In this session of Secret Church 19, Pastor David Platt introduces the topic of prayer, fasting, and the pursuit of God by defining these terms and concepts and by identifying ways in which they have been misunderstood or ignored. Prayer is a way that Christians express their needs to the Lord. God gives his people prayer as means of grace for their spiritual good. In prayer, we pour out our hearts to God in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Fasting is the voluntary act of abstaining from physical food for spiritual purposes. As we fast, we pray and meditate on God’s Word, because God alone is all-satisfying. Fasting leads Christians to dependence, humility, and joy in the Lord.
Welcome to Secret Church 19. It is good to be together with men and women from every state in the United States and over 75 countries around the world that we know of. From Albania to Zimbabwe, Morocco to Montenegro, from Tunisia to Turkey. Even here in Metro Washington DC, we have people from almost every state, Canada, Mexico, Kenya, Japan, and other countries. It is so good to be together around the world with God’s Word.
Hopefully, you have received the Study Guide, and if so, you are holding in your hand the longest, thickest Secret Church Study Guide ever produced. I want to give a special shout-out to the Radical staff who, for months now, have lugged boxes of these Study Guides on and off trucks to get them delivered to you. You may look at the length of that Guide and think, “There is no chance we’re getting through all of this.” Oh, ye of little faith. We can do this!
Our plan is to get through every single page, which means we’re going to be going at lightning speed at different points. I’d say that’s part of my ploy to help you stay awake, But the real reason is whenever I’ve gathered together with persecuted Christians around the world who are risking their lives to get together, they make the most of that time to get as much Word as possible.
So part of my aim at Secret Church is to give you as much of God’s Word as possible. This Study Guide is saturated with Scripture that we won’t have time to turn to and some that we won’t even have time to read tonight, so I hope it will be a resource that you can go back to in the days ahead and dive in deeper. I’m not under any illusion that walking through God’s Word like this is the best way to digest it fully. It’s going to be more like standing in front of a fire hydrant in a way, so hopefully, you can just soak in it for years to come.
There are blanks along the way for you to take notes. Hopefully, you’ve chosen wisely in the person you’re sitting next to because when you doze off for 30 seconds and miss 20 pages, you’re going to be looking for help and hopefully they were not dozing at the same time. Let’s just give ourselves the freedom, if need be, to switch seats during the break and not be offended if somebody doesn’t come back and sit next to you if you have not proved reliable.
Why are we here?
In all seriousness, my hope and prayer is that in the next few hours God, by His Spirit and through His Word, might do a supernatural work in your life in such a way that you will be driven to pursue Him more passionately than you ever have before. One of our pastors said to me today, “David, teaching like this has the potential to light the wick of revival. I’m praying for that in my own heart, in our church, and beyond.”
I agree with him. I prayed specifically for people tonight who don’t yet have a relationship with God. Maybe you’re exploring Christianity. Maybe you think you’re a Christian when you don’t actually have a relationship with Christ. I’ve prayed that God might use tonight to introduce you to a relationship with God marked by a passionate pursuit of Him.
I’ve also prayed for people who have been Christians for many years, maybe even decades, that even if you’ve been a Christian for 60 plus years, God’s Spirit would ignite your heart tonight to pursue Him with greater and deeper passion than you ever have had before, specifically through prayer and fasting. That leads to the question: Why are we here tonight and why would we spend hours on this particular topic?
Why Do We Pray and Fast?
When I use the term ‘prayer’ I’m referring pretty plainly to conversation with God—what a baffling thought that you and I can converse with God! How does that work? When does God answer or not answer?
People wonder, “Why pray when God already knows what I need? Or does He? Why pray when God has already determined what will happen? Or has He? How does that work? What do I do when it feels like I’m praying into thin air, like I’m just saying words but they’re not doing anything or going anywhere? Is anybody even listening? How do I know what God is leading me to do in my life?”
