Toward the end of my father’s life, he suffered a stroke and became aphasic, meaning he could no longer speak. Since he could not communicate, it was very difficult to know what he was thinking or what he needed. He would look at us often with a frustrated look on his face as if he knew what he wanted to say but he just could not get the words out. This became his new reality for several years. He got by and could function in other ways, getting around in his wheelchair, but he had lost the ability to talk.
I recall one day when my wife, Michelle, was pregnant with our first child, Courtney, and we went to visit him. It was obvious that Michelle was carrying a baby as she was 7-months pregnant. While we were visiting and I was talking to my dad, I said to him, “Guess what, Dad? You are going to be a grand dad!” and I pointed to Michelle’s belly. He sat up in bed with an astonished look on his face and said the clearest words I ever heard. He said, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know!” He had a proud look in his eyes, and it was a sweet moment. We were all astonished.
Forgetting How to Talk to God
Sometimes we forget how to talk to God. We become aphasic. We go through life and get distracted by busyness. We work and we play, and God gets put on the back burner. We may say customary prayers to bless our food at dinner or we may pray at church, but we get in a routine that puts prayer as something we just do.
Like an athlete who does not train, we become deconditioned and forget the feeling of being in really good shape. We make excuses not to exercise our prayer time. Sleep or distractions like TV eat our time. Sometimes, without even realizing it, life creeps in and we have lost our way much like the Israelites lost their way in the desert. We are distracted by idols and forget that we have direct access to the Creator of the universe. There comes a time in which we must repent and turn back and gaze into the face of God through prayer.
“We are distracted by idols and forget that we have direct access to the Creator of the universe.”
Rebooting Our Prayer Life
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, he calls for prayer and fasting in repentance. He writes,
“As soon as a Christian recognizes that he has failed in his service, that his readiness has become feeble, and that he has sinned against another’s life and become guilty of another’s guilt, that all his joy in God has vanished and that his capacity for prayer has quite gone, it is high time for him to launch an assault upon the flesh, and prepare for better service by fasting and prayer.”
There comes a time that we need a splash of water on the face and need to press Alt-Control-Delete and reboot our prayer life. Well, fasting does this for us. It reboots our internal hard drive (our head, our heart) to be receptive to prayer once again. Periodically we need an awakening of the Holy Spirit. I believe we are filled by the Holy Spirit when we repent, confess that Jesus is Lord and are baptized (Acts 2), yet there are many “fillings” of the Holy Spirit in our lifetimes. When we feel stale and in need of a fresh reboot, I know of no other spiritual discipline better than fasting.
“When we feel stale and in need of a fresh reboot, I know of no other spiritual discipline better than fasting.”
Retreating and Refilling
My friend, Chad Harrington, recently taught a class on Spiritual Formation in our church. He used a visual picture of a sky filled with water that had spouts running down occasionally, filled with the Holy Spirit’s presence. Our job is to go over to the spouts and fill our hearts regularly. It is always available to us, but we have to make the move to fill up. The spiritual disciplines, especially prayer and fasting, are the most effective ways to do this.
Jesus modeled this for us. Before he started his public ministry, he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. It is there that he endured temptation from the devil, and he relied on the Word of God for his food. He combated the Devil in the spiritual realm with the eternal Word. Before he chose his 12 disciples, he went up to a lonely mountain to pray all night. Jesus often retreated to plug into that power source I talked about here.
“Before he started his public ministry, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness.”
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16, NIV). I can only imagine that when Jesus retreated this way, he was in intimate connection with his Father. He prayed with a megaphone. His prayers ascended to heaven with power. He then would return with a renewed sense of purpose and the spiritual power to do his mission work by healing and spreading the good news of the kingdom of God which had come near.
This was excerpted from Michael Eagle, Prayer and Fasting: Group Discussion Guide (Renew.org, 2020).