Two days ago, our congregation began 40 days of prayer and fasting, and I started a 6-week sermon series called Portraits of Fasting. Each week, we will look at events in Scripture where fasting takes place, examine the role of fasting, and think about its relevance for our own lives.
We began by looking at King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. As the Ammonites, Moabites, and Meunites approached to attack, the king called for national fasting and prayer. He called for the nation to let go of any source of strength that lies in this world...even the God-given source of food...and, instead, look to God Himself as their source of strength and deliverance.
We do not have armies of Ammonites beating down our door, but as the people of God, we do have enemies. We don't wrestle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12), but we wrestle all the same. Of course, the devil is our enemy. 1 Peter 5:8 says he's like a prowling lion, seeking whom he may devour. The second enemy I mentioned Sunday is the power of sin...what Kris Lundgaard calls "the enemy within" in his book bearing these words as its title.
In the strain of spiritual warfare...in the fight against the indwelling power of sin...we can become overwhelmed. We can get scared, as Jehoshaphat did, feeling that our defeat is imminent. It is in these times that we must do three things. First, we must remind ourselves of the gospel...that Jesus Christ has won our victory over sin and the devil in His death. In the end, the battle of this life will come to a close, and perseverance in trusting the Lord Jesus Christ will end in an eternal celebration of victory!
Second, we should remember that fighting this battle in our own strength is like entering nuclear war with a bow and arrow. Paul tells us that our strength is in the Lord, and this is where fasting can enter our battle strategy. It is in fasting that we let go of any source of strength we have and look to God to intervene. After all, putting to death the deeds of the body must be done in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Truly the battle is the Lord's!
The third thing to remember is that when there is a moment of reprieve in the battle, we cannot let our guard down...we cannot think that full and final victory has been achieved, for this kind of final peace is reserved for eternity. The language of Ephesians 6 speaks of constant readiness...constant battle. The power of sin is that it will back off long enough for us to be lulled into a sense of complacency, and then it will strike again.
Just last night, I watched The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with Susan and our older boys. About two thirds of the way through, battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines is set to take place. In order to buy time, Peter (High King of Narnia) challenges Miraz (King of the Telmarines) to an individual fight to the death. The one who wins would gain the surrender of the opposing army.
If you have seen Miraz, he is quite the evil character. He kills his brother, the king, and plots to kill his nephew (Prince Caspian) in order to gain control of the throne. As he is preparing for this fight with Peter, he tells one of his men to be prepared to step in and kill Peter with a crossbow if the fight isn't going his way.
The fight begins, and during the first round of swords and shields clashing, Peter slices Miraz's leg. Almost immediately, Miraz calls for a respite. They rest for three minutes, and then they're back at it. Shields to the face and brushes with death fill the fight. After losing his sword, Peter makes the strategic move of punching Miraz in the leg wound he inflicted earlier. Miraz screams in pain and begs for another respite. Though Peter is urged by his brother not to let up, Peter will allow another rest. Then, Peter makes a mistake...he turns his back. As he is walking away, Miraz grabs his sword and goes right on attacking!
Of course, in the book, Peter wins the fight. But in real life, it is this kind of turning our back on the enemy...this kind of thinking that the fight is over for a while...that can lead to a tragic defeat, a giving in to sin that could have been avoided if we had stayed on guard. Let me finish with some words from Kris Lundgaard's book, The Enemy Within.
"How would you like to fight an enemy who, just when you had him on the ropes, could duck into a cave or tunnel where you couldn't follow? An enemy who could hide just out of reach, letting you rest long enough to think he was gone for good, then drop from nowhere onto your back? This is the advantage of indwelling sin - it lurks in an unsearchable and deceitful fortress, where you can't find him.
"Have you ever battled some lust - prayed and fasted and sought counsel against it - then watched it slink away into the night? You thought you had it licked. You thought you could move on with your spiritual life. But one day you were watching television, and a commercial...bubbled up a whole nest of wicked desires. Sin can be like trick birthday candles: you blow them out and smile, thinking you have your wish; then your jaw drops as they burst into flames.
"Never think for a minute that the war against sin is over in this life. There isn't even a cease-fire." (p. 39)In the battle against sin, we fast, we pray, and we fight...but we should never turn our backs!