Prayer & Fasting

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Jesus taught that some of the enemies of our wholeness and happiness cannot be overcome without prayer and fasting. By this he meant that unless we offer ourselves and souls and bodies as a living sacrifice, coming to him in poverty and with every sinew of our being bent to do his will there is always room for the forces that diminish the work of his grace to interfere and inhibit healing. The New Testament is punctuated with accounts of fasting and prayer – not least Jesus’ own wilderness journey of forty days and nights. In the Christian life the calendar of year and week is given extra emphasis and urgency by fasting.

It is a discipline and means of grace which is sadly underused and I have been reminded of this most powerfully over the past month. The experience is one involving my own family and close friends. At the end of March my daughter-in-law had unplanned emergency surgery on her spine. For a short time she was completely without sensation below her waist and now after five weeks has only recovered thirty per cent of the feeling in her legs.

Although at home, she is entirely dependent on others – not least her husband, who in unable to be at home during the day and is at work. They have three small children including a baby of nine months. One can imagine the complicated implications for everyone involved and the potentially devastating effect on the emotional and spiritual well-being of a young family.

Much prayer and healing ministry has been poured into this situation. The Lord called one friend to set up a prayer chain with a difference. Nearly thirty people have been involved in a continuous offering of prayer with fasting. These have included people of many Christian traditions and in some case none. In the case of those ambivalent aboutprayer they have volunteered to fast in partnership with a friend who will pray as they fast (fasting being defined as going without a daytime meal). It has been a very moving, indeed converting experience, to be part of this offering of love and pity.

As is the case in all the work of the Holy Spirit a community has been created. It has renewed and deepened friendships and also invited participants to reflect on their own response to the call of Christ. Many things have been healed and hope has been renewed for many. Prayer of any kind will always draw us nearer to God’s heart and to one another.

As with all intercessory prayer we cannot know its effect because we don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t prayed! Nevertheless, we can see all the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in the young family; not least faith, hope and love. There are signs of healing and closed doors have opened offering new ways forward. As our friend wrote about the prayer chain, ‘It will make us conscious of our utter dependence on God and make us thankful and open to his will’, and so it did. Amen