A Hunger for God
May 15, 2005 | Andy Davis
A sermon presenting the biblical reasons for fasting and its role in the internal journey of Christians.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Well, as you've heard and have heard for a few weeks, today is the International Day of Fasting and Prayer for Worldwide Evangelization. And as I was preparing for this message, I was reading a number of quotes about the power of fasting in the history of the church. And I came across this one by Charles Spurgeon, and he said this, "Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle," that's at his local church, "have been high days indeed. Never has heaven's gate stood wider and never have our hearts been nearer the central glory." Isn't that marvelous? Isn't that an incredible testimony? And so, also from the churches in Korea, so far, in one denomination in particular, over 20,000 Korean Christians have set themselves apart to fast and pray for 40 days. 20,000 Korean Christians for 40 days. They go up to a specific prayer mountain, and there are these little huts, and they just go in there, and they fast, and they pray for 40 days. 20,000 Koreans have done it so far. And God has moved in an incredible way in the church in Korea for a hundred years. 1884, the first Protestant church was planted in Korea. In the hundred years that followed, 30,000 Christ-honoring churches were planted in Korea. That's about 300 a year. That's incredible, the power of God moving. Now, I cannot draw a direct connection between fasting and prayer and that kind of result. I find frequently when you see these accounts of fasting and prayer in the Bible, those that are humble and are just praying and seeking the Lord, say something like this, "Who knows? Perhaps the Lord will be gracious," etcetera. And I think that that's right. God doesn't owe us a thing. We're not twisting his arm behind his back. "We fasted, so you must give us such and such spiritual outcome." It doesn't work that way. But I want to know that kind of power in this church. Amen?
I want to see that kind of evangelistic fruitfulness in this church. I wanna see God do amazing things. I want us to live up to our potential. I want us to live up to our calling in Christ. And so, I've been looking forward to this day of fasting and prayer for a long time.
Now, I read a book, in preparation for this, by John Piper called A Hunger for God. And in it, he deals with the question of fasting, and he begins by saying, "Books on fasting are dangerous." And I was interested in that. I was interested, and I tried to understand the danger. And as I read, and as I thought, I started to see what the dangers were. In the famous epic by Homer, The Odyssey, the hero Ulysses is trying to make his way back from the Trojan War. And he gets in one misadventure after another, one dangerous problem after another, as he just tries to get his men home to their wives and to their families, just trying to come home, that's all. And that's what the story is about. Well, at one point, while navigating the narrow Strait of Messina, he and his men confront the twin perils of Scylla and Charybdis. Now, Scylla was this hideous she-monster with these heads and all that, that if the sailors got too close, they would... She would pluck them out and devour them. So you'd think, "We're gonna steer a wide course away from it." The problem is that at the other side of the Straits, there's Charybdis, which is this horrendous whirlpool that sucks ships down a hole to the bottom of the sea. And so, you've got an image of avoiding extremes, really. You can't to close to... Go too close to the one or to the other, you're gonna have problems. We have sayings like this, “Between the rock and the hard place,” or “Between the devil and the deep blue sea,” this kind of thing, where we have to find a way to navigate through some dangers.
Now, you might say, what are the dangers of fasting? Well, on the one side, you have the danger of self-righteousness. People who fast are especially tempted to this. Why? Because they want something for their effort, and they want you to know about what they're doing, and they wanna get something from God and all that. They wanna feel righteous about themselves because it's not easy to fast. And so, there's the danger of self-righteousness, people thinking they can earn favor with God or forgiveness for sins, or there's some standing of piety that you get in the eyes of others. That's the danger on one side, self-righteousness. But then there's the danger on the other side of this issue, and that is self-indulgence. On the other hand, people live for selfishness. They live for their earthly appetites. They feed themselves with more and more and more. There doesn't seem to be anything inside that's telling them to stop, and that is a great danger as well. And the result of that is a spiritual dullness and low energy that makes it impossible for us really to hear God speaking and act. So you have self-righteousness on the one side, and then you have self-indulgence on the other.
