s I write this, our congregation is in the midst of a 31-day period of prayer and fasting. We refer to it as The Holy Season of Prayer and Fasting.
The fast was precipitated by a nagging sense that our church was not spiritually focused. Our worship services seemed perfunctory; our prayer meetings were predictable—there was no anticipation of a mighty movement of God over the place. An overall aura of distraction with “other things” permeated the atmosphere. No major, public sin was on display, but it seemed as though something deeper and more corrosive was at work: a satisfaction with life as it was, an absence of spiritual vitality.
In the Bible, indeed, in the history of Christianity, when Spirit-led leaders sensed a laxity and looseness among the people of God, they would almost invariably proclaim a season of fasting. It was a straightforward way to refocus and redirect the people. In our fast, our congregation focused on two things: a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit, and a desire to serve God with a whole heart. But almost from the start of the fast God began to move us in an additional and unexpected direction.
I woke early one morning to sit before God in prayer and meditation. In this sacred atmosphere of personal worship the Lord impressed my heart that the fast was primarily about “correction.” It was an overwhelming moment of spiritual epiphany. It quickly became apparent that God was about to insert Himself through His Holy Spirit into our fasting season in a pointed way.
As I shared this direct word with our congregation, the Holy Spirit immediately began to speak words of correction for my own life. Things I hadn’t seen as a problem, the Spirit, with pinpoint accuracy, demonstrated to me they were indeed a problem.
Over the span of several days, God showed me several things I needed to bring into alignment with His heart relative to my life and ministry. At the same time people throughout the congregation were having the same experience; the Holy Spirit spoke directly into their lives powerful words of correction.
Just prior to taking this revelation before the people, I came across a text in Proverbs where Solomon declared: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Prov. 12:1).
I was struck by how unapologetically bold Solomon was in speaking this word. To say we are stupid if we hate correction is not something one can easily dismiss.
But it isn’t easy to accept correction. Though necessary, it can be downright painful. The Holy Spirit will speak correction over our lives in His normal way of dealing with us, but I think He is most pleased when we specifically ask for that correction. All of us are apt to go “off course” anytime. As the hymn writer put it: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” That describes me, and I suspect it may also describe you.
Getting to these special times with the Spirit requires that we carve out special seasons of prayer and fasting. Jesus made it clear that some things we desire of God come only as a result of prayer and fasting. In these unique seasons we back away from the regular routines of life in order to reflect more fully on holy things.
How you go about your fast is up to you and how the Spirit impresses you. But the result of these holy seasons of prayer and fasting is what you’re after. In my case, and in that of our congregation, it was so the Spirit could speak correction over our lives.
I have a newfound awareness that our hearts have to stay open to God’s correction. If only we listen, God is continually speaking corrective words into our lives. The question is: Will we seek after and receive that correction with joy, or avoid it and become what Solomon calls, well, you know . . . ?
Fredrick A. Russell is senior pastor of the Miracle Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church
in Baltimore, Maryland.