Focus 2023 Devotionals: Day 1-7

Focus 2023 Devotionals: Day 1-7

Author: Duncan Brannan
January 09, 2023

DAY 1 : “What Is Fasting?” 

“So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and He heard our prayer.” Ezra 8:23, NLT

Most Christians know that God calls us to disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship. They’re healthy, biblical expressions of walking with Jesus and spiritual family. Mention fasting, though, and reactions vary.

? Many have a medieval picture: they envision a starving monk chanting in Latin as he whips himself.
? Others, a mystical idea: fasting is for “super-saints”—a select group with grace others don’t have.
? Some, a medical view: they’re part of the health community or have read an article or two on how fasting can help regulate blood sugar, fight inflammation and disease, and more. 

So, what’s the truth, and what do we need to know as we begin this journey as a church family?

1.) Fasting’s not medieval or mystical, and it’s more than medical. It’s biblical, and means setting aside special time to humble ourselves, seek God earnestly, and pray for specific needs. Ezra 8:21, NIV says: “I proclaimed a fast, so we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.”

2.) Fasting means not eating and drinking for a short time—or—not eating food or certain types of it and drink for a longer period. The Old Testament word for “fast” is tsum (“tsoom”) and means “to close the mouth”. The New Testament word for “fast”, néstis (“nace-tee’-ah”), means “not eating”. 

To dig deeper, here are some extra references: Es. 4:16; Da. 10:2-3; Jon. 3:5-9; Mt. 4:1-2; Lk. 5:33. 

What’s been your view of fasting? Did a view above resonate with you? How do you feel now?
Do you have any concerns about fasting? What steps could you take to address them?

DAY 2: “How We Use Prayer & Fasting” 

“Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people of the land into the Temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to him there.” Joel 1:14, NLT

God’s people have prayed and fasted for thousands of years, and Scripture reveals four ways they’ve used it. Read the verses below and think about each one. Again, there are extra references to go deeper.

? Returning To God: "The Lord says, ‘Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead….” Joel 2:12-13a (See also John 3:4-10)

? Seeking God’s Intervention: “When I heard this…I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. ‘O Lord, please hear my prayer! …Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.’ ” Nehemiah 1:4, 11 (See also 2 Chr. 20:1-4, 12)

? Breaking Through in Warfare: The disciples…said, “Why could we not cast it [the demon] out?” Jesus said…, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Matthew 17:19-21*, (See also Da. 10)

? Preparing for God’s Work: “Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” Acts. 14:23, NLT (See also Acts 13:2-3)

Did God minister to you through one of today’s passages? Take a moment and respond in prayer.
Copy down the verses God impressed on you. Use them in your prayer time going forward.

* Mt. 17:21 appears in some Bible margins, not the main text, because some early New Testament copies don’t contain it. But many Bible commentaries written by Church Fathers, before and after, do contain it.

DAY 3: “Whom We Pray & Fast To”

“Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 20:3-4, NLT

It goes without saying that Christians pray and fast to God. After all, putting something or someone in His place is idolatry, and the first of God’s Ten Commandments warns, “You must not have any other god but me.” (Ex. 20:3, NLT) The second follows, saying, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.” (v. 4)

The biblical world was polytheistic. Pagan shrines and altars stood everywhere, and there was a false god for everything: farming, fertility, war, wealth—you name it. But, while Christians might never pray and fast to a false god, there’s another way to make idols: relying on ourselves instead of actively seeking God and His strength. (1 Chr. 16:11) 
Trouble comes in life. Jesus said it would. (Jn. 16:33) But, when it knocked on King Jehoshaphat’s door in a massive invasion (2 Chronicles 20), he didn’t trust in his own wisdom, his army, Jerusalem’s walls, or even his advisers. He turned to God first in prayer and fasting, then called the nation to follow. 

Notice the end of his prayer: “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, BUT OUR EYES ARE ON YOU.” (v. 12, NIV) Jehoshaphat knew getting his and the people’s eyes on God was the issue, and that’s what prayer and fasting are all about!

