Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. There are times to feast, holiday times, times of celebration. But in the plan of God, there are also times to fast. Some of the tough laps in life's race require the spiritual discipline of fasting. We see this in our Lord's own 40-day example in the wilderness. That's what Jesus needed.
Could it be what you need as well? Stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, do the people of Moody Church practice fasting from time to time?
Dave, I'm going to answer that question, but first of all, I have to make a comment about Jesus Christ. I don't know anyone who has fasted for 40 days. That would be a very long time to fast, and I suggest that no one do it without doctor supervision. But Jesus was able to do that.
But in answer to your question, thankfully, the answer is yes. There are times of fasting throughout the year that we have here at the church where everyone is instructed about fasting. They fast, then we come together, and we pray together for two or three hours. It's a time when we collectively seek God. This is one of the last days we are making a special resource available to you. It's a book that I have written about holiness, specifically, holy living in an unholy world. The subtitle is Balancing Love, Law, and Grace. For a gift of any amount, it can be yours.
Simply go to rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Let us always give attention to God's holy word. And so there were those who fasted and said, well, God, why aren't you blessing us? We are fasting. And the Lord said, wait a moment, there is injustice among you.
You are not paying your employees properly. There are poor whom you are not helping. So don't fast and think that you can twist my arm to bless you if you are insincere, or you use it as a pretext to cover your sins as an excuse not to be holy.
So there's that possibility. The other possibility is to misuse it because we want to be thought of as more spiritual in the eyes of people. All of us have felt nauseate that man who stood up in the temple in prayer to pray and said, I thank the Lord that I am not like other men.
And then he began to list all of his qualifications. And among them is, he said, I fast twice a week. And when the Pharisees fasted, they oftentimes let people know that they were doing it by their long drawn face and the way in which they were, I am spiritual, I am fasting.
God says, I do not delight in that kind of a fast. Next notice it says, and with fasting and weeping and mourning and rend your heart and not your garments. In ancient times, fasting was always associated with the same kind of mourning that you would do at a funeral. And people would symbolically tear their garments. Well, they would literally tear their garments to symbolically indicate their great sorrow and how much grief they were actually experiencing. And God says, it isn't necessary for you to tear your clothes, but it is necessary for you to tear your hearts. That is come to me with mourning and with weeping.
What does that mean? It means a committed heart, but also a repentant heart, a repentant heart. You see, it's during those prolonged times when we are in God's presence, when we are seeking him, and when the hunger in our stomachs remind us of how desperately we should really be seeking God and that the hunger that we have for food should really be the same kind of hunger that we have for him. It's during that period of time that God begins to show us things in our lives that we didn't even know were there. He shares with us his burden, his concerns, and we begin to repent more deeply. When I was in Orlando, we prayed for about 10 hours. It's the longest I've ever prayed in a day, I can tell you.
But during the break time, I would go back to the hotel room and interestingly, during that period of time, since I didn't eat, I prayed. Because I discovered that in the public experience, you have certain things that are happening, but then God begins to show you the hidden motives of the heart and he begins to work more deeply and the Spirit of God begins to probe more keenly and you begin to realize issues that you need to deal with. And that's what the text is talking about here. It is talking about deep repentance.
For whom? First of all, for ourselves. You see, during a time of fasting, it is not that God speaks more loudly than he does normally, but fasting enables us to hear better. It gives the Spirit of God an opportunity to show us what is in our hearts in a way that we might not have experienced before. So we begin with ourselves, then we begin praying for the church and then we will pray for our city.
Now, I don't know whether or not Satan lives in the city of Chicago, but I do have a hunch he must at least have a weekend cottage here because of all of the things that are taking place. And we think to ourselves, we've talked about abortion, we've talked about crime and all of the things that are taking place here and we are the salt of the earth and we are the light of the world. And God has asked us to minister in America at a great hour of need. And then, of course, we will pray for our nation.
I came across this yesterday. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of national humiliation and fasting. We have a day of prayer today, a national day of prayer, but we do not call it humiliation and fasting. That sounds too biblical, too biblical.
But here's what Abraham said, that is Abraham Lincoln. It is the duty of the nations as well as men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with the assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon and to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scripture and proven by all history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. What do we want to do when we have a solemn assembly? We want to say, God, give me a committed heart. Give me a repentant heart for myself, for my nation, for my church, for all of us.
And then a victorious heart. Now, the Lord goes on to say that if we, in verse 13, rend our hearts and not our garments and turn to the Lord your God, he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of the evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind him?
And I think that Joel is saying that he will. But I want you to notice now what he promises as a result of this solemn time of prayer and seeking God. He says in verse 18 that the Lord will be zealous and will have pity on his people and will answer. Isn't that really what we want from God?
