Learn how to shut out mental and emotional clutter to gain a more meaningful connection with God.
[Gary] You go to church. You try to be nice to people. You pray when you can. But in the stress and clutter of everyday life, does it seem like God is maybe far off or out of touch? Even uncaring?
How can you connect with God when He seems unreachable?
The Gospel of Luke records that Jesus, “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 15:16 Luke 15:16And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave to him.
American King James Version×).
Now how can you apply this simple verse—[Jesus] “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” to help you in your personal relationship with God?
Well join us on Beyond Today as we explore how to sift through all the daily clutter with “Fasting and Prayer: Tools for Spiritual Growth.”
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[Gary] The Gospel says that Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Now the wilderness of Judea can be a very desolate, inhospitable place.
Why would Jesus go to the wilderness to pray?
We’re going to take a look at an important story from the life of Jesus that shows how fasting, prayer and the Bible are spiritual tools to help us connect to God—even in those times when He seems unreachable.
Now in the story we’re about to look at, once again, Jesus goes to the wilderness.
Over the years, one of my favorite places to visit is the wilderness of Big Bend National Park in Texas. The Big Bend desert and mountains can be stunningly beautiful and disturbingly desolate. Looking out over a landscape of rock and sand—almost devoid of life—hearing only the passing sound of the wind—can be a deeply lonely feeling.
Hiking in those wilderness mountains with no television, no cell phone, no computer—your life is stripped down to the essentials—water, food, shelter—and an awareness of your need for God.
Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”
This is important. Jesus, on a regular basis, took time to strip His life down to the most essential element—His prayer life with God.
And this is a deliberate action. Jesus sought the solitude of the wilderness to shut out the clutter, the urgent stresses, the demands of everyday life. Now He didn’t stay in the wilderness like a hermit. Instead, He was spiritually energized by His wilderness journeys enabling Him to return to His family, His friends and His work.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Well this was easy for Jesus to do but how can I go to a desolate place when I live in an apartment complex or a subdivision where the closest I get to a wilderness is watching the National Geographic Channel?”
And of course, then there’s always this argument: “I don’t have time to withdraw from my everyday life. I mean, there’s the kids and the job and my obligation to the neighborhood association. And there’s church choir practice…”
Stop! Just stop. Because this is the core of your problem. You have not acknowledged that the most important essential necessity in your life is your personal relationship with your God. Until you do, nothing is going to change. And the rest of the lesson that we’re going to look at here from the life of Jesus, isn’t going to have any meaning for you.
You see, your wilderness experience might be the quiet of a park bench, the solitude of a kitchen table with no radio or television blaring distractions, or the calming time spent in the beauty of nature. But you have to go there, to connect with God.
Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”
Now, let’s look at an important story from the life of Jesus.
Matthew 4 records a time when Jesus once again withdrew to the wilderness. And this time He did more than pray. Verse 2 says, “ And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry” (Matthew 4:2 Matthew 4:2And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
American King James Version×).
Forty days without food and Jesus was hungry—that has to be one of the greatest understatements of the entire Bible.
Fasting is a biblical practice of going without food, and sometimes food and water, for a period of time in order to dedicate your life to connecting with God. This practice may seem a bit strange in our society, but it is a spiritual exercise taught throughout the Bible. Jesus fasted. In the story we’re looking at today, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness not only to pray, but to fast.
Now let’s stop for a minute here because it’s important to point out that it is unhealthy, even dangerous, for most people to fast for 40 days. Most biblical fasts are much shorter in length—a day, even sometimes less than a day. The purpose for abstaining from food, and sometimes food and water, and seeking solitude with God—it’s a type of spiritual wilderness experience. It strips us from what seems important and brings us into intense awareness of our limited, physical lives. Fasting, coupled with prayer, and another tool we’ll discuss in a few minutes, makes us aware of our need for God. These practices help prepare us for connection with God.
In the account of Jesus withdrawing to the wilderness to fast for 40 days, we also find that He was directly confronted by Satan. Now I know that the existence of a supernatural evil being is seen as maybe silly is our “enlightened” society.
