A STORY OF HOW PRAYER AND FASTING IS TURNING ONE CHURCH AND COMMUNITY RIGHT SIDE UP

There are moments in your life that change everything. One of those moments came for our family during a trip to Kenya.

In February 2016, Sydney and I began a friendship with a couple named Muriithi and Carol Wanjau and their three amazing children. I could fill an entire book with stories about this incredible family, but for the sake of time and space, I’ll share just one. The Wanjaus have been positioned by God in Nairobi, Kenya, and they lead one of the most amazing networks of churches we have ever seen. Our friendship with this family began that year when we spent several weeks with them and many of their global leaders who had gathered in Nairobi for a time of training and fellowship.

Sydney and I were blown away by what we saw during our time there with our Kenyan brothers and sisters. Their love for God, their passion for reaching the lost, and their commitment to living holy, counter-cultural lives were just a few of the things that blessed our hearts and challenged our thinking in ways we never expected. To top it off, the prayer life of our Kenyan brothers and sisters impacted me in a profound way.

One day, as Sydney and I were riding to the store with Carol, we were picking her brain about the spiritual vibrancy of their church network. We wanted to know why the Christians in their circle seemed to be so alive for Jesus. She was quick to remind us that there are no “silver bullets” when it comes to spiritual development, but she went on to share an important spiritual rhythm that has transformed their churches and community for the better. I will never forget what she said:

“Dave and Sydney, much of what you see here is the simple result of prayer and fasting. We consistently practice the communal act of self-denial [fasting] so we will have the strength and clarity that is needed to live faithfully for Jesus in a culture that is obsessed with self-gratification.”

That moment in the car with Carol is when many of the puzzle pieces began to click in our hearts. Little did we know that our family had arrived in Kenya on the last day of a month-long fast that the Wanjaus and their churches lean into every January. In fact, they spend nearly three months out of every year devoted to the Lord in prayer and fasting. Young and old, male and female, rich and poor, children and adults—all who are willing and able—commit themselves to a full-throttled pursuit of God above everything else through prayer and fasting.

The result of that devotion is inspiring to say the least.

I remember leaving Kenya thinking to myself, If that is the kind of faith that prayer and fasting can help produce, then why have I given such little attention to this particular dimension of life with God?

I’m convinced there are times when God will use someone else’s life to ignite something wonderful and new inside us. Like a match in the hand of God, their life becomes the spark for igniting a new season of wonder and growth deep within us. I often thank God for our friends in Kenya and the way he used them to ignite a hunger for prayer and fasting in our family and church.

As I look back over the scope of Christian history, I realize that what we saw in Kenya was not an exception to the rule.

In fact, more often than not, it is the rule.

You would be hard-pressed to find any significant movement of God across human history that was not first preceded by a group of faithful men and women committed to the Lord in prayer and fasting.

I’m convinced that the future revival for which we were created is something we cannot acquire through strategic planning, relevant programs, or clever preaching alone. No, the revival we long for can only be acquired through sacrificial praying.

And not just the casual, half-hearted “pray when it’s convenient” praying to which so many of us have grown accustomed.

This kind of future is only realized when the people of God become so collectively homesick for the kingdom of Heaven that we exchange our time, our comforts, our lives, and even our eating habits for more time in the presence of God.

That is why fasting is so important.

Our family came back from our time in Kenya with a deep longing to see our church become a church committed to Jesus through prayer and fasting. In our zeal, we made lots of mistakes as we sought to help our church family connect with God this way. But God is gracious, and what once felt like an impossible longing is slowly but surely becoming our present reality.

Currently, our church family tithes our year in prayer and fasting. In other words, we give at least ten percent of each year to a communal pursuit of God through prayer and fasting. As we mentioned earlier, this is by no means a “spiritual silver bullet,” but we have seen God do more in the last few years than we could have ever asked or imagined. And not just in our church, but in churches all across the city and far beyond.

Earlier this year, more than 400 churches across our city joined with us for 30 days of prayer and fasting, as together we prayed for every person in our city by name. It was truly remarkable, and we are convinced that God is just getting started!

We are convinced that nothing will stir up a deeper hunger for God quite like an extended season of prayer and fasting. You don’t have to travel to Kenya or even Nashville to get a glimpse of this life changing reality. Simply fix your eyes on Jesus, and the incredible witness of Christian history, and then take your next step. Start small and stick with it. We are convinced you will be blown away by all that God will do in you and through you for his glory, your joy, and the good of those around you!

To learn more about our story, and to discover practical ways you can help your church create a culture of prayer and fasting, check out our book Revival Starts Here.