1.) Are you facing any pressures or troubles which, over time, have turned your eyes more toward yourself or the world instead of God? Pause, ask Him to speak to you, and wait for His answer. 
2.) If God spoke to you, share your burdens with the group, comfort and pray for one another, and ask the Lord in this time of prayer and fasting to help you “fix your eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:2) 

DAY 4: “Why We Pray & Fast” 

“You wonder why the Lord pays no attention when you go without eating and act humble. But on those same days that you give up eating, you think only of yourselves and abuse your workers. You even get angry and ready to fight. No wonder God won't listen to your prayers!” Isaiah 58:3-4, CEV

A huge part of prayer and fasting is examining ourselves before God. This means repentance—getting honest with God about sinful attitudes and actions, then dealing with them. Because of our fallen, sinful nature, we have a natural tendency to grow spiritually calloused, numb to sin, and allow things into our lives which have no place among God’s people.* 

We may continue to read the Bible, attend church, and even minister to others, but, inwardly, frustration grows as prayers go unanswered. Soon, we can begin entertaining ideas that God does not care, even though the problem lies with us just “going through the motions” with Him. 

Isaiah 58, the Bible’s largest discourse on prayer and fasting, focuses on this issue. The Israelites ask why God isn’t listening when they pray and fast. He replies, “What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with Me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?” (v. 4-5, NLT) 

According to Isaiah 58, true prayer and fasting hits our “reset” button—makes us look at how we’re treating God and others. This makes perfect sense because Jesus said the two greatest commandments are loving God with everything in us, and loving people as we love ourselves! (Mt. 22:36-40)  

1.) Have you been going through the motions with God, keeping up outward appearances, while not dealing with sinful thoughts or behaviors? Read Ps. 139:23-24. Ask God to search your heart. Confess sin as He reveals it. Ask forgiveness. Read 1 Jn. 1:9. Thank God for His faithfulness!  
2.) Ask God to search your relationships—how you’re treating people: family, friends, coworkers, etc. Confess sin as He reveals it. Read Mt. 5:23-24. Seek forgiveness with those you have wronged.  

* For more on the sinful nature, here are some references: Ge. 6:3; Je. 17:9; Ro. 5:12; 7:14-25; Ga. 5:16-25.

DAY 5: “When We Pray & Fast” 

“When you fast, don’t make yourselves look sad like the hypocrites. They put a look of suffering on their faces so that people will see they are fasting. The truth is, that’s all the reward they will get. So when you fast, wash your face and make yourself look nice. Then no one will know you are fasting, except your Father, who is with you even in private. He can see what is done in private, and He will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18, ERV

To us, a “hypocrite” is a person who says one thing but does another. In Jesus’ day, it meant a little more. Hypocrite was a Greek term for “actor”—one wearing a theatrical mask and playing a part on stage. Naturally, this person was someone else in real life, and that’s precisely why Jesus used the term. 

Jesus used “hypocrite” for those acting with God and faking religion before the public—not living from a place of genuine repentance, love, and authenticity.* He literally “pulled back the curtain” and said, “Get real,” because He knew what was under the mask and wanted them to be free—free with Him!

In His Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6), Jesus said “don’t be like the hypocrites” three times:

“When you GIVE, don’t be like the hypocrites….” – v. 2
“When you PRAY, don’t be like the hypocrites….” – v. 5
“When you FAST, don’t be like the hypocrites….” – v. 16

Notice first that Jesus said when about giving, praying, and fasting—not if. He expected us to do them. When the hypocrites fasted, though, they moped around, held their stomachs, groaned, and contorted their faces like kids pretending to be sick and waiting for someone to notice. Jesus said, “Don’t do that. Make it about God—not you.” 
In this time of prayer and fasting, we should shower and get ready like any other day. We should also ask God to help us get rid of “masks”. After all, He knows what’s under them. So, let’s get real and get free!

There are many ways for us to wear masks. We can do it at work or church, with certain friends or family, or on social media. Pause. Ask God to reveal any masks you may have. Listen closely. 

Did God reveal any masks to you? If so, ask Him why you’re wearing it/them. Don’t assume you know; ask Him and wait for His answer. It could unlock some old chains! Ask the Lord to heal your heart of any wounds here, forgive you of any hypocrisy, and set you free, in Jesus’ Name.  

* Jesus uses the term “hypocrite” twelve times in Matthew, once in Mark, and twice in Luke.

DAY 6: “Where Is Our Heart?” 

