Session 5: Why Do Christians Pray and Fast? - Radical

Secret Church 19: Prayer, Fasting, and the Pursuit of God

Session 5: Why Do Christians Pray and Fast?

In this session of Secret Church 19, Pastor David Platt provides biblical teaching on the prophetic books of the Old Testament. These books contain the messages of those who spoke for God and held his people accountable to the covenant that God made with them through Moses. The Prophets warn of God’s coming judgment against those who violate his covenant, but they also point to a new day of salvation that God will bring about for his people.

The Prophets remind us of the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin. They call God’s people to repentance, which often involves prayers of confession and fasting. These books look expectantly to a coming Messiah, whom we know as Jesus, who would rescue his people from sin and bring about the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes for the world.

  1. Prayer in the Prophetic Books
  2. True Fasting
  3. The Old and New Covenants
  4. The Glory of God
  5. What Prayer Teaches Us

The last section of the Old Testament is the prophets. Ready? What do we learn about prayer, fasting, and the pursuit of God from these mouthpieces of God’s voice?

64. Isaiah 6 and Why Christians Pray and Fast: Encountering God’s Presence

Isaiah 6:1 –4 teaches about encountering God’s presence. This is where Isaiah has the vision of God. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” It’s one of the most majestic pictures of God’s glory in all of Scripture. We see that the pursuit of God leads to a glorious view of His holiness, that God is without error and without equal (40:25–26). There is no one like Him as the Creator of the world and the Ruler of history (46:8–11). He’s the King of the nations (36:18–20; 37:21–29; 37:33–38) and the Judge of all peoples (3:13; 25:6–9. These texts are a powerful picture of God’s judgment, holiness, and power.

The pursuit of God leads to a glorious view of His holiness and to a humble view of our sinfulness. Isaiah responds, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). The more we pursue God, the more see His supremacy, the more we will see our sinfulness. [Also see 1:2–4, 21–23; 2:6–8, 11 and 43:24).

This means the pursuit of God leads to an overwhelming view of His grace, powerfully depicted in Isaiah 6:6–7, as God covers over Isaiah’s sinfulness with an offering from the altar, the place of sacrifice. This leads right into the prophetic announcements we have throughout Isaiah about the coming of Christ to atone for our sin (Isaiah 7:13–14; 9:6–7; 11:1–10; 43:25; 53:2–12).

The more we pursue God, the more we see His holiness, our sin, His grace, and in this way the pursuit of God leads to an urgent view of our mission. God says in 6:8, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah promptly shouts, “Here am I! Send me.” Once you see the holiness of God, your sinfulness, and the grace of God, then surrender to God is a no-brainer. “I’ll go wherever and do whatever you want me to do.” Thus we see throughout the rest of Isaiah God’s call for His people to be “a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). Also see 6:8–13; 49:4–6 and 61:1–3).

God, help us in prayer to see Your holiness in greater and greater ways, to see our sinfulness in clearer and clearer ways, to know, receive and enjoy Your grace in fuller and fuller ways. Help us live on mission with ever-increasing surrender, zeal, and urgency. Amen.

65. Isaiah 56: A House of Prayer

This leads right into Isaiah 56, God’s Word concerning His temple as a house of prayer. Isaiah 56:6–8 tells us how God designed the temple to be a house of prayer. And God designed the temple to be for all the peoples (56:3–5). There was a court in the temple, the court of the Gentiles, specifically set up as a place for the nations to encounter the glory of God. So it’s no coincidence that in Acts 8:26–35, when the Ethiopian eunuch is reading the Scriptures, Philip shows up and the Ethiopian eunuch asks Philip to explain what he’s reading. The eunuch just so happens to be reading from Isaiah 56. So Philip begins with this passage about how God will bring the nations to worship Him by sharing the good news of Jesus with a eunuch from Ethiopia.

God, indeed, please cause all nations, all the peoples, to give You glory for Your salvation.

Don’t forget this passage; we’re going to come back to it later in the Gospels.

