Are you thinking….fast, quick, swift, rapid? Well, change that. Think, fast, voluntary abstinence, prayer, communion with the Spirit. I never fasted before I came to Peru, I never really understood fasting before coming here. But now, I understand the meaning and importance of fasting. I understand the power of crying out to Him in fasting and prayer, its a beautiful experience, a time of growth and closeness with our God.
The thing is, not only do Frani and I and the rest of our team practice fasting personally, we teach fasting to these new Christians. You might think that’s getting ahead of ourselves or unnecessary, that’s what I thought at first. But, we have the opportunity to teach these ‘babies’ from the beginning the beauty and importance of fasting. One of the lessons in the discipleship series we use here is a lesson on fasting. We have gone through this lesson with many contacts but had not yet practiced the lesson with any contacts. The boys, Garren and Geremias have fasted with a number of their contacts before, but Franci and I had not yet had the opportunity.
Last week, God presented us with an opportunity to teach Carmen firsthand about fasting and prayer. We went to Carmen’s tienda to chat with her and she opened up to us about a problem that has been going on for months. Her oldest son, Dante is fighting with his wife, Lisbeth and they are actually separated at this point, Dante living with Carmen and Godo, Lisbeth living with her mother. They have a little son, Alexander who lives with Lisbeth but stays with Carmen during the day while Lisbeth works. The main issues are that the fights between Lisbeth and Dante lead Dante to drink which then in turn frustrates Carmen and Carmen puts blame on Lisbeth and Lisbeth reacts to the accusations and Dante drinks more. Its a big mess and its taking its toll on the entire family.
Here’s a picture from a few months ago to put names with faces….
So, Carmen vented to us about the continued problems between the three of them. As Carmen walked away to make a sale in the tienda, Franci and I chatted about what we could do to help them. Franci told me she had already thought about fasting with Carmen to lift this situation up to God. I agreed that was the only thing we could do, lift this up to Him. So, Carmen came back and we asked if she would be willing to fast, that we would fast with her and pray with her. Carmen was very receptive. She remembered the lesson on fasting and was eager to take this next step, to practice what she had learned. We decided we would fast on Friday until 3pm. We also planned a special time of prayer in the church in Yanamayo for an hour while we were fasting.
Friday morning rolled around, Franci and I fasting at home, Carmen fasting in her home. Around noon, Franci and I went up to Yanamayo and went to Carmen’s tienda to pick her up and walk over to the church for prayer. When we arrived I saw Dante, I didn’t think much of it as he’s been living there. But then, we headed to the church and Carmen shut down the entire tienda and brought Dante along with us. She told us Dante and her husband Godofredo, (not Dante’s father) were also fasting. Wow! This is huge because Godofredo refuses to make a heartfelt decision to follow Christ, he always says he’s not ready. But, he was fasting. And Dante has also yet to make a decision to repent and follow Christ in His ways. But he was fasting too!
We sat down, the four of us, on the wooden benches in the church. We discussed our reason for fasting, to pray for Dante, Carmen and Lisbeth, for the relationship between the three of them, for guidance, for strength, for change. And in this, Dante said that he wanted to change. Franci took this opportunity and asked him if he really meant that, if he meant it enough to ask for forgiveness and start a new life, a new road with Christ. He said he was ready, so the first prayer we prayed together, was a prayer of repentance and forgiveness, Dante started a new life with Christ that day!
We then read through 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 together. I will be the first to admit, my Old Testament history knowledge is very lacking. But, the very basics of this chapter teach us the importance of coming together in prayer and fasting. The history is that Jehoshaphat of Judah allied with Israel by marrying the daughter of Ahab. Ahab was about to go to war and because Jehoshaphat was the king’s son in law and he was loyal, Jehoshaphat went to battle with Ahab against the Ramoth Gilead. You can read chapter 18 and find out why, but basically, Jehoshaphat was directly attacked and almost died in this war for his father in law’s sake. Now, Jehoshaphat gets home from almost dying and finds out he’s in trouble, the Moabites and the Ammonites want to fight him. Talk about troubles! We think we have problems, try almost dying and then finding out more people want to go to war against you and your people.
So what does Jehoshaphat do? Verse three of chapter 20 tells us, he declared a fast for all of Judah, and verse four tells us the people came together, fasting, to ‘seek help from the Lord’. His first line of defense was fasting and prayer, together. And while they were fasting together, Jehoshaphat gets up in front of everyone and he prays (vv. 5-12). He prays, “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you……we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and we’ll cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us……for we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” His words are sincere and he knows, God is the only one who has the power and might needed to help us in our time of trouble, Jehoshaphat knows we must humble ourselves and go to Him in our distress, we must cry out to Him, plead for His strength and help in the battle we are facing, we must admit we don’t know what to do, but that we know enough to go to Him.
