21 Days of Prayer & Fasting
 

Day 8: prepared

 “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Mark 4:23 (NLT)

I grew up in the heart of a small town, not on a farm. However, I think my dad had a hidden desire to be a farmer. We owned an acre and a half. My dad used one half acre for gardening. He grew corn, tomatoes, radishes, and whatever else the land could produce. Before anything went into the ground, we had to get the rocks, weeds and bad soil out. That was my job. To this day, I blame him for my dislike of gardening.

 

While Jesus grew up in a small town like mine, he was surrounded by farmers. So, when he told a parable about farming, he got his listeners’ attention. The parable starts out, “A farmer went out to plant some seed.” (Mark 4:3)

 

Jesus, then, described the soil. Some soil was hard, not soft enough for the seed to put down roots. Some soil covered rocks. The seed quickly sprouted, but just as quickly died out. Other soil was good, but filled with weeds. While the seeds produced a plant, the weeds choked it out. Finally, there was well-prepared soil, receptive to the seed that produced a crop.

 

Jesus explained that the soil is our lives. How receptive we are is directly related to the preparation of the soil of our lives. If our hearts are hard, then like the hard soil, there is no place for God’s message to take root. When we look good on the surface, but underneath are the rocks of bitterness and envy, the message won’t stick. If our lives are filled with the weeds of other priorities, they will kill off God’s life-changing message.

 

The life soil where God’s message can grow, is found in a person who is willing to till that soil. That means digging up the hard areas, where past hurts make us resistant to grace. For God’s message to take root, we must pick out the rocks of unbelief and skepticism. A healthy crop requires that we continually address the weeds of life, busyness and materialism. The only soil that God can work in is soil that is prepared and maintained.

 

The parable of the sower, in Mark 4:1-20, focuses on the soil, not the seed. God challenges us to look carefully at our lives, making sure we have the right soil to produce an eternal crop.

Day 9: desperation

 Go home to your family and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” Mark 5:19 (NLT)

In Mark 5, we find one my favorite miracles, sandwiched in the middle of a story of another healing. Jairus is a ruler in the synagogue. Translating that into the modern terminology, he was the production manager. His boy was deadly sick, so he came to Jesus to ask for his help.

 

Jesus immediately accompanied Jairus to his home. The crowds followed them, and as word spread, more people swarmed around Jesus. They were not going to miss a miracle. With everyone pushing and shoving, suddenly Jesus stopped and said, “Who touched me?” (vs. 30) I’m sure the disciples exchanged some strange looks before they spoke up and said, “Are you serious? Look around. Everyone is touching you.” (vs. 31)

 

The backstory was about a woman who had chronic internal bleeding. Any discharge of blood would have made Jews, both male and female, unclean. Being declared unclean would exclude her from the temple and from most social contacts. In addition, any friend or family member caring for her, would also have been excluded.

 

When she heard of Jesus’ coming, she did what someone “unclean” should not do, she went into the crowd. Desperate times required desperate measures. She thought, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” (vs. 28) And she was right. When she touched Jesus’ outer garment, the power flowed from Christ into her, body and the bleeding stopped. Then Jesus looked at her and said, “Daughter your faith has healed you.” (vs. 34)

 

There was no laying-on of hands. No profound prayer and nothing dramatic. Just a woman desperate enough to put her faith in Jesus. Faith itself heals no one. Only the power of God can heal. Faith is a channel through which God chooses to work.

 

This unclean woman had an imperfect faith. It was desperation, her belief that, if anyone could, the One from Nazareth would. God does not need for you to have well-developed faith, just a childlike trust that if anyone could, Jesus will.

Day 10: evangelism

“They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” Mark 6:12 (NIV)

I only remember experiencing one tornado. We were visiting family in Waukesha, Wisconsin, when, in the middle of the night, the siren went off. I didn’t hear it; I slept through it. That is, until my mom barged in and shook my cousin and me awake. “No time. Get to the basement. Just grab your shoes and go.”

 

With the same urgency, Jesus sent out his first evangelistic teams. “Don’t pack a lunch. Don’t even take time to put on a belt. The time is short. The message is urgent. The Kingdom of God is here.”

 

These evangelistic teams were sent out in pairs of twos. Jesus told his evangelists not to be dissuaded by rejection, to keep going from door to door because people needed to hear that God’s expected Kingdom was breaking in at last.

