Brothers and Sisters,
What is fasting? It is not simply abstaining from meals. It is a spiritual discipline that is appropriate during times of significant and momentous needs. Our Directory of Public Worship suggests fasting before a man is ordained as a way of helping him focus on the great weight of ministry to which he is called, even as Christ Himself fasted for forty days before entering His public ministry. It is a way of being reminded that there is far more at stake in this world than the physical reality that envelops us. In our fasting, we are crying out that the spiritual realm to which we belong would have a greater impact on our lives and on the lives of those around us. It is almost like saying, “Heaven can’t wait.”
When times of national or church tragedy occurs, fasting shows our union with those who suffer, even with those who are unbelievers. We share a commonality with all mankind, who are made in God’s image, and fasting reminds us that we are all made of that common mud. During the Great Plague that hit London when the bells would ring for the mortuary to pick up another corpse, John Donne (a godly Christian man) wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Fasting calls us to remember the bells tolls even for me. One day our body will also be buried in the ground as we await the resurrection. Thus, it is also is a sacrifice before God that we are demonstrating our sorrow for the curse Adam brought upon us, and for the events that surround us. It is a way of adding a stronger emphasis upon our petition to God for showers of mercy. While we deny our body of its daily bread, we stretch above the earth and beyond the troubles around us as we acknowledge God’s Kingdom is the only hope this world truly has. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). As we fast, we hunger for true righteousness found in the Kingdom of God.
In a fast, and during the time you would spend preparing and eating a meal, take the time to pray, read, and meditate on God’s Word. However, Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “Fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.” Indeed, some may not be able to go without food due to health issues. Do not feel you need to go throughout the day without eating. But there are other ways of fasting – consider coming off social media, or go away from the television or computer, or don’t listen to music, or perhaps put down the novel you are reading. Paul even talked about fasting from marital relations for a time (1 Cor. 7:5) as a way of devoting yourselves to prayer. The point is, in a fast, spend special and devoted time in God’s Word, seeking His face, and crying out for special mercies.
Since we will not have public worship services, many of you will feel dried up and will find the week runs harder. That is a very usual experience for those who love being in God’s presence. It is a very hard providence when that is denied us for any reason. But use that sorrow to throw yourself upon the mercy of God, remembering how blessed it is to be in worship. But think of the countless masses who never give any thought at all to what they are missing by not ever coming to church. Fast and pray for them.
In your prayers, remember the following:
Pray for all men, that this virus will quickly die and not many more will be affected.
Pray for the President and his advisors during this trial, that wisdom may be given and that they would be guided into how to best take care of the public (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Pray for those who are most affected by this – the elderly and weak.
Since so many businesses are shutting down, and so many are losing money in their retirement and investments, pray for all those whose incomes are hit hard.
Pray for the elders who are given charge to lead the congregation with wisdom and with true godly care and love, that not only may they fulfill this duty but that they would not weary in making sure every soul under them is spiritually healthy.
Pray for the deacons who are given charge to care for the physical needs of those who may suffer financial or health distress.
As many churches are closing down, pray that the gospel will still go forth in great power and that those who are lost and without hope would see the love and care and hope we, as those united to Christ, have.
Pray particularly for our Presbytery and the needs of our churches, some who are very poor, that this will not adversely affect them.
Several particular needs from Presbytery have arisen:
Rollie Keller, a retired minister who has served the Lord well in many churches, and until recently, as the assistant clerk of Presbytery, is in hospital now in isolation due to COVID-19. Doctors are expecting that his earthly pilgrimage is soon at an end. Pray for his wife, Barb, and their grown children – one son is a pastor in North Carolina. This is a very sad thing for me personally, as Rollie has always been a tremendous encouragement to me since my Las Vegas days.
UPDATE: Rev. Keller's health has improved dramatically and he has been released home.
John Garissi, another retired minister who served as chairman of the Presbytery’s Credentials Committee for many years, and another friend of mine from my time in seminary, is in quarantine but was diagnosed with both kidney cancer and breast cancer. Pray for John and his wife, Dianna.
Pray for our mission work in Pearl City as it is facing very difficult financial needs and unless the Lord provides, will have to consider being closed.