EDITOR'S NOTE: The full text of SBC President Steve Gaines' call to prayer is printed below.
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines has called Southern Baptists to 21 days of prayer and fasting leading up to the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
The fast will begin May 23 and end June 12, the day preceding the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting, Gaines announced May 18th in a written call to prayer. He defined fasting as "doing without something in order to focus more attention on the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom," adding that "prayer and fasting are essentials in the Christian life."
Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., urged all Southern Baptists to participate in the fast. Some may feel called to "go without food for 21 days and just drink liquids," he wrote. Others may opt to "eat less than normal and drink only water," skip one meal per day for 21 days or fast from a technology like television.
"While no one knows exactly how or why God uses our prayers and fasting, no one who believes the Bible can doubt that He does," Gaines wrote. "... God does things when we pray and fast that He does not do if we don't pray and fast."
Among the prayer requests Gaines asked Southern Baptists to emphasize: "an outpouring of God's manifest presence" in Phoenix; "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"; the salvation of many souls at the June 11 Harvest America crusade with evangelist Greg Laurie; and divine blessing for the June 11-12 SBC Pastors' Conference and the SBC annual meeting.
Gaines' full call to prayer is printed below.
21 Days of Prayer and Fasting
By Steve Gaines
I am asking you, our Southern Baptist Convention family, to pray and fast for our annual meeting in Phoenix as we gather together on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 13-14. Specifically, I am asking you to join me in a 21-day period of prayer and fasting prior to that. We will begin our time of prayer and fasting on Tuesday, May 23, and go through Monday, June 12.
Most Christians understand the need to pray, but what about fasting? Fasting is doing without something in order to focus more attention on the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom. The primary way to fast, according to Scripture, is to do without food. Jesus clearly expected His disciples to fast after He ascended back to heaven. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18, "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." Notice that Jesus did not say, "If you fast." Instead, He said, "When you fast."
Prayer and fasting are essentials in the Christian life. The early church was birthed in a prayer meeting (cf. Acts 2), not a business meeting. Likewise, foreign missions was birthed in a time of intense prayer (referred to in Acts 13:2 as "ministering to the Lord") and fasting. While no one knows exactly how or why God uses our prayers and fasting, no one who believes the Bible can doubt that He does! While we don't know how prayer and fasting work, we know that they do work. God does things when we pray and fast that He does not do if we don't pray and fast. That is not a "works" mentality. Rather, that is an "obedience" mentality. God blesses our obedience to His commands, and Jesus commanded us to pray and fast.
Prayer with fasting denotes earnestness, seriousness and fervency. We live in dangerous and desperate days. Our society is rotting and reeling at its core from the onslaught of every imaginable sin. Our Southern Baptist Convention is declining in membership and in the number of people being saved and baptized through our churches and missionary efforts. For too many years we have been in a numerical decline. We are also in a spiritual battle. It is time to use the weapons God has granted us. Prayer and fasting are two of the most powerful weapons we have as we wage war with the spiritual forces of darkness that oppose us in these pivotal days.
Will you join us May 23 thru June 12? Some of you could easily go without food for 21 days and just drink liquids. Others must eat in order to take medicine. Even so, you can still engage in a variety of fasts. For instance, you could eat healthily (vegetables), eat less than normal and drink only water for 21 days (cf. Daniel 1). You could fast from watching television and spend that time reading your Bible and praying. You could skip a meal a day for 21 days and spend that time "ministering to the Lord and fasting." Most anyone can do at least one of these, even if they take medicine.
As you fast and pray for all that will take place as we meet in Phoenix, please pray that we will experience an outpouring of God's manifest presence. Pray that we will experience the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (cf. Ephesians 4:3). Pray for our Crossover witnessing emphasis on Friday and Saturday. Pray for the Sunday night evangelistic rally led by Pastor Greg Laurie. Pray for the Pastors' Conference on Sunday night and Monday. Pray for our SBC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. Pray for every preacher that will preach and every person that will make a presentation. Pray that God will speak clearly to us through His Word. Pray that our business will be conducted in a loving and orderly manner. Pray that God will come down in our midst as we sing and worship Him.
God will do things when we pray and fast that He will not do if we don't. I am asking you to join me in calling on the name of the Lord Jesus in prayer and fasting as we come together in Phoenix.
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.