 

When we speak about the Kingdom of God, we are speaking of the rule and reign of God. God’s sovereignty over the universe. However, when Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God has come,” he was saying that he, himself is the embodiment of that Kingdom. His presence has ushered in a new era of God’s grace and his rule.

 

More personally, the Kingdom of God is his rule and reign over the lives of those who submit to his authority. Those who reject it, are not part of his Kingdom. The message was one of repentance. “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matt. 4:17)

 

Two-thousand years later, the message is the same. Sometimes signs and wonders accompany the message, as with those first evangelists, but it’s not about signs and wonders. They may serve to validate the message, but the real point is the story, not the miracles. God still calls his followers to speak his message. We are all commanded to be evangelists.

Day 11: Authenticity

 “They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Mark 7:7 (NIV)

A few years ago, Sue, the girls, and I visited Mount Rushmore. On the wall of stone is the portraits of four presidents of the United States: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. These four serve as symbols of democracy. They are not democracy, but merely symbols of what the United States stands for: liberty, equality, freedom and moral strength.

 

In Mark 7, Jesus confronted those who’ve allowed symbols and ceremonies to overshadow the lessons the symbols were meant to convey. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem when some religious leaders called out the disciples for eating without washing their hands. On this one, my mom would have been on the leaders’ side. However, to understand what is going on here, we need to get behind their rebuke.

 

The hand-washings were ceremonial washings. Rules went so far as to instruct how to properly hold their hands under water, the amount of water to be used, and even the direction the water was to flow. Found in Exodus 30, these washings reminded them of purity of the heart. But the meaning had been lost in the ceremony.

 

We, in the modern church, have symbols and traditions, too. We religiously pray before meals, hang crosses in our churches, and have communion on the same Sunday every month. All of our symbols and traditions are valuable until they overshadow the meaning behind them.

 

In Mark 7, Jesus called for authenticity in our faith. An authentic faith doesn’t require a cross to inspire devotion. Authentic faith can worship with an 18th century hymn just as sincerely to the latest music by Maverick. Authentic faith is measured by how genuinely we love God and live out our love for our neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-39)

Day 12: self-denial

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34 (NIV)

At 86 years old, Polycarp was the last living person to have known an apostle. He had been a disciple of John. The year was A.D. 155 and the Church was suffering persecution from Rome. Polycarp was brought before the Roman magistrate, who, aware of the man’s age and influence offered him a way out of martyrdom.

 

When Mark’s readers came across Jesus’ command, they needed no explanation. They had seen condemned criminals carry the crossbeam for their own execution. Crucifixion was a torturous act, but it was also a sign of humiliation and submission.

 

So, when Jesus said, “if you want to follow me,” they understood. Carrying the cross meant surrender and denial. Following Christ means surrendering to God’s control and abandoning old ways of living.

 

Paul put it later, We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.” (Rom. 6:6 NLT)

 

If that is true, then the things that ruled me have been removed and replaced with Christ, the Lord. That means, the old habits and haunts have lost their authority. They might still pull at me, but now the new ruler, the Holy Spirit, gives me the strength, as I surrender to him.

 

All Polycarp had to do was throw a pinch of incense in the fire as an offering to Caesar. But in that seeming simple act, Polycarp would be denying Christ. Instead, he answered, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

 

Polycarp was tied to a stake and burned alive. A martyr for his faith, an example of a crucified life.

Day 13: faith

 “I do believe but help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24 (NLT)

A person never forgets some things in life. My dad had severe health issues, among them excruciating leg pain. A minister who claimed to possess the gift of healing, came to our county and my dad went with the hope that he would be healed. After receiving prayer, the drive home was quiet. Healing had not come, and he would suffer the rest of his life. My dad told us that he wasn’t healed because he didn’t have enough faith.

 

Too many people live with that burden of thinking that the reason they don’t get a miracle has something to do with them. While our faith has some mysterious connection with God’s miracles, the reality is that God sovereignly determines when a miracle happens and when it doesn’t.

 

Almost all of us struggle with not knowing how much faith is enough faith. When an answer doesn’t come, we blame God, but deep down we wonder if there is “something wrong with me.”

 

When a father came to Jesus, asking for healing of his daughter, Jesus answered, “Everything is possible if a person believes.” (vs. 23) To be honest, that doesn’t give much solace when the healing doesn’t come. Yet, the father’s answer is what every faith-struggler feels, “I do believe, but help my unbelief.” (vs. 24)

 

I can’t begin to count the times I have prayed that faltering faith prayer. You see, I know that my faith has a lot of question marks behind it. I don’t want my faltering faith to be the blame. Better to blame bad genes, bad choices, or even better, blame God.