Well the Bible says that Jesus was confronted by Satan. If you believe Jesus is real, and we accept the Gospels are accurate accounts of His life, you know we must also believe in the existence of Satan. If Satan exists, then he tries to influence us just as the Bible says.
This is one of the great lessons learned by drawing close to God through the spiritual wilderness experience of fasting and prayer. Life is more than prime rib and a fine glass of wine—more than just having a full stomach.
Satan is real and all of us are in a spiritual battle for our minds. You and I—we were created in the image of God. You were created with a need to connect with your Creator. Satan wants to destroy that spiritual relationship by getting you to deny and pervert the spiritual aspects of your very nature.
Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 Ephesians 6:12For 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.
American King James Version×).
This spiritual battle it’s the source of all of our pain, and dysfunction and despair that we experience in our lives. If you are ever going to connect with God on a deep, personal level—you must accept that God’s desire for you and your life actually may be different than the way you’ve been living.
Jesus’ wilderness experience of fasting and prayer was a way for Him to prepare for spiritual warfare.
And this is the first of three points we’ll learn from the wilderness experience of Matthew 4:
1. Fasting and prayer prepares you for spiritual battle.
Many times we face the spiritual battles of life without any preparation at all. It’s like a heavyweight boxer deciding to begin his training five minutes before entering the ring. The panic begins when the bell announces the beginning of the first round and it’s too late to begin training.
The time for us to draw close to God is before you are enmeshed in a spiritual battle. And fasting is a tool for spiritual preparation.
Now we’re going to discuss two more points of using the spiritual “wilderness experience” to deepen your connection with God, but first let me tell you about a study guide that can help you in your spiritual journey.
When you’re spiritually hungry, you need to delve into God’s Word. To help you, I’m offering you our free study aid: Tools for Spiritual Growth. This valuable publication will provide you with vital information on how you can grow spiritually and build an all-important personal relationship with God as your Father.
To request your free copy of: Tools for Spiritual Growth , please call toll-free—write this down: 1-888-886-8632. Now that’s 1-888-886-8632. Or, write to us at the address shown on your screen throughout the program [Beyond Today, PO Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254]. Or if you prefer, visit our website: BeyondToday.tv to read or download, Tools for Spiritual Growth.
We’ve seen that Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” These wilderness experiences helped Him tune out the noise and urgent stresses of life and concentrate on His relationship with God His Father.
Now I realize that most of us can’t find the desolate places of solitude found in the Judean wilderness, but we can find places in a park, in our homes, or workplace where we can find quiet time to connect with God.
Now we’ve been exploring the wilderness experience of Matthew 4 where Jesus not only sought solitude to pray but to fast. Fasting, going without food and possibly food and water, for a period of time is an important tool for helping all of us connect with God.
The first lesson we learned from Jesus’ story is: Jesus fasted as preparation for spiritual battle.
Once His preparation was complete, He actually had to now fight the spiritual battle. Satan, the psychological master who has deceived and abused humanity, came to Jesus and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3 Matthew 4:3And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
American King James Version×).
Remember, Jesus was starving. His need for food was all consuming.
Matthew says, “But He [speaking of Jesus] answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”’”(Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
American King James Version×).
Now this doesn’t mean that followers of Jesus Christ should ignore their physical needs. Jesus’ need for food was real. He was literally facing death by starvation. If you read a little further in Matthew 4, you see that once Jesus defeated Satan, He did eat food and take care of His physical needs. But notice that the point that Jesus was making is: “Man shall not live by bread alone…”
Jesus wasn’t going to take food, in spite of His hunger, in spite of His pain, until it was God’s time for Him to eat. Satan was trying to confuse Jesus about His identity as the Son of God. He wanted Him to concentrate on His physical needs at the price of His spiritual need for His Father.
What can we learn by looking at how Jesus dealt with this attack on His spiritual identity?