66. Isaiah 58: False and True Fasting

Isaiah 58 addresses false and true fasting. Regarding false fasting, Isaiah 58:2–5 speaks about how God’s people were fasting and wondering why God wasn’t blessing them. Listen to what God says, beginning in verse three:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Just because you fast doesn’t mean God is honored. There’s a type of fasting that’s not pleasing to God. It’s fasting that seeks the pleasures of the world, ignores the poor in the world, leads to conflict with others, and exalts ourselves above God. Fasting is for humility, not pride. False fasting like this is ultimately abhorrent to God.

Listen to God’s words in Isaiah 1:15. “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”

True fasting, on the other hand, as described in Isaiah 58:6–11, seeks purity in the world and cares for the poor in the world. True fasting leads to compassion for others, exalts God above ourselves, and is ultimately pleasing to God.

So God, even as we learn about fasting and prayer tonight, please keep us from doing these activities in a way that is actually abhorrent to You. God, we want to fast and pray in a way that is pleasing and honoring to you—good for others and good for us. Teach us to fast truly, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

67. Isaiah 62: Give God No Rest

This leads into one of my favorite passages in Isaiah, 62:1–9. Listen to Isaiah 62:6–7, which says give God no rest.

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.

Did you hear that phrase? Take no rest and give God no rest until He establishes Jerusalem. Don’t give God any rest from your praying and pleadings.

See the attitude of our hearts in this text. The whole context is asking God to restore His people in Jerusalem. We want God’s glory to be restored among His people (56:10–12). The indictment here is that the watchmen—the people who should have been warning God’s people and calling out for God’s restoration—were blind and silent, not crying out to God. May that not be said of us, that we were quiet, silent, or asleep when we should be crying out to God and others, longing for God’s glory to be restored among His people. And not just among His people.

In light of what we’ve already seen in Isaiah, we want God’s praise to resound among all peoples (66:19–20). We want all the nations to see God’s glory and ultimately we want God Himself to return for His people (52:8).

What does this mean for the action in our lives? What is the application in our lives today? Let’s give God no rest from our praising Him. “God, we will exalt Your name!” Rise in the morning and all day long, praise God’s name. We also give God no rest from our confessing our sin. “God, we want to reflect Your holiness!” We give God no rest from our asking, pleading for His grace and mercy. “God, we will bombard Your throne for needs in our lives and in others’ lives, for Your church, for the nations.” And God, we will give You no rest from our working. We will accomplish Your mission” (62:10–12).

May it not be said that we were silent when we should have been crying out to God. Give God no rest—that’s appropriate for 10:56 p.m. or whatever time it is where you are in the world. Let’s stay awake.

68. Why Do Christians Pray and Fast according to Jeremiah: Prayer in the New Covenant

Jeremiah prophesies clearly about the New Covenant to come in Christ, which has huge implications for how we understand prayer.

The problem in the Old Covenant is clear. The people of God were idolatrous (2:11–13), immoral (7:8–11), and incapable of anything different (7:24–29). They couldn’t change their ways. All their external efforts at reform were simply showing they needed a change deep inside them.

So what we find in Jeremiah is the promise of a New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31–34 is a massively important passage in the Bible. Look at the contrast here. The law of God in the Old Covenant was written on stone tablets, but the law of God in the New Covenant will be written on human hearts (17:1, 9). This is critical because our worst enemy is fleshly religion—trying to reform ourselves from the outside in. Our greatest need is spiritual regeneration—God reforming us from the inside out. That changes everything because when that happens, we see obedience to the law is not a condition for entering the New Covenant; instead, obedience to the law is a promise we experience in the New Covenant. We are able to obey because God has transformed us from the inside out.

There’s a contrast also in our knowledge of God. In the Old Covenant, we relate to God through flawed men, priests, which means limited admission to the presence of God and a distant encounter with the glory of God. In the New Covenant, we’re reconciled to God through a flawless Man, Jesus. Through Him, we have unlimited access to the presence of God and a direct experience of the glory of God—each one of us.