 

The lesson isn’t about how much faith, but the sincerity of our faith. “Enough” faith believes for a miracle, but accepts when the miracle doesn’t come. In times of need, “enough” faith turns to God and trusts God for the outcome. When the miracle comes, faith celebrates. When the answer isn’t what we prayed for, faith praises God anyway, knowing that God is always faithful.

Day 14: self-promotion

“Whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.” Mark 10:44 (NLT)

If you have ever been part of any kind of competition, you might have been told by a competitive junkie, that “there’s first place and there is everyone else.” Meaning, everything behind #1 is losing. No one remembers who won bronze or silver. No one cares about the runner-up, let alone honorable mentions. Honestly, until Sandra Bullock popularized it, no one cared about “Miss Congeniality”.

 

Maybe that’s why James and John were vying for prime seating in Christ’s Kingdom. Mark recorded an inappropriate request made by James and John, two brothers, who were disciples of Jesus, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” (Mk 10:37 NLT)

 

Matthew filled in some of the gaps that Mark left out. Apparently, this request was precipitated by their mother. She lived by the old adage: “Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes.” In fairness, she was doing what every mother does, looking out for her boys.

 

They acted the way we all have wanted, climbing the ladder of success. Momma wanted the best for her sons, so she took the initiative to get them in front of the line. What she didn’t understand was in Christ’s kingdom, “the first will be last.” (Matt. 20:16)

 

John Calvin, writing on this erroneous request said,

“This narrative contains a bright mirror on human vanity; for it shows that proper and holy zeal is often accompanied by ambition. They who are not satisfied with their-self alone…wander egregiously from the path.”

 

Each of us must ask ourselves, why we follow Christ. Is it just to get to heaven, which is understandable for a newer believer, but not an older one? As we grow, we follow him because he is the eternal Son of God, the Redeemer of the World. Anything less than first place puts us in league with James and John.

Day 15: self-promotion

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against,

so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” Mark 11:25 (NLT)

In Mark 11, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Today we identify that as Palm Sunday. Later, he left to spend the night in Bethany with his close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The next day, walking back into Jerusalem, he saw a fig tree that did not bear fruit and cursed it, saying, “May no one ever eat your fruit again.” (Mark 11:14)

 

Arriving at the temple in Jerusalem, he found buyers and sellers in the temple courts. For the second time, he overturned their tables, saying, “My house will be called a house of prayer.” (Mark 11:17)

 

The next day, on their way to Jerusalem, the disciples notice the cursed tree was dead. Poor tree. What did that tree ever do to Jesus to deserve a cursing? The tree represents much more. While we typically see Jesus’ anger at the commercialism in the temple as the reason for wrecking the place, (although we need to guard against that conclusion), the real story was in the fig tree. The fig tree represented the Temple and Jesus’ curse referred to God’s judgment.

 

The temple was the place where God’s representative presence was to dwell. (II Chron. 7) Instead, the temple was no longer for the inclusion of all people, but to the exclusion of the “unclean,” the outcasts of “respectable” Jewish society. There was no room for people like the shepherds and lepers, the Samaritan woman, and Cornelius. The fig tree represented how the temple had become a symbol of unfruitful exclusivity.

 

We still live in turbulent, racially divided times. Yet, this must not characterize God’s people. When Paul wrote, “God so loved the world,” the words weren’t given with stipulations. God didn’t suggest, “only love people who love you back” (I John 4:19) or “love people of one color more than another.” (Acts 8)

 

God’s love knows no bounds. So, neither should the churches. Boundless love only can happen as each of us choose to love as God does. Christians are not color blind; instead, they are color indifferent. Christians don’t need to agree with lifestyle choices to love people. Christians can love people even when their politics differ. It’s easy to love people who think as you do. The test comes when we choose to love people as they are because that’s the way Christ loves us.

Day 16: giving

“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.”

Mark 12:17 (NLT)

Most first century Jews, like most 21st century Americans, hated to pay taxes. However, their reasons ran deeper than ours. They considered themselves to be living under the rule of a foreign government, Rome. Even worse, this government leader, Tiberius Caesar, claimed divine authority, taking the titles of Savior and King of Kings. They were reminded of it every time they used a Roman coin. On one side, it read “Augustus Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus,” and the other side, “High Priest.”

