Beyond Today — Fasting and Prayer: Tools for Spiritual Growth

Beyond Today — Fasting and Prayer: Tools for Spiritual Growth


[Gary] You go to church. You try to be nice
to people. You pray when you can. But in the stress and clutter of everyday life, does
it seem like God is maybe far off or out of touch? Even uncaring? How can you connect with God when He seems
unreachable? The Gospel of Luke records that Jesus, “often
withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 15:16). Now how can you apply this simple verse—[Jesus]
“often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” to help you in your personal relationship
with God? Well join us on Beyond Today as we explore
how to sift through all the daily clutter with “Fasting and Prayer: Tools for Spiritual
Growth.” [Announcer] Join our host Gary Petty and his
guests, as they help you understand your future on Beyond Today! [Gary] The Gospel says that Jesus “often
withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Now the wilderness of Judea can be a very
desolate, inhospitable place. Why would Jesus go to the wilderness to pray? We’re going to take a look at an important
story from the life of Jesus that shows how fasting, prayer and the Bible are spiritual
tools to help us connect to God—even in those times when He seems unreachable. Now in the story we’re about to look at,
once again, Jesus goes to the wilderness. Over the years, one of my favorite places
to visit is the wilderness of Big Bend National Park in Texas. The Big Bend desert and mountains
can be stunningly beautiful and disturbingly desolate. Looking out over a landscape of
rock and sand—almost devoid of life—hearing only the passing sound of the wind—can be
a deeply lonely feeling. Hiking in those wilderness mountains with
no television, no cell phone, no computer—your life is stripped down to the essentials—water,
food, shelter—and an awareness of your need for God. Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness
and prayed.” This is important. Jesus, on a regular basis,
took time to strip His life down to the most essential element—His prayer life with God. And this is a deliberate action. Jesus sought
the solitude of the wilderness to shut out the clutter, the urgent stresses, the demands
of everyday life. Now He didn’t stay in the wilderness like a hermit. Instead, He
was spiritually energized by His wilderness journeys enabling Him to return to His family,
His friends and His work. Now maybe you’re thinking, “Well this
was easy for Jesus to do but how can I go to a desolate place when I live in an apartment
complex or a subdivision where the closest I get to a wilderness is watching the National
Geographic Channel?” And of course, then there’s always this
argument: “I don’t have time to withdraw from my everyday life. I mean, there’s the
kids and the job and my obligation to the neighborhood association. And there’s church
choir practice…” Stop! Just stop. Because this is the core
of your problem. You have not acknowledged that the most important essential necessity
in your life is your personal relationship with your God. Until you do, nothing is going
to change. And the rest of the lesson that we’re going to look at here from the life
of Jesus, isn’t going to have any meaning for you. You see, your wilderness experience might
be the quiet of a park bench, the solitude of a kitchen table with no radio or television
blaring distractions, or the calming time spent in the beauty of nature. But you have
to go there, to connect with God. Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness
and prayed.” Now, let’s look at an important story from
the life of Jesus. Matthew 4 records a time when Jesus once again
withdrew to the wilderness. And this time He did more than pray. Verse 2 says, “And
when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry” (Matthew 4:2). Forty days without food and Jesus was hungry—that
has to be one of the greatest understatements of the entire Bible. Fasting is a biblical practice of going without
food, and sometimes food and water, for a period of time in order to dedicate your life
to connecting with God. This practice may seem a bit strange in our society, but it
is a spiritual exercise taught throughout the Bible. Jesus fasted. In the story we’re
looking at today, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness not only to pray, but to fast. Now let’s stop for a minute here because
it’s important to point out that it is unhealthy, even dangerous, for most people to fast for
40 days. Most biblical fasts are much shorter in length—a day, even sometimes less than
a day. The purpose for abstaining from food, and sometimes food and water, and seeking
solitude with God—it’s a type of spiritual wilderness experience. It strips us from what
seems important and brings us into intense awareness of our limited, physical lives.
Fasting, coupled with prayer, and another tool we’ll discuss in a few minutes, makes
us aware of our need for God. These practices help prepare us for connection with God. In the account of Jesus withdrawing to the
wilderness to fast for 40 days, we also find that He was directly confronted by Satan.
Now I know that the existence of a supernatural evil being is seen as maybe silly is our “enlightened”
society. Well the Bible says that Jesus was confronted
by Satan. If you believe Jesus is real, and we accept the Gospels are accurate accounts
of His life, you know we must also believe in the existence of Satan. If Satan exists,
then he tries to influence us just as the Bible says. This is one of the great lessons learned by
drawing close to God through the spiritual wilderness experience of fasting and prayer.
