Why We Fast

And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh… – Joel 2:28

The prophet Joel spoke of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, a promise that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out upon the 120 disciples in the upper room. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Peter confirmed this when he preached to those that witnessed this event by quoting Joel 2. He said this:

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…'” – Acts 2:16

But we must not make the mistake that this prophecy was for that single event only on the day of Pentecost, for we see that the Spirit was also poured out other times in the book of Acts (See Acts 4:31, Acts 8,16-17, Acts 11:15, Acts 19:6). And we know from Church history that at various times the Spirit was poured out in a powerful way. In America alone there have been two Great Awakenings, and, as Pentecostals, we are well aware of the Azusa street revival that occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century. And these are just a fraction of the outpourings that have occurred throughout history all over the world. The point is that God began to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh on the day of Pentecost, but He is not finished pouring out His Spirit. This promise of the Spirit is “to you and to your children, and to all that are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that God’s Spirit is not being poured out now as it was on the day of Pentecost, nor in the days of the great revivals around the world. I’m not suggesting that God’s Spirit is not being poured out anywhere in the world, but that in our present situation we would be hard-pressed to say that we are experiencing what the early disciples experienced, or what was experienced by those who lived through those great revivals. Why is that? I believe the scriptures tell us exactly why.

Prequel to Revival

Let us again look at the text in the book of Joel chapter two. The first clause states: “And it shall come to pass afterward…” (Joel 2:28, emphasis mine). The words ‘And’ and ‘afterward’ both connect the text to something previously stated. This means that we would do this text a disservice by not seeking to understand the words that led up to this verse. So let us look back briefly to see a summary of what was written beforehand:

Joel begins his book by speaking of a locust plague coming upon his people (Joel 1:4). But he is not likely referring to a literal locust plague, but of foreign armies that would come upon them like a locust plague, with Babylon being the nation that would ultimately finish them off. For he says, “A nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number…” (Joel 1:6). And we see that this is precisely what happened:

And the Lord sent against him (Jehoiakim, king of Judah) raiding bands of Chaldeans, bands of Syrians, bands of Moabites, and bands of the people of Ammon; He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord which He had spoken by His servants the prophets. – 2 Kings 24:2

And the prophet gives us a fearful picture of what this will look like:

A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns; the land is like the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; surely nothing shall escape them – Joel 2:3
Before them the people write in pain; all faces are drained of color – Joel 2:5
They run to and fro in the city, they run on the wall; they climb into the houses, they enter at the windows like a thief. – Joel 2:9

Because the people of God had forsaken Him, and forsaken His law, He brought upon them a great and fearful judgment. Joel’s job was to warn them of this judgment and to tell them what they must do to avoid it. So after describing what would come upon them, he says this:

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord you God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. – Joel 2:12-13

The prophet Joel goes on to describe how blessed the people will be if they do this, and then he comes to the text that we cited at the beginning: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit…” In other words, it was only after they repented, with fasting and mourning, was this promise applied to them.

Do we need to repent?

Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over great part of this congregation: let everyone fly out of Sodom. Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed – Jonathan Edwards, 1741

These words were written by Jonathan Edwards in 1741. They were the final words of his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It sounds similar to what the prophet Joel was telling his people. Both, in essence, were telling their people to turn from their sin and to seek God in repentance.

Why is this significant? It is significant because I think most of us would agree that the moral atmosphere of the 1700s was, in many ways, better than it is today by comparison. I don’t mean that they were good, for if they were then it was not necessary for Edwards to preach to them as he did. But what I mean is that they are good by comparison to us, for our society has become more and more depraved over time.

For example, now, if a man were to preach that it is a sin to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage and that it is a shame that there are so many single-parent homes, he would likely offend someone in his audience. But then, in Edward’s day, out-of-wedlock births were very rare, and those who became pregnant out of wedlock quickly married. The modern mind doesn’t like this idea, but God was even more serious than this. He demanded that a man marry the woman he seduced, whether she became pregnant or not:

If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. – Exodus 22:16

Our society mocks and laughs over this idea. But God still demands that we save intimacy for marriage alone, with the warning that ‘fornicators and adulterers God will judge.’ (Hebrews 13:4)

And in those days, it is safe to say that abortion was uncommon and occurred on the fringe of society, but now it is commonplace and celebrated even.

Homosexuality was deemed a criminal act then, but, again, now it is celebrated. In fact, one risks censure if he speaks against it.

The point is that if those in the 1700s needed to repent, how much more do we need to repent now? And if those within the eighteenth-century church needed to repent, how much more does the modern church need to repent, being supremely worldly in many ways?

Many today wonder why we don’t see God pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh. I can tell you the reason, it is because we have not seriously repented for our own sins and for the sins of our society. I know this because every church I’ve been a part of is empty during prayer meetings. And when calls to fast are given, very few respond. Most of us go about life as if everything is ok. Everything is not ok. The wrath of God abides on us, and we are very close to judgment.

Application

It is for this reason that I am calling for a fast for the beginning of 2023. We need to repent for our own sins and the sins of our nation. We need to recognize how far we are away from the place that God desires us to be, and how needy we are for His help to bring us to that place. By humbling ourselves, by mourning and fasting and weeping, we put ourselves in a place to be heard by God. When Ezra heard of the sin of his people, he went to fasting before God. And, although he had personally done nothing wrong, he said this:

O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens…for we have forsaken Your commandments… – Ezra 9:5,10 (emphasis mine)

He identified with the guilt of his people although he had not sinned as they did. The prophet Daniel did the same thing:

Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God…we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets…” – Daniel 9:4-6

Like they did, we must identify with the sin of our people, and likewise repent for them. It is only if we repent for them first in prayer will they ever repent themselves. When we repent for them, in their place, we ‘repair the wall and stand in the gap,’ keeping the righteous judgment of God at bay for a time, giving the people time to repent.

I have very little hope in my heart for my country. I think that we have moved beyond the place of return, very much like the people of Israel did. Even the great reforms of Josiah could not hold back the judgment of God in those times, but only delay it for a short time. I think we are in a similar place. I do not think that we can recover from how far we have fallen. However, I do believe that many can still be saved. And I do believe that we can have as much revival as we would like. By this, I mean that God will still move among us and save many people if we seek Him, even with judgment looming over us. And, who knows, we may keep back judgment for a little bit of time.

Conclusion

‘It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.’ ‘Behold the Judge stands at the door’ (Romans 13:11, James 5:9). Our time is short and Jesus has said, “Behold, I come quickly.” We have no time to continue in our spiritual slumber. We must rise to our knees, give ourselves to fasting, and weeping, and mourning. We must turn our ‘laughter into mourning and our joy into gloom.’ We must humble ourselves before God, ‘and He will lift us up’ (James 4:9-10).

Unless we do this, we can only expect judgment upon the world, and upon ourselves. But if we put aside our pleasures, give ourselves to fasting and prayer, we can expect that God will pour out His Spirit upon us, too, and we can finally experience the glory of what those before us experienced. And even in our deep sin, and even on the verge of judgment, if we repent, He will forgive us. Let us not fret for being so far behind. Instead, let us start on the right path. God will get us to where we need to be.

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