READ: 2 Chronicles 7-9, Psalm 128, Mark 11, Hebrews 13
FASTING AND FEASTING
There is a deep bass note of humility that resounds steadily through all biblical prayers. When men and women approach God (whether in triumph or tragedy), it should be from a position of respect, of reverent awe. Both modern feasting and fasting have lost their lowliness. Solomon dedicates the temple and all the people enjoy a great feast culminating in a sacred assembly. They have just observed the fire coming down, the glory on the temple, they have just “bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshipped and praised the Lord” (2 Chron. 7:3). It is in this context that the “people return to their tents joyful and glad of heart for the good the Lord had done” (v. 10). The context is one of deep devotion.
When we feast it is to celebrate us (a graduation, a promotion, an accomplishment, a birth, a marriage). We tend to celebrate what we have done, and both fasting and feasting have lost their humility. Praise is not intended to center on what God has helped us accomplish; pure praise is a continual costly verbal declaration of what God has done despite us (Heb. 13:15). Praise does not flow out of our abundance or largess, praise (when it is precious to Jesus) flows out of our lack and our need.
Immediately after this great God-centered feast at the temple dedication we have the conditional promise: “If my people….will humble themselves and pray…..I will hear from heaven” (2 Chr. 7:14). All too often our prayers are whiney, demanding, or conditional themselves: “Jesus, IF you deliver me, I will serve you.” There is an underlying arrogance in our prayers, an arrogance that believes we must be catered to and that God is suspect if He does not act when, where, or how we demand. We approach prayer more like a patron at a fast food restaurant. We know what we want and we want it quickly, and woe to the little adolescent deity who gets our order wrong, does not give us enough ketchup, or serves us lukewarm French fries.
A second arrogance we carry into prayer is the expectation of being forgiven when we have not forgiven–or actively retain resentment and hurt. Mark 11:25-26 reminds us that if we have “anything against anyone…forgive him that your Father in heaven may also forgive your trespasses.” Few are the followers of Jesus who approach public or private prayer without any harbored grievances against another. We continually approach the throne of grace gracelessly. We desire for ourselves what we will not grant to another. We want undeserved mercy without having to dispense it. This is a continual, repulsive attitude to the Lord of Mercy, and it is a primary reason our prayers are hindered. Prayer and praise, fasting and feasting must have an underlying, unbroken humility–otherwise they are ineffectual.