How can we lead our churches through seasons of prayer and fasting? As the Holy Spirit guides us, we can use resources as tools. Read a summary of the webinar featuring Dave Clayton, watch the replay below, or stream through the player above.
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Chad Harrington here with Dave Clayton. I am a publisher at HIM Publications, a volunteer teacher and preacher at Harpeth Christian Church, and an author. Dave Clayton is the author of Revival Starts Here and Jesus Next Door, and lives in Nashville, where he helps lead Ethos Church, Onward Church Planting, and Awaken Nashville.
A Bit of Background to Our Story
Chad Harrington: What we are going to do is basically give our background and our experience with resources with regard to prayer and fasting. Obviously, we will share with you the resources we have been a part of directly, and even broader than that. The end goal is equipping the people—your people, in your church—to pray and fast together and to respond to God’s Spirit. So, half of this will be us sharing some things that have been on our hearts to inspire you and to equip you, and the second half will be time for questions and answers.
Dave and I worked together over the last few years with many more people to equip churches in Nashville for prayer and fasting. The three resources we’ve used are called Awaken Prayer Resources—Revival Starts Here, Jesus Next Door, and Love Your Neighbor Journal. Literally hundreds of churches and tens of thousands of Christians in Nashville have used these to pray and fast together.
Dave Clayton: Yeah, Chad, thanks for having me. I’m passionate about this conversation because one of the things we’ve seen in our own churches is that a lot of times people have a desire and longing to step into something, into some of the deeper waters with God, but people don’t always know how to actually step into it.
Resources can play a really key role in helping close that gap between what people desire to step into and their ability to do so.
Prayer and Fasting Aren’t Always Easy
Chad Harrington: My heart behind this, as a publisher—and our goal in general is—to help your church find the next right discipleship resource and so you know that could be the resources we have and that might be others. Prayer and fasting aren’t always easy, especially fasting. Dave, I just wanted to hear your heart, and I think it would be cool to share what motivated you and what prompted you to write these two books.
Dave Clayton: Yeah, well, you know, it’s funny, I never had any desire to write books.
This started with the desire to help people that I really love take the next steps in areas that I thought would not only bless them, but would really move forward.
So, it goes back five years ago.
My wife and I spent some time working with global leaders, and one of the things that we brought back was the significance that prayer and fasting plays in every disciple making movement throughout Christian history. But we had to figure out how to do it. When you have people that are eager to do something and they make the decision to do it, but they get into it and they don’t actually know what they’re doing, it can be really challenging.
We prayed and fasted for a month together as a church, and we thought, Hey, we want to keep doing this, but how do we equip people for the long haul, not just to get through the discipline but to actually meet God in it?
How Can We Equip People?
So we wrestled with how to create practical resources, and some of those resources just happened to turn into books. Revival Starts Here, the book on prayer and fasting, started with me asking myself the question, Hey, if I could sit down with each person in our church and in forty-five minutes or less, tell them why I think this matters and how they could step into it, what would I say to them in the most practical language possible?
Chad Harrington: Dave, I love your pastor’s heart—it’s almost like, Okay, I need to get this information to the people. How do I do that?
Dave Clayton: Yeah, well, you know, it’s funny because at first, I was really opposed to using a book because I know our people tend to be really busy. We wanted it to be really easy for people to sit down and follow along wherever they are in their journey.
And typically people use the prayer and fasting book Revival Starts Here to get ready for a fast, and then Jesus Next Door is a thirty-day prayer guide that a lot of folks use as they’re going through the fast. It’s happening not just here in Nashville, but now we are seeing it happen all over the world. Movements of prayer and fasting are popping up, which is really exciting.
Chad Harrington: Dave, I did want to mention the Love Your Neighbor Journal, which is basically a little thirty-two-page journal that helps you process how to love people where you live, work, and play. We believe that in seasons of prayer and fasting, we draw close to God and God draws near to us, that there’s this stirring up of intimacy between us and God.
Do We Really Need Books?
I wholeheartedly believe that as we draw near to Jesus, all of a sudden the things that are on Jesus’ heart begin to grow stronger on our hearts as well.
We begin to love what he loves and love who he loves. But Dave, I think one of the things that kind of comes up is: Should we even do a book, and as a pastor, do you need to do a book? Also, why do sermons alone not quite do it for you, and how does a sermon and resources like these go together?
Dave Clayton: I obviously believe in sermons. I give them. I listen to them. I’ve been shaped greatly by them, but I don’t think they are even close to being enough for the holistic formation of our people. And I don’t think resources are enough either. I believe when we’re trying to bring about holistic discipleship as leaders, we have to be willing to use as many different tools as we need.
Chad Harrington: Dave, I wanted to ask, you know, the end goal is not just to get people more knowledgeable or inspired, but at the end of the day we want to equip people to know God and engage God through prayer and fasting. Obviously, there are many more disciplines and many more aspects of our life with God, but that’s kind of the focus of these resources.
So what practical difference does it make when you equip people with resources as opposed to just sermons or just sort of saying, you know, “Go do it”?
Grow Together through Prayer and Fasting
Dave Clayton: When we’re thinking about how to form people, how to make disciples, and how to help everyone get into the presence of God in a way that will transform their life, we put together resources. We really believe something significant happens there. I’ve found it to be so true with God that we know we should be praying more, we know we should be seeking God, but we don’t always know how to do it. Sometimes we get scared to try so we don’t try, and then we end up in a cycle.
I think resources, and a whole variety of other things, can be helpful for breaking us through that cycle.
Our goal is to help ordinary people meet God in extraordinary ways.
