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FASTING AND PRAYER IN DESPERATE TIMES

by Dr. C. L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Friday Evening, August 31, 2018

“Jonah began to enter into the city [of Nineveh] a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:4, 5).


Nineveh was a wicked city. They had attacked the people of Israel. God was going to judge them. He sent the prophet Jonah to preach against them. Jonah came to Nineveh and cried out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” They would be destroyed in forty days. Jonah did not offer them mercy. He did not tell them about the God of Israel. He did not tell them what to do. He only said that Nineveh would be destroyed.

What did the people do? They fasted – all of them, hundreds of thousands of people, from the king to everyone else. Our text says, “The people of Nineveh... proclaimed a fast...from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5).

How did they know to fast? These people weren’t saved. They did not know the God of Israel. They didn’t know the Bible. They worshiped false gods. They were deep in sin. They were “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). But they fasted. They all fasted. And God heard their fast and spared the city.

Even though they didn’t know God, fasting came almost naturally to them. They didn’t know what else to do. They knew they had done wrong. They knew God would judge them. So they humbled themselves and fasted. God heard them. He did not judge the city.

Can lost people fast and get answers from God? Absolutely! The Ninevites were lost. They had no hope. They didn’t know God. All they had was sin and judgment. But they fasted. And God heard them.

When do you especially need fasting and prayer? When you’re desperate. When nothing you do will work. When the situation seems hopeless. When you’ve tried everything and failed. When you’re in despair. When your faith is weak. When you don’t know what to do. Fast and pray!

Esther was the queen of Persia. She was Jewish, but her husband the king didn’t know it. The king ordered that all the Jews in his empire were to be killed. There was no hope. In a few weeks all the Jews would die. There was no way out. There was nothing Esther could do. There was a law that anyone who went to see the king without being asked would be killed. Even though Esther was queen, she was forbidden to go to the king. It was hopeless. What could this young woman do? She said to her uncle Mordecai,

“Go, gather together all the Jews...and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:15, 16).

She said, “I will fast, and all of you fast too.” She fasted and they fasted. And God heard them. She went to see the king. He did not punish her. Instead, he listened to her. The king changed his decision. The Jewish people lived. God answered the fast!

The people of Israel were captive in Babylon because of their sin. There, the prophet Daniel was deeply sad for their sin and their judgment. Daniel said,

“I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

Daniel was serious about reaching God. He prayed. He fasted. And God heard his fast. God brought the people of Israel back to their land.

When the Jews got back to Israel, the people were in a terrible state. The prophet Nehemiah heard about it. Someone said to him,

“The [people] are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3).

The people were in distress. They were in trouble. The wall of Jerusalem was broken down. The gates were burned with fire. It looked hopeless. What did Nehemiah do? Nehemiah said,

“When I heard these words...I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).

And God answered him. When Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, God was with him. The wall was built. The city was repaired. Things were set right in Israel. God heard his fast!

I told you about the people of Nineveh. I told you about Esther, and Daniel, and Nehemiah. And now I will speak to you – about you. What are we trying to do in our church? What is our goal? We are trying to build a Baptist church in the central city of Los Angeles. You may say, “What’s so hard about that? Why not just do it? It couldn’t be that hard.” Oh, but it is!

We live in Los Angeles, a city that is controlled by Satan and his demons. From here the filthy movies and pornography and dirty music go out to ruin the whole world. This is a city of sin, sin, sin. The name “Los Angeles” means “the angels.” But this is not the city of angels – it is the city of demons. The city of fallen angels – the city where demons rule, where their iron grip keeps people from hearing the Gospel of Christ and being saved. Satan, the “god of this world,” has “blinded the minds of them which believe not” (II Corinthians 4:4). They don’t receive the Gospel because they can’t receive the Gospel. They are trapped in “the snare of the devil...taken captive by him at his will” (II Timothy 2:26).

