God, but also of obtaining whatever blessings we stand in need of.”
So the first thing that Nehemiah did was he fasted. Then the second thing that he did was he prayed. I believe that his fasting impacted his praying.
4So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Background: Look carefully at the pattern of Nehemiah’s prayer.
1. He looked up in Adoration.
Listen to verse 5 And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments,
If you noticed, Nehemiah does not begin by talking about the walls being down or the gates being burned with fire. He begins by praising God.
Application: Many of us begin our prayers by talking about how bad things are or how bad we are. Our prayers can never take flight. But when we pray on what Oswald Chambers calls “the ground of redemption”—who we are in Christ, we are able to see how big God is and how small our problem is.
2. He looked in with Repentance.
Listen to verse 6-7 6please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. 7We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.
Nehemiah doesn’t pass the buck. He acknowledges his own guilt.
Application: As you begin to fast and pray, God is going to bring things to your mind that you have done—sins you have committed against Him and others. As you begin to pray for others, God will show you how you and I are connected in this “collective guilt.” Don’t justify, just confess. You are forgiven even before you confess but your confession restores your relationship with the Father.
3. He looked back to the Promises.
Listen to verse 8-10 8Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; 9but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’
Nehemiah is quoting scripture here. He is reminding God of His promises.
Application: If your prayers have become stale and lifeless, start praying scripture. Open the psalms and start praying each verse. “The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not want.” God – you are my shepherd. You love me and care for me as a shepherd cares for His sheep. You meet my every need. You go before me to prepare the path for my life.
4. He looked forward with Faith
10Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 11O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Did you notice the confidence in Nehemiah’s prayer?! His faith has grown from the moment he began praying to now! Now he calls the king just a “man”!
Do you see what fasting and praying does for us?
Bill Bright said “The longer I fasted, the more my faith soared and the more I sensed the presence of the Lord.”
Application: Nehemiah cared enough to fast and pray. Do we? Some people joke about it. Some people think that it is not necessary.
Did you know that Jesus fasted? When He began His ministry the Spirit led Him into the wilderness for 40 days where He was tempted by the devil and He ate nothing.
In another place when the disciples could not cast out a demon from a child, Jesus said to them “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:20-21)
Application: If Jesus cared enough to fast and pray, should we not?
But remember – Jesus came not just to fast and pray but to lay down His life for us.
There are a lot of similarities between Nehemiah and Jesus.
|Nehemiah was in a high position.||Christ was in the highest position in heaven.|
|Nehemiah heard about the distress and reproach because the walls had fallen.||Christ saw our distress and reproach because of sin.|
|Nehemiah wept and mourned for many days.||Christ wept when he saw the city of Jerusalem.|
|Nehemiah fasted and prayed before he did anything.||Christ fasted and prayed for 40 days before he started His ministry.|
|Nehemiah (as we will see) left his comfortable position to go to Jerusalem to help rebuild the walls.||Christ left His throne in heaven and came down on earth to give His life for our sins.|
Jesus came not just to bring us an example on how to live or some witty teachings on how to be successful. He came to give His life as a ransom for our sins.
Application: Did you know that even before this world was created, Jesus saw you? Did you know that He saw your “substance, being yet unformed?” (Psalms 139:16) Did you know that He wept when He saw your condition because of sin and death? 2000 years ago He left it all to come and save you.
Final quote after invitation: Adrian Rogers said “I believe as the West goes, so goes the world. And as America goes, so goes the West. And as the Church goes, so goes America. And as believers fast and pray, so goes the Church.”