Faith and trust are the keys to intercessory prayer. Effective intercession does not depend on the holiness or maturity of the people praying. It may help, but it is no guarantee. Much more important are virtues like faith, trust, sincerity, humility, and persistence-virtues that we can all take up. As mentioned in a previous article, God simply wants us to turn to him with all that we are. It doesn’t matter if our faith is mature or immature, if we are newly converted or have been running the race for years. God promises all of us: “When you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you” (Jeremiah 29:13-14). This is the kind of sincerity and persistence that brings us into God’s presence and releases his grace in our lives and in the lives of the people we are praying for.
When Bill was told that he had an aggressive case of prostate cancer, he sought out the members of his parish prayer group and asked them to pray with him for healing. After ten five-minute sessions of prayer-once a week-Bill returned to the hospital for more tests. Amazingly, his cancer levels were reduced to zero.
Of course, Bill was undergoing a course of chemotherapy at the same time as he was receiving prayer. He also made significant changes to his diet, under the supervision of his doctor. So on the one hand, we will never know for sure exactly what caused such a dramatic turnaround. On the other hand, Bill’s doctor was both excited and surprised by the results of the latest tests. He said it was very rare to see such a dramatic turnaround. Bill himself credits the power of God for his healing, and he has been sharing his story with anyone who will listen.
Fasting and Intercession. Throughout Scripture and church history, fasting and intercession have been intimately linked to each other. Over and over again people fasted when they wanted God’s help. Moses fasted for forty days before he received the Law (Exodus 34:28). Hannah fasted as she begged God to give her a child (1 Samuel 1:7-8). Nehemiah fasted for the restoration of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4). The entire city of Nineveh fasted in response to Jonah’s call to repent (Jonah 3:5). Daniel fasted as he prayed for insight from the Lord (Daniel 9:3). Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast prior to a battle (2 Chronicles 20:3). Jesus himself fasted before beginning his public ministry (Matthew 4:1-2). St. Paul fasted after his conversion (Acts 9:8-9). The elders of the church at Antioch were fasting and praying when the Holy Spirit told them to set aside Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary trip (Acts 13:1-2).
Logically, there is no reason why fasting should lead to an outpouring of grace, protection, or wisdom. But God does not always follow the limitations of our human logic. It’s not that fasting changes God, either. Fasting changes us. It humbles us and makes us more dependent on the Lord. By consciously choosing to deny ourselves, we are telling ourselves that we want to be more open to the Lord. We are saying that we want to be guided by his wisdom and his provision. We are saying that we don’t want to be content with our human ways of fulfillment and wisdom.
It’s not as if we are trying to convince God to do what we want. It’s more that we are taking steps to align ourselves with God and his ways. We are stating that we want to understand the situation we are praying about from God’s perspective. And we are also telling God that we want to empty ourselves so that he can fill us and use us as his instruments-whether of healing, comfort, guidance, or support-in this situation. More than anything else, fasting makes us more pliable and less self-oriented.
Once when the apostles were unable to deliver a demon Jesus said, “this kind” came out only by fasting and prayer (Mark 9:29). Likewise, there are serious needs-sickness, unemployment, broken relationships, depression-that require prayer and fasting. Either the situation is so desperate that we need to take desperate measures, or it is so confusing to us that we need to do something to make ourselves more available to God so that he can teach us and use us.
If you have a specific, pressing need or an important decision to make, consider turning to the Lord with fasting and prayer. If you are relatively new to this discipline, begin slowly. Maybe give up one meal and spend the time in intercession instead. You may want to try this once a week, and then slowly build up to a more rigorous fast. But always be careful to gauge your health and energy. It may also be a good idea to consult your doctor before trying anything too demanding. The goal, of course, is not to lose weight. And it’s not to prove yourself to God. It’s simply to make yourself more available to the Lord.
(Joe Difato is the publisher of “The Word Among Us” devotional magazine. To contact him, go to his website at www.joedifato.com. Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/) for allowing us to use his articles from their October 2009 issue. Used with permission.)
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. In the article, we hear these words: “God promises all of us: ‘When you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you’ (Jeremiah 29:13-14).” What do you think it means to seek the Lord with all your heart? How well are you doing? During this Advent and Christmas season of grace, what simple steps can you take to do better?
2. Are you a skeptic or a strong believer in the power of prayer to heal? In either case, the story of Bill’s healing of prostate cancer in the article can challenge our beliefs. In what ways are healings through modern medicine, lifestyle changes, and prayer compatible with one another? Are there any ways they are not?
3. The article gives several reasons “why fasting should lead to an outpouring of grace, protection, or wisdom.” How would you summarize those reasons?
4. What is your own experience with fasting? Have you ever fasted for “a specific, pressing need or an important decision to make”? If you have, what were the fruits of it?
5. What are some pressing needs in you, your family, or others that would benefit from focused prayer and fasting? Although the Advent or Christmas seasons are not necessarily seasons of fasting, why not begin praying for these needs now and follow it by prayer and fasting after the Christmas season.
6. If you are in a men’s group, take some time at the end of your meeting to pray for the needs each of you have identified.
(The discussion questions were created by Maurice Blumberg, a Trustee of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (http://www.catholicmensresources.org/), and currently the Director of Partner Relations for The Word Among Us Partners, (http://www2.wau.org/partners/), a Ministry of The Word Among Us to the Military and Prisoners. Maurice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)