Prayer and fasting are two spiritual disciplines that are often linked. In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus discusses fasting. I have always found it interesting that He said “When you fast,” not “If you fast.” That shows me it is an expected behavior for a Christian. Fasting demonstrates humility by acknowledging our dependence on God. It leads to prayer, because, in fasting, we can have times of concentrated prayer in which we seek clarity about things that concern us. I am fully aware there are a multitude of other actions associated with fasting but a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this devotional.
For example, one may fast for health reasons. I have found that intermittent fasting helps me physically. A couple of years ago, I tried this for the first time and I found it really helped me in my quest for better health. This was not a fast for religious purposes (although it could be incorporated into the fast), so I don’t feel that I’m being like the “righteous man” in Matthew 16. We are not to proclaim our times of religious fasting. It is between me and God. You won’t see a good minister stand up and say “How many of you were successful in your fasting this week?” That is unscriptural.
Our church is currently involved in a concentrated period of renewal that involves prayer and fasting. Through this time, I have had some real encounters with God as I went along this journey. At the outset, I identified seven items for focused prayer. Four of these were personal; the others deal with other issues.
I am a CPA and a retired College Professor. I still maintain an active tax practice. One of the items on my list was what to do about the tax practice. If you know me, you know that I love taxes. It is almost second nature to me and I enjoy getting to help people complete their tax obligation. If you know me well, you know that church and clergy taxes are a passion of mine. There is a lot of misinformation in this area and I feel blessed when I am able to help a church or a minister properly handle their tax obligations. Several years ago, I started a business, Church Tax Solutions, in which I planned to present seminars, webinars, consultations, and tax preparation to churches and ministers. Due to a number of circumstances it never got off the ground and as I aged, I didn’t have the mental energy to get it going. It was not in God’s timing.
But I am not getting any younger. I had been thinking that maybe it was time to reduce my workload. So I’ve been praying to God for some clarity on this issue. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down after breakfast, and checked for any urgent email messages. I found a message on my business Facebook page from someone I did not know, so I checked it. Little did I know the impact this message would have on me.
This gentleman was representing a company that assists churches and ministers in financial matters, including taxes. He stated that he had been following me for some time, and likes what I write. He was inquiring if his company could contract with me to write blogs on church and clergy tax issues for their website. At this point, I felt like “OK that’s nice, but I’m busy.”
So I moved on to my prayer and devotional time. I read my Bible passage for the day. It so happened that the scripture included the Prayer of Jabez in First Chronicles. Immediately the words “ENLARGE MY TERRITORY,” jumped off the page at me. My first reaction was that I was wanting to contract my business, not expand it. Then I got to thinking about it. I love to write. I enjoy the area of church and clergy taxes. This would be in line with what I was trying to do with Church Tax Solutions. So, my mind accepted that this might be something to consider. I wrote him back, asking for more detail.
Then came Monday. I got a response and all the answers were satisfactory. But he added a line at the bottom of his message. “Would you be interested in handling any overflow from our tax preparation business?” My first response was immediate. I literally shouted out “God, leave me alone. I just want to retire and quietly go out to pasture.” Not my finest moment.
After I settled down I felt a little better about my response. I realized that many people in the Bible had a similar response to Him from time to time. David expressed his anger to God. Moses told God He had the wrong person. So such anger is not sin. Then I realized this is just another step in what I feel called to do. So I am exploring this opportunity.
Through this process, three things have stood out to me.
- We are to be open. Prayer is not us giving God a list of our wants and expecting God to grant our wishes. He is not a genie in a bottle. I like the Amplified Bible translation of Proverbs 16:9 “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure.”
- Our prayer concerns may be interlinked. They aren’t independent silos; as we move from one item to another we start to see they are all a part of a bigger picture.
- Often our prayers will morph into something different. We may have been focusing on an item in a particular way, but through our prayers, fasting, and Bible study, we see a new perspective. And amend our prayers and actions to reflect that perspective.
We sometimes refer to someone looking for God as a seeker. But we are all seekers. I’ve been a Christian for 66 years and I am still seeking. Won’t you join me on the journey?