FASTING - As you petition the Lord

SCRIPTURES
Psalm 63:1 | O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.

Ezra 8:21-23 | And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany us and protect us from enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king, “Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him.” So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.

Nehemiah 1:1-11 | These are the memoirs of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.

DISCUSSION
  1. A few weeks ago, we learned about persistent prayer. Have you ever prayed persistently (again and again) to God about anything? If so what? What did your prayer practice look like at that time? 
  2. In Ezra and Nehemiah, what are God’s people praying for?
  3. Ezra and Nehemiah don’t just persistently pray, they also fast. Thinking about your own prayer, how would fasting make you even more committed to prayer? Do you think fasting would make you more or less persistent in prayer? Why?
  4. In both examples of fasting and prayer, God answers. Do you think He answers because they fasted? Do you think fasting automatically gets you what you want from God? Have you ever been tempted to fast to earn God’s blessing?
  5. Prayer changes our perspective - it helps us see things God’s way. Fasting reminds us and frees us up to pray more often. Thinking about this, how might your prayer at the beginning of a time of fasting change by the end of that time of fasting?
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