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” Isaiah 58:6-9, NLT

On Day 4 we looked at Isaiah 58. After revealing that Israel’s prayer and fasting were unheard because of selfishness (vv. 3-4), God’s heart bursts, crying, “The is the kind of fasting I want”…

? The Imprisoned (v. 6a). Wrongful imprisonment remains a problem, but a greater is the prison of unforgiveness. Often, we sentence family or friends to years of passive-aggressive punishment or isolation because of sin. While we must take cases individually for various reasons, unforgiveness is never okay. We must forgive as God forgave us in Christ. (Eph. 4:32)

? The Burdened (v. 6b). How we behave can draw coworkers to Jesus or drive them away. Fact: unsaved people measure the truth of Christ’s message by our behavior, and sometimes our work life doesn’t resemble Jesus because we fail to apply His truth. God says, “This must change.”

? The Hungry (v. 7a). God’s now turns to strangers. Sadly, 10% of the world goes to bed hungry.* At home, these numbers don’t change: 10.2% of America suffers—13.5 million people!** Jesus drew a line between true and fake followers by what we do for the hungry. (Mt. 25:35) That brings fresh light to helping food pantries and hunger charities!

? The Homeless (v. 7b). Helping the homeless marks another line. (Mt. 25:35-36) 580,466 Americans were homeless in 2020. 30% were families with children. 110,000+ have “chronic homelessness” from disabilities. Veterans comprise 37,252. Before making judgments, remember: many families are only 1-2 paychecks from this. Mercy is never wrong! (Ja. 2:13) 

With Isaiah 58 revealing God’s heart so clearly here, the only question remaining is, “Where is ours?”  

Work through God’s checklist above from unforgiveness to homelessness. Ask Him to help you put away preconceptions, excuses, etc., and to speak on each issue. Write down what you hear.

Next, ask forgiveness for any sin He’s revealed. Make plans to speak with those you’ve wronged. Last, ask God to show you how you can be involved in His work with those represented above! 

* Kathryn Reid, World Vision, “10 World Hunger Facts You Need to Know.” July 6, 2022. (Accessed November 23, 2022).
** Alisha Colemen-Jensen, et. al., U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Food Security in the U.S.” October 17, 2022. (Accessed November 23, 2022).
*** National Alliance to End Homelessness, “State of Homelessness: 2022 Edition.” 2022.
homelessness/ (Accessed November 23, 2022). 

DAY 7: “Dealing With Disappointment” 

“When Job heard this, he got up and tore his robe and shaved his head to show how sad he was. Then he bowed down to the ground to worship God. He said: “I was naked when I was born, and I will be naked when I die. The Lord gave these things to me, and he has taken them away. Praise the name of the Lord.” Job 1:20-21, NCV

Disappointment with God is something most people don’t like to talk about. Typically, it hits close to home, and when most share their deepest reason for abandoning faith, it’s this—not science, logic, hypocrisy, etc. Most also say the lapse followed a barrage of events: tragic news, unanswered prayer, and a personal loss. “How could a good God allow this?” they ask. But, God’s not indifferent to our disappointment. He tackles it head-on, and no book wrestles with it more than Job at 42 chapters, 1,070 verses, and 18,098 words! 

The book opens in Heaven, offering immediate perspective. God and Satan talk about Job, Satan asks to attack him, God gives permission and parameters, and Satan’s barrage follows: Job’s wealth, health, and children are taken, his wife becomes bitter, and “friends” blame him. The most shocking thing, though? Job’s doesn’t scream at God; he kneels, fasts, and worships Him! But how?

If we look closely, we find answers. The Book of Job urges us to never forget: 

1.) A larger war & plan we cannot see are at work ch. 1-2
2.) Like God, life is often mysterious in its unfolding42:1-6
3.) Whatever happens, though, God must authorize it 1:12, 21; 2:6
4.) Every good thing we receive comes from God1:21
5.) The devil is real & schemes and prowls to destroy us ch. 1-2
6.) Well-meaning advice can badly miss God; comforting’s never wrongch. 4-37
7.) Though sometimes painful, trusting God remains the wisest path13:15; 19:25

Prayer & fasting can offer us space to process and resolve divine disappointments. Is there a recent or old disappointment you need closure on—a prayer that seems unanswered, an unprocessed event, or something else?

Discuss with the group as you feel led or, if alone or more time to sift is needed, journal. Ask God’s what you should do and follow Him. Great healing could lie ahead!

Ask God to meet you wherever He’s leading and reveal “Heaven’s perspective”—His all-seeing view, and to help you set aside your faulty, mortal one. Our interpretation of past events only sets us on a path of heartache and unbelief. The key to Job’s peace was getting God’s perspective (ch. 38-42) because only He sees the big picture! We’ll explore this more tomorrow. 


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