Are you dealing with a money problem? Are you facing a financial dilemma? Are you going through a major change in life? Are you experiencing a problem you did nothing to initiate? Do you need room for expansion of your business or your church?
As you are fasting and targeting this issue, look to Ezra and the fast he called when leading the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem.
When fasting, it is vital to know what scriptural precedents apply to your causes for fasting. Not only will this encourage you, it will also help you know how to pray and how to believe God to respond in your situation.
The Ezra fast brings great solutions to great problems. (The Ezra fast is an occasion of fasting in Scripture, not specific foods to eat while fasting, such as in the “Daniel fast.”)
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen…to undo the heavy burdens” (Isaiah 58:6).
To “undo the heavy burdens” is to solve problems, inviting the Holy Spirit’s aid in lifting loads and overcoming barriers that keep us and our loved ones from walking joyfully in God’s will.
The book of Ezra tells the story of Jews returning back to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. For Ezra and those returning with him, the long journey ahead was plagued by gangs and thieves. Ezra and the Jews had their wives and children with them, as well as silver, gold, the sacred articles of the temple, their household goods and treasures too. The Israelites were not leaving Babylonian captivity as beleaguered prisoners. They were not mere escapees. They had settled down in Babylon, built houses and businesses. Many had grown wealthy. Some did not want to live in primitive conditions in order to rebuild their nation. They wanted to enjoy the luxury of Babylon. The Jews who did not want to return were required to send gold and silver for rebuilding the Temple. Ezra was transporting their money and possessions.
“In all there were: 25 tons of silver; 100 silver articles weighing 150 pounds; 7500 pounds of gold” (Ezra 8:26, CEV).
The Jews were the perfect target for the thieves and thugs. They were loaded…and defenseless. They desperately needed protection for the long journey.
Ezra was facing a financial problem. Just as there were thieves and robbers lying in wait for the Jews along their journey, John 10:10 tells us that we too have a thief lying in wait for us. He has come to steal, kill and destroy. He desires to rob us of financial provision and make us slaves to fear, torment, worry and anxiety.
Ezra took the right step. He declared a corporate fast.
“21There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22I 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 good hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him’ 23So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer” (Ezra 8:21-23, NIV).
Fasting is not an escape from the problem, but an attempt to enlist the help of the Holy Spirit in solving the problem. When we fast, pray and honor God with our tithe, our giving – and do not take what is God’s for our own use – God will honor with a solution to financial dilemmas.
The Ezra fast and its Scriptural principles apply any time we are facing a financial crisis. Yet this isn’t the only time in which it is applicable. Although the scenarios to which it can be applied are numerous, in this post I want to look at a few specific ones. Anytime we are going through major change in life, we need to enter an Ezra fast. Such change could include a marriage, a move or a new job. Anytime we are making major decisions, we should go on an Ezra fast. When we encounter a problem we didn’t initiate, we need to go on an Ezra fast. When we encounter hardship, we should fast as Ezra and the Jews did.
Ezra set a powerful example. From this passage we can draw several wise conclusions.
1. Choose Those to be Involved. All of the Jews were facing the problem, so all were asked to fast. If the problem is one of group proportions, perhaps a corporate fast is in order. For example, if your church is facing a money problem or needs to expand and cannot afford the expansion, call for an Ezra fast. If large layoffs in the community affect your church, call for an Ezra fast. If an independent ministry is facing financial troubles, call the Board of Directors and others involved to an Ezra fast. The motivating factors represented by Ezra’s fast are not just financial ones – they include matters of decision making, security, hardship and change. Although Ezra was the leader and bore responsibility for decision making, he did not fast alone. He displayed great leadership by calling everyone to a fast.