Chad Harrington: I think that’s really interesting as we think about, Okay, what’s God’s heart in all this?
Like you were saying, Dave, we feel like we should do something, but we don’t know what to do and we’re afraid to do it, you know? But if we step out there, there’s so much grace and all this, you don’t have to fast perfectly. It’s okay to try it and not do well and then try it again. Doing so in community lets people encourage one another—and then as a community, you grow together, which is the body of Christ at work.
I just wanted to share a story of a church that used this on a broad scale in Texas. They ordered the books for their whole church, and they started their Jesus Next Door initiative right before the pandemic hit. But it didn’t squelch the movement.
In fact, it equipped people when they were in lockdown. They started doing all these creative things because all they had were their neighbors. They would leave a note on the door. They would run errands for people in their neighborhood, like older people who needed prescriptions picked up but didn’t want to get out of the home.
Use These Resources for Real Life Change
So, Dave, could you give me a story of how God has used Revival Starts Here and Jesus Next Door to make real life change?
Dave Clayton: Yeah, I mean we’ve just been surprised by the simplicity of what happens when you help people pray more intentionally, when people set aside time to get in the presence of God. When you help people do that, you cannot help but see things unfold all around. I think something happens in these moments of prayer and fasting as people get into the presence of God and feel seen by God. God helps them to begin seeing the people around them the way that he sees them.
Questions for Dave Clayton
How did you get other churches involved?
For us, we really felt like it was a mandate from God. We really felt like God had charged us specifically to pray for every person in the city of Nashville by name for thirty straight days. We knew we needed other churches in on it.
I think God went before us and made it happen.
The leader has to have a conviction that the body of Christ is stronger when we’re together than apart. And the leader has to have a plan.
For us, that plan was to call churches together, tell them when we’re going to do this, tell them how we’re gonna do this, and then fund it. We called pastors and said, “Hey, if you will mobilize your people, we will help you, resource them. It won’t cost you a penny, let’s just do this together.”
We had conviction. We had a plan.
Then, we really set up some rhythms for how to walk with those leaders together. We started praying together as leaders. We felt like God brought an idea to us and then he built the network around it.
Have you found any best practices in navigating the call to pray and fast within this season of isolation?
I think prayer and fasting is really hard in general, but it’s even harder when you feel like you’re alone. One of things that we do is have a consistent time to come together for prayer. We come together over lunch break—before the pandemic, we did so in person, but now we do it on Zoom. We found that, even in a pandemic, prayer and fasting can be a rhythm that the church leans into.
How important are small groups during the prayer and fasting schedule time frame?
With our small groups, when we enter into a season of prayer and fasting, we encourage them to share within their group. Here’s what we’re praying for during the fast.
Here’s how we’re going to fast together. Here’s how we can encourage each other. We’ve found that to be really important. We try to leverage our small groups and smaller communities in every season of prayer and fasting very practically as support groups and prayer groups and worship groups throughout time of fasting.
Can you share on a personal level why you felt the necessity to pray and fast and the impact it had on you?
One of the things that really hit me several years ago was my inadequacy to bring about any change on my own. I can’t bring about any great change in someone’s heart. God’s got to do it.
God has to change the heart.
God has to draw the heart near and move in the life of a person. I love strategy, I love plans and vision, and I believe in those things and I give myself wholeheartedly to those kinds of things.
But what I began to realize is that at the end of the day, a strategy doesn’t change the human heart. Inspirational sermons don’t change the human heart. It is the work of God that changes the human heart.
We realized that prayer and fasting need to become a way we become more dependent on God, rather than on our ability to make something happen.
When we get into secret places and talk with God, God changes our hearts. We can begin to watch him move in the hearts of people around us. We realized that we can do ministry and we can do things, but we can’t change anybody’s heart without God’s help.
Moving forward, what are you guys going to do?
We are going to continue to lean into our rhythms of prayer and fasting. We’re going to continue to pray and fast towards what God is doing in the city and in the nation.
Then, we’re trying to pour some real fuel on the fire of these prayer movements popping up all over the world. We’re going to keep pouring fuel on that fire, and then we’re going to hopefully help lots of churches take steps of prayer and fasting for the first time.
How did you help your church overcome the excuses against fasting those with health concerns, etcetera?
One of the things that we found to be really important was meeting people exactly where they are at and then helping them take their next step with Jesus.
The goal is not for us to create super fasters that can fast longer than anybody else and better than anybody else.
Our goal is just to help people humbly come into the presence of God…
… and say, “Hey God, how can I meet you more deeply in the season that I’m in?” We try to give our people permission to be really okay with taking their next step and not comparing themselves to their spouse or their children or their small group or their friends.
And the way we work against the work that trap of comparison is we do the work of celebration.
We celebrate every kind of step. We celebrate when people take their first step of praying and fasting, and maybe it feels relatively small when it’s lined up to the person next to them. But we’re trying to celebrate that really well.
We do all kinds of fast. We have some people that will do like a soul fast. That’s the language we use for non-food fasting, where maybe they’re fasting from social media or from television. And then a lot of people start with a partial fast. You know, maybe they’ll fast from one meal a day for thirty days, or fast for a couple of meals a week, or maybe they fast one day a week. People do it in different ways. What we invite them to do is to pray every single day with us.
Build a Church Culture
Dave Clayton: I think if you just do a campaign, it doesn’t make a huge difference. Like if you just do a prayer and fasting campaign or an evangelism campaign, if that’s all you do, it won’t shape the culture. But if you will use those campaigns to help build culture, it will go a long way.
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