Outward. Mobile. Centered.

In the fall of 2007, the Lord began to do a fresh work in my family’s heart. My wife and I had been married for just a couple of years. We both loved our jobs, our church, and the community of people that God had raised up around us. Our first little house was constantly full of friends and family. We hosted Bible studies, cookouts, game nights, and frequent out of town visitors. In those early years, our home was a revolving door of friends and strangers (soon to be friends) alike. It was a fantastic season of life.

As we reflect back on that season, we feel nothing but a deep sense of gratitude for all that God was doing.

It  was in the midst of that season that God began to give birth to a new dream. We sensed God was inviting us to help begin a new expression of His Church through that community that seemed to be accidentally forming all around us.

So in the fall of 2008, along with a handful of close friends and family we started Ethos Church.

The last five and half years have been exciting, exhausting, satisfying, and joy filled. We have celebrated success and picked ourselves up after failing. We have seen many come to Christ, relationships healed, the poor served, and many missionaries commissioned both locally and globally. It has been an amazing adventure, and only God can take credit for what He has done.

There are countless stories and decisions that have shaped our church’s culture over the last 5 years, but for the sake of brevity, I want to share 3 choices that continue to shape us deeply.

ONE : WE WILL BE OUTWARD.

First, we have decided that if our church was in the shipping business, we would be in the business of exporting not importing. In other words, our primary goal is to export our people for the good of our city not merely import the people of our city for the good of our church. As I look at the scriptures, the marching orders of Jesus to his followers seems to be quite clear — “we go to them.” Jesus has not called us to build a great church. That is his job. Jesus has called us to reach a city.

This understanding of Christ and His mission has shaped virtually every aspect of how our church family functions. It shapes the way we gather on Sundays, spend our money, organize our time, and hire our staff. When it came time to find the spaces in which our multiple campuses and services would gather each Sunday—our goal was simple. We wanted just enough space to gather our people around God on Sunday for the purpose of then deploying them into the city for mission. We wholeheartedly believe that when Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives, the arrows of our church’s heart will always face outward.

TWO : WE WILL BE MOBILE.
Second, we have decided that in order for our church to be effective in sharing the gospel, we must fight hard to stay mobile. In a culture that is rapidly changing, to be anything but mobile is nothing short of a death sentence. Although our church is quite large, we have intentionally chosen to operate in a way that is simple and small. If our church were a boat floating down a river, we want to be more like a pack of tugboats traveling together than a giant barge. Although a giant barge can carry more freight, it is far too cumbersome to turn or maneuver. A tugboat is quick and responsive, and more importantly it is strong enough to pull something much larger than itself into port.

This imagery has helped us continually find ways to keep a unified mission while constantly decentralizing ministry. After 5 years of ministry, we still have a week to week lease on the buildings we gather in for worship. This might sound crazy, but we find it liberating. We use a small staff to mobilize and release hundreds of volunteer leaders. If our volunteer leaders can’t drive the ministry, we aren’t ready to start it. These leaders pastor house churches, care for people, visit the sick, preach weddings and funerals, lead ministry opportunities locally and globally, and so much more. We’ve discovered that a lot of people carrying a little bit of weight, can carry much more than a few people trying to carry the whole load. This mobility has been essential as we continually try to reach a changing culture with an unchanging Gospel.

THREE : WE WILL BE CENTERED.

Finally, above all else, we strive to be centered on the person, presence, and promises of Jesus Christ. We firmly believe that every trend, fad, and methodology will pass. We know that even our tiny expression of the local church will eventually close its doors, but the name of Jesus will never fade. His church will never be stopped. His kingdom will never be slowed.

So for us, every choice we make revolves around keeping Jesus at the center of our church and our lives. We preach Jesus boldly. We listen for his voice with expectancy. We invite people to Jesus unashamedly.

We believe our mission as followers of Christ begins with the finished work of Jesus. He has paved the way. He has paid the price. He is present with us. He will teach, guide, correct, encourage, rebuke, and protect. He will draw men and women to himself. He is our great shepherd, and our deepest source of joy and comfort. When Christ is at the center, everything else will be quite alright.

Dave Clayton loves God, his wife Sydney, and his two boys Micah & Jack. In the late fall of 2008, Dave & Sydney, along with a small group of friends, planted Ethos Church in the heart of downtown Nashville. Ethos Church is a young, urban church passionate about reaching the lost, serving the poor, and planting churches all over the world. Ethos Church currently meets in a variety of locations and has congregations in Nashville, TN and Eastern India. Dave is passionate about helping a new generation of men and women love God, love people, and awaken the movement that Jesus began.