Peter, a servant of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Michigan and northern Indiana, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
I begin this letter to you echoing the Apostle, dearly beloved, because just like in the days of that Peter, we are also "elect exiles of the dispersion." This is always true of us -- but how much more do we feel it in this time when we are exiled from one another -- banished from the assembly -- isolated and alone!
But that is why the Apostle Peter continues:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:3-9)
It is appropriate at times of personal, regional, and even international calamity to engage in times and seasons of fasting and prayer.
A fast day is especially appropriate in times of personal or corporate calamity. Many presidents have called for fast days in the midst of war -- and at least one, during a severe plague. On July 3, 1849, during a cholera epidemic, President Zachary Taylor declared: “The providence of God has manifested itself in the visitation of a fearful pestilence which is spreading itself throughout the land, it is fitting that a people whose reliance has ever been in His protection should humble themselves before His throne…acknowledging past transgressions, ask a continuance of the Divine mercy. It is earnestly recommended that the first Friday in August be observed throughout the United States as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer.”
Our national leaders do not seem to remember this -- and so it falls to the lesser to call God's people to humble themselves before the Almighty. After seeking counsel from the Executive Committee, as Moderator of the Great Lakes Presbytery, I hereby designate Saturday, March 28, 2020, as a Presbytery-wide day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer -- exhorting all of us to humble ourselves before the hand of our gracious Father, and implore him to have mercy upon us and forgive us for our many sins and bring healing to our region, our nation, and our world.
- Pray that God would forgive us for not loving him with a whole heart -- in other words, that he would forgive us for loving created things more than him. (In our national idolatry of sport, he has removed sports; in our national idolatry of entertainment, he has removed entertainment).
- Pray that God would heal our miserable condition (pray especially for those who are sick with this disease -- but also for all the miseries of this life that are exacerbated in these times -- for those who are afraid, anxious, alone).
- Pray that God would sustain and uphold those who are on the front lines (medical personnel and the rulers of this age who must make hard decisions).
- Pray for those who are dying, that God would call all the nations to repentance and faith -- and that he would send forth his mighty Word, that the glorious gospel of his Son would flourish and grow throughout all nations!
You regularly see the people of God throughout the Old and New Testament engaging in special fast days -- and our Lord Jesus himself gave us the following instruction for whenwe fast (not "if" -- but when):
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18)
A final exhortation: normally, on a Fast Day, there would be a service of public worship to conclude the day together. Under the present conditions, we are not able to meet together in public worship.
I have chosen a Saturday because I hope that it will enable more people to devote a large portion of the day to prayer (since fast days are difficult for those who are busy at work).
I realize that fast days are rare and unusual in our lifetimes. If you have any questions, please let me know. I would be happy to help.
In Christ's Service,
Peter J. Wallace
Moderator, Great Lakes Presbytery
Pastor, Michiana Covenant Presbyterian Church
P.S., Our book of church order has a whole chapter on days of fasting and thanksgiving, and while this chapter is not a part of our constitution, it does express the mind of the church regarding how such days should be conducted.
- 62-2. Fasting and thanksgiving may be observed by individual Christians; by families; by particular congregations; by a number of congregations contiguous to each other; by the congregations under the care of a Presbytery; or by all the congregations of our Church.
- 62-3. It should be left to the judgment and discretion of every Christian and family to determine when it is proper to observe a private fast or thanksgiving; and to the church Sessions to determine for particular congregations; and to the Presbyteries, to determine for larger districts. When it is deemed expedient that a fast or thanksgiving should be general, the call for it should be issued by the General Assembly. If at any time the civil power should appoint a fast or thanksgiving, in keeping with the Christian faith, it is the duty of the ministers and people of our communion to pay all due respect to it.
- 62-4. Public notice should be given a sufficient time before the appointed day of fasting or thanksgiving, that persons may so order their affairs as to allow them to attend properly to the duties of the day.
- 62-5. There should be public worship upon all such days; and the prayers, psalms or hymns, the selection of Scripture, and sermons, should all be in a special manner adapted to the occasion.
- 62-6. On days of fasting, the minister should point out the authority and providences calling for the observance; and he should spend more than the usual time in solemn prayer, particular confession of sin, especially for the sins of the day and place; and the whole day should be spent in prayer and meditation.
P.P.S. (The following encouragement is taken from Briarwood PCA's webpage)
A PASTORAL WORD ON FASTING
As God leads you to a day of prayer and fasting and embracing the guide given above, here are a few reminders:
- If you have a medical condition, please check with your doctor. If it is not medically advisable for you to fast then consider focusing the fast on some “thing” instead of a length of time (i.e. an item of food, television, technology etc.).
- Remember, we fast not as an act of penance, but as a declaration, commitment, and reminder to focus upon our Lord and that He is the foundation of our life and is supreme in our life even over the God-given necessities and enjoyments of life.
- One suggestion would be to begin your fast after the evening meal and continue throughout the next day. Don’t overeat before you start!
- If possible, drink only water. Drink lots of it. Some say it is okay to drink coffee so you will not be battling a headache along with the fast.
- It is important to have a specific verse of Scripture to focus upon throughout the period of fasting and whenever you feel hungry use that moment to devour the Word of God and specifically to meditate upon your chosen verse for the day of prayer and fasting.
- Try to go to bed earlier than usual, and rise earlier than normal to spend quality time with the Lord.