Fasting and Prayer for Protection
“21 Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” 23 So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”
Memory Verse: Ezra 8:23 (NLT)
“SO WE FASTED AND EARNESTLY PRAYED THAT OUR GOD WOULD TAKE CARE OF US, AND HE HEARD OUR PRAYER.”
The Ahava Conference (Part 1)
Many Christians sometimes underrate the power of fasting and prayers in our daily lives. Even though there is enough evidence in scripture on the power of fasting and prayer, many of us rather cry or complain when we come across difficult situations in our lives. It is obvious in Jesus’ teaching that some circumstances call for fasting and earnest prayers. This is supported by what happened at the Ahava River when Ezra and his company were traveling from Babylonia to Jerusalem. In this edition, we want to explore what happened during what I describe as the ‘Ahava Conference.’
We have already noticed that Ezra and his company stopped near the Ahava River to inspect his entourage and that was when he learnt that the Levites were absent. But it was not just because of the Levites that he ordered his group to stop. They stopped because they needed some rest. They also stopped because he wanted to take a retrospective look at their journey and plan how to continue with their journey. This was very important because it offered them the opportunity to know what was happening and to plan ahead for the future. Apart from learning about the absence of the Jews which was discussed in previous editions, Ezra encouraged the people to fast and pray and humble themselves before God (v. 21). The reason for which he asked them to fast was to seek God’s favour for the journey ahead of them. In their prayers during the fasting, they asked God to protect them, their children and their goods, and grant them safe journey as they continued their journey to Jerusalem. Let us pause and reflect on this.
We observe from the action of Ezra that God is the only one who can grant us safe journey in our travels and therefore asked Him for help. This is important to note because no one can predict what is ahead of him or her when one decides to travel. I remember my recent travel from Ethiopia to Ghana when a fault was detected before the flight, leading to chaos and fears. Even after we had assured of our safety, many in the aircraft were afraid that we might not arrive alive. Many people started praying till we arrived. Upon arrival at Accra Ghana, the Christians started singing songs of praises and adoration to the LORD to show their gratitude to Him for the safe arrival.
This shows that only God can grant us safe journeys. Ezra acknowledged this and led the people to ask the LORD for traveling mercies . In our journeys through life, we all need to acknowledge that only God can grant us safe journey. We can never predict what is ahead of us in the next hour, day, week, month or year. Only God can. Let us therefore ask the LORD to help us in our marital, educational, financial, career, health and relationship journeys among others. If we fail to invite God in our journeys through life, our safety cannot be guaranteed. Let us always remember that without Christ, we can do nothing! Through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ we have the blood that continues to intercede for us.
In their fasting and prayers, Ezra and his company also prayed for God’s protection over themselves and their children. They acknowledged that without God’s protection over their lives, there was no way their lives could be guaranteed, let alone becoming successful. They understood that the enemy could attack them, destroy them, kill them and end all their hopes of going to start a new way of life in their own land. They understood that not all the people they were likely to meet on the way would like them. They also knew that they had no other form of protection for their lives apart from that which the LORD God Almighty could give them. They therefore humbled themselves in prayer and fasting and asked the LORD for protection. Beloved, we are also surrounded by many spirits and humans who also seek to destroy us in one way or another, or even kill us. Whether we are asleep or awake, there are enemies working hard to bring us down. They never rest until they see us fallen and destroyed. It is therefore important for us to be spiritually awake to be able to thwart the plans of the enemy against us. But there is nothing we can do to stop the advancement of the enemy by ourselves unless we bring God into the picture. Only God has good intentions concerning us and also capable of granting us absolute protection. The devil (enemy) has nothing good for us. Jesus told us this in John 10:10:
“THE THIEF COMES ONLY TO STEAL AND KILL AND DESTROY; I HAVE COME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL” (NIV).
Beloved in Christ, there are enemies working hard to ensure that you and your children do not see another week, month, or year. But I have come to announce to you that you will see many more years in this life with your family if and only if you will commit your ways to the LORD and ask him to protect you at all times.
The last but the not the least item on their prayer list was protection for their goods. The goods there carrying were given to them by God as part of His blessings to them. They included household items, animals, gold, silver etc. They needed them to survive in Jerusalem. They therefore asked the LORD to protect their goods even as he protected them and their children and also granted them traveling mercies. Even though the material things are not needed in the life after this world, they are needed while we are here. That is why God blesses us with them. The devil also knows the importance of that and would like to steal them from us as part of his plans to destroy our relationship with God. He can attack our sources of income, our properties such as cars, buildings, businesses etc.
