13:1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
Five men were leading the church in Antioch. These five men were no ordinary men. Ordinary men make their own plans and then ask God to bless those plans. These men were not like that. They saw God as their leader, not their assistant. They fasted. People who fast are either trying to prove their own "holiness" or are keenly aware they have none. These men are humble. They are doing everything they know to do. They are "ministering before the Lord" but at the same time fasting to seek Him more deeply to make sure they are in tune with what He wants.
When Jesus was here His critics came to Him one day and said "Why don't your disciples fast?" Jesus' response was quick and firm. "Why would they fast when I am with them? The time will come when I am not with them. Then they will fast."
Fasting has a purpose. It is a seeking after God. When Daniel couldn't understand the message God was trying to convey he fasted. Fasting is not a religious exercise to prove how "holy" we are. It is a literal act that symbolizes an emptying of ourselves to make room for Him.
Here is what's amazing about this insight into what the leadership were doing in Antioch. There was no crisis. They weren't fasting to solve a "riddle" like Daniel was. They weren't fasting to seek an answer to any specific needs or problems even though that would have been perfectly healthy and good. They were just fasting to ensure they were in tune with the will of God.
As a result God by His Spirit instructed them to send Barnabas and Saul off in a new direction. Imagine how painful those instructions must have been. It's not easy to leave when you love your church. It leaves a void in the Body and an ache in the heart. Notice that after the instruction came they continued to fast and pray to be certain the Word came from Him.
Then the Bible tells us they laid hands on them and sent them away. Last summer my church wrestled with the question of ordaining women. What they should have wrestled with was the approach we are taking to ordination in general. The laying on of hands is a theme that runs through the new testament. However there is a huge disconnect between why they did it and what we do. They laid hands on people when they were being given a specific task. We lay hands on people to give them a title. Theirs was for a function. Ours is for a position.
Truthfully these few verses make me sad. They underscore a huge disconnect in the Body of Christ today. We are self sufficient. We don't seek His leading, we do our own thing and seek His blessing and approval. Rarely do we speak of fasting because we feel no deep need of His leading. As a result we largely tread water, have little impact, and are so accustomed to it that we think it's normal.
"Father do whatever it takes to wake up your church and see our need of You as our leader."