Life is more than prime rib and a fine glass of wine—more than just having a full stomach. Satan is real and all of us are in a spiritual
battle for our minds. You and I—we were created in the image of God. You were created
with a need to connect with your Creator. Satan wants to destroy that spiritual relationship
by getting you to deny and pervert the spiritual aspects of your very nature. Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it: “For
we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness
in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). This spiritual battle it’s the source of
all of our pain, and dysfunction and despair that we experience in our lives. If you are
ever going to connect with God on a deep, personal level—you must accept that God’s
desire for you and your life actually may be different than the way you’ve been living. Jesus’ wilderness experience of fasting
and prayer was a way for Him to prepare for spiritual warfare. And this is the first of three points we’ll
learn from the wilderness experience of Matthew 4: First: 1. Fasting and prayer prepares you for spiritual
battle. Many times we face the spiritual battles of
life without any preparation at all. It’s like a heavyweight boxer deciding to begin
his training five minutes before entering the ring. The panic begins when the bell announces
the beginning of the first round and it’s too late to begin training. The time for us to draw close to God is before
you are enmeshed in a spiritual battle. And fasting is a tool for spiritual preparation. Now we’re going to discuss two more points
of using the spiritual “wilderness experience” to deepen your connection with God, but first
let me tell you about a study guide that can help you in your spiritual journey. When you’re spiritually hungry, you need
to delve into God’s Word. To help you, I’m offering you our free study aid: Tools for
Spiritual Growth. This valuable publication will provide you with vital information on
how you can grow spiritually and build an all-important personal relationship with God
as your Father. To request your free copy of: Tools for Spiritual
Growth, please call toll-free—write this down: 1-888-886-8632. Now that’s 1-888-886-8632.
Or, write to us at the address shown on your screen throughout the program [Beyond Today,
PO Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254]. Or if you prefer, visit our website: BeyondToday.tv
to read or download, Tools for Spiritual Growth. We’ve seen that Jesus “often withdrew
into the wilderness and prayed.” These wilderness experiences helped Him tune out the noise
and urgent stresses of life and concentrate on His relationship with God His Father. Now I realize that most of us can’t find
the desolate places of solitude found in the Judean wilderness, but we can find places
in a park, in our homes, or workplace where we can find quiet time to connect with God. Now we’ve been exploring the wilderness
experience of Matthew 4 where Jesus not only sought solitude to pray but to fast. Fasting,
going without food and possibly food and water, for a period of time is an important tool
for helping all of us connect with God. The first lesson we learned from Jesus’
story is: Jesus fasted as preparation for spiritual battle. Once His preparation was complete, He actually
had to now fight the spiritual battle. Satan, the psychological master who has deceived
and abused humanity, came to Jesus and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command
that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3). Remember, Jesus was starving. His need for
food was all consuming. Matthew says, “But He [speaking of Jesus]
answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every
word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”’”(Matthew 4:4). Now this doesn’t mean that followers of
Jesus Christ should ignore their physical needs. Jesus’ need for food was real. He
was literally facing death by starvation. If you read a little further in Matthew 4,
you see that once Jesus defeated Satan, He did eat food and take care of His physical
needs. But notice that the point that Jesus was making is: “Man shall not live by bread
alone…” Jesus wasn’t going to take food, in spite
of His hunger, in spite of His pain, until it was God’s time for Him to eat. Satan
was trying to confuse Jesus about His identity as the Son of God. He wanted Him to concentrate
on His physical needs at the price of His spiritual need for His Father. What can we learn by looking at how Jesus
dealt with this attack on His spiritual identity? You know, Satan has stolen your true identity.
