Worship, Fasting and Prayer
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I go to Sunday services?”
You might have asked that exact question, or more likely, you have attended a service and thought (or verbalized), “I got nothing out of that service”. While those sentiments could be indicative of a problem with the church, they might also be an indicator of a common misconception we have about church and why we attend services.
We are consumers, aren’t we? And we attach ourselves to a church often because of the way it meets our needs, right?
- Do they have programs for my kids?
- Are there other kids there?
- What kind of music do they have?
- Is the message coherent or does the pastor just babble on?
- What time or how many services do they have?
- How do they dress?
- What version of the Bible do they use?
- Are there people there like me?
I have a feeling if I opened the floor, you all could help me expand on that list! Some of you have the ominous task every few years of finding a new church family. I do not envy that.
While those might be things that we look for in a church, what do we go to service expecting?
- To be fed
- To be ministered to by the music
- To connect with other people
The church in Antioch was a young church. It was a young, multi-ethnic church that was made up of Jews and Gentiles. This young church was established in a city that was full of entertainment, the arts, culture, sports and even temples to other gods. They were in a center of learning as well. So what did they expect when they got together as a church?
Acts 13:1–3 (CSB)
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As 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.” Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.
Chapter eleven was about the church in Antioch. Chapter twelve was a flashback to Jerusalem and the Passover celebration. Chapter thirteen flips back over to Antioch.
These three verses may seem pretty insignificant in the scope of the book of Acts, but they are not! They are carefully placed here by Luke to show us what this young church was committed to and why God used this church as a launching pad for the mission to the Gentile world.
In The Church
Every church has its leaders, whether they carry an official title or not, right? In the church there were prophets and teachers. These are two of the big list of gifts for the church.
Ephesians 4:11–12 (CSB)
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,
Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teacher to the church to help equip the church. We often joke by saying that David and I are God’s gift to you… with no gift receipt! However, God has given a gift to each of us for the building up of the church.
1 Corinthians 12:27–28 (CSB)
Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, leading, various kinds of tongues.
We do not read about these other gifts, such as healing or evangelism, in Antioch. Perhaps they were there and not mentioned? Or, perhaps they were not there. When we read that gifts are given to “the body of Christ” we need to understand that to be the universal church. Not every local expression of the church will have all of the gifts in their assembly.
This church in Antioch has at least prophets and teachers. I am pretty sure Saul an Barnabas qualify as a teachers since Barnabas went to get Saul and the two of them taught the church for about a year (Acts 11:26). In Acts 11:28 we read about a prophet that came down from Jerusalem named Agabus. He is not named in the “famous five” of Acts 13, but we know there were other prophets there as well.
Let’s look at this list. There is a list of prophets and teachers. Who are these people?
Acts 13:1 (CSB)
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Barnabas (son of encouragement) we talked about a few weeks ago. He was a disciple of Jesus that was instrumental in affirming Saul to the church in Jerusalem, and in affirming the multi-ethnic church that formed in Antioch. Greek speaking Jew from Cyprus.
Simeon might have been of African origin as his Latin name “Niger” (Νίγερ) suggests, a term that means “dark-complexioned” or “black.”
Lucius came from Cyrene in North Africa.
Manaen grew up or was raised with the son of the Herod who ruled in Galilee during the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus. MOST of the Jesus miracles took place in Galilee. His perspective on Jesus must have been fascinating!
Saul was a Jew who grow up away from Jerusalem in Tarsus. Remember, Barnabas retrieved Saul from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch to help teach the believers.
So we have MOSTLY (if not all) JEWS from all over: Cyrene, Cyprus, Tarsus, Galilee and possibly another part of Africa. What a mix! And they are prophets and teachers: in other words, they were declaring the message of God and also teaching the scriptures.
This diverse groups of believers that came from different geographies, with different experiences, perhaps different skin colors, and different gifting from God (prophet/teacher) were all TOGETHER. ⭐
There is a unity that is possible in the body of Christ that transcends physical, social and political bounds. When the people of God meet together for the purpose of God there can be unity.
But what were they doing together? That is what I want to us spend our time on today.
THEY were worshiping:
Acts 13:2 (CSB)
2 As 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.”
The word “they” could mean the “famous five” but most likely means the original subject of the passage which is the church. THEY were worshipping.
This is a beautiful reminder that the church is people and not buildings. You don’t go to church, you ARE the church. There is no reference in this passage to a building, or where they met. The church was together.
The word “church” literally means, “an assembly”. It was a gathering of Jesus followers. This building could burn to the ground and we would still have a church. This is the reason the church “continued to grow” - which did not mean it had a great building program, but that the people of God kept taking the message of reconciliation to other people who then responded in faith. The church added to their number THOSE who were being saved - people.