Elmer Towns, Vice President of Liberty University, tells of a time when his pastor called their church to a fast. The church was facing a great financial need of $1 million. On Sunday morning the pastor asked the church to fast from sundown that evening to Sundown Monday evening. He explained to them the problem and the reasons for fasting. When he asked those who were committed to fasting to stand, the entire congregation stood. In the service that evening, he reminded them that the fast began right after church, and that they were to drink only liquids till the following evening. They also conducted prayer meetings by group – men, women and youth. The pastor clearly presented the crisis when calling everyone to fast and implemented prayer as well. God honored the fast and worked a $1 million dollar miracle for this church. God honors fasting and prayer!
2. Share the Problem. Ezra didn’t ask just anyone to fast. The people he asked to fast were involved in the problem. “I proclaimed a fast…that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us” (Ezra 8:21). The people following Ezra were scared and desperately wanted their children and themselves to be safe. When calling a group to fast, it is important to communicate the reason why.
3. Fast Seriously. For a fast to be spiritually effective, we must not only withhold food, but we must also agonize in prayer. Ezra called a fast “that we might afflict ourselves before our God (v. 21, KJV). In Fasting for a Spiritual Breakthrough, Elmer towns writes,
“Originally, when people faced a life-threatening situation, they were too frightened or distressed to eat. They adjusted their diets out of agony and deep struggle of soul. The cause was the problem; the effect was diet adjustment. Eventually, people began to see that they needed this deep spiritual exercise to pray properly. Thus they reversed the effect—fasting, so everyone might enter into the cause—spiritual travail in intercession.”[i]
To the Jews who were following Ezra, fasting communicated to them the seriousness of their journey and the threat to their lives.
4. Fast Before Attempting a Solution. We usually brainstorm all possible solutions and then make a decision based on a little human wisdom and a lot of guesswork. Ezra did something before even discussing the problem with his leaders, the elders. “I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; and there abode we in tents three days” (v. 15, KJV). During this time he waited for the Levites to join them. Ezra didn’t attempt any solutions before everyone was gathered together. He did not try to solve any problems before fasting and prayer. We usually do the opposite: we brainstorm ideas, start addressing solutions…and after all else fails, then we might pray and fast.
5. Fast on Site with Insight. Ezra brought the people face to face with their problem—he brought them to the banks of the river.
“Beside the Ahava River, I asked the people to go without eating and to pray” (Ezra 8;21, CEV).
We have a modern term for this: “Prayerwalking.” Joshua and the Israelites “Prayerwalked” when they marched around Jericho as God instructed. Joshua again prayerwalked as God instructed him to walk throughout the Promised Land by faith – the land he would conquer.
6. Fast for Step-by-Step Guidance. Only during the fast, not before, should we seek answers to our problems. We should fast and pray not only for final outcomes, but for step-by-step solutions to the problem. There was more than one route Ezra could have taken. How could he know which was the right road? Ezra called a fast “to seek of [God] a right way” (v. 21, KJV). God gave Ezra the direction he sought and showed him specific steps to take in order to prepare wisely. Ezra divided the treasure and distributed it among the twelve priests. If part of the caravan were attacked by thieves, all would not be lost; some of it might get through. This was double the wisdom as it not only protected from thieves without, but also from thieves within. Each priest was accountable for a certain amount of treasure and could not pocket any along the way.
7. Know the Desired Outcome. When you call for an Ezra Fast, you should first pray for victory. You should know what you want the outcome to be and ask God to give it to you. Don’t enter the fast problem centered. This will make you a pessimist and render you unable to pray in faith.
8. Search for Scriptural Solutions to the Problem. Take time to write out the scriptural principles involved in the problem and ask, “How have people in the Bible solved a problem similar to this? This will cause you to read the bible and understand passages that speak to your specific problem. [ii]
If you relate to Ezra’s problem today – if you are in the midst of financial issues, security threats, uncertain decisions, changes or hardship – know that God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He will meet you as you fast and pray and He will bring great solutions to great problems!
“The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. So we arrived in Jerusalem…”
Question: How does Ezra’s response to his problem help equip you as you respond to yours?
[i] Elmer Towns, Fasting for a Spiritual Breakthrough (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1996), 47
[ii] The eight points are taken from Fasting for a Spiritual Breakthrough by Elmer Towns, pp. 46-55