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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?

We can imagine the most sacred day of her life—the day she met her Messiah—starting in an ordinary way. Maybe she rose before dawn with back pain, yet she made her way across the cobblestone to her favorite place in the temple. Maybe that day she recalled excerpts from Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling place,

   O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints

   for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and flesh sing for joy

   to the living God…

Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

   ever singing your praise! Selah…

They go from strength to strength…

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;

   give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

Anna’s name means “favor” and “grace.” God took a dejected widow and made her a prophetess. His grace ministered to her through day after day of fasting and prayer so she could “speak of Him to all who still waited for the redemption of Jerusalem.” The day we read about her, God opened Anna’s eyes to recognize, in an eight-day-old infant, the promised Messiah. Imagine if she had just prayed these closing words of the familiar Psalm:

Behold our shield, O God;

   look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better

   than a thousand elsewhere…

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;

   the Lord bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does he withhold

   from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts,

   blessed is the one who trusts in you!

The example of Anna illustrates several principles.  First, do you need God to show Himself to you today? Ask Him to open your eyes in the midst of this fast to show Himself to you in Christ. Second, is God’s presence your source of strength? Whatever challenges or suffering you may face, ask Him to be for you what He was for Anna—your sun and shield. Third, is fasting and prayer becoming a form of worship for you? It can be tempting to treat fasting and even prayer as a way of bartering with God. No, follow Anna’s example and employ these disciplines as an opportunity to experience God’s intimacy. Finally, are you feeling weak or needy? Fast. Praise Him for who He is, our sun and shield, our Great Redeemer who has already conquered. He withholds no good thing from those who seek His face.

Anna Shea
Former Ministry Fellow at Cornell