Severe thunderstorms, especially during spring and summer, are part of everyday life in northeast Ohio. They are so common that many of us give little or no thought to preparing for them when we hear the distant rumble of thunder and see moisture-laden clouds marching towards us. While rain is often welcome, these storms are often armed with lightning bolts, torrents of water, wind, and hail. They can be blessings that bring relief from high temperatures and drought, or menaces that destroy crops, property, and sometimes lives. Because the storms can be so damaging, it is always wise to take action as soon as the signs of an approaching storm appear. My daughters and I learned this the hard way one afternoon in 2013.
As we left a local market we noticed a dark, rumbling mass of clouds in the western sky. Not perceiving any threat, I confidently headed toward the looming darkness. Rain pelted our van as I navigated down the curvy country road. My youngest daughter, Rachel, began to energetically encourage me to go home. Dismissing her concerns because I wanted to cross one more chore off my to-do list, I decided we would make another stop. I should have listened to Rachel.
By the time we reached the next store, my wipers strained to hold back the sheets of water that continually battled to impair my vision. The crowded parking lot was flooded to the depth of a kiddie pool and it rushed by like rapids. Lightning flashes and peels of thunder shot through the sky. Stranded cars that could not pass through the rising waters blocked much of the way. Fearful for our lives, and mad at myself for my carelessness, we headed home. What normally would have been a short drive took three times as long. By the grace of God, we made it safely.
As believers in Jesus, we can take action to prepare for the inevitable storms of life. These steps will not prevent storms, but they will help us navigate them. Many of us are familiar with the disciplines of prayer, worship, and Bible reading, but there is one discipline that seems to have been forgotten by many segments of the modern church: fasting. One of the most powerful pictures of this discipline is seen in the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles.
In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat was faced with the terrifying approach of three separate enemy armies as they advanced on Judah. King Jehoshaphat was not a stranger to conflict, but instead of ordering his armies to go out into battle, he did something some might consider radical and risky. In 2 Chronicles 20:3 we read, “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” During the fast, a Levite named Jahaziel prophesied, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah, and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you” (2 Chronicles 20:17). While fasting, praying, and praising God, the people and armies of Judah witnessed a miracle. “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir they all helped to destroy one another” (22 -23).
Jehosaphat could have acted like I did when I saw the approaching storm and gone about his normal routine. No one would have thought twice if he would have called upon his military leaders and instructed them to go to battle. Instead, he humbly sought God’s will in the matter by declaring a fast not only for himself but all of Judah. By submitting to God through fasting, he allowed God’s will to be considered first.
It is clear in Scripture that Jesus assumes his followers will be fasting. In Matthew 6:16 he teaches, “when you fast.” Fasting is not an old testament ritual that has been relegated to the past, but is one of the powerful spiritual disciplines given to us by God for our edification and ultimately his glory. Arthur Wallis, in his book God’s Chosen Fast, states, “If you have been brought low through personal defeat; if there is a call in your soul to a deeper purifying, to a renewed consecration; if there is the challenge of some new task for which you feel ill-equipped—then it is time to inquire of God whether He would not have you separate yourself unto Him in fasting.”
God does not leave us powerless as we walk in this broken world. He has sent us a divine helper, The Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit indwells us to facilitate all of the spiritual disciplines, including the amazing gift of fasting.