Now, as we look at the issue of fasting, we realize we Christians are not the only ones who fast. Frankly, pretty much every religion in the world has certain fastings involved, for example, Islam; you know the month of fasting of Ramadan. I've been told that more food is consumed that month than any of the other months, but they only fast during the daylight hours, and then at night they can eat, but that's a fast. The Buddhists, the monks in Tibet, they fast long, long periods of time fasting. The Hindus fast, Gandhi, as we'll talk about in a few minutes, used fasting for political purposes. Some people fast just for their health. Some people even carry it to extremes like anorexia. Some people in the Bible even fast for fanaticism's sake, in Acts 23, there's this interesting group of Pharisees, of Jews, fanatical Jews who hate Paul so much that they take a vow that they will not eat or drink anything until they've killed Paul. They've assassinated him. Now, either they got awful thin, or they gave up that vow; one or the other, but there's a vow to fast until they can assassinate the Lord's apostle. And so, fasting of itself isn't necessarily a good thing, but there are incredible benefits to us both in the internal journey of sanctification, growth, and holiness, and the external journey that the church is on of worldwide evangelization. And I wanna look at that with you this morning.
So let's look first at this issue of the internal journey of the heart. What do you desire? What do you want? What are you living for? What do you have a taste for? Fasting, if I can put it quite simply, keeps the body, physical body under orders and keeps the glory of God your primary focus and desire. That's what fasting does for you in the internal journey. Now, in order to give a warning against that one Scylla of self-righteousness, the danger of that, we need to have some Biblical guidelines. False teachers sometimes call people to fast, even extreme fast. In 1 Timothy 4, it says, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times, some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” Listen, "They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." Watch out for false teachers like that, who teach extreme asceticism as a way of getting close to God. God is, in the scriptures, I believe, jealous over your evangelical freedoms. He says in Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm then and don't be burdened again with the yoke of slavery." So if you ever have religious leaders that are standing over you and putting on you a yoke saying, "You must fast or God will not be pleased with you," that's that extreme form of self-righteousness that we must avoid. Along with that, as I've mentioned, is the problem of hypocrisy and pride. Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew Chapter 6. He said, "And when you fast... " By the way, not if you fast. "When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you're fasting, but only to your Father who's in heaven. And your Father who sees what is done in secret, he will reward you." The problem with the hypocrites is that they were disfiguring their faces to show men they were fasting. "Oh, I'm fasting today," and everyone just knew it. And what was their motive? That people would think well of them, that they would put them up on a spiritual pedestal. "I fast twice weekly," they'll say. And they're just way up there on that spiritual pedestal. You know what Jesus says about them? "I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." They're not getting anything from God on Judgment Day. Watch out for that kind of thing.
"Fasting, if I can put it quite simply, keeps the body, physical body under orders and keeps the glory of God your primary focus and desire."
There's another danger along with it is the strengthening of self-will, will power. "Look what I can do by my own will. I have mastery over myself. Look what I can do." That's the last thing that you want in a spiritual discipline, is a strengthening of will power. That's not what you want. What you want is that your will would be submitted to the yoke of the master, that he is in charge, that he is leading you, and therefore we fast because he leads us to do it, not because we can prove kind of mind over matter, that kind of thing. And we definitely don't wanna think, as I mentioned earlier, that we're in a position to make demands on God, that we can claim something on God if we fast. I think about, for example, Mahatma Gandhi, he didn't make a claim on God, but he did make a claim on his nation. Shortly after the partition of India, it was separated into an essentially Hindu country, India, and essentially two Buddhist... Sorry, Muslim countries, Pakistan and East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh, there was this partition and tremendous struggle between the Hindus and the Muslims, tremendous struggles between the two; warfare really almost, almost like a civil war. And Gandhi was so grieved over this that on January 13th, 1948, he proclaimed nationwide for himself, everyone would know, a fast to the death if the violence didn't stop. Well, at this point, he was seen to be almost like the father of the nation. Everybody revered him. Both sides revered him, and so they did not wanna see him die. And so, little by little, all of the rioting and the bloodshed stops and he's there lying on his bed dying, well, what he's done is, he's taken the nation and put its arm behind its back, say, "If you don't stop, I'm going to kill myself." But what I'm saying here is that we cannot go to God with our fast and say, “You owe us something because of what we're doing.” God doesn't owe us a thing. He never will. We cannot coerce God through fasting. He will not listen to that.
"We cannot go to God with our fast and say, “You owe us something because of what we're doing.” God doesn't owe us a thing. He never will. We cannot coerce God through fasting. He will not listen to that."