We read these verses together and then began to pray. But, before praying, Carmen, called Godofredo, her husband and told him to shut down his jean shop down at the market because we were going to be praying in Yanamayo and she wanted him to pray at the same time with us. My heart filled with joy and pride. This was all Carmen’s idea. She understands the importance of fighting this battle against the devil together. Then, Franci said she would start praying and I would finish. I jumped in and asked Carmen if she would pray, I know this woman, young in her faith, can pray. She did want a turn to pray and Dante also agreed to pray. So, we started with Franci, would go in a circle, and I would finish up our time of prayer. After Franci prayed, Carmen, not used to praying in a circle like we were doing, stopped and asked if it was her turn, we said yes and bowed our heads again. In this, Carmen got off the bench and got down on her knees, lifting her hands to our Lord. She began to pray. And like I said, that woman can pray. She cried out to our Father. She called on His name, she pleaded to Him with her tears staining the cement below her. She gets what Jehoshaphat got, she gets the fact that we must unify ourselves in prayer in fasting, she understands God has all the power and might, she knows the importance of crying out His name and asking Him to save us from our problems. She is willing and does humble herself before our God, she gets on her knees to pray.
As she prayed, I thanked God for the changes we’ve seen in this woman. I remembered the first time we met her, Franci and I were talking to Godofredo, we had meet him and talked to him a few times before. Then, Carmen came home from the market. The impression I got from her was, who do you gals think you are, talking to my husband? She was not very receptive at first, she was not very hospitable. And now, here we are, praying with her, fasting with her, for her family problems. Wow. What a dramatic change, and its all from Him.
Carmen prayed, she cried, she called out the name of our Father, she asked for help, for guidance, for strength. But, she also thanked Him. She gave thanks to our Father for the life she has, for her family and I was so humbled when she thanked God for Franci and I. This is a moment I will always remember, Carmen praying. It is a moment I will always treasure. It was a moment of grief for her, a moment of pouring her heart out to God. But I felt so very blessed in this moment. It is so incredible that God has given me this opportunity to be here, to see these lives change before my eyes. I am so incredibly blessed to be here, I was blessed to be able to share this time of fasting and prayer with Carmen, Godo and Dante.
After Carmen, Dante prayed and again, I felt blessed. To hear a new believer, thirty minutes before who had made a heartfelt decision to follow Christ and now he’s praying. Again, wow! Then it was my turn to pray, I’m not a girl who cries often, but I was so overwhelmed with emotions, overwhelmed with thanks for the opportunity to be there with Carmen and Dante, overwhelmed with the need in their lives, that I cried, I cried out to God for this family. It was an awesome time of prayer with Franci, Carmen and Dante. God was there, God was moving, it was incredible.
And as I read on in Chronicles, verses 15 is especially meaningful. Verse 15b says, “This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s’.” This is not Carmen’s battle, it’s not Dante’s battle, it’s not Lisbeth’s battle, it’s not my battle, it’s God’s battle. There’s no reason to be afraid or discouraged in this difficult time, but its time to have confidence and faith in Him. And God is faithful, it is shown in the scriptures. In verse 20 Jehoshaphat and his crew left for the desert as God told them to. And as they went out, Jehoshaphat told his men, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in His prophets and you will be successful.” Then Jehoshaphat urged his men to sing and praise God. They sang, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever.”
Verse 22 is quite notable, it says, “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” The men of Judah didn’t even have to fight just as the Lord said in verse 17, God was faithful, he delivered Judah from this battle. Why? I’d like to refer to Isaiah chapter 58, a chapter on how to fast properly, with a right heart and attitude. Verse 9 says, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer: you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.” This verse comes after an explanation of proper fasting in verses 6-8. If we fast with a right heart, with right reasons, with humbleness and selflessness, God is faithful to answer our call, to answer our cry and come to our rescue just like He did for Jehoshaphat and just like I know He’s going to do for Carmen and Dante. In fact, God already answered, before we even prayed, God opened a door, He touched Dante’s heart, and Dante is a new creature in Him! But I know in my heart, God has more work and healing to do in this family, and I have faith that He will continue to work in this family, in His way and His time.
So, to end this very long post, I ask for your prayers for this family. Dante and Lisbeth are still separated, Lisbeth and Carmen are still struggling in their relationship, Dante is going to face difficult decisions along this new path. But not only do I ask for your prayers, I challenge you, fellow North Americans. I don’t think we realize the importance, the beauty, the power in fasting and prayer. I challenge you, the next time something comes up in life, fast, pray, do it together, cry out to God and He will always be faithful.