People say, “I prayed about it and God led me to do this.” Others wonder, “How do you know God led you to do that? Did you hear a voice? Did you have some feeling? If so, how do I hear that voice? How do I have that feeling? How do I know it’s from God and not just something I’m making up myself?” Prayer is one of the most basic Christian practices, yet we all have basic questions about it.
We are very confused about fasting.
Our questions go to a whole other level when we get to fasting. We are very confused about fasting. By ‘fasting’ here, I’m referring to abstinence from physical food for spiritual purposes. We’ll get into this more in-depth in a bit, but suffice it to say at this point, the world has defined fasting in different ways.
Fasting Center International claims to have the world’s largest fasting clientele with people in 220 nations. Never mind the fact that there are only 195 countries in the world recognized by the United Nations, so apparently, they have fasting clientele on other planets. In their words, “Fasting is the greatest of all healing modalities, with more testimonials among our species’ greatest thinkers and spiritual teachers than all other healing modalities combined.” They encourage fasting for many purposes.
First, to remove unnecessary weight the natural way. Second, to remove “the five-to-ten-pound inner toxic waste dump now polluting the average adult cell tissue and organ storage areas, including chemical toxins, heavy metals, metabolic wastes, excessive cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream, arterial plaque and intestinal parasites.” Hmm. So, that’s another reason.
Third, you can fast in order to “elevate yourself out of the clouded consciousness that most people spend their life in and vault yourself into the stratosphere of human potential.” Finally, you can fast to “move yourself back toward your life’s birthright potential of optimal health, increasing your happiness and healing power as you scientifically reset your body’s odometer and greatly enhance your quality of life.”
Just in case you missed all that, the world says, “Fast to lose weight, reset your body’s odometer, get rid of that toxic waste dump you’re carrying around, then vault yourself into our species’ stratosphere of human potential.”
That’s not what we’re going to be diving into tonight at all. We will not be exploring your toxic waste dump. The world has defined fasting in different ways, but the church has ignored most of those ways. Few Christians, at least in this culture, have any regular practice of fasting. Few of us do it. Most of us avoid it, which—as we’ll see—means we’re avoiding something God’s people have done throughout our history and something God instructs us to do. It’s never good to avoid something God instructs us to do which is a symptom of a deeper malady, for we are all—every single one of us—relentlessly tempted to forsake the pursuit of God.
We Pray and Fast in order to Pursue God.
When I say ‘pursuit of God’ I’m referring to that all-consuming quest to know, enjoy, worship, and love God. By that, I mean that my life’s aim is to know, enjoy, worship, and love God. But we’re all tempted by lesser aims.
When we think about why we don’t pursue God with all we have and all we are, I think there are many reasons. Our hearts can go casual in the pursuit of God. We’re self-sufficient, or so we think. We actually think we can carry out life on our own. We are always busy, or so we say. We’re pursuing so many other things. We’re easily distracted. If you sit silent for a moment, suddenly you start searching for your phone to look for someone to talk to or something to see. Silence and solitude are foreign concepts to us.
We’re constantly entertained or looking to be entertained. When it comes to fasting specifically, we are addicted to food—which, as we’ll see later, is in part God-given, but it also must be self-controlled in such a way that we are willing to forsake food for something better. We’re also accustomed to comfort, which makes the thought of fasting utterly unappealing.
What is our Plan to Pray and Fast?
So here’s the plan for how we’re going to answer these questions about prayer and clear up our confusion about fasting, hopefully in a way that doesn’t just give us more information, but in a way that we are driven to pursue God through prayer and fasting more than we pursue anyone or anything in this world.
Let the Word do the work.
I know I can’t make that happen, but I am confident in the power of God’s Word to make that happen, so I’m going to let the Word do the work. In your notes I’ve provided 125 texts and takeaways, starting in Genesis and going through Revelation. The plan is to go through all of them. If that sounds like a lot, be thankful, because I’ve whittled it down to 125. My hope is that you will hear straight from God tonight about prayer and fasting.
