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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

When was the last time you couldn’t fall asleep because your mind was racing, and you couldn’t slow down your thoughts? Or you woke up in the middle of the night, shaken out of sleep because of something which had not gone right that day or because of some worry for the upcoming day? I often wonder, when all I need is to slow down and rest, why am I awake with my mind running so fast?

When this happens, one trick my father taught me as a kid is to quote, in order, the Psalms (or, let’s be honest, maybe just remember a snippet from some of them) until you fall asleep. Granted, this is a lot easier to do if you grew up in a church tradition that sings the Psalms regularly.  Nonetheless, the point of this trick is rest comes from being in God’s presence through His word and prayer.

If you try my sleeping aid, it isn’t long before you reach the Psalms that talk about sleep. Psalm 4 begins with a cry to God to answer when I call, to be gracious to me and hear my prayer. In the midst of our stress, or the busyness of life, or the worries of the future, we find rest by calling out to God (v. 1). It concludes with saying, I can lie down and sleep in peace because you, O LORD, make me dwell in safety (v. 8).

Ignatius of Loyola taught a five-step prayer that I find helpful to slow down and rest in God. First, express gratitude. Thanking God enables us to focus our prayer and savor what God has done for us. Savoring God’s work in our lives, the world, and His church is the perfect antidote to the busyness of life. It causes us to slow down and shift our focus to God. Psalm 4 says it this way, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abounds (v. 7).” Second, acknowledge your sin. Where have I failed to bother with God’s call, with what is right, or with the needs of others? Psalm 4 says, “Be angry but do not sin; ponder in your own heart on your bed and be silent” (v. 4). Our admission of our sinfulness helps us remember our deep need for Christ. Third, review your day. Bringing your day before God in prayer encourages you to see God’s presence and action where you would not have thought to look before and reminds you of a person or situation God has asked you to care for. Fourth, ask for forgiveness. We can ask for forgiveness because we are confident in the work that has already been accomplished for us in Christ; therefore, the focus is not on how bad we are but on how good, faithful and gracious God is (v. 5 & 6). Finally, ask for the grace of God’s help for the next day. Instead of worrying about the future, ask for God’s presence to be with you and to help you live for Him.

We have recently entered into a time of fasting, a focused time to come before God in prayer. It is a time to slow down, to hear God’s voice, to savor what God has done, and to experience his peace. So go fast, to slow down and rest. And as we fast, let us remember that we can rest because God is good.  We can rest because God is faithful.   Listen to a beautiful rendition of Psalm 4 by Melissa Breems:

 
Laurel Copp
Ministry Fellow at Yale
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