The grace of God in the Old Covenant was absolutely evident. It’s not that there was no grace. God’s grace was evident in persistent sacrifice through which God patiently passes over sin. But in the New Covenant God’s grace is evident in a perfect sacrifice through which God permanently removes our sin. Through Jesus, our perfect sacrifice, God forgives our sin and God forgets our sin. Consider the words of Hebrews 10:11–18 which end with this promise: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

All that leads to prayer transformed. As recipients of the New Covenant, we pray with a new heart that desires God. We pray, not because we have to, but because we want to. We pray with direct and unlimited access to God, through Jesus our great High Priest. And we pray with humble confidence in the grace of God. Jeremiah 31:38–39 is God’s promise to rebuild Jerusalem after the exile, a promise that was eventually fulfilled in Ezra and Nehemiah and will ultimately be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem to come in heaven.

God, we praise You for the New Covenant. We praise You for regenerating our hearts. And even now I’m guessing there are some of us for whom this has not happened. There are some who need a new heart even now. I pray that You would give it to them, that You would cause faith to rise in them. For far too long, some of us have settled for a Christianity that consists of following rules, even “accepting Jesus” because we want to save our skin in eternity, but truth be told we have little to no desire to follow You. God, we see that as not being Christianity. It’s not the gospel. The gospel creates in us a new heart and transforms us from the inside out. So God, give us new hearts that desire you, that want to pray because we want to know You. Free us from our tendencies to settle for Old Covenant reality when You have made New Covenant realization possible for us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

69. Lamentations: Crying Out for Our Relief

Jeremiah leads to Lamentations and crying out for our relief. Lamentations was written as a series of laments when God’s people were in exile. When Jerusalem had been destroyed and God’s people had been scattered, they were suffering. Some were left in Jerusalem basically to starve. So we read in Lamentations 2:19, “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.”

We see yet again profound questions in prayer. Lamentations 5:20–22 asks, “Are we forsaken? Can we be forgiven?” These questions in prayer lead to profound rest in God. Listen to Lamentations 3:19–24:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Prayer opens for us fresh floodgates of mercy from God. Prayer reminds us of unceasing faithfulness in God. And prayer instills in us hope we have in the provision of God (3:25–33).

God, we praise You for Your love amidst our laments.

70. Ezekiel: Crying Out for God’s Glory

In Ezekiel we see prayers crying out for God’s glory.

The glory of God is revealed in chapter one of this book. It’s a pretty challenging chapter to understand because of all the imagery in it, but from the start, Ezekiel shows us that God is omnipresent (1:1–14), omniscient (1:18), omnipotent (1:22–25), faithful (1:28), merciful (1:1), and personal (1:28). Ezekiel describes God’s glory in Ezekiel 1:28:

Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

The book goes on to depict how the glory of God was removed from among the people because of their sin (8:1–13). It’s a powerful picture of the glory of God leaving the temple because the people pursued false gods instead of the one true God. This didn’t mean that God was not now present—we just saw that God is omnipresent. Maybe the best way to describe this is they exchanged the protecting presence of God for the punishing presence of God.

Yet by God’s grace, this book then depicts the glory of God restored among His people. We see promises that then inform our understanding of prayer, promises of how God will forgive His people of their sin. This means we pray with rest in God’s grace. There are promises that God will fill His people with His Spirit, which means we pray according to the leadership of God’s Spirit. Finally, there are promises that God will glorify His name through their salvation. This means we pray for the glory of God’s name. Ezekiel 36:22–23 makes clear that God will do all He does to save His people ultimately for His glory among the nations.

So God, teach us to pray with rest in Your grace, according to the leadership of Your Spirit, for the glory of Your name among the nations. Amen.

71. Why Do Christians Pray and Fast according to Daniel: Prayer More Important than Life

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow at the feet of King Nebuchadnezzar (3:13–18). Then in Daniel’s life, he refuses to bow at the feet of King Darius. He chooses a death-defying commitment to pray consistently, even when a decree has been made not to pray to God (6;10). Daniel got down on his knees three times a day and prayed, giving thanks to His God, as he had done previously. We pray with courage. Daniel did so knowing he would be cast in the den of lions, which God delivered him from (6:16–17).

