“Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.”—Joel 1:14, NIV
Today begins the third day of our 21-Day Daniel’s Fast at our church, which began January 3rd and will end on the 23rd. Like so many Christian churches throughout the United States and globally, we began the year in a season of prayer and fasting. Some churches may be in revivals or some other form of spiritual renewal and consecration services. During these seasons of prayer, pastors, leaders, and congregants come together to hear and receive direction from God for the New Year. Leadership understands any plans made without the Holy Spirit’s leading are doomed to failure. No pastor, church leadership, or congregation can be truly affective in ministry without knowing God’s purpose and will for the life of that church without spending time with God in prayer and fasting. Programs by themselves will not build a community of faithful believers.
I fast and pray throughout the year, but there is something special about consecration at the beginning of a New Year. It’s the “C-word.” Change. I need change in my life although I don’t always welcome it. I realize some things just didn’t work like I expected them to in the past year, and the New Year somehow allows me to start over without feeling guilty. There is no pressure or stress associated with this time that has been set apart to meet with God in corporate prayer. As a matter-of-fact, I’ve been looking forward to hearing what God has to say to our church and to me, personally. I need this time in corporate prayer with fellow believers, as well as my personal intimate time alone with the Lord.
There is an awe-inspiring presence from the Father when I walk into the sanctuary during early morning and evening prayer hours. The lights are dimmed so that worshippers can center their thoughts and attention on speaking with the Savior. We do this to create a more spiritual atmosphere during prayer times for personal reflection and meditation. No, we’re not some New Age church burning candles and incense with strobe lights flickering to make you feel like you’re in a psychedelic commune. We’re just setting the atmosphere for the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Have you realized that Jesus most intense moments of prayer took place in the darkness of night? He went up on a mountainside all night to pray in the dark (Luke 6:12). He spent time praying at night in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Bible says the boy Samuel laid in the tabernacle near the ark of God (in the darkness), and heard the voice of God speaking to him (1 Samuel 3). I love being near the altar. The altar is where the sacrifice was slain and offered to God. I need to offer my life up to the Father as a living sacrifice “holy and acceptable” to him (see Romans 12:1).
People had already gathered when I walked into the sanctuary. There was no unnecessary talking. There was an anxious longing to bask in the power of His presence. Some sat on the pews, floor, or knelt in prayer. Others walked throughout the sanctuary uttering praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. Some silently spoke in tongues while others whispered their prayers and petitions “making their requests” known. Still others were interceding on behalf of someone in need of prayer. Make no mistake: That Pentecostal fire was there, and people “cried out and shouted” to the Lord! Each person was being taught by the Holy Spirit what and how to pray.
I have a special place in the sanctuary where I enjoy talking with the Lord. It’s on the stairs leading up to the upper pulpit. My beloved father prayed here often during intense times in ministry. Others find their special prayer places. Very rarely did my father pray openly like most ministers do in prayer services today unless the Holy Spirit instructed him to do so. At different times, I could hear him groaning in the Spirit while he waited on the Lord. There’s something very special about this little prayer-space. I can hear the voices of the saints in prayer all around me, but then I am suddenly drawn into that most “secret place of the Most High” (Psalm 91), a place where I can go.