For a long time I thought that the point of Lent was fasting. But once I actually began to practice fasting during Lent, I came to understand a wonderful paradox: the fasting days are actually feasting days! We fast so that we can feast on God’s banquet—his presence, his heart, his mission!
A large part of partaking in the feast of the fast is prayer. Prayer allows us to just be, quiet and still. Prayer reminds us we are the Beloved. Prayer connects and refocuses our hearts on Christ—who he is, what he’s done, what he’s doing now, where he’s leading us. But prayer is meant to be more than that for Christ-followers.
I was watching the movie The Lord of the Rings and following the journey of the little band of friends on their way to Mordor. At one point, they’re forced to go through the Dwarven Caves, a dark and dangerous place. They’ve already been in battle and are again fiercely fighting when, all of a sudden, their enemies scatter, the shadows lengthen, and the cavern becomes still and quiet. Until a steady rhythm signals a new and even more terrifying enemy. The Balrog emerges as a huge and fiery creature, with coal-like eyes and ox-like horns; he snorts fire and ferociously chases the group to the edge of open pits.
Gandalf the wizard urges the group to quickly cross the main cavern on a small pathway as he distracts the Balrog. But Gandalf does more than distract. With every ounce of authority and every fiber of his being, he draws himself to his full, erect stature, heavily plants down his rod in the center of the pathway, and cries out in the most bold and powerful manner, “You shall not pass!”
This scene has captured me and remains engraved in my mind. It is such a vivid picture of prayer, in a way that I hadn’t imagined. It’s prayer on the offensive, prayer with great faith, prayer that knows the will of God as revealed through the Scriptures. It’s prayer that fights because it is rooted in true hope, the hope that Jesus is making all things new.
Prayer That Fights for My Neighborhood . . . and Yours
I pray differently now because of that scene.
Alcohol is rampant where I live. It’s truly a disease—like an out-of-control virus—and its grip is completely oppressive. As I see a man with a wheelbarrow carrying another man home in his drunken stupor, I cry out: “Alcohol, you shall not pass in my neighborhood!”
Sometimes I’ll see a young teen stumble into our yard where a group of boys are gathered for an athletic event. He swaggers toward them, sporting his red rags and boasting about the bloody wound he’s asking us to care for. And then he starts spouting his allegiance to the local Bulldog gang, hoping to recruit from our group. “Gangs,” I pray, “you shall not pass in my neighborhood!”
We need to see a new generation of leaders rising up, leaders who will stand in the gap for their communities of need, and who will cry out in prayer, with love and justice, against the strongholds of oppression. A future kingdom is now breaking forth, and is yet coming, in which there are no more tears, no more pain, and where perfect love finds its fulfillment as God and man dwell together.
So as you feast on prayer during your fast this Lenten season, I simply encourage you to walk through your community with the authority you carry as a child of the King, the One who conquered death on the cross. Cry out for your community—cry out songs of love and blessings and cry out against evil: “You shall not pass.” For in Christ’s death and resurrection, a new way of life is possible.
Live Life is a campaign, run in partnership with World Vision and International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, to bring college students and young adults around the world together to explore the meaning of “life in all its fullness” during the Easter/Lenten season. The campaign features six weekly challenges, stories of students making a difference from countries around the world, and a global sharing platform where each person can share how they are uniquely participating. The InterVarsity blog is participating by featuring corresponding posts each Sunday written by InterVarsity's Urban Projects directors.
Beth Eckloff-Paz serves as Co–Executive Director of InterVarsity’s Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership(FIFUL). She loves curling up with a good book, taking a day to visit Yosemite and hike, or catching up with girlfriends over coffee. She and her husband, Ivan, reside in one of Fresno’s high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods and love it as a place of rich community.