Daniel goes on to model how we pray contritely. His prayer in Daniel 9:1–5 is less well-known than the others, but it’s so powerful. Daniel was a stalwart of faith who risked his life in prayer to God. If anybody was pure and holy, Daniel was. But here he was fasting with sackcloth and ashes, pleading and praying to God, confessing sin.

So we pray contritely and we pray with confidence. If you read Daniel 10:12–21, you see how Daniel was praying and spiritual warfare was happening in the unseen world around him. Here again, we’re reminded that we are in a battle, but God will win the war.

God, teach us to pray consistently with courage, humbly, and contritely with confidence. Help us see that prayer is more important than life itself.

If your life was threatened tomorrow, would you still get down on your knees, open the window and pray?

72. Joel: Fasting and Repentance

Then we get to Joel, where we learn about fasting and repentance.

The message of the book of Joel is that the Day of the Lord is coming. Joel says in 1:14–15:

Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.

The Day of the Lord was a reference to the day of destruction for the resistant, the unrepentant. It would be a day of judgment for God’s people and for all peoples.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster (2:12–13).

The Day of the Lord was also a day of salvation for the repentant (2:31–32).

The Day of the Lord was coming, so Joel says the day of fasting is now. “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’” Notice the emphasis on rending your hearts. We realize that fasting is an external expression of an internal reality. Fasting is a physical expression of a spiritual reality. Here in Joel the picture is clear. In fasting, we repent in our hearts. This includes confession, agreeing with God about our sin; contrition, which is brokenness before God over our sin, weeping over sin (1:5, 8, 11–15); and conversion in the sense that we are turning to God from our sin.

Through fasting, God relents. He rescues us (2:18–20), He restores us (2;21–26) and He resides with us. (2:27). God says, “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27). In this book we see promises that God will eventually come to us in His Son. Joel 2:28–29 is a passage in Joel that Peter references in the first Christian sermon in Acts. God will come to us in His Son and God will live in us through His Spirit (2:17–21). Ultimately, God will protect us in His stronghold (3:16).

Don’t miss this. Fasting is the external expression of an internal reality, a physical expression of a spiritual reality. Specifically here in Joel, it’s a picture of confession and contrition over sin, turning from sin and crying out for God’s grace. Hold on to that.

73. Amos: Our Relenting God (Part 1)

In Amos 7:1–6 we learn that as we pray, as we cry out in repentance and God relents with compassionate patience, but God brings final judgment to all who fail to repent (7:7–9).

God, make us a repentant people.

74. Jonah: Our Relenting God (Part 2)

The city of Nineveh deserved God’s judgment (3:1–4). Yet when Jonah went and preached there—we talked about this earlier—the city of Nineveh called out for God’s mercy. They fasted over their sin, they turned from their sin (3:5–9) and God relented from showing them judgment and showered them with His mercy (3:10). True fasting and repentance lead to God’s relenting His wrath and showing His mercy.

75. Habakkuk: Questioning God in Prayer

There are three more pictures of prayer in the prophets. First, Habakkuk, questioning God in prayer. Habakkuk is a Job-like book. Habakkuk looks around and sees God’s people suffering and other evil nations prospering. So amidst our many questions in prayer, we wonder: Does God hear? Does God care? Is God good? (1:3, 13). Is God holy? Where is God’s power? (1:4). Where is God’s Word? (1:17). Will God show that He is just? Is God worthy of my trust?

Habakkuk, in conversation with God, asks all these questions. As he does, amidst our having the same questions, prayer teaches us to listen to the truth of God and to lean on the timing of God. In Habakkuk 2:3, God says, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Prayer teaches us ultimately to look forward to the triumph of God. He will show His glory. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). We will stand in awe. “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

Amidst our questions, as we ask, prayer teaches us to live with trust in God (3:2). We see all over Habakkuk reasons to trust in God. God is our Savior. Paul quotes from Habakkuk in Romans 1:16–17, talking about how we live by faith. God is all sovereign (3:3–11), God is our protector (3:12–13), God is our deliverer (3:14–16) and God is our satisfaction (3:17–19).