 

The Pharisees (religious leaders) and Herodians (Jews who supported the local Roman government) joined together to trap Jesus. They questioned if it was right to pay tribute to Caesar. If Jesus said, “No,” then  he would be in rebellion against Rome. If he said, “Yes,” he would have earned the ire of common Jews.

 

Avoiding the trap, Jesus took the coin and pointed to the image of Caesar on it and, in effect, said, “Pay your taxes and pay your tithe.”

 

The apostles Peter and Paul later taught the importance of respecting the role of government, with stipulations. (Romans 13 and I Peter 2 respectively) Reaching back into the Old Testament (Malachi 3), Jesus endorsed giving God a tithe of income, ten percent (Matthew 23:23). So, it is clear, Christ-followers are to tithe from income and to pay required taxes, both without complaint.

 

However, giving to God is not so much about money, as it is about our hearts. In giving, we declare that life is more than the things we gather on earth. Living generously (II Cor. 9:6) is using our God-given resources to improve the world through the gospel message.

Day 17: temple

“Everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13 (NLT)

Many people, including some ministers, consider Mark 13, and its parallel passages in Matthew 10 and Luke 12, as a chapter mainly about the end of the world, which it certainly is not. In the first section of chapter 13, Jesus wasn’t addressing the future of the cosmos. He was talking about the future of the Jewish temple that Herod was building.

 

Since the Jewish exodus from Egypt, the temple played an essential role in Jewish faith. At first, the temple was in a tent. Later, to house the Ark, Solomon would build the grandest temple. After the Babylonians destroyed it in 587 BC, the temple would be rebuilt, with Persian permission. (Ezra 1) During the 1st century (AD), King Herod rebuilt the temple in grand fashion. This was done partly to gain some favor with the Jews, as was his so-called conversion to Judaism.

 

Speaking of Herod’s temple, in Mark 13:2, Jesus said, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another.” Jesus went on to talk about wars, beatings, false accusations, and martyrdom. Within a generation, early Christians began to experience all of this under Nero. Then, in 70 AD, the Roman military invaded. The Jews living in Jerusalem experienced horror beyond horror, including the destruction of their beloved temple.

 

This happened because God’s Chosen People failed to recognize that the Temple (presence of God) was walking among them. God was doing something new. No longer would “God be housed,” instead, the temple would be his Church. Individually and collectively, God, the Holy Spirit, would now reside within Christ followers.

 

So, Paul wrote, “You, all of you together, are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you.” (I Cor. 3:16 NLT) Just as Solomon’s temple was built to house God, every Christ follower contains the Holy Spirit. That truth should humble us and challenge us. Humble us because we know how unholy we are. Then challenge us to live like God’s temple should. (Micah 6:8)

Day 18: betrayer

“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.”

Mark 14:10 (NLT)

With those words, the passion of the Christ began. The question is, “Why?”

 

He was there for Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine. He saw Jesus walking on the water, and he snickered as Peter sunk. He was one of the disciples who kept breaking bread until 5,000 people were fed from five biscuits and two sardines.

 

He heard Jesus’ teaching. They shared the same fire and ate from the same bowl. Yet, he sold out Jesus for a month’s wage. A small bribe to commit such a heinous crime.


In 2006, the National Geographic Society claimed the discovery and translation of the Gospel of Judas. The book was attributed to the Gnostics, an early pseudo-Christian heretical group. In this writing, dated around 150 AD, Judas was not a villain, but the hero. In the version, Jesus asked Judas to betray him so that Jesus could be freed from his physical body and finally fulfill his destiny of saving humanity.

 

If that story proved true, we might say, Jesus committed suicide. More importantly, the version contradicts Scripture. How horrible it will be for the person who betrays the Son of Man. It would have been better for that person if he had never been born.” Matt. 26:24 (NLT)

 

I would suggest that Judas’ betrayal was motivated by ambition and frustration. Judas had invested 3 years of his life. Three years with no payday and no plan of political overthrow. Just the opposite, Christ was talking martyrdom. Jesus had the following. Now was the time to act. Judas might have thought, “If he is the Messiah, then he will thank me. If he isn’t, at least I will recoup part of my losses.”

 

We might never know why he betrayed his Messiah. We do know that we despise him, not just because he was turncoat, but because there is a little of Judas in all of us. Like Judas, when God isn’t acting as we expect, we take matters into our own hands. In the process, we send the clear message, “If God won’t, I will.”