This has worked for the devil in the lives of many Christians. Let us therefore be aware of this and ask the LORD to protect all our good investments from the enemy. If we fail to pray for God’s protection for our investments, the enemy may steal our joy in the LORD from us when he attacks our properties.
The Ahava Conference (Part 2)
In the previous edition, we looked at what Ezra ordered the group he was leading to do. We realized that Ezra encouraged the people to fast and pray earnestly to the LORD for His protection over their families and properties. Their attitude towards prayer and fasting as well as their specific requests to God gives us a mental picture of how much knowledge they had of God. It is obvious that they acknowledged God to be the only one who could protect them from their enemies by granting them safe journey and saving their lives. They acknowledged God to be the one who was capable of protecting their possessions as well. In this edition, we want to continue exploring more about what happened at the Ahava River.
Ezra 8:24 tells us why Ezra decided to command the people to fast and pray earnestly to the LORD. It is obvious that they had reached a critical stage of their journey where he realized that it was not going to be easy for them to continue if help did not come from somewhere. They were afraid of enemies on the way who may frustrate them in their journey. They were uncertain about the safety of their lives as well as their properties. They knew anything could happen on the way to make their plans impossible. So they resolved to call on the name of the Almighty God. A proper understanding of their times helped them not just to pray but to fast in addition to the prayer. This is very relevant to believers of today as it teaches us to understand the times we are in and know what could happen and take the proper steps to avoid the enemy having any advantage over us. We should understand that we are living in dangerous times because we are in the end times. The problems and challenges of our times demand not only times of prayer but times of prayer and fasting as Jesus told the disciples in Mark 9:29 after his disciples had failed to heal the sick who was brought to them in his absence.
“HE TOLD THEM: “THIS KIND CAN COME OUT ONLY BY PRAYER AND FASTING” (ISV).
This implies that in certain situations we can pray, but in other cases, we must fast and pray. I therefore want to challenge all believers to try fasting and prayers if the many years of prayers only or the many years of fasting only have not yielded the desired results. The challenges you are going through in life, ministry, etc. may require that you fast and pray to be able overcome them. So re-position yourself and begin to fast and pray earnestly as you wait on the LORD to do something new and better in every aspect of your life.
It is indeed true that Ezra had favour before the king and could have asked the king for any help they needed and it would have been done for them. Yet he felt ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect them. Ezra said:
“I WAS ASHAMED TO ASK THE KING FOR SOLDIERS AND HORSEMEN TO PROTECT US FROM ENEMIES ON THE ROAD BECAUSE WE HAD TOLD THE KING, ‘THE GRACIOUS HAND OF GOD IS ON EVERYONE WHO LOOKS TO HIM, BUT HIS ANGER IS AGAINST ALL WHO FORSAKE HIM’” (Ezra 8:22 NIV).
It is obvious Ezra encouraged the people to fast and pray because he did not want them to depend on the arms of flesh. They did not want to depend on the king for help for him to take the glory for Himself or question them about the potency of YHWH. They did not want anyone to have the impression that YHWH is incapable of providing for them. They wanted to prove to themselves that indeed YHWH is Omnipotent and benevolent. He has the power to supply all the needs of His people and is always willing to grant the requests of all those who look to Him for Help. According to the scripture YHWH is our very present help in times of our troubles. God has also assured us to call on Him in times of difficulties and He will respond to us. Jeremiah 33:3 says:
“CALL TO ME AND I WILL ANSWER YOU AND TELL YOU GREAT AND UNSEARCHABLE THINGS YOU DO NOT KNOW” (NIV).
There are many words of assurance from God to encourage us to depend on Him instead of depending on the arms of flesh; yet many of us fail to go before the LORD when we encounter difficulties in our lives, ministries, families, businesses, finances, health etc. We sometimes talk to many people and seek help from people instead of taking it to the LORD in prayer. It is not wrong to ask people for help when we are in need. However, it is wrong to let people feel we depend on them for survival. It is rather better to ask the LORD to guide us to the right people when we need help but the best is to ask Him to help us in His own way. By asking God for help, we are demonstrating our absolute dependence on Him and not on man. I WANT TO ASSURE YOU TODAY THAT AS LONG AS YOU LOOK TO GOD FOR ALL YOUR NEEDS, HIS GRACIOUS HAND WILL CONTINUE TO REST ON YOU. May the LORD guide you, protect you, be gracious to you and make His face shine upon you and all yours as you draw nearer to Him in fasting and prayers!