They were WORSHIPING:
How many of you have the word “worshiping” in verse 2? Does anyone have a different word there?
The YLT, NKJV, and NASB all have the word “ministering” instead.
The Greek word is λειτουργέω [li·toorg·eh·o/] It is only used in 3 places. Here, and in:
Romans 15:27 (CSB)
27 Yes, they were pleased, and indeed are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minister to them in material needs.
In this passage, the word is translated, “minister”. In the context of the verse, the church was giving of its resources to meet the physical, material needs of others.
Hebrews 10:11 (CSB)
11 Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins.
And in this passage, the word is translated as “ministering”. With the reference to the priests we have the idea of performing a religious duty for the benefit of others.
The ROOT of this Greek word is translated as “servant”. I am not sure it is natural for us to take the words serve, minister and worship and use them so interchangeably. If this word derives it’s meaning from service, and is translated as “minister” in the two other places it appears, WHY did most translators choose to substitute the word “worship” in Acts 13?
In most many churches, “worship” has become identified as music. They might refer to the music team and the “worship team” or “worship band”. Congregants will often talk about how good the worship was that Sunday, etc. In the GK there is a totally different word for music and another one for songs. Neither of which are related to our word in Acts 13. Music is certainly an aspect of worship, but worship is much bigger than just music.
In other churches, “worship” has a bit broader definition - they might talk about the “worship service”. They encompass all of the elements of the corporate gathering as part of worship. Truly, corporate gatherings of the church can be worship, and this is a fuller understanding of worship than the former. However, worship is still much richer than that.
When worship is defined as music, worship is associated with feeling or emotion and how the music affected us. In the second definition, worship is a passive act where we gather primarily to receive something from the time together.
Both of these definitions focus on worship as something we receive.
Acts 13:2 (CSB)
As 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.”
The word that we have in Acts 13:2 is more about what we GIVE than what we RECEIVE. That is how our translators viewed worship as well. They did not see a conflict between “ministering,” “serving,” and “worshipping”
A more wholistic view of worship must consider not just how I feel, nor what I receive, but more importantly, what I give and how I serve. In Acts 13:2 they were “ministering to the Lord” or they were serving the Lord. It might have included singing, it could have included praise and thanksgiving, it certainly included prayer and fasting. All of these are ways we server the Lord. It also would have included them using their gifts of teaching and prophesying. It might have included the breaking of bread together as the church did in Acts 2:42
Acts 2:42 (CSB)
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
Worship is not something that is for our benefit, but for God’s glory. I once heard a pastor say that “worship” is to declare the “worth-ship” of God.
In worship human beings recognize God for his attributes and express this through adoration, praise, thanksgiving, service, and living holy lives. Worship constitutes the primary calling of humans.
Worship is about recognizing God. It has very little to do with us, or any other human.
We have come on contact with the word “worship” in the book of Acts before. Recently, too! When Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius, the Roman bowed to the ground and worshipped him:
Acts 10:25–26 (CSB)
When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up and said, “Stand up. I myself am also a man.”
Our worship must not be of men or women (making them idols) nor should worship be measured by what we receive from others or from a corporate service. Worship is what we bring to the feet of Jesus; what we give to him. Saul will later go on to pen these words to the church meeting in Rome:
Romans 12:1–2 (CSB)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Worship is about giving to God. It is giving, not getting. It is about living life FOR God, not getting something from God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 (CSB)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
The church in Antioch was worshipping the Lord, they were ministering/serving the Lord.
How would you define your worship?
They were FASTING
The second thing we notice is that the church was fasting.
In the US, fasting is seen as a dietary benefit, not a spiritual one. You can download apps that help you track your fasting and time in ways to get the most weight loss and other benefits. While there may be physical benefits for some people, that is not why the disciples would have fasted.
While it might be tempting to want to create some super deep spiritual significance of fasting, it is quite basic: it is giving up food (and sometime water) to seek God. This could be done as an expression of remorse for wrongdoing, as an expression of mourning for a loss, or as a spiritual discipline meant to help one focus on spiritual matters.
It could be that we seek God during a time of grief, such as David did. After his sin with Bathsheba was revealed by Nathan the prophet, we read:
2 Samuel 12:13–16 (CSB)
David responded to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Then Nathan replied to David, “And the Lord has taken away your sin; you will not die. 14 However, because you treated the Lord with such contempt in this matter, the son born to you will die.” 15 Then Nathan went home. The Lord struck the baby that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became deathly ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the boy. He fasted, went home, and spent the night lying on the ground.
