It’s the first day of the 2017 today. Happy new year!
It’s a special day but it’s not a religious holiday. Neither is it the only new year’s day. The first celebrated New Year’s day was in Iraq in 2000bc on 1 March. The Romans moved it to 1 January in 153bc. Christians originally celebrated the new year on various dates in March, or sometimes on 25 December. Around the world there are many different dates for the new year ranging from January to June to March to September. Korean new year is on 28 January this year.
The Jewish new year is Rosh Hashanah. In 2016 it fell on 4 October. Rosh Hashanah is seen as the beginning of the year because it is the traditional anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. For Jews, it is a time for self-examination and repentance prior to the day of judgement, Yom Kippur, a week later.
All this is my way of saying that celebrating new year as a Christian is not about the date on the Gregorian calendar. We could do as the Jews do and blow a ram’s horn shofar loudly many times during the service, but it isn’t the point. We could eat honey bread as the Jews do in a symbol of inviting a sweet new year, but that isn’t the point either.
What then is the point? The point is to have a moment to halt. We stop and review where we are and where we are going. We do it once a year. It could be any day we choose, and why not choose the first day of the calendar year. It is important that we make sure that as individuals and as a fellowship that we are in step with God. We don’t assume we are, we ask him.
Fasting and prayer are normal things to do as the prelude to something important. For example, before anointing someone for God’s work.
While they were praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit told leaders of the church at Antioch of Syria to appoint Barnabas and Saul for “special work.”
Acts 13:3 – after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.
When Jesus was 40 days old, his mother took him to the temple to offer him to God. An old woman was there and recognised the baby as the long awaited Messiah. Her name was Anna. She told everyone that he was the Messiah. What was so special about her that she could see what others could not? She prayed and fasted!
Luke 2:37 – She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.
You may have heard people say that God is all-powerful and so he doesn’t need our prayer. Of course that is true, because he is God the creator of the universe. God does need prayer, but it isn’t to do with power. Especially not power as the world understands it.
God needs our prayers because of his love.
God decided that he would create. When he got to us it was to create children and partners. God out of love has limited himself. He has declared that he will be our father, not our dictator.
God has limited himself to working in a relationship with us. He wants our agreement in things. Say for example that I am ill. God won’t arbitrarily heal me. God wants me to want to be healed as part of the cooperation and he wants you to pray.
So we pray in his will for what he wants. Prayer is not a battle to force God to do our will. The only wrestling in prayer is with our sinful nature and the evil powers. In prayer we develop our relationship with God and urge him to do what he wants to do. Then God can say that he did it together with us. Prayer has incredible power, because in prayer we are connected to God.
2 Chronicles 7:14 – Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.
As we fast and pray we must remember we do it for his will. God listens to humble prayer.
If we fast and pray while following wicked ways, God cannot hear us.
In Isaiah 58:4 we learn that Israel fasted in sinful ways, and God says, “What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarrelling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.”
They fasted in sinful ways. It was useless. We need to fast in righteous ways so our voice is heard on high.
Fasting is a sacrifice. Normally we fast from food. We give up some time from eating, and instead give that time to prayer. We use a fast to strengthen our prayer. It isn’t fasting if you use the extra time for exercise, watching movies, reading books, cleaning the house, studying, or anything else. And so we can also fast from our smartphones, fast from movies, fast from anything to spend more time in prayer.
What we are proposing is that we start 2017 with a time of prayer and fasting.
We are calling for everyone to pray and fast for three days this week. Please fast wisely. For some of us it is not wise to suddenly stop taking all food and drinks for three days. You may want to have one meal a day and fast for two meals. I suggest you accept the reality of your own situation as you decided how to fast.
We shall pray and fast on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And on the Saturday we will come together here to spend some time praying together. We suggest we gather at 11.30am and stay until 4pm.
Day 1 (Thursday 5 January) Pray for Self
On the first day we can pray for ourselves. We can look back at our past year. We can examine our lives. We can repent and call on God to make us more holy in the new year.
Day 2 (Friday 6 January) Pray for World
On the second day we can pray for the world. There are so many things to pray you in this world. For peace, for food, for climate, for governments, and so on.
Day 3 (Saturday 7 January) Pray for Church
On the last day, we will meet here and pray for the church. That’s the global church, but especially our fellowship here. We want this fellowship to be just what God wants it to be. We want to be a beacon of God’s truth and love in a dark world.
As part of our prayer we will do prayer painting on this wall here. We will seek to find a harmony of hearts and minds for God’s will and then to express that harmony in art.
We take our inspiration this morning from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was living in exile with the Jews in Babylon around 450 years before Jesus. One day news arrived from the homeland. It was heartbreaking.
“They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3)
Nehemiah had a special position in the king’s court and appeared before the king and queen. He was granted permission to visit Jerusalem and carry out repairs.
The first thing Nehemiah did was not to rush around and prepare. He did not set out persuade the king. The first thing that Nehemiah did is an example to us today.
Look at verse 4. It says that Nehemiah’s response was to fast and pray. “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.”
We propose that before we attempt to do anything else, the first thing we do in 2017 is that we also fast and pray. If we are serious about following God, it seems right that we should check with him first about the direction in which to start the year. And then do what he says.