In late November, I was reading the passage in Isaiah 9 that predicted the coming Messiah with the words we used for the child dedication and blessing in our Christmas service, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” In the verses that begin that chapter, Isaiah declares: “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder” Isaiah 9:3 (NIV). This word “enlarged” has been coming up in my spirit regularly since that time. Every year that we have been calling this church to a concentrated time of fasting and seeking, I have provided a framework or guide for that process. This is not to restrict you from praying or seeking along a different path or in ways that best suit your life and needs right now. The guide is offered as a way to go about something that many of us don’t regularly do, and in my experience with irregular things, some guidance and encouragement is usually helpful to get us started and moving along. So I want you to be free to use Bible passages or even some devotional guide that may be helpful to you personally if you so desire.
I do believe that the theme that we follow from year to year is significant to the way in which the Holy Spirit speaks specific things into the life of the whole church as we begin another year, so please at least read through the material I’ve provided. As much as a Seek Week is beneficial to you as an individual, I believe that this is a process that is significant to City Church as a whole and the common theme, focus and times of common prayer during Seek Week are important to all that the Holy Spirit intends to do in us through this special week.
We are providing this Seek Week guide the day before Seek Week actually begins for a reason. A concentrated time of prayer, fasting and listening is something that will require a bit of preparation to do. In the same way that you would plan a trip to go out of town for a few days, I would advise that you take a few minutes and put some preparations in place so that you don’t forget your toothbrush or end up without a place to stay along this spiritual journey. As I’ve already said, this guide is intended to provide a general theme or roadmap for the week. In addition to familiarizing yourself with the guide, I would offer a couple additional travel-preparation suggestions:
- Plan your stops.
Our lives regularly fill with activities and responsibilities without much effort on our part, so if you want to create space for stopping, reflecting and seeking, you will have to plan for those times and defend what you have planned. Consider creating a seeking calendar that allows the intervals of seeking like rest stops along a major highway. You may want to try mixing it up using an early morning on Tuesday, a lunch time on Wednesday and perhaps the last hour of the day before you go to bed on Thursday. The important thing is that you plan these stops. Otherwise the week will fill up and the sacrifices you have made in fasting and culling out other distractions will be wasted. Also keep in mind that there are gathering times planned for prayer throughout the week, and breaking fast together with a time of worship and prayer on Friday:
Tuesday, noon-1:00pm & Wednesday, 6:00am-7:30am in the Café
Friday, 6:00-Light potluck and prayer and worship service in the Fellowship Hall
- Decide now what and how you will fast if you choose to do so.
These decisions are never made very well in the moment. If you find yourself standing at the refrigerator on Monday morning considering what to eat for breakfast and then remember that you were supposed to be fasting, the choice to forego food at that moment will not be as effective as a decision about what and how you will fast through the week that is made on Sunday afternoon.
Some Fasting Guidelines
Fasting is a spiritual discipline designed to remove the comfort that our bodies receive from food and raise the sensitivity of our spirit to the presence and voice of God. This is accomplished through substituting our regular food intake with Bible reading, praying and journaling. The overall goal is to experience a genuine hunger for spending time with God.
There are numerous ways to go about fasting. Some people will fast all five days drinking only water. Others modify that by the inclusion of fruit or vegetable juices. Some people will participate in a sunrise to sunset fast each day eating a light meal in the evening. Still others fast by removing anything but simple or bland foods in the style of a Daniel fast.
We have found great benefits by fasting certain activities and entertainment. Media not only consumes time, it provides a significant distraction from the matters of soul and spirit. Often we cannot hear God’s voice as a simple result of having some noise or visual stimulant constantly drawing away our attention. Please consider replacing time in front of a computer, smartphone or television screen with quiet reading, prayer or worship. You will be bored at the beginning of the week, but as your spiritual sensitivities grow stronger, you will gain far more than you give up in this area.
A food fast is not suited to everyone. Pray about your participation and use wisdom in selecting how you will fast. Those who work in jobs that require the expenditure of significant physical energy will need to provide something for their body to use for that energy, so some food intake may be required to keep up with these demands. Those who follow rigorous workout routines may need to modify the elements of the fast or adjust their routines in order to do without food. Also, if you have any known medical conditions or suspect such conditions that may be impacted by fasting, consult your doctor before beginning the fast.
Keep the purpose in mind!
Religious activity that is done for the sake of religious activity has never really helped anyone. Spiritual disciplines must be pursued with specific purposes in mind so that you don’t end up suffering with a growling stomach for a few days and end the week with an unfed soul. Think about this in terms of replacement. Turn off the TV for an hour each evening and replace that activity with some time spent in focused reading of Scripture, praying or worshipping. Skip lunch a couple of days and replace the time spent eating with meditating on a Bible passage or finding some solitude and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Here are some specific suggestions on making your seeking purposeful:
- Purposeful Fasting – This may mean fasting food or television, coffee, sweets, etc… The point is that you select a behavior that most comforts your flesh or distracts your soul and you give that up for a specific period of time. Then, in the absence of that comfort or distraction, set your heart to seek God by prayer and listening. Some of you do the single-day sunrise to sunset fasting which is great. During Seek Week I would encourage you to try to step that up a bit, perhaps fasting food for three or four days. At the very least, please consider fasting some part of your routine that would free-up time that you would in turn devote to actively seeking God.
- Purposeful Prayer – Most of us are good at “prayer on the fly.” Quick prayers that you pray walking from your car headed into a meeting muttering “Oh God help me with this…” as some new or challenging situation is thrown into your day. What we have lost some capacity to do in our busy modern lives is waiting and lingering in prayer. I am calling this congregation to a season of seeking. Each day of Seek Week will carry a specific emphasis in prayer. Some of these days will include a gathering to pray with or for others.
- Purposeful Listening – While listening is (or should be) included in any time of prayer, I have separated it for the purpose of emphasis. The reward of seeking God is that we find Him! I want to develop the anticipation in our hearts through this week that we will hear from the Lord; biblically, intuitively, conversationally, meditatively, and prophetically hear from Him.
Check in daily next week, Monday through Friday, for directions in prayer and scripture reading. Let’s Seek the Lord together!