Now, as I look at Scylla and Charybdis, as I look at the danger of self-righteousness, which I've been describing up to this point in the message, and the danger of self-indulgence, I have to, as a pastor, discern which is the greater danger for us at this present time. Which is more likely to be the problem for an American Evangelical congregation? And it seems to me that the Lord has so abundantly blessed this country, abundantly blessed our farms, so that year after year, we have incredible harvest. Abundantly blessed our industries, so that year after year, we have amazing productivity. Abundantly blessed our businesses, so that year after year, we have incredible profits. Abundantly blessed our research labs, so that year after year, we have incredible discoveries and inventions and formulae. It seems to me that God has so lavishly blessed this country that the greater danger is self-indulgence here. And it's not just because of the blessings, but because of what I see, not just in this church, but in churches across America, the struggle that we have with learning to say "No" to ourselves and the blessings that God has given. The amazing thing is, and this is a kind of an irony, that one of the greatest enemies against the work of God are God's good gifts to us.
God gives us lavishly many things to enjoy, but they can become the very thing that hinders the most the work of God. Listen what it says in Mark 4:18-19, this is the familiar parable of the seed and the soils. But it says, "Still others, like seeds sown among the thorns, hear the Word, but the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful." Jesus lists some threats, an array of threats against the Word. "The worries of this life," he says. "The deceitfulness of wealth," he mentions and then, that dangerous vague catchall, "desires for other things." Now, what would that be? Well, anything other than the Word, anything other than the Kingdom of Heaven. Desires for other things. And therefore, I think some of God's greatest adversaries are his good gifts.
He says in Luke 14, another place, "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet, he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come for everything is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please, excuse me.' Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'" So there you have a field, you have a yoke of oxen, you have a new wife, all of them good gifts from God and all of them blocking this man so he can't follow Christ into the Kingdom of Heaven. Now you would say, "Well, that's just for evangelism, right? Those things can block you when you come to faith in Christ." Friends, it's all the way across the board. It blocks us all the time. God has given us many things richly to enjoy, but isn't the parable of the seed and the soils, the idea is that thorns come in and choke it out, making it unfruitful. Desires for other things come in, so we don't want the kingdom anymore? We want something else. We have to understand our time. We have to understand how surrounded we are by diversions. Is that a good word? Diversions. What is a diversion? It's something that diverts, right? Isn't that amazing. The brilliant insights you get week after week from the pulpit. A diversion is something that diverts you. Well, what are we being diverted from? Could it be we're being diverted from the work of the kingdom? Could it be that diversions come and branch us off so that we're not doing the work of the kingdom the way we should? Diversions. Those diversions are dangerous. And along with it, we have the problem of just worldliness. The fact is we have a hard time saying "No." You know, when you live a life of self-indulgence, you get fat, physically. I mean, we actually gain weight, and America has the world's biggest problem with weight, but we also get fat, spiritually. Our hearts get sluggish to the word of God. We tend to be low energy at that point. We can't respond, or we divert the word from saying what it really does because it might hit too close to home. And at that point, we're really not ready to do what Jesus said. "If you wanna follow me, you have to deny yourself daily and take up your cross and follow." And that's painful, and anyone who's tried it has found it to be painful. And so, it's a challenge to keep carrying the cross, and Jesus says, "Deny yourself daily." That's very, very difficult to do, but there are severe warnings against self-indulgence in the Bible, James 5:5 says, "You've lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourself in the day of slaughter." Oh, is that painful? "Fattened yourself in the day of slaughter." Or it says in Amos 6, "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria. You lie on beds inlaid with ivory, and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions. But do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore, you'll be among the first to go into exile. Your feasting and your lounging will end."
You know, in all of this, God's glory is at stake. I asked at the beginning, what do you have a taste for? What do you want? What are you hungry for today? What are you thirsty for? Are you hungry for God or something else? It says in Psalm 16:11, "You have made known to me the path of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." God is a God of pleasure. Don't let Satan sell you an idol on that one. Our God promises incredible pleasures at his right hand. What he doesn't want us is to be diverted by his created good gifts here on earth so that we stop loving him first and foremost, and that becomes a danger, as John Piper put it so beautifully, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." Friends, we will not be most satisfied in him if we're glutted on his good gifts. Instead we'll be satisfied with the good gifts and forget the Giver.