He’s working to make you like him. But, you were born—listen to this—You were
born to be a child of your Creator. And you have the same tools from God that Jesus used
in His spiritual battles. Jesus quoted a basic truth from the Bible
as a tool in His spiritual battle. His answer to Satan: “Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And here we find a vital lesson
in fighting our spiritual battles. It’s our second point today. 2. Study the Bible, because studying the Bible
gives you spiritual nourishment. The Bible is God’s instruction book for
all of humanity. It tells us about Him—about God—about His Son Jesus Christ—about why
we experience suffering and death and how God wants to give us the good news about how
He can save us. Now this adds another tool in our spiritual
warfare: prayer—we’ve talked about, fasting and the Bible itself. You know of course,
having a Bible but never reading it is like having a hammer with no boards or nails. It’s
a useless tool. Discovering how the Bible reveals God—reveals
His desire for your future—and how to live everyday with God’s blessing means you have
to study the words of the Book. If you have trouble making sense of the Bible,
then you need to follow Jesus’ example and seek a wilderness experience. Now, you may
not be able to literally go to a desolate place, but you can make time to find solitude
and seek God’s understanding through intense prayer, fasting and Bible reading. Pray for
God to work with your mind—to prepare you for the spiritual battle—to guide you with
His words of favor and counsel. Now we now come to the third lesson from the
story of Matthew 4. Here’s what’s written: “Then the devil took Him up into the holy
city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of
God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,”
and, “In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.”’” “Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again,
“You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”’”(Matthew 4:5-7). Now Satan—always the deceiver—used a biblical
passage in an attempt to deceive Jesus. He tried to convince Jesus to go against His
Father’s desire for Him—to compromise with His spiritual identity and mission. Instead, Jesus submitted to God’s desire
instead of resisting it. And that it is our third lesson here: 3. Submitting to God brings His desire into
your life. This is the attitude we must have in approaching
God. We don’t pray, fast and study God’s Word in order to prepare God for our desires.
We use these spiritual tools in order to be prepared for God’s desire. When you learn of God’s desire—and resist
it—you turn your back on God. What it means is that you decide that you know better about
what is best for you than the Creator of your life. We have to admit, all of us have done this.
We’ve ignored God’s instructions because of fear, or weakness or just selfishness.
When we find ourselves resisting God’s desire—we need to clear some time for a spiritual wilderness
experience. Let’s look at the last part of our story
from Matthew 4. It is Satan’s final attempt to defeat Jesus. “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly
high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said
to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’” And here’s what Jesus said: “Away with
you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you
shall serve’” (Matthew 4:8-10). Worship and obedience to God led to Christ’s
victory in His spiritual battle. Remember, the purpose for fasting and seeking
solitude with God, it’s a type of spiritual wilderness experience. It strips us from what
seems important and brings us into intense awareness of our limited, physical lives.
Fasting and prayer, coupled with Bible study, makes us aware of our need for God. Then and
only then can we totally submit to His desire for us. These practices prepare us for connection
with God. All of us are involved in daily spiritual
battles. And we can’t win these battles without God’s direct involvement in our
lives. God has given you the tools you need to experience
His involvement in your life every day—fasting and prayer, Bible study, and complete submission
to God. Jesus Christ showed us the example of how to take these tools and apply them.
And if you are searching for a deeper, more meaningful connection with God, seek Him in
a spiritual wilderness experience. Now, I want to remind you once again about
our free Bible study aid and offer today: Tools for Spiritual Growth. When you order
this important study aid, you’ll discover how to increase your spiritual strength and
knowledge while building a better and deeper relationship with God. And when you order your copy of: Tools for
Spiritual Growth we’ll also send you a free subscription to our magazine—if you’re
not already a subscriber. This valuable publication is packed with practical, Bible-based articles
on subjects like prophecy, Bible teachings, faith and family life. These informative and
encouraging articles will not only show you how to live a more fulfilling life today—right
now, but will help you learn about the exciting future that lies ahead for you and your family. So, please don’t wait. Call: 1-888-886-8632.