Young people today are so blinded by demons that they have no interest in the Gospel. They hardly ever think about God. Some of you don’t think about Him at all. Boys spend hours every day playing demonic video games – trapped in the grip of the Devil. Girls spend hours every day fooling around on social media, wasting their time, never thinking about God, or their sin, or Christ – trapped in the grip of the Devil. People don’t have time for church. They are pulled and gripped by the demons to do this or that – anything as long as they don’t hear the Gospel of Christ – anything as long as they don’t get near Jesus. Satan has blinded their minds!

We’re trying to have a church here. That’s impossible! This is Los Angeles. Here the total depravity of man and the power of Satan rule. Nobody wants God. Their minds are “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). They are the “children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). The Devil works in them. They don’t want to come into the church and become disciples.

We can work. We can do all sorts of things. But that won’t build a church here in Satan’s stronghold. Our battle is spiritual, not physical. The Bible says,

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The demons are not physical. They are spirits. They are not “flesh and blood.” They cannot be defeated by human effort. They will keep ruling over the people. Only God can overcome them. That’s why we fast and pray.

We’re trying to have a church here – of real Christians. People need to be converted. Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). “Born again” can be translated “born from above.” We can work. We can do all kinds of things. But we can’t make anyone be born from above. We can’t set souls free from the Devil. We can’t release people who are taken captive by him. We can’t move anyone from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (see Colossians 1:13). We’re trying to have a church here. But we can’t do it! Our work can’t do it. Only God can do it. That’s why we fast and pray.

Real prayer is not a human work. Humanly, it doesn’t do anything. Prayer is directed to God. Prayer is “turned to God.” “Oh God, I can’t do this. Only You can do this. I ask you, I beg you in the name of Jesus, answer me, by the Blood of Jesus.” Fasting is not a human work. Humanly, it doesn’t do anything. You feel hungry. But being hungry doesn’t do anything. Fasting is aimed at God. Fasting is “turned to God.” When you have no work to offer – when your work is empty – turn to God. Fast and pray.

Especially in desperate times, fast and pray. If you don’t know what to do – or if what you tried doesn’t work – fast and pray. If things are hopeless – fast and pray. If there’s nothing you can do – fast and pray. Fasting and prayer are not “things.” Fasting and prayer are spiritual, not physical. The battle is spiritual, not physical. You can’t win it. Only God can win it. Fast and pray. Fasting and prayer are “turned to God.” You have nothing to offer. You have nothing but desperation and failure. The Bible says, “Let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). Bring your need to God in fasting and prayer. Bring your failure to God with fasting and prayer. Bring your requests to God in fasting and prayer. He can do what you can’t.

Maybe you don’t think you can pray well. Maybe you can’t pray well. You can’t seem to get your prayers answered. But you can fast. Anyone can do that. The lost people of Nineveh fasted. Jonah didn’t tell them to. They just did it. It was the natural and right thing to do. And God heard them. Some of you are lost. You aren’t converted. Can you fast? Can God hear you? You aren’t any more lost than the people of Nineveh! Yes, you can fast. You can pray. And God can hear you as He heard them.

I want to tell you something special about fasting. Fasting is not a sentence of words that you say to God. That’s prayer. Fasting is much simpler. Fasting is primitive. Some people would say fasting is “primal.” Fasting is basic. It goes deeper than words.

Fasting is “turned to God.” When you fast, you direct the fast to God – without words. I call fasting the wordless prayer. Without words, you offer the fast to God. It’s as if you said, “God, I can’t do anything. I can’t even say anything. But here is my fast. Here is my hunger. It’s all I have. Here I am. Here it is. That’s all.” Fasting is a prayer. And God can hear and answer fasting without words just as He can hear and answer prayer with words. Fasting is a prayer beyond words. The fast itself is a prayer. Offer the fast to God. Yes, pray in words. But the fast is a prayer also. Yes, pray. And let the fast be your prayer, too.

Time after time God heard people who fasted and prayed. He can hear you too. You aren’t any worse than the people of Nineveh. God heard them, and He can hear you too. Whoever you are, fast and pray. Amen.


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