Now, in all of this, Christ is our example as was read for you earlier in Matthew 4, it says that, "Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, and after fasting 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry. The temper came to him and said, ‘If you're the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ And Jesus answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’" Now, isn't it fascinating that as Jesus begins the most important ministry in the history of humanity, as he begins the work of redemption after his time of identification with the human race through his baptism by John the Baptist, he is, it says in Mark, "driven out by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted for 40 days," showing a different kind of identification, an identification of him with us physically. He knows what it's like to be hungry. And he began this ministry in an amazing way with fasting, a 40-day fast, and in that 40-day fast, he prepared himself for the work. Listen to this, John Piper has this remarkable statement, "As he's preparing for great work," Piper speaking about Christ, he says, "It seems to me that this story should shake us. Here is Jesus standing on the threshold of the most important ministry in the history of the world, and on his obedience hangs the salvation of the world. None will escape damnation without this ministry of obedient suffering and death and resurrection. And God wills that, at the very outset, this ministry be threatened with destruction-namely the temptation of Satan to abandon the ministry- the path of lowliness and suffering and obedience. And of all the hundreds of things Jesus might have done to fight off this tremendous threat to salvation, he is led by the Spirit to fast." That's how he begins his warfare with the devil, by fasting. I think this should cause us to sit up and take notice, and so also the quote that he gave, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." he says, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Here he's identifying not just with the human race generally, but with Israel, particularly, in their 40 years of wandering through the desert. And there in Deuteronomy 8:2-3, God says, "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these 40 years to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." What is the lesson? Well, basically, out in the desert, they didn't eat if God didn't give the Word, and God gave the Word every day for manna. So God would give the Word, more manna, and down it would come and they'd eat. So in effect, they grew to look, not to the food, but to the mouth of God, and when God spoke, they ate. And if God didn't speak, they wouldn't eat. So also Jesus in the desert, "God the Father has not spoken yet that I eat and so I will not eat. And I will not eat until he speaks the word eat." And so you look beyond the gift of God up to the God who gives the command and say, "Lord, what is your will? Shall I eat now? And if you say, 'No,' I'll joyfully keep doing whatever it is you last commanded me to do. I live at your mouth, I live at your word, not on the bread." You learn just to be totally focused on the mouth of God. "Speak and I will move, speak and I will eat, speak and I will act, I will obey." That's what Jesus is modeling for us here, "I'll eat when God tells me and not before."
And so also we see the example of the Apostle Paul in holiness and mission in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, he gives us the image of an athlete. He said, "Don't you know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training." Strict training. "They do it to get a crown that will not last. We do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave, lest after I've preached to others, I myself may be disqualified for the prize." What is he talking about there? Isn't he saved yet? Doesn't he know the grace of Christ at the cross is available? Of course, he preaches that all the time. He said, "Lest after preaching to others I'll be disqualified." What is he talking about? Self-discipline for the purpose of ministry, self-discipline for the purpose of holiness, brothers and sisters, self-discipline, so that we can get everything done that God wants us to do as a congregation. That's the holiness that the Apostle Paul is modeling for us. Not talking about wearing hair shirts. He's talking about keeping the flesh under, keeping it in subjection so that it's not the master. Oh, how it wants ascendancy, doesn't it? Doesn't the flesh wanna take over? Doesn't it wanna just run your day? Your appetites, they just wanna take over. Shall we deny that they're good? No. God said they were, but we must keep them under, and that is why for the sake of the internal journey, we must fast and exercise discipline.
And so we fast to guard against allowing our flesh to seize control of our lives. We fast so that we can empty ourselves of God's good gifts for a season, to open ourselves to him, himself, and to his Word. We fast like Jesus did to prepare ourselves for the great work in the ministry God has given us to do, but we do not fast to become more righteous before God, and we do not fast because God will think better of us, and we do not fast, so that he will give us something which otherwise he would not have given us as though somehow we're coercing him. Our righteousness doesn't increase at all through fasting. Internal journey, that's why we fast.
What about the external journey? Well, if you look at Acts 13, it's a remarkable thing, this church at Antioch. I believe the purpose of fasting for the external journey, and I've never known this as much in my life as I do now, and I'll probably know it even more 10 years from now, if the Lord allows me to continue as a pastor. The fact of the matter is: the Bible does not give us exhaustive commands that cover every good work we can do. There are many things, decisions we have to reach in the Christian life that the Bible doesn't directly tell us what to do. John Piper put it this way, "Most of the questions we need to answer in the planning of the life and mission of the local church, the Bible does not answer directly. It is a spiritual thing therefore, to discern which of all of the 10,000 possible good works our church could do, which ones he's calling us to do." That's not easy to do. Think where we are, folks. We're here in Durham. We're in a downtown church. We're surrounded by problems, surrounded by issues related to inner-city, surrounded by poverty, surrounded by single parents, surrounded by educational problems, surrounded by gang-related violence, surrounded by drugs. Last week, there was a radical group here protesting a pro-homosexual play in one of our schools. Where were we? Why didn't we make a godly protest rather than the ungodly protest this group made? Where is our voice? Where is our impact, our salt and light in this community? Why do so few people from the community actually worship in this church? And that's the question we have to ask. What are we called to do? What direction do we call the move? Folks, we can do it all. We can. About 350 of you come here approximately every week to worship. We cannot do 10,000 ministries. Doesn't that make sense? Aren't you relieved? You'd like to do the ministry you're called to do, right? You're not called to do 10,000 ministries. Alright? Which ones then?
