God’s Mission Requires Radical Prayer, Fasting

If your church is like mine, then you likely spent the past 25 years deconstructing the unhealthy elements of your faith. You slowly and painfully stripped away the toxic lies. A previous generation had taught a legalistic view of faith, and you needed to undo that. You finally realized that salvation was not dependent on church attendance, a cappella music, weekly communion, or (gasp!) getting every single skin particle and hair follicle beneath the watery grave of baptism. Jesus saves, not our works or rules. Hallelujah. Amen.

But something was lost along the way. A baby got thrown out with the bath water. People lost interest in church. With your deconstruction complete (or close to it), your church now struggles to populate its activities, classes and programs. Your church members apparently got the message that the bar for salvation is low. As a result, they don’t find your offerings compelling enough to sacrifice much of their time and energy for them.

Churches are asking too little of people. Simply hoping that people show up for a midweek gathering or a weekend coffeehouse is too shallow a commitment, and your church people know it. That’s why they struggle to make it a priority.

People want to make a difference in this world. Call it narcissism. Call it the Instagram effect. Call it the wisdom to know that your time is short. Doesn’t matter what you name it. It’s a reality. Most folks can sniff out irrelevance.

They don’t want to be like Eddie, the long-time employee of a hardware store. When Eddie retired, someone asked the owner if they were going to hire a replacement. The owner answered, “No, we’re not hiring. Eddie didn’t leave a vacancy.”

No one wants to be like Eddie, yet churches keep replicating models and methods that make people feel as useless as Eddie. Here’s something to consider. If your church and your church’s programs were to disappear tomorrow, what difference would it make in the lives of your members and your community? Would it leave a vacancy? Would anyone notice?

Along with a couple friends, I once helped lead a young man named Zdenek to Jesus. We spent a lot of time together over a period of several months. One of the best things that happened to him, though, was that we were separated for three years before I moved back near him.

In that interim period, Zdenek had to seek out Christian guides to disciple him. He ended up in a residential discipleship program that emphasized prayer, fasting and evangelism. I visited him there and instantly felt as though I had wandered into a world of committed Christians who were perhaps more sold-out for Jesus than I was. It was humbling.

A year or two later, Zdenek had married and felt the call to dedicate himself to ministry. He embarked on a 40-day fast (forty days!) during which his only nourishment was from fruit juices. I’ll never forget his visit to our apartment near the end of that journey. He looked emaciated and walked with great deliberation. Zdenek told us that he felt weak but that his mind and spirit had never been clearer. He was completely in love with Jesus and wanted to spend his life serving him. And he has continued to do so. I marvel at Zdenek.

Honestly, Zdenek should be thankful that we didn’t disciple him. The Lord led him to Christians who weren’t recovering from the pain of legalism but who were sold out to radical acts of discipleship like prayer and fasting.

What would you give to have a few people like Zdenek in your church? What if your church could finish the deconstruction of the past and could start with the construction of disciples? Not everyone wants to go all in for Jesus, but I’m convinced that many are longing for a deeper sense of commitment and belonging. Instead of giving them Wednesday night Bible studies or a snazzy lounge, how about teaching lifestyles committed to prayer, fasting and evangelism?

Almost every church I know wants to attract young adults like Zdenek. You’re likely fishing around for programs or styles that will cater to his demographic. And like most churches I know, you probably want easy answers that don’t require much more than money or cosmetic changes.

But here’s the reality. Joining God’s mission requires radical acts of discipleship such as prayer and fasting. I believe God’s mission will only break out in your church when you can return to the simple yet powerful practices of early churches as in Antioch: While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:2-3).

As one astute church person commented, “Your church is producing exactly the results it’s designed for.” Are you producing Eddies? Or are Zdeneks multiplying in your midst? Take an honest inventory.

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  1. Out of pure curiosity: When did it become “your” or “my” church? Not only that, but what gives you the right to decide what “your” church or “my” church needs to get rid of? Or get?

    I admit I read the bible regularly. And even out loud with a small group of people. But the one and only time I read about this “your” church and “my church,” as a sideline, at the most, is when people in Corinth get tied up with being a part of Peter’s church, or Paul’s church, or Apollos’ church. And that did not end well for those people, either!

    And when you look at it from the “your” church and “my” church point of view, you get into deep trouble.

    What His Church needs, are not necessarily fasters, but people who are aware of the lostness of those who are not in Him. What His church needs, are people who recognize the whiteness of the fields. What His church needs are people who are united in the same faith and doctrine.

    What His church does not need are “latest trenders.” Or “Bandwagon jumper-onners.” Not even “deconstructionists!”

    What His church needs are people who understand the power of the gospel we preach, rather than the followers of the latest pod-cast. What His church needs are people who reach out to those who need help, and care for those who need cared for.

    And yes, for each of the above I can show you where His Word tells us that…

    Some are so busy with “deconstructing” that we tend to forget what that word actually means: “analyze (a text or a linguistic or conceptual system) by deconstruction, typically in order to expose its hidden internal assumptions and contradictions and subvert its apparent significance or unity.
    reduce (something) to its constituent parts in order to reinterpret it.”

    The past few months I have spent a lot of time thinking, praying and considering the idea of Biblical unity. And in that time, I have gained a strong dislike for those who argue for “unity” rather than “uniformity. “Uniformity is when we all believe the same thing and practice the same thing. We are uniform in our beliefs and behaviors.

    From everything I have read throughout the Bible, that is what I learned. We believe and practice the same thing. When I read through John’s Gospel, looking at the relationship between Father and Son, that is what I see illustrated – “I and the Father are One…” When you see me, you have seen the Father…” “The words I speak, oare from the one who sent me…” “That they may be one, as you and I are one…”

    Unity, on the other hand, is a democracy where different opinions and thoughts and beliefs are cherished. Somehow, I do not here that when He said, “Father, not my will, but yours…” Somehow, I do not read that when I read about the one faith, the one hope, baptism, God and Father of all…

    But then, I guess I am too old and cranky to make sense in this world anymore… I have seen how missions have been slowly drying up, because we had to build bigger buildings, hire more professionals, spend more money on technology, more money on the ones already in the room.

    We tell those who do work in mission fields to tighten their belts, because it may be tough. Or you better move to where we get more “souls for our buck.” I pray that soon we will ‘judge’ local ministers the same way – how many people did YOU baptize this year? Or, more precisely, taught this year. Our professionals have to do the baptizing, after all…

    We are too busy finding ways to become more acceptable and like those around us. After all, they have mega churches, we should, too… And if we have to imitate tham to make that happen…