That’s 1-888-886-8632, or go online to BeyondToday.tv for the study aid: Tools for Spiritual Growth
and our enlightening bi-monthly magazine. Please call for our free offers today. We’re
looking forward to hearing from you! To further our discussion on fasting, prayer
and Bible study, we’re joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve
Myers. We’ve been looking at these examples where
Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to pray and fast. Now Darris, you’ve been to the Judean
wilderness, how did withdrawing into the wilderness strengthen Jesus’ relationship with His
Father? [Darris] Well, it’s a good question because
Christ was both the Son of God and He was the Son of Man. And He was preparing Himself
for a very important encounter—as you’ve gone through the story where He had to deal
with Satan and Satan’s temptations. And it’s an example that we have to step back
from our busy life at times in order to have an encounter, and a relationship with God
that takes us to another level. And, that’s one of the most important things I think we
take from that. Because then when we are at that point, we’re closer with God, our minds
are sharper and focused on spiritual concepts, we are able to better resist the pulls that
Satan has for us. And that’s probably one of the biggest lessons to take from that example
there. [Steve] It’s interesting that when you’re
alone, you go into that wilderness, whether it’s a literal wilderness or whether it’s
a private room in your house, you recognize this special connection that you have with
God. That you are totally dependent on God for your spiritual life, just like if you
didn’t eat food, you’d lose your life. If you don’t have a relationship with God
and a close one, you won’t have that spiritual connection. And so, we desperately need that
relationship with God. [Gary] As pastors, people come to us all the
time searching for that connection with God. And we talk to them about these tools. So,
if someone comes to you and you’re saying, “I need, I hunger for this relationship
with God,” how do you guide them and to use these tools to help build that closeness
to God? [Darris] I tell them that certainly, prayer,
and if they are really struggling with something and they employ this spiritual tool of fasting,
that they should be prepared to see God’s will—not enter into that time of a spiritual
discipline seeking to bend God to their will. Fasting should never be looked upon as a hunger
strike to get God to see it our way or to agree with us. If one does it properly, it
can be an astounding experience to be humbled in gaining an insight into really what God’s
will is, and drawing closer to Him. And, done that way, it’s far better. [Steve] Yeah sometimes I think we spiritualize
some of these things to such a degree we forget the practicality behind it. That, just like
any relationship we have, we have to talk to God. We have to listen to God. We have
to have a relationship. And so any good relationship has a good dialogue going and fasting is one
of those keys to have a good dialogue with God and recognize our dependence on Him, as
well as listening to Him through His Word—the Bible, and praying to Him, talking to Him.
And so, all those things work together for a stronger relationship. [Gary] I can think of times in my life where
I’ve had a spiritual wilderness experience. I can think of twice, two times especially
where just the problems of life were so overwhelming that I had to spend a period of time—I remember
one case for an extended period of time I was fasting for 24 hours once a week. And,
during that time period and doing it throughout the week spending extra time in prayer and
studying the Bible and looking for God’s direction to, what is it that God wanted in
my life? And looking back now, it’s very much a wilderness experience. Do you have
any spiritual wilderness experience you want to share? [Darris] Yeah, one time we were going through
a difficult, challenging period—my wife and I. We were both together fasting through
this experience and not only were we fasting, which is a physical matter for a spiritual
purpose, but we also took a page out of the story of Hezekiah; where when he was confronted
with a challenge and a demanding letter, he took it into his private spot, unfurled it
before God and prayed about it in that way. And we did that very same thing. We took actually
some of the letters and matters and prayed over that in the manner that Hezekiah did
coupled with fasting and it was amazing the answers that came. [Gary] Call us right now to order your personal
copy of our free study aid, Tools for Spiritual Growth and your free subscription to our bi-monthly
magazine. Simply call us toll free at: 1-888-886-8632. That’s 1-888-886-8632. Or, you can read
both online at BeyondToday.tv. While visiting our BeyondToday.tv website,
be sure to view BT Daily. These are 2- to 5-minute daily videos on many different topics
including prophecy and Christian living. They frequently also provide analysis of breaking
news from a biblical vantage point. When you join us throughout the week for BT Daily,
you’ll discover much more about the great purpose God has for you and for all of humanity.
You can also watch Beyond Today and BT Daily anytime on YouTube, our Roku channel and other
streaming-enabled devices. Plus, if you would like to learn even more
about the wonderful truths of the Bible, we invite you to watch our live, bi-weekly, Wednesday
night Beyond Today Bible Studies. To find them, simply go to our Beyond Today website
and click on “Bible Studies” at the top right of the page. Please join us as we cover
a wide selection of biblical topics—designed to give you concrete ways to help improve
your life today while pointing to a positive and hopeful future. Additionally, the United Church of God has
hundreds of congregations across the United States and throughout the world with caring
pastors available to help you on your spiritual journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ. You
can see a listing in the Contact section of our website at BeyondToday.tv. Jesus sought the solitude of the wilderness
to shut out the clutter, the urgent stresses, and the demands of everyday life. Now we’ve
learned three important lessons from Jesus’ example: One: Fasting and prayer prepares you for spiritual
battle. Two: Studying the Bible gives you spiritual
nourishment. And three: Submitting to God brings His desire
into your life. When you take time to seek God by getting
away from the mental and emotional clutter, you can experience a type of spiritual wilderness
experience. You can be spiritually, mentally and emotionally prepared for God’s involvement
in your life. Be sure to order your free copy of Tools for
Spiritual Growth to help you in your spiritual journey. Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue
to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, “Thy
Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching. [Announcer] For the free literature offered
on today’s program, go online to BeyondToday.tv. Please join us again next week on Beyond Today!

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