Acts 13, "In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had brought up with Herod the Tetrarch and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said... " Now, isn't that marvelous? "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said... " Does he do that? Yes, he does. Does the Spirit speak? Yes, he does. Does he say this kind of thing, "Set apart for me, Barnabas and Saul, for the work to which I have called them." Yes, he does. Does he still do that? Yes, he does. What did the church in Antioch do in order to hear him? They fasted and they worshipped, and they prayed. And so in Verse 3, so "after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." Some quick observations first, this fasting was after Christ's coming. Some Christians say fasting is an Old Covenant thing; we don't need to do it anymore. They point out that Christ never commanded us anywhere to fast. Well, the church in Antioch didn't buy that. They were fasting. That's after Pentecost. That's well into the New Testament era. They were fasting. Second observation, the fasting was a corporate fast. Now, I know that the Lord says in Matthew, we're supposed to wash our face and put oil on, and don't put oil on 'cause then that's a sure give away that you're fasting. Nobody does that anymore. But what Jesus is saying is, "It can't be obvious to anybody that you're fasting." You don't know whether I'm fasting today or not, and I'm not gonna tell you, okay, but I do think a corporate fast is a good thing. It's a good thing for a church to come together and to agree to abstain from food for a time so that we can pray together and hear the Spirit's voice. It's a good thing to do. It's a corporate fast.
Third, this fasting was an occasion for the Spirit's special guidance. The church in Antioch, Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Do you think they didn't have 10,000 ministry directions they could go? Yes, they did. It was a crossroads. There are people from all over the place there. What was the Lord calling them to do? Alright, how about a missionary journey? Fine, who should go? There are five leaders here. Should any of them go or somebody else? How many of them one, two, all five, which ones? There was lots of ways to go. This fasting was an occasion for the Spirit to give direct guidance so that that church would know what to do, and this fast changed the course of history. It was influential. Think about what happened after Paul and Barnabas went out. Think about the change. I'm not saying there wasn't missionary work going on before this moment, of course there was, from the moment of Pentecost on, of course. But there is something significant about Acts 13. It was a fork in the road. And as they got to Cyprus, and they travelled through Asia Minor on the first missionary journey, then later Paul and Silas on the second and the third missionary journey, heading westward, going toward Europe, you know what you get out of that? You get the expansion of the church into Gentile regions. You get the westward move of the church, and in the ministry of the apostle Paul, you get such things as the book of Romans, the book of Corinthians, and Galatians and Ephesians and Philippians and Colossians and Thessalonians, and all of that, the epistles of Paul came. I'm tracing it all back to the fast? No, but this was a fork in the road, wasn't it? It was a moment in which the Holy Spirit spoke to that local church and told them what to do. And so also again and again fasting has changed the course of history. I'd like it to change our course.
I'd like God to speak to us today. I'd like him to speak to me today. I'd like him to speak to all of us today. What is happening in our church? If Christ were to speak to our church the way He spoke to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, the letter to the church at Durham, "These are the words of him whose eyes are pure and fire coming out of them and whose feet are like burnished bronze," what would he say? What would he say is being done well by this church, and what would he say is an area of deficiency? In which ways have we obeyed him and in which ways have we disobeyed him? What would he say? Well, I think, as we were talking in the staff together, ministerial staff said, what would he say? And they said, “Well, this is a church, it seems that loves the word of God, loves to hear it taught and preached, loves to hear it accurately divided... Rightly divided. This church also has a God-centered vision for church life and ministry.” There are lots of godly people who have been incredible role models to me and who continued to be so who are doing amazing ministries here in this church, many. There is a love for and an escalating interest in overseas missions, both career missionaries that come through our number and go out and get set up and consider this their home church, and short-term missions that are burgeoning as you've seen. There's one going on right now, as you heard earlier. There is an occasional periodic sacrificial giving financially for missions, especially in December. That's a good month for sacrificial giving in missions. There's a yearning among many in this church for God-centered worship and a delight in it. There's a willingness, I think, also to face hard doctrinal issues and not run from them. Not one of you has come up and said a negative word to me about Romans 9 preaching, I tell you, that would not have been the case four or five years ago. You folks are willing to face hard things in the Bible and learn. Whether you agree with everything or not, you're not shying from it, but you're reading, learning and studying, and that's a good thing. There is some good outreach in the neighborhoods of Durham, like the Health Fair and other things. There is some outreach that goes on, and I think it honors God. There's an essential unity around the Word in this church, and that's not to be taken for granted. It's rather a great delight. There is some fruitful outreach and ministry to internationals going on and to college students. There are many other ministries as well. Please don't come to me and say, "Why didn't you mention mine indirectly?" Okay? So I'm saying many other fruitful ministries as well, you're in there. We covered on that? Okay.
