Dale Johnson: I’m joined on the podcast with Pastor Brad Bigney who is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Kentucky. He’s been at the same church for 23 years now. Praise the Lord, Brad, for that faithfulness and for how the Lord has blessed your efforts there at the church. He has also been married for 32 years, and what a blessing and testimony that is as well. He is one of our certified counselors. Many of you who have been involved in ACBC know Brad and know his teaching. Today, he is going to talk to us about this very important subject of prayer and fasting. Brad, we are so glad that you’re here to give us some instruction today on this topic.
Brad Bigney: It’s a joy, Dale. I was thrilled when I was invited to talk about this, because I really do think that, for a community of people that are really excited about the Bible (that would be ACBC kind of people) sometimes I sense and I wish that they would be equally excited about prayer, because I think these two things go together. It’s God’s Word, and as you use it and you are praying and crying out to Him to take out hard hearts, there’s some amazing things that we can see happen, and I think prayer is a big part of it. Most Christians would admit, “My prayer life needs help.” Sometimes they’ll admit, “I should read my Bible more,” but I think for prayer, I hear even a little more sadness.
Dale Johnson: It’s like we know it’s in the Scriptures, but sometimes we struggle. It’s a wrestle; it’s a discipline for us to pray. Now, you mention that we’re people who love the Bible in ACBC, and as we think through anything that we should be involved in, what we should be practicing, we need to hear a biblical basis for that. Could you talk to us a little bit about a biblical basis for this idea of prayer and fasting?
Brad Bigney: For me, Dale, I grew up in the church. I was saved when I was seven, I have been on staff at a good Southern Baptist Church in South Carolina for 10 years. But in a real way, in 1995, when I went to do the church plant, I thought, “This is a chance for a do-over.” I had a lot of things on my heart, one of them being, “All right, let’s put biblical counseling at the center, as the hub, and every ministry is a spoke from that.” The other thing I had on my heart was, I thought, “You know, what might God do if I really prayed?” I was leading a church of 600, so of course it’s easy to say, “I’m so busy and I’ve got so many programs. I don’t have time to pray.” Then you go to do a church plant and you’re like, “Well, I’m doing it all; I’m playing my guitar, I’m answering the phone, I’m leading the only small group we have,” but I thought, “If not now, then when?”
I decided that I’m going to pray an hour, hour and a half a day before I check email, before I do anything else. Then I set aside six days of prayer and fasting that I put on the calendar, and by God’s grace, I still do it. They’re on the calendar for 2019. I go away in August for three days and plan out my new year, and by God’s grace, I still put it in there. I’ve been amazed what God has been pleased to do. I’ve cried out to Him for everything—keyboard players, drummers, people we need, people we need to leave, offerings, money, and it’s been exciting to see what God has done.
The biblical basis is all through Scriptures. It’s not a suggestion; it’s a command. Even in places where, like in the Sermon on the Mount, I see Jesus saying things like, “When you give, do it like this, don’t sound a trumpet. When you pray, do it like this.” Then right in that same passage, “When you fast,” but in our culture of Christians today, it’s almost like that’s very odd. Maybe just the Green Berets will do that. But Jesus talked about it as, this is right in the center of normal what we would be doing.
Dale Johnson: That’s right. He talks about it as it being common to us. It reminds us of our dependence on God and the source of all that we need. You talked about scheduled times of prayer and fasting, and that’s critical as we think relative to what God would have us to do, but I’m sure there are other times throughout the year that come up. How do you go about knowing or sensing that, “This is a good time that I should pause my life and focus on this issue of prayer and devoted fasting to the Lord?”
Brad Bigney: Honestly, there probably isn’t one right answer, but I must be honest and say I have never added another time. I’m a very scheduled guy, and for me, with the size of the church and I might travel and whatever, if I don’t have it on there, it would never happen. That’s why I put it on, and then I have to make sure I guard it, because inevitably, when I look at that week by the time I get there, it’s like, “Oh no, no way. There’s no way I can do that now.” I have to say, “Yep, I’m going to do it.” If I didn’t put them on there in advance, I don’t think they would ever happen.
Then every three years, I put on there to go away for three days. I’ve got about three hours for me. There is a Trappist monastery, a silent monastery where they make bourbon and cheese and don’t talk, and I’ll go do that. Next year it’s on my calendar for December to go for three days, and there’s nothing quite like going three days without talking to anyone but God. It’s really sweet and reorienting.
Dale Johnson: As we think about prayer and fasting and its usefulness, not just commanded that we participate in our normal daily life, but its usefulness in the counseling room. There are ways that we can utilize this discipline for our counselees or for us as we are working with them in counseling. Talk a little bit about how you found that to be useful.
Brad Bigney: God in His mercy, back to your previous question of, are there times where I think, “Oh I need to add a day,” in the mercy of God, often when I have a counseling case that really needs that, it’s on my calendar. The one that stands out in my mind the most is a time when I had a day of prayer and fasting already on the calendar.
