Today, Monday October 31st, while thousands of students at the University of Texas are celebrating Halloween in some innocent ways and some perverse ways, 170 students are uniting in worship to kick off a season of prayer and fasting.
Some students have asked, “Why are we fasting?” One answer is that fasting is a Biblical response of God’s people after recognizing sin in their lives and in their land. Over the next few weeks I will share some examples.
In these two passages fasting is part of united corporate confession.
Fasting in Daniel
Daniel was an Israelite taken into captivity by Babylon. God’s hand was upon him and he was elevated to be the righthand man to the king of Babylon. Daniel loved God and sought him three times a day in prayer. He would not bow dow to the king’s idols, even at the fear of death. God delivered him from the Lion’s den and used him to interpret dreams of the king and ultimately lead the King to faith in Yahweh!
During one of Daniel’s devotionals he recognized God’s plan to deliver Israel from captivity after 70 years. His response to this new revelation was to fast and pray.
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3
In his prayer recorded in this chapter Daniel confesses the sin of the people and cries out to God for mercy. He realizes afresh that the very fact that they are captive by another nation means that they have disobeyed their God who promised captivity if they disobeyed the law. Daniel’s heart beats for God’s glory. He ends his prayer this way: “O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For Your sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people bear Your Name (Daniel 9:19).”
God responded to Daniel’s prayer and fasting years later by leading Nehemiah (who was also fasting and praying) to request permission from the king to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
Fasting In Nehemiah
Nehemiah had just led the people out of captivity to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. Once the wall was rebuilt Nehemiah gathered all of the people for a month of worship! It was such a celebration that it says, “From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated like this. And their joy was very great (Nehemiah 8:17).” It was a season of joy and celebration. A few weeks later they came together again.
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. Nehemiah 9:1
They spent 1/4 of the day listening to Ezra read the word of God and 1/4 of the day in worship and confession. As they gathered in fasting and worship God revealed their sin. By the end of the day the people re-covenanted themselves collectively to the Lord. They repented from the sins God revealed to them: marrying foreigners, not keeping the sabbath, not giving to the temple, and not meeting for worship. It was a real revival in Israel, and fasting was a part of it.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.