But there are some areas of concern. Sometimes I worry that we love to hear God's Word more than to do it, and good teaching goes bad if you don't apply it. There is, in my opinion, not enough or little evangelical fruit. I'd like to see lots and lots of people baptized. It doesn't matter whether I'm doing the baptism or not, I just like to see it happen. I'd like to see it coming because you folks are being faithful to witness in the workplace, in your neighborhoods, and with your relatives and friends, paying the price to lead others to Christ. I'd like to see more of that. Our corporate prayer meetings are relatively poorly attended. We have them every week, and we also have them quarterly, quarterly better attended than the weekly ones, but still relatively poorly attended. We have a strange and inconsistent pattern of giving financially. We are incredibly generous at the end of the year and usually make our budget, and we have given incredibly, lavishly generously recently to Lottie Moon and some other things, but then we immediately in January get behind the eight ball and stay there most of the year, financially behind, $50,000, in our budget.
We struggle to maintain good community with each other. That's why we're moving toward at least trying in the fall a small group ministry so that we can get to know each other better and have a stronger community. Some of that's just the issue of how far a lot of you drive, and I think that's an incredible thing. We don't seem to make much of an impact on the city of Durham itself, as I mentioned. And I will say this with tenderness and love, not everyone that comes here regularly has a sacrificial spirit gift ministry here in this church. Not everyone does. And you just have to ask yourself, in the last month or two months or five months, "How many hours have I given to serve the people of this church and the work of the Lord here along the lines of a spiritual gift ministry?" Just ask it. Ask yourself that question.
I think we're at a crossroads as a church, I feel that for myself as a pastor. Good teaching must lead to good living, or it's going to go bad. If we don't step up to another level of passionate engagement in ministry, I think the church is going to go bad. But you know what, I think we will. I have that confidence. I think that's exactly what God's saying to this church. "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." What's he saying to you? What's he saying to you about your life? Now, you may not... I'm gonna end this message in about a minute or two, and then we're gonna close the service, and I'm gonna invite as many of you as you feel called to go down to Morgan Hall to join us in praying for an hour. So if you feel led to come, I want you to come. But even if you can't come, if you feel God leading you to be in another place, a different place, I wouldn't... I'm not gonna judge you for that. That's legalism. I'm not gonna say, I'm just gonna say, whatever you do with the prayer time right after the church, look at your life and say, "What is God calling you to do with fasting and prayer? What is he calling you to do? What is he saying to you?" Are you sailing more toward ascetic self-righteousness and tempted to be righteous because of the sheer discipline, spiritually of your life, or is there the opposite problem, more of self-indulgence and a sluggishness, that's come over you? Which of the two is a greater danger? Ask the Lord to show you. Let him work in your heart.
"I think we're at a crossroads as a church, I feel that for myself as a pastor. Good teaching must lead to good living, or it's going to go bad. If we don't step up to another level of passionate engagement in ministry, I think the church is going to go bad."
Let me speak one final word. Let me bring you right to the cross. Whatever you do with asceticism, with fasting, with prayer, it's not gonna save your soul. There's only one thing that can wash away our sin, and that's the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. That's our central hope. I praise God that I am not saved by my piety. I would not be saved. I praise God for that. I'm saved by Christ's righteousness alone. If you're listening to me today, and you're not a Christian, it's not fasting you need. It's faith in Christ. Come and talk to me after the service is over. If you don't know Christ as your Lord and Savior, there's nothing more important for you to do than to believe in Jesus and trust in him. And some of you need to come back to the cross to begin with, and say, Lord, "I've not been living for you. I've not been denying myself daily and taking up my cross and following you." Please close with me in prayer.