I was headed over to the cabin where I go. It’s about 45 minutes from where I live, and I got another text from someone about how bad that situation was. She hadn’t gotten out of bed in three weeks. She had rejected her small group, everybody that was reaching out she just rebuffed. She’s on a lot of medications and just the biggest mess. So, I dropped to my knees as soon as I got settled in there. I had an agenda of what I had planned to do, and I set it aside and I began to cry out with my Bible open. I love to read passages and pray them, and I probably prayed and cried out to the Lord for about two and a half hours for her. I said, “God, please. Get her, open her eyes…” I kid you not, I’ll never forget, on Sunday when I finished preaching, there she was in the aisle. I was like, “Oh my goodness.”
Well, there she is, and she grabbed me and said, “Hey, I need to meet with you this week. It shouldn’t take long.” Well, I thought, “Oh no, this is it.” She’s going to say, “I’m divorcing him.” When I met with her and she said, “On Thursday,” that’s when I was praying and fasting, she said, “My father was an alcoholic, my brother was a drug addict, and they both said they did it to check out on life.” She said, “I thought that would be great,” and she said (it was Thursday), “I was in this black pit, and suddenly I just thought, ‘I don’t want to do this. I do not want to do this. This is not how great I thought it would be.’”
Then I began to talk to her about the marriage situation and she just completely broke and said, “Yes, I’ll forgive.” I got the husband back in the room, and the next week, as well as this past Sunday as I was preaching, I made eye contact with them. They’re sitting next to one another, they’re still married, and that was a massive breakthrough of the Lord. There wasn’t a worksheet. It wasn’t a booklet by some counselor. It was God.
Dale Johnson: What’s interesting is, I hear you talk about that, and that is consistently the attitude of Paul when he describes, even in 1 Corinthians, why he chooses intentionally not to use words of eloquence or human wisdom when he’s teaching about God. He doesn’t boast in anything other than Christ. He wants people to boast only in Christ, and in prayer and fasting, we aren’t doing anything in particular. We’re not coercing God or anything like that; what we’re saying is, “God, you’re the only one who can accomplish these things.” The beauty of the testimony that you just described, you can’t blame that on Brad Bigney. You can’t blame that on anything but the kindness and the grace and the mercy of God to see these kinds of breakthroughs.
You have people, Brad, who talked about prayer and fasting, particularly fasting, having to go without food and how weak we feel. We tend to focus on how fasting will affect us. Talk about how you have actually experienced a different understanding of that physically in fasting.
Brad Bigney: Especially as Americans, we don’t realize how full we stay, and we’re grazing constantly. I’m not saying it’s necessarily to the point of sin, but we do need to keep in mind that our bellies are so full so often, your blood is going there even when people talk about how sluggish you feel through the afternoon. There’s reasons for that.
What I’ve found with fasting, whether it’s a day or even the times I’ve done it for three days. I’ve fasted for three days at a time for my adult children that are unconverted and for some health situations. Yes, you begin to feel a little weaker physically as far as when you stand up quick from a chair, but I’ve still been able to do my job. I’m not pouring concrete or working with a sledgehammer, I’m a pastor, but it’s a clarifying time. My mental clarity and the insights if I’m reading or studying or prepping, if I’m praying, my mind doesn’t wander off as much, I don’t start to feel drowsy. It’s a wonderful time, spiritually, and for thinking when you’re fasting.
Dale Johnson: As we talk about this idea of prayer and fasting, people are listening and they’re wondering, “Man, I want to walk with God. I want to have that type of intense fellowship with the Lord where I devote myself in these ways.” What are some tips that you would give to somebody on how to begin this process of disciplining themselves to prayer and fasting?
Brad Bigney: The go-to booklet that I send people to if this is brand-new to them, Bill Bright has a little blue booklet simply called, Fasting, that they can get on Amazon. It’s great because it talks about and considers health issues. If you’re diabetic, low blood sugar, if you’re pregnant, he mentions different types of fasting, different ways that you could fast.
Also, if you’re interested, I have a website bradbigney.com, not our church site, but bradbigney.com. If you go there and you click “workshops,” I’ve got a workshop on fasting and a workshop on prayer. When you click either one of those links, all my favorite resources that I love to point people to are listed there. I’ve got some of the favorite ways that I spend a day if you say, “What would I do for a whole day in prayer?” I’ve got several agendas and suggestions there, and some stuff if you are looking for more ideas of, “How would I get started?” Go to bradbigney.com, click “workshops,” click “fasting,” or click “prayer.” I also consider Bill Bright’s booklet, that I think is still available.
Dale Johnson: Thank you, Brad, so much. This has been a very helpful conversation as we think through this very important truth about prayer and fasting.
“Seven Basic Steps to Fasting and Prayer” by Bill Bright
A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer by John Piper
Fasting Worksheets from Brad Bigney