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Christian Union

Devotionals

For several years, Christian Union called on Christians to join us two times per year in seeking God through fasting. These sorts of fasting initiatives are now part of Christian Union Day & Night, but the devotionals that were written for those fasts have continued to strengthen and encourage believers, so we have made them available here.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

In his Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans, 2007), Paul F. M. Zahl writes, “The more dire the circumstance or checkmate is, the more heartfelt and spontaneous the prayer for help is.”  I love the image of a checkmate because it describes well the human condition: defeated and helpless apart from God’s grace.  Due to the invasion of evil we find in ourselves and our world, we are utterly impotent to change, improve, or save ourselves. We are surrounded by reckless rooks and cruel queens that render our personal kingships hopelessly conquered.  

Checkmate.

While this may sound pessimistic, it’s the only thing that makes sense of “heartfelt and spontaneous” prayer, isn’t it?  To the degree we are optimistic about our ability to save ourselves and change the world, our fervency in prayer will disappear.  But to the degree that we see ourselves accurately, as helpless, we will pray to God for help.  And perhaps this is why energetic and sincere prayer is so rarely found today: we don’t know that we’re in checkmate.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. –Luke 2:36-38

Anna’s life didn’t turn out the way she’d planned. As a young bride, Anna envisioned herself like other women in Jerusalem who spent their days and nights attending their families. But after her husband’s untimely death, Anna never remarried. One can only imagine the combined agonies of widowhood and old age in first-century Jerusalem. But what did Anna do with the time God gave her? Was she to live out her days as an object of pity?

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so.” - Matthew 26:47-56

The deed is done, and, as Jesus had just predicted to His close friends, the hour is now at hand when He is betrayed into the hands of sinners. More specifically, these “sinners” consist of Judas (famously known as The Betrayer), the chief priests and elders, and a large crowd of temple guards and police with swords and clubs at their sides, as if ready for a fight. At first there is no fight. Jesus’ arrest is quick and easy, that is, until Peter gets valiant and cuts off the ear of one of the High Priest’s slaves with his own sword. Surprisingly, all hell does not break loose like you would expect in a scene like this. Instead of using this distraction to slip away, Jesus immediately mitigates the situation and avoids more bloodshed by telling Peter to put away his sword. You see, Peter still does not quite get who Jesus is and the authority He has. Peter may have thought this was a test, a perfect opportunity to show his loyalty to Jesus, when, in fact, Peter’s actions are getting in the way of Jesus’ necessary destiny.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Do you recognize the context in which Jesus made this observation (and promise!)?  It’s a verse that I never really noticed before, as it lies inconspicuously in a passage filled with attention-getting drama.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. - 1 John 3:9-10

When I read this passage, I often wonder whether Christians in the U.S. take it seriously especially as it relates to Biblical commands about sex.  The data is not encouraging.  A 2012 survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 80% of young evangelicals (18-29) who are unmarried are having sex.  Other surveys come to similar conclusions.  The data can be really discouraging.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste.”

When I came across this thought in Robert Farrar Capan’s book The Supper of the Lamb, I found it arresting.  I don’t think I had ever considered what the “eternal purpose” of food might be, nor even that it has one. In my experience, food is always temporary.  Mere hours after a delicious meal, I’m back at the fridge for more.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Dear Friend in Christ,

As we continue our season of fasting together, I want to remind us of God’s purpose for us through fasting. Listen to Jesus’ words in Mark 7:15: “Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. If anyone has an ear to hear, he should listen!” In verses 20-23, Jesus continues to explain this mystery to His disciples by saying: “…What comes out of a person - that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, lewdness, stinginess, blasphemy, pride and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” In our text today, the core problem of defilement is defined as what resides in the heart (things that come out), not things going into a person. Throughout Scripture, the heart refers to the center of one’s being, including the mind, emotions, and will.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

While most people completely understand what it means to make adjustments for personal change, make proposals for widespread change, or boycott and strike for social change, few appreciate the value a sacrifice to God has for guaranteed change.  Yet, fasting and praying has been and continues to be the most effective way to demonstrate a confidence and consciousness in the presence and power of God, which always yields results.

A decision to sacrifice food or pleasure in order to get God’s attention is a demonstration of faith and assurance in the God who sees, hears, and answers the cry of His people.  I’m reminded of Cornelius in the book of Acts, chapter 10.  He was a devout centurion of the Italian regiment who always prayed and gave generous alms to the poor; yet, after a time of fasting, God instructed Peter to share the Gospel with him, so that, in the end, Cornelius’ whole family and friends heard the Gospel, received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized!  Theirs was an unlikely meeting that ushered change for and within both men.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

"(3) For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked...(13) All in vain have I kept my heart clean...(16,17) But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end...(19) how they are destroyed in a moment...(20) like a dream when one awakes...(28) for me it is good to be near God."
- Psalm 73:3, 16, 17, 19, 20, 28

You may or may not (for plenty of good reasons) remember the movie Requiem for a Dream that was based on the novel with the same title. It's a controversial and brutally honest story about human ambition and addictions. The story follows multiple characters and their personal pursuit of their hope-filled dreams. Tragically, their means to make their dreams reality slowly imprison them, and their dreams are put to death by the reality of their disillusioned lives. This gritty and depressing story ends with each character defeated by their dreams and left helpless by their reality.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? – James 2:1-4