The Ahava Conference (Part 3)
In the previous parts, we looked at what happened at the Ahava River when the Jews, led by Ezra, were leaving Babylonia for Jerusalem. We saw how the group decided to fast and pray for protection from God instead of asking for favour from the king. The point was made that even though the king would not have denied Ezra anything he would have requested for, it is obvious that Ezra and his people wanted to prove that God is faithful. This is deduced from what Ezra said in verse 22 to the effect that the gracious hand of the LORD is upon all those who look to Him.
Ezra wanted to help the people experience God themselves by fasting and praying earnestly to God instead of relying upon the king for support. We learned that even though it is not wrong to ask our fellow human beings for help, it is wrong to rely on people to create the impression that without them we shall die or suffer serious hardships. What we need to do at all times is to rely on God and ask him for provision. In this edition, we want to take a closer look at verse 23 of Ezra 8.
According to Ezra 8:23, God responded to the prayers offered to Him by the Jews while fasting. Ezra said:
“SO WE FASTED AND PETITIONED OUR GOD ABOUT THIS, AND HE ANSWERED OUR PRAYER” (NIV).
This shows us the benefits of fasting and prayers in the lives of believers. It also shows us something about who God is, a prayer answering God.
It must be emphasized that throughout scripture, God has always proven to be faithful to His people through the numerous prayers of His children He has answered. Outside of the Bible, you and I can bear witness to this when we look back into the past and see what the LORD has done in our lives. I strongly believe you have not forgotten the number of times God saved you from eminent death by saving you from several motor accidents. You were saved because you either called on the Lord Jesus or someone else did when you saw the accident coming. Eventually, your life was spared.
I also believe you have not forgotten the time you felt sick and got to the point of death. Remember you thought that was surely going to be the end of the road for you, but when some believers prayed with you, your health was restored. Is it not an indication that God is a prayer answering God? How about how you survived the last year when you look at all the challenges you faced? Have you forgotten how hard life became for you and your family; the embarrassments; your inability to pay your utility bills and fees; your inability to pay for your rents; the loss of your car, home, or job?
The devil even thought he had you in his armpit, but after consistent prayers, this is how far the LORD has brought you. The above and many more indicate that God is a prayer answering God whom we can always look up to. An understanding of the nature of God as a prayer answering God will deepen our faith and stir our passion for prayer and fasting. It will help us to remember that no matter the situation we find ourselves in, God is capable of delivering us when we look up to Him in prayer and fasting.
It is very important to also remember that prayer and fasting combined are necessary ingredients for receiving answers from God. It is not as if I am saying God cannot, or will not do anything for us if we do not fast and prayer; far from it.
In fact, God can do anything for anybody at anytime He so desires whether they pray and fast or not. This is because He is the Sovereign God who makes His own laws and administers the law without being questioned. God is like the coach who also doubles as the referee in a sport competition. He shows mercy on whom He wants to show mercy. He can love some people and hate others without being questioned.
That is God’s sole prerogative and no human being can question Him. What we however need to remember is that He has thought us and confirmed that through earnest prayers and fasting, we can draw nearer to Him and cause Him to draw near to us. It is because of the very important impact prayer and fasting have on the life of the believer that Jesus taught about fasting and prayers on several occasions.
In fact Jesus predicted in Luke 5:35 that a time will come when the chosen of God will have to fast. It was in reference to the time he was personally with his disciples. Now that the Lord is no longer personally with us, we have become more than vulnerable and exposed to series of attacks from our five enemies, namely: self, sin, some people, spiritual forces and Satan. For this reason, we do not need to be told to fast and pray.
In times like these when everybody is crying about economic hardships, health problems, unemployment, spiritual attacks etc, uncertainties in the world, we cannot help but be watchful, fast and pray to the prayer answering God. We are advised to watch and pray that no one enters into temptation.
It is true that when God’s people humble themselves through fasting and prayers and send their petitions to Him, he surely answers. I do not know about your current financial challenges, health problems, ministerial challenges, family issues, job-related problems etc. But the LORD Almighty knows. It is my prayer that God will answer all your prayers this year as you earnestly seek his face through fasting and prayers!
THE WORD OF THE LORD!
Pastor Nana Kobina Baisie
Teacher/Pastor at Nadrim Mission International School, Busan, Korea.