Worship during a fast is somehow different, isn't it? Although we may feel weak, tired and even a bit grumpy, there seems to be a kind of hunger for God in the room that's often missing when our stomachs are full. Last night, God's presence was palpable as we gathered to worship and pray. It's all about God's strength made perfect in our weakness.
We're looking each day at the reasons why God's people fasted in Scripture. One reason was for the sake of mission, and there is no better example of this than in the church at Antioch.
Acts 13:1-3 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Note that when these prophets and teachers first gathered to worship and fast it wasn't because they had a special mission trip. It's more likely that fasting was a regular means of grace for them. But it was during a time of fasting and worship that the Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Saul, directing the leaders of the church to commission them from the church. Barnabas and Saul got a new assignment during their fast. They walked into that prayer meeting as local church leaders and they walked out as men set apart for trans-local mission. You never know what new assignments God is going to hand out during a fast! Notice that after the Holy Spirit set them apart the church continued to fast and worship for a time before hands were actually laid on Paul and Barnabas and they were sent out. It appears that they decided to extend their a fast few days because of this moment! It's a great reminder to us that the Spirit's commission needs the Spirit's power, which is given during times like this, of prayer and fasting.
As a church we are on the cusp of some specific sending for mission too. Southlands Whittier is just over a week away from launching, and we want to pray specifically for the team that is going today and tonight. Please pray for boldness for them, for unity, for favor with neighbors and co-workers, for God-appointments with people who need Jesus. Pray for the leadership team too, and pray for God's protection and provision on every family that is going. We will also be praying for our brand new prison ministry team as they launch this week, as well as for the team that are preparing to go and plant in Thailand. All of these sending assignments need to be bathed in prayer. Apart from Christ we can do nothing!
In one sense, Paul and Barnabas's apostolic ministry was a specific and unique calling. They were going to be traveling to churches to strengthen and encourage them and set elders in place, as we see them doing in the next chapter. This is not an assignment that everyone gets. In another sense though, we have all been set apart by the Holy Spirit through Jesus' Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. When we fast we are all asking for fresh power, boldness, compassion and direction from the Holy Spirit before we are sent out again. Many of will not make a move geographically, but being set apart is a new reminder that we are not of the world but we are in the world, sent by Jesus as the Father sent Him. This is what God does for His people when they fast and pray. He fills us up and sends us out. Pray that the Holy Spirit would do this for all of us again today.