 

God requires our absolute surrender. Only then, can he work with us, use us, and eventually exalt us. (I Pet 5:6) Anything less is our subtle act of betrayal.

Day 19: gratitude

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:33-34 (NRSV)

To the average citizen, darkness at noon must have been a startling occurrence. This should have been the heat of the day, but instead, the cool of darkness filled the air.

 

What could it be, an eclipse? Maybe it was an unexpected storm. Jerusalem had been known for them.

 

No one knew, only Jesus understood the eternal connection between the Father and the Son had been broken. The Word had been cut off. Elohim had turned his back on the Morning Star. The Only Begotten Son had become the sacrificial lamb.

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” rings down through the centuries. The answer is clear; it was me; it was because of us. We have our ways of coping. They are just “wild oats” or “boys will be boys.” “It wasn’t my fault, they had it coming.” “Hey, nobody’s perfect.”

 

Nobody, except for this one, this One who cried out in agony, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

 

He was the unblemished lamb, led to the slaughter by my caviar excuses for my selfish sin. That sin lacerated the heart of this Man of Sorrows, and ripped heaven asunder. This most significant union was torn to pieces. Yet no one noticed. Everyone went about their business.

 

Two thousand years later, little has changed. We have crosses on steeples, and we wear them as decorations. Yet the significance gets lost in the commonality of this wretched symbol of separation and death.

 

The only adequate response, as inadequate as it is: confess our sins and gratefully accept the fact that Jesus took my sin to the cross and to the grave. Then spend the rest of my existence saying, “Thank you.”

Day 20: redeemed

Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, the women went to the tomb. They were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed…He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead…Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter…” Mark 16:5-7 (NLT)

“Blessed are you, LORD our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” Two-thousand years ago, that prayer was developed for Israelite men to pray every morning. It was preceded also by praising God that they were not born slaves or gentiles. Later, slaves had equal standing in the church and gentiles and Jews worshipped together.

 

While they were devalued by society, women had a special role in Christ’s ministry. Even in his resurrection, he elevated them. They were the first witnesses to the empty tomb and the first carriers of the news of his resurrection.

 

They took the message to the apostles and to Peter. Interesting that Peter was named since just three days earlier, he denied knowing his Lord three times. Jesus, now risen, the angel told the women to make sure Peter knows because Jesus wanted him to be included.

 

Inclusion in the redemption of the resurrection looks past bloodlines, sexism, or past failings. Redemption always means to go from something to something else. In this case, Christ frees us from the bondage of sin to a new life in him. (Mary Fairchild)

 

The empty tomb embraces the marginalized, reaches out to the excluded to include them, frees those held in bondage and restores hope to all of the lost in sin. And we are them. So, God invites us to peer into the empty tomb. He is not there. He has defeated the curse of rejection, the hurt of abuse, the stain of our sin. Through Christ we can move from what we were, to what we are to be because he rose for us.

Day 21: contemplation

We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen.

The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

II Corinthians 4:18 (CEB)

Now we have come to the end our 21 days of fasting and prayer. You might have set out to fast and pray one way and ended up doing it another way. Maybe, you think you did great, or maybe you decided that “fasting just isn’t my thing.” First, like everything, fasting is a learning experience and so is praying. Second, God even works through our failures. Just ask Peter.

 

We started out with preparatory tasks 3 weeks ago:

1. Reflect on where you are on the areas of your life that God wants you to address.
2. Listen and record what God would say over the next three weeks.
3. Daydream about God and your future.

 

Now that we are done, let’s go back to the beginning. If you have been keeping a journal, now is the time to read it through. Look for common threads or recurring thoughts. Did you make notes as you read through Mark? If so, review them. What is God saying to you? Take a look inside. Has your perspective changed a little? Has a struggling relationship gotten better? Has a bad habit or habitual sin decreased its hold? Those are all evidence of God at work, speaking to you, changing you, and directing you.

 

Contemplation or meditation was understood and practiced more often than today by the ancients in the western world. And, meditating on God and his Word is taught throughout the Bible. Now we exit a time of fasting and prayer intercession and enter into a season of contemplation. In the days ahead, rest in him, and consider what God is continuing to teach you. Spend less time asking and more time consciously listening. Now, maybe more than ever, you are poised to hear God’s voice.

 

Welcome to the next level of your faith journey!