You know, Satan has stolen your true identity. He’s working to make you like him. But, you were born—listen to this—You were born to be a child of your Creator. And you have the same tools from God that Jesus used in His spiritual battles.
Jesus quoted a basic truth from the Bible as a tool in His spiritual battle. His answer to Satan: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And here we find a vital lesson in fighting our spiritual battles.
It’s our second point today.
2. Study the Bible, because studying the Bible gives you spiritual nourishment.
The Bible is God’s instruction book for all of humanity. It tells us about Him—about God—about His Son Jesus Christ—about why we experience suffering and death and how God wants to give us the good news about how He can save us.
Now this adds another tool in our spiritual warfare: prayer—we’ve talked about, fasting and the Bible itself. You know of course, having a Bible but never reading it is like having a hammer with no boards or nails. It’s a useless tool.
Discovering how the Bible reveals God—reveals His desire for your future—and how to live everyday with God’s blessing means you have to study the words of the Book.
If you have trouble making sense of the Bible, then you need to follow Jesus’ example and seek a wilderness experience. Now, you may not be able to literally go to a desolate place, but you can make time to find solitude and seek God’s understanding through intense prayer, fasting and Bible reading. Pray for God to work with your mind—to prepare you for the spiritual battle—to guide you with His words of favor and counsel.
Now we now come to the third lesson from the story of Matthew 4. Here’s what’s written: “ Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,” and, “In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.”’”
“Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”’”(Matthew 4:5-7 Matthew 4:5-7 5 Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,
6 And said to him, If you be the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.
7 Jesus said to him, It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
American King James Version×).
Now Satan—always the deceiver—used a biblical passage in an attempt to deceive Jesus. He tried to convince Jesus to go against His Father’s desire for Him—to compromise with His spiritual identity and mission.
Instead, Jesus submitted to God’s desire instead of resisting it.
And that it is our third lesson here:
3. Submitting to God brings His desire into your life.
This is the attitude we must have in approaching God. We don’t pray, fast and study God’s Word in order to prepare God for our desires. We use these spiritual tools in order to be prepared for God’s desire.
When you learn of God’s desire—and resist it—you turn your back on God. What it means is that you decide that you know better about what is best for you than the Creator of your life.
We have to admit, all of us have done this. We’ve ignored God’s instructions because of fear, or weakness or just selfishness. When we find ourselves resisting God’s desire—we need to clear some time for a spiritual wilderness experience.
Let’s look at the last part of our story from Matthew 4. It is Satan’s final attempt to defeat Jesus.
“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’”
And here’s what Jesus said: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:8-10 Matthew 4:8-10 8 Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
10 Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
American King James Version×).
Worship and obedience to God led to Christ’s victory in His spiritual battle.
Remember, the purpose for fasting and seeking solitude with God, it’s a type of spiritual wilderness experience. It strips us from what seems important and brings us into intense awareness of our limited, physical lives. Fasting and prayer, coupled with Bible study, makes us aware of our need for God. Then and only then can we totally submit to His desire for us. These practices prepare us for connection with God.
All of us are involved in daily spiritual battles. And we can’t win these battles without God’s direct involvement in our lives.
God has given you the tools you need to experience His involvement in your life every day—fasting and prayer, Bible study, and complete submission to God. Jesus Christ showed us the example of how to take these tools and apply them. And if you are searching for a deeper, more meaningful connection with God, seek Him in a spiritual wilderness experience.
Now, I want to remind you once again about our free Bible study aid and offer today: Tools for Spiritual Growth. When you order this important study aid, you’ll discover how to increase your spiritual strength and knowledge while building a better and deeper relationship with God.
And when you order your copy of: Tools for Spiritual Growth we’ll also send you a free subscription to our magazine—if you’re not already a subscriber. This valuable publication is packed with practical, Bible-based articles on subjects like prophecy, Bible teachings, faith and family life. These informative and encouraging articles will not only show you how to live a more fulfilling life today—right now, but will help you learn about the exciting future that lies ahead for you and your family.