Just comes to mind while I'm speaking, but I received a letter this week from somebody and I still haven't answered the letter. He was talking about the fact that he has been seeking God so much and has had no answer. Well, the text says here he will answer and say to his people, behold, I'm going to send you grain and new wine and oil.
These, of course, were physical blessings that Israel had. And then it says in verse 20, I will remove the northern army from among you and will drive it into a parched and desolate land. God says, I'm going to fight your physical battles.
But here is the transfer of Old Testament truth to New Testament truth. You know that prayer is work. Prayer is a spiritual battle because Satan does not delight to see us pray. It's often been said that he trembles when he sees the weakest Saint on his or her knees. But you see, in the midst of this spiritual conflict, God says, I will break through and I will grant to you those victories.
I will become to you the Lord of hosts and vanquish your enemies. Do I need to tell you that there are people who are even Christians who are bound by pornography and false cults and various addictions of alcohol and what have you, those who are bound by certain cycles of behavior, whether it is jealousy and anger and resentment and seemingly no matter what they do, they are not free. During times of prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit of God begins to work deeply in the lives of his people and he begins to grant those victories that we have not seen apart from prayer and fasting. One day, the disciples were trying to cast out a demon and it was a particularly stubborn demon. And then Jesus came along and cast it out. And later on, they said to him privately, why were we not able to cast it out? And Jesus said, well, for one thing, because of the littleness of your faith. But then he said, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. There are some strongholds that will not budge until the seriousness of God's people becomes so overwhelming that they begin to say, by God's grace, we will pray and fast and seek God. So you have in this text of scripture the committed heart, the repentant heart, the victorious heart. Finally, the enemy has been vanquished. And you say, well, is it all sadness? I was thinking about this term, solemn assembly. I had both positive and negative reactions. Positively, it's biblical.
So that makes it fine. But today, people don't want to be solemn. We want to be happy, happy, happy. Well, the answer of the text is that eventually, if you're not happy, happy, happy, you should at least be glad. Verse 21 says, do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, for the Lord has done great things. And I hope that at the end of Saturday, we will all say that.
He has done great things of which we are glad. Committed heart, a victorious heart, a rejoicing heart, and then a reclaimed heart. You know, this has been a text that I've sometimes wanted to preach on and never have. Do you realize that I've been preaching for 20 years with some breaks in between, of course. By that, I mean not continuously preaching for 20 years. But I still have some texts that I oftentimes have thought I ought to preach on this.
And I never have. But what a great text it is. Verse 25, I will make up for you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten and the creeping locust. And I will have these made up to you and the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, my great army, which I send among you.
See, here's the context. The people were saying, well, we haven't gotten a crop this year. The locusts came and God says, by the way, I sent the locusts to discipline you because you were not praying and fasting. You were not seeking me. You were selfish and doing your own thing. So God sends the locusts and then the people say, well, you know, even if we pray and fast now, you know, the crop is gone.
It's an opportunity that's passed. You can't relive last year. God says, that's right, but I'm going to make it up to you. I'm going to give you such a bountiful crop that at the end of the day, you are going to have as much as if you had had a crop last year. And I want to say to those of you who perhaps even now are in great discouragement because of your past life, because of what has happened, you look at a life that has been filled with wasted years and you say how I wish it would have been different. You know, God, when we really are serious and when we are really desirous of his blessing at any cost, God makes it up to us and he restores the years, the years that the locusts have eaten. Do you realize that the Lord could do in your life, in the next few years, greater things than he has ever done in all of the years in your past life added together? And no matter how short the last years are, they can be the greatest years if we are willing to seek him because he makes up for the years that the locusts have eaten for all those opportunities that have gone by us that we have not accepted. And God says, I'll make that up to you. And so the text, as far as we're taking it today, says in verse 26, when you shall have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord who has dealt wondrously with you, then my people will never be put to shame.
Why? Because they sought me with their whole heart, their whole heart. When Jesus was there in the desert for 40 days, the scripture says that after the 40 days, the tempter came to him and afterwards he was hungry and the tempter said, if you are the son of God, turn these stones into bread. Now Jesus had the power to turn the stones into bread. He even had the right to turn the stones into bread, but it was not yet time for him to eat.
He and his father had talked about this and they had worked out a different schedule. And so what the Satan was saying is just satisfy your longing for food. You're hungry, eat, turn these stones into bread. And Christ could have and he could have eaten the bread and it would have been the best bread that had ever been created on planet earth. But Jesus made this astounding statement. He said, man shall not live by bread alone.
And you look at society today, American society, Western society, all how we love to eat by bread alone, live by bread alone. I mean, the minute our stomach says hungry, we say, where are the golden arches? Where can we find something to eat? It's noon. It's noon. It's time to eat.