Eventually, the baby does die, and David :
2 Samuel 12:20–23 (CSB)
Then David got up from the ground. He washed, anointed himself, changed his clothes, went to the Lord’s house, and worshiped. Then he went home and requested something to eat. So they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, “Why have you done this? While the baby was alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you got up and ate food.” He answered, “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let him live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me.”
Fasting in this case was about giving up eating while petitioning God. This might be during times of remorse or repentance. Notice that David does not say that God has to honor his request because he fasted. It is not a magical formula that God has to show favor to us because we fast, but it demonstrates us relying upon God. In a way it symbolizes surrender of our will and needs to God for him to accomplish his will.
Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. It was not in remorse for any sin that he committed, was it? Of course not. In his case it was to seek the Father and show his dependence upon God and submission to his will.
After fasting for 40 days in the wilderness, the Accuser tempted Jesus with food. His response was:
Luke 4:4 (CSB)
But Jesus answered him, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone.”
Fasting is about being willing to be obedient and surrendered to God. To demonstrate physically that you are depending upon God for your future, your needs, your daily bread.
Fasting is not for others to see, but between you and God.
Matthew 6:16–18 (CSB)
“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Not that God MUST reward you. Fasting is about seeking God and relying on God, for God’s glory and his purpose, not for our own gain.
How might you display your dependence upon God?
Fasting may be done while seeking direction or guidance from God. That seems to be the purpose for the fasting of the church in Antioch - seeking direction from God. And God gave them direction!
AS THE CHURCH WAS WORSHIPING and FASTING - The Holy Spirit spoke to them. In their case, they got direction -> Barnabas and Saul are to be used for something for God.
Acts 13:2 (CSB)
As 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.”
Have you ever read a passage like that and thought, “HOW did the HS speak to them?” Was it an SMS message?
We actually have a clue in our passage. WHY would Luke mention there were prophets in the church? Because prophets are the mouthpiece of God! I believe the implication is that God spoke through one of the believers who had the gift of prophecy.
When the church head this message, what was their response? They fasted some more. And then they Prayed.
They were PRAYING
Prayer is a conversation with God. It is us talking to him. Did you know that we are commanded to pray? Every one of us!
How many of you struggle memorizing Bible verses?
I have one for you that I think EVERYONE can memorize:
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)
Never stop praying.
I love the NLT version of that! Never Stop Praying! If you can talk, you can pray! If you can text you can pray! As a matter of fact, if some of us prayed as much as we talk or text, the world would be on fire for Jesus! 🤣
HONEST CONFESSION: this is a hard verse for me! I am a workaholic, and I my mind is always thinking of what needs to be done. It is hard for me to “be still and know that He is God”. It is a challenge for me to be in constant prayer. That does not mean I have a good excuse, it means I need some work!
I think some people are afraid to pray because they DO understand that they are talking to God, and they don’t want to mess up! GREAT NEWS - YOU CAN’T MESS IT UP! Check out this verse:
Romans 8:26 (NLT)
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.
Our messed up prayers go through an interpreter that knows the heart of God and adjusts them. The Holy Spirit can fix even our most messed up prayers.
Prayer is SO important that Jesus even taught his disciples how to pray, right?
Matthew 6:5–8 (CSB)
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.
When you pray.. pray TO your Father. ... and what should we pray about or for?
Luke 11:2–4 (NLT)
Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. 3 Give us each day the food we need, 4 and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.”
Dependence, oObedience, Submission.
Help us honor you, God! (worship). Help us depend upon you, God! Forgive our sins, God! Help us stand and not fall, God!
ASK: How would you describe your prayer life?
Are you noticing the trend?
- We direct our worship/service towards God
- We fast to show our dependence upon God
- We pray and talk with God
There is a direction that these things are focused - and it is towards God, not towards us! Worship, fasting and praying are things that are meant to come FROM us and go TO God.
As we wrap up this appraisal of the church in Antioch, we can see that they met together to honor God.
- They worshiped -> They were SURRENDERED to God
- They fasted -> They were RELYING on God
- They prayed -> They were TALKING with God
Jesus's lesson on prayer started with “Our Father in heaven, your name be honored”. We do that through surrender to, reliance on and speaking with God.
I started by asking the question, have you ever asked your self “Why do I attend church services?”
The time that church does come together to meet should be a time where people are serving with their gifts (prophets and teachers were there) and when we, as a body, seek to make God’s name honored. Not to be entertained, not be seek a blessing for us, not to get something out of it. We come to give back to God -> our will, our agendas and our praise.
May we be people of worship, fasting and prayer. When we gather together as a body may it be to surrender to God, declare our reliance upon God and talk with God.