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To further our discussion on fasting, prayer and Bible study, we’re joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers.
We’ve been looking at these examples where Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to pray and fast. Now Darris, you’ve been to the Judean wilderness, how did withdrawing into the wilderness strengthen Jesus’ relationship with His Father?
[Darris] Well, it’s a good question because Christ was both the Son of God and He was the Son of Man. And He was preparing Himself for a very important encounter—as you’ve gone through the story where He had to deal with Satan and Satan’s temptations. And it’s an example that we have to step back from our busy life at times in order to have an encounter, and a relationship with God that takes us to another level. And, that’s one of the most important things I think we take from that. Because then when we are at that point, we’re closer with God, our minds are sharper and focused on spiritual concepts, we are able to better resist the pulls that Satan has for us. And that’s probably one of the biggest lessons to take from that example there.
[Steve] It’s interesting that when you’re alone, you go into that wilderness, whether it’s a literal wilderness or whether it’s a private room in your house, you recognize this special connection that you have with God. That you are totally dependent on God for your spiritual life, just like if you didn’t eat food, you’d lose your life. If you don’t have a relationship with God and a close one, you won’t have that spiritual connection. And so, we desperately need that relationship with God.
[Gary] As pastors, people come to us all the time searching for that connection with God. And we talk to them about these tools. So, if someone comes to you and you’re saying, “I need, I hunger for this relationship with God,” how do you guide them and to use these tools to help build that closeness to God?
[Darris] I tell them that certainly, prayer, and if they are really struggling with something and they employ this spiritual tool of fasting, that they should be prepared to see God’s will—not enter into that time of a spiritual discipline seeking to bend God to their will. Fasting should never be looked upon as a hunger strike to get God to see it our way or to agree with us. If one does it properly, it can be an astounding experience to be humbled in gaining an insight into really what God’s will is, and drawing closer to Him. And, done that way, it’s far better.
[Steve] Yeah sometimes I think we spiritualize some of these things to such a degree we forget the practicality behind it. That, just like any relationship we have, we have to talk to God. We have to listen to God. We have to have a relationship. And so any good relationship has a good dialogue going and fasting is one of those keys to have a good dialogue with God and recognize our dependence on Him, as well as listening to Him through His Word—the Bible, and praying to Him, talking to Him. And so, all those things work together for a stronger relationship.
[Gary] I can think of times in my life where I’ve had a spiritual wilderness experience. I can think of twice, two times especially where just the problems of life were so overwhelming that I had to spend a period of time—I remember one case for an extended period of time I was fasting for 24 hours once a week. And, during that time period and doing it throughout the week spending extra time in prayer and studying the Bible and looking for God’s direction to, what is it that God wanted in my life? And looking back now, it’s very much a wilderness experience. Do you have any spiritual wilderness experience you want to share?
[Darris] Yeah, one time we were going through a difficult, challenging period—my wife and I. We were both together fasting through this experience and not only were we fasting, which is a physical matter for a spiritual purpose, but we also took a page out of the story of Hezekiah; where when he was confronted with a challenge and a demanding letter, he took it into his private spot, unfurled it before God and prayed about it in that way. And we did that very same thing. We took actually some of the letters and matters and prayed over that in the manner that Hezekiah did coupled with fasting and it was amazing the answers that came.
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Jesus sought the solitude of the wilderness to shut out the clutter, the urgent stresses, and the demands of everyday life. Now we’ve learned three important lessons from Jesus’ example:
One: Fasting and prayer prepares you for spiritual battle.
Two: Studying the Bible gives you spiritual nourishment.
And three: Submitting to God brings His desire into your life.
When you take time to seek God by getting away from the mental and emotional clutter, you can experience a type of spiritual wilderness experience. You can be spiritually, mentally and emotionally prepared for God’s involvement in your life.
Be sure to order your free copy of Tools for Spiritual Growth to help you in your spiritual journey.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
[Announcer] For the free literature offered on today’s program, go online to BeyondToday.tv . Please join us again next week on Beyond Today !