We’re going to explore biblical truths literally from cover to cover in the Bible. Along the way, we’ll answer personal questions and offer practical exhortations. My goal tonight is that you would not just walk away with a bunch of information, but that you would walk away with a passion to pursue God. Also, as I always mention at Secret Church, the purpose tonight is not to entertain you, but to equip you. If you wanted entertainment, you should have gone to see the new Avengers movie. This is about equipping you, not just to know and pursue God in your own life, but to live your life in such a way that others around you will know and pursue Him as a result of your life. Again, only the Word can do that work.
Pray the Word in the process.
So we’re going to let the Word do the work, then we’re going to pray the Word in the process. I believe one of the most critical verses on prayer in the Bible is John 15:7 where Jesus says to His disciples, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Do you see the relationship there between the Word and prayer? “If My words are in you,” Jesus says. “If My Word is driving you, then ask for whatever you wish with confidence that it will be done for you.”
So apparently knowing God’s Word is critical to experiencing the wonder of prayer. One of the main things I want to show you tonight is that God calls us to pray His Word. Along the way, we’re going to do something a little different than anything I’ve done in a context like this. In addition to our concentrated time of prayer for the persecuted church at different points, I also want us to pray all along the way through our study of God’s Word.
I don’t want to just talk about prayer for the next few hours; I want us to do it. So along the way, as we study different texts, I’m just going to go seamlessly into prayer for us. You can picture the way it’s going to work like this: I’m going to alternate, I hope faithfully, between speaking to us on behalf of God, teaching His Word, then speaking to God on behalf of us, praying His Word. Throughout the night as we see different truths, I’m just going to offer up prayers to God on our behalf based on His Word.
I think this will make sense as we go along, but I just want us to realize and feel throughout this night that God is with us, that He’s speaking and we have the opportunity to speak to Him. We’re not just going to talk about having a relationship with Him; we’re going to experience relationship and conversation with Him. Spread out across all these sites where we’re gathered, all around the world, we’re going to hear from Him, then speak to Him and cry out to Him. That won’t always involve set times when I’ll say, “Let’s pray,” then we close our eyes. This will involve times when we just go from listening to Him into praying to Him.
One of the men in my life who taught me the most about prayer by example is an older brother named Robert Anderson. I was an intern under him in Georgia when I was finishing college. I would just be walking somewhere with him and we’d be talking, then we’d pause and all of a sudden Robert would just start praying. I’d sit there saying amen and agreeing with what he was praying. This brother prayed continually. Prayer, for Robert, was like an ongoing conversation with God which is what I want us to have tonight.
So along the way, as I pray, as I speak to God on our behalf, if you agree with what I’m saying, feel free to say out loud, “Amen.” As we pray, if there’s something I say that you agree with, say, “Amen.” Boom. All right? This is the way corporate prayer works. One person prays and if everybody else has their hearts lifted up before God in the same way, then we say, “Amen. Yes, we agree. May that be so.”
Pray for Help with Fasting and Praying
God, we pray that You would speak to us tonight through Your Word and cause our hearts to rise up in prayer to You all night long. We pray that this night would be a holy, life-transforming night when we commune together with You around Your Word, when You teach us to pray and fast and pursue You. May it be so, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Session 1 Discussion Questions
Study Guide pp. 5-6
1. Many Christians know that they should pray regularly, yet they find it difficult to pray on a consistent basis. Why do you think this is?
2. Why do you think prayer plays such a small role in the weekly gathering of many churches?
3. Fasting seems to be ignored by many Christians and churches. What are some possible reasons this topic is often neglected?
4. Why is fasting so intimidating for most people, including many Christians?
5. Pursuing God should be our primary aim in life. What other pursuits tend to hinder us from this all-important goal? Why do you think so many churches get distracted from pursuing God as their primary aim?