Habakkuk 3:17–19 is a powerful passage. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls.” In other words, everything is going wrong. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

So amidst our many questions, we can trust in God. He is our strength and God is our victory. This is why Horatio Spafford, amidst total tragedy in his life and family, could write the great hymn “It is Well with My Soul” that ends with these great words:

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.

Our God, in prayer, amidst all our questions, please help us listen to Your truth, lean on Your timing and look forward to Your triumph—and in this, to live with trust in You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

76. Zechariah: Fasting is Feasting

Two more pictures in the prophets. In Zechariah, we learn that fasting is feasting. Much like in Joel, we see a call on Zechariah to repent of sin. “Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:2 –3). Repent of sin and renew your strength.

This is where I want to show you a different side of fasting than what we’ve seen. Zechariah calls God’s people to fast and feast with joy on His grace. Listen to Zechariah 8:18 –19:

And the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts.”

The fast is a feast, in which we pray and live with zeal for God’s glory, again among the nations. Listen to Zechariah 8:20 –23:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ”Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.” Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Hear this message from Zechariah. We fast and feast with joy on God’s grace, then and we pray and live with zeal for His glory among the nations.

77. Malachi: Prayer that Pleases God

Then Malachi shows us prayer that pleases God. Here in the beginning of Malachi (1:6 –14), we actually have a picture of the priests among God’s people who were praying in a way that did not please God. When you study this passage, you learn that prayer that pleases God reveres His greatness. Prayer reveres His greatness as the Author of our lives, the Lover of our souls, the Lord of all creation, and the King of all glory. Prayer that pleases God reflects His holiness, which was not happening among the priests. They had traded in the Word of God for the wisdom of the world;, they had traded in the purity of God for the pleasures of the world; and they had traded in the acceptance of God for the applause of the world. All of these are temptations for any leader in the church today, including myself. God was not pleased.

Ultimately prayer that pleases God remembers His purpose (3:16 –4:6). The overall picture is God promising to bless His people as His treasured possession for His glory among all the peoples. Prayer that pleases God aligns with that purpose.

So God, teach us to pray in a way that pleases You and in a way that accomplishes Your purposes. In this, we trust that prayer will be really good for us and really glorifying to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We have so much to learn about prayer, conversation with God, fasting, and the pursuit of God in the Old Testament.

Session 5 Discussion Questions

Study Guide pp. 113-144

1. What does it say about our pursuit of God if we are full of pride? Why should the pursuit of God humble us? (See #61, Isaiah 6)

2. Why is fasting in and of itself not sufficient in terms of pleasing the Lord? What kind of actions should “true fasting” lead to in our lives? (See #66, Isaiah 58)

3. Under the old covenant that God made with Isreal, many Israelites rejected God by ignoring and disobeying His commands. What is it about the new covenant that guarantees that all of God’s people will desire to obey Him? (See #68, Jeremiah)

4. Is it wrong to be honest with God in the midst of deep pain and grief? How can do this in a way that honors the Lord? (See #69, Lamentations)

5. For what overarching purpose does God do all that He does? How should this one purpose affect the purpose for our lives? (See #70, Ezekiel)

6. What place should contrition and brokenness have in our prayer and fasting? Why do you think there is so little contrition in many of our prayers? (See #71, Daniel)

7. How should God’s final judgment lead us to pray and fast? (See #72, Joel)

8. Biblical repentance is more than simply saying that you’re sorry and then continuing with the same belief, thoughts, and actions. What should biblical repentance look like in a person’s life? Give a specific example. (See #73-74, Amos and Jonah)

9. How can we have hope when God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers or when His ways don’t make sense? (See #75, Habakkuk)

10. How can fasting lead to joy in God? (See #76, Zachariah)



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