And we joke about it. I have a friend and probably have heard this a thousand times, but he says, oh, I fast every day, pastor. I fast between breakfast and lunch. You know, Jesus said, you shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. And one day Jesus was sitting on that well in the fourth chapter of John and he was discussing worship with the woman whom we spoke about several weeks ago. And his disciples went into the city to buy food, the scripture says. And when they came back, they said, master, eat. And he said, I'm not going to eat today. And they said, why? They said among themselves, did anybody bring them food to eat?
In other words, was there somebody here who gave them something that we didn't hear about? And he said, my food is to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work. I have food to eat that you know not of. Jesus said, I can forgo the physical because I have inner resources of the spiritual. And he says, as a result, look at the harvest. That's the context in which those famous verses come, by the way. He says, say not ye there are yet four months and then cometh harvest. He said, look onto the hills and your eyes and the fields are ripe now unto harvest. What Jesus was saying is there are all kinds of people around you who need to savingly believe on me as the Messiah, and that is the harvest. And what Christ is saying is that through that inner resources, not that comes by bread, however important that is, but the spiritual nourishment he would have the ability to be a part of the harvest. And he invites us to participate with him as harvesters, finding the resources within us to eat the hidden bread that the world knows not of. Now the message that I've preached today has been directed towards Christians. But I do need to point out, because I don't know where you are spiritually, that if you do not know Christ as savior, your responsibility is not to fast.
It really is not. It is to recognize, first of all, that the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ must be freely received. And then you become a member of God's family. And then we can talk about the disciplines of the walk of faith. And whatever religious tradition you come from, if it is a tradition that says that you save yourself through your good works and through attendance in church and rituals, that is wrong.
That is misleading. You must come to Christ helplessly as you are. For as many as received him, to them he gave the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe on his name. And having received him, then you begin to walk in the disciplines of the Christian life that we have spoken about, the wonderful disciplines that result in joy.
It's not sadness. It is a time of joy and rejoicing when God does his thing. When God does his thing. Let us pray. Our Father, we pray that you might call us as a church to a deeper level of commitment, a deeper level of holiness, of discipline, of seeking you. We pray, Father, for the work and the freedom of your Holy Spirit among us. And we ask, Lord, for those who may be here today who have never trusted Christ as Savior, that in grace you will reach out to them and show them their great need.
And let them know that walking the Christian walk is a privilege that is beyond our wildest imagination. Father, the work that you have begun in our hearts, let us not go until it is finished. In Jesus' name. Amen. Yes, my friend, the Christian life is a journey. All of us are in route.
The question is whether or not we will run successfully. I've written a book entitled, Holy Living in an Unholy World. This is one of the last days we are making this resource available to you. Let me read a few chapter titles, Contact Without Contamination, Those Shortcuts to Evangelism, Taking Your Spiritual Temperature, Resolving Our Differences, Those Do's and Don'ts, How Dollars Can Make Sense, and so forth. For a gift of any amount, this book can be yours and I want to say thank you to the many of you who support this ministry.
Here is what you can do. You can go to rtwoffer.com or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. I'm going to be giving you that contact info again, but remember to ask for the book, Holy Living in an Unholy World. The subtitle is, Balancing Love, Law, and Grace. Thank you so much for listening today and I hope that you have a pen or pencil handy.
You can go to rtwoffer.com or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. You've heard me say it before, but the ministry of Running to Win helps all of us as we think about the Christian life always living with eternity in mind. Meanwhile, we have decisions to make on earth, we need discipline, we need help, and we need instructions for the journey. It's time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. Anthony listens to Running to Win and has a question taken from what many feel is the oldest book in the Bible. He asks, do we know the length of time during which Job faced his trials?
No, Anthony. I don't think that we have any clues as to how long Job's trial lasted. But if you read the end of the book, you do discover that that ending was put on the book to help us to see that in the end, Job prospered again. If I recall correctly, he ended up with double the number of camels and animals and even ended up with 10 more children, of all things. He lost 10, and he still has 10 in this life. So that gives us some kind of a time frame, but we don't know how long he sat in the ash heap.
We don't know how long he was there before God began to restore him. All that we have is the story as it stands. Thank you, Anthony, for your question. Thank you, Pastor Lutzer, for your answer.
If you'd like to hear your question answered, you can. Just go to our website at rtwoffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer. Or, call us at 1-888-218-9337. That's 1-888-218-9337.
You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Many Christians want what everybody else wants, success and security. Very few would take a towel to wash someone's feet. Being a servant goes against our grain. But in God's eyes, it's the servants who win in the race of life. Next time, join us for the discipline of servanthood. For Pastor Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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