Doing things in secret
Faith is not known for being flashy. That is one of the many characteristics I appreciate about our church family. People are not constantly bragging about their latest spiritual exploits or trying to impress others with their growth or service. We are anything but Flashy Baptist Church–and I’m really glad about that.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about the hypocrites who fast by “putting on a gloomy face” and “neglecting their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting” (Matthew 6:16). He said that people who behave in this way “have their reward in full.” In other words, such self-centered activity is a waste of time from God’s perspective. While the practice of fasting is assumed as one of our spiritual disciplines in many places in God’s Word, the reason we do not say a lot about it publicly is because it wouldn’t please God for us to do so.
There are certain times in the history of God’s people where they fasted together in a more public fashion. Interestingly, many of those occasions in the New Testament church involved times when the church family was considering a new ministry endeavor. That is what happened in Acts 13 at the beginning of the first missionary journey. Luke tells us; “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2-3). This was one of the most pivitol developments in the history of the early church, and the decision was made in the crucible of corporate fasting and prayer.
It is also amazing to notice that the first missionary journey ended in a very similar fashion. After men and women had been won to Christ and organized into baby churches, the Scripture records; “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).
Clearly God’s people believed early on that humbly seeking the Lord’s will was of central importance to their faith and practice. They wanted to be sure they selected the right people to serve on the first missionary team and that the leaders in these infant churches were the ones ordained by God for future ministry. Going without food for a period of time allowed the natural hunger pain to remind them that their true sustenance was their vibrant relationship with their God. They wanted to be like Jesus their Lord who once reported to His stunned disciples, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” As the disciples whispered among themselves to see who had brought the Master something to eat, Jesus went on to explain, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and accomplish the work.” Exactly.
Sometimes physical hunger helps you clearly identify the next step in God’s plan while simultaneously demonstrating your dependence on the Heavenly Father for divine enablement.
Three years ago our church family went through an extensive strategic planning process while resulted in our current five year plan. This document has served us well and many of the ministry initiatives are being greatly blessed.
However, one of our cornerstone initiatives seems to be stuck in a holding pattern. We believed that the Lord would be pleased if our church family purchased a piece of ground near the Purdue University campus and built a Student Ministry Center which included a place where biblical counseling services could be offered free of charge to students, faculty, and staff. Thus far we have looked at dozens of pieces of ground and actually had signed purchase agreements on two different sites. But for a variety of reasons, we have not been able to secure a place to build this facility and launch these new ministries.
So what do we do next? Our answer is, “the same thing the early church did before launching the first missionary journey.” Fast and pray together to be sure that we have identified God’s will for our future and demonstrate our joyful dependence on Him. This isn’t about changing God–it is about changing us. We’ll examine ourselves and confess known sins in the privacy of our prayer closets. We’ll thank God for His rich blessings to us in Christ. We’ll remember all the ways He has already blessed and used us. And we’ll offer ourselves and our resources in a fresh way and ask God to help us see His will clearly in the days ahead.
Some people look at Faith and wonder if there is some special planning structure or human ingenuity that has allowed us to get to where we are today. Anyone who wonders that is sorely mistaken. Our story is that God has taken a group of ordinary people who believe His Word and love His Son, and used us as we have sought to humbly depend on Him together. Sometimes it is good to remind ourselves and everyone around us that humble dependence on the God of Heaven is a wonderful place to be.
(This article was written in preparation for a church-wide fast on March 6, 2011.)