As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Often it seems the only kind of prayer we are familiar with is the petition prayer. We’re always petitioning (or asking) God to do something, and of course that’s scriptural. But in the Scripture quoted above, those Christians were not petitioning God to do anything. They “ministered to the Lord, and fasted….”
Most of our church services are designed so we come together and minister to one another. We sing, but in very few songs do we minister to the Lord. Instead, we minister to one another. We have special singing, but still we’re not ministering to the Lord; we’re ministering to one another.
When we pray, our praying is primarily a petition. We’re petitioning the Lord to move in our midst, to manifest Himself among us, to meet our needs. When the minister speaks, he’s not ministering to the Lord; he’s ministering to the congregation.
And when the service is over, if we have a time of waiting on God, usually these prayers are still petitions.
We know God is concerned about us and wants to meet our needs. Jesus said our heavenly Father knows what we need, and we should ask Him to supply these needs. But, too much of the time we’re like the little boy who said, “My name’s Jimmy, and I’ll take all you’ll gimme!”
We need times of waiting on God and ministering to the Lord; times when we’re not asking for anything—not petitioning —but ministering to Him. Perhaps we are already taking time for this in our individual prayer lives, but we need this kind of prayer as a group or a church. God can move in this kind of atmosphere. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, our text says, the Holy Ghost manifested Himself.
God made man to fellowship with Him. He is our Father, because we are born of God. I’m sure of this: There are no earthly parents who enjoy the fellowship of their children more than God enjoys the fellowship of His children.
In one meeting I held, I said to the people after the sixth week, “Let’s have some different kinds of services. I want us to come to minister to the Lord. I may read a little bit of Scripture, or make a few comments, but I’m not going to preach or teach a lot. We’re not going to come to petition God; we’re going to wait on the Lord and minister to Him. “I don’t want us to come and wait 10 minutes. I want us to come with the thought that we’re going to wait at least one hour.
We’ll minister to the Lord—tell Him how much we love Him and thank Him for His goodness and mercy.”
The people came and praised the Lord. I found they wanted to wait on God. In that kind of atmosphere, God ministered to us in very unusual ways. Although that was years ago, there still are things happening today as a result of what the Lord did in those services.
I’m sure of this: We miss a lot of what God has for us because we don’t take time to get into an attitude of worship and minister to the Lord.
A Bible example of this is found in the 16th chapter of Acts.
Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi, where they had gone to preach the Gospel. They were beaten with many stripes and cast into prison. The jailer was charged to keep them safely, “Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stock ” (v. 24).
Notice particularly the 25th verse, “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”
They certainly couldn’t have been singing some of the songs we sing, because many of our songs don’t praise God. Too often our songs are more of a complaint than a praise. The songs seem to have the “poor old me” attitude—we’re wandering through life destitute, downtrodden, and in dark valleys. Too much of the time the songs are about us—what we’re doing and how rough life is. If we do sing anything about heaven, it’s about when we all get there. That still doesn’t give God any praise.
But Paul and Silas sang praises to God. Notice, too, the prisoners heard them. They weren’t quiet about this!
If Paul and Silas had been like a lot of people today, instead of praying and singing praises at midnight, they would’ve been griping and complaining. And the Scripture might have read something like this: About midnight Paul and Silas griped and complained and Silas nudged Paul and said, “Paul, are you still there?” It’s very dark, so Paul says, “Where else could I be?”
Silas would have said, “You know, Paul, you really missed God, didn’t you?”
While Paul is trying to figure out where he missed it, Silas says, “I’ll tell you one thing, when I was serving the devil, I never got thrown in jail. I don’t know why God let this happen to us. Why, if I ever get out of here—and I doubt I will—I’ll be ashamed to go home, because they’ll call me an old jailbird. I tell you, Paul, I got hooked up with the wrong fellow—that’s all there is to it.” “Yeah—we missed it somewhere,” Paul says. “And I tell you, my poor back is really hurting me bad. You know, I really thought God was speaking to me in that vision, but if God were in it, we’d have been a success.”
During the 12 years I pastored, I heard members of my church say similar things. “I never had it this rough when I was serving the devil,” some would say when a trial came their way.
How do you help people like that?
Well, I would smile and say, “God will forgive you of that, too, if you’ll repent.”
Paul and Silas really were in trouble, weren’t they? They were thrust into the inner prison. They had been whipped with many stripes until their backs were bleeding. Their feet were in stocks. I’m sure they were in great physical pain.
It was a dark hour for them, but although Paul and Silas were in jail, they didn’t let the jail get in them. That’s the reason a lot of people are defeated.
Everyone has trouble of one kind or another. We’ve all been lashed by the storms of life. But our attitude—how we look at a situation and how we accept it—makes the difference in how we come out, or whether we get out at all.
In our midnight hour, when we don’t understand why things have happened, even though we’ve tried our best, let us look at Paul and Silas. After all, they didn’t go to Philippi on a pleasure trip. They were there to do the Lord’s work. They were not out of
the will of God.
Sometimes when things don’t go right, people think, “I must be out of the will of God.” Or they ask, “What awful sin have I committed to cause God to send this on me?” God didn’t send the trouble; the devil did. It wasn’t God who whipped Paul and Silas; it was ungodly men. God didn’t stir up those ungodly fellows; it was the devil. In spite of persecution, adversity, and depressing surroundings, “At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God, and the prisoners heard them.” They weren’t
quiet about it! They were praising God at midnight right out loud in jail.
A characteristic of the early disciples was their continual praises to God. We read in Luke 24:50-53:
50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: 53 And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.
Then notice the second chapter of Acts, verses 46 and 47:
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Notice the expression, “with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.” One reason the ministry of the early Christians was so effective was their continual gladness of heart and praising God.
Worship and praise to God were a part of the daily lives of the early Christians. It wasn’t something they did occasionally.
Too many times today we see people who pray through about once every six months. You’d have to write of them that they praised God “occasionally” or perhaps “semi-annually” rather than “daily” or “continually,” as did the New Testament believers.
The late Smith Wigglesworth once said, “First thing every morning, when I get out of bed, I jump out. I don’t just drag out, but I jump out! And when my feet hit the floor I say, ‘Praise the Lord!’ And I praise God every morning.” That’s a good way to start the day!
When Paul and Silas were thrown in jail at Philippi, it was only natural they should pray and sing praises to God. Not only did the prisoners hear them, but God heard them. Suddenly there was such a great earthquake that the foundations of the prison shook! All the doors sprung open. Everyone’s bonds were loosed. Deliverance came while they were praising God!
An Old Testament counterpart is found in Second Chronicles 20, when Jehoshaphat went out against the enemy.
Three armies—the Ammonites, the Moabites, and the inhabitants of Mount Seir—had banded together against Jehoshaphat. He didn’t have the manpower to stand against them, so he called a prayer meeting. The people fasted and prayed.
The Spirit of God moved upon a young man in the congregation, and he stood and prophesied. The Lord told them not to fear. He told them where the enemy was and said to go against them because the battle was the Lord’s.
The next morning they marched against the enemy, and the Bible says they put the praisers up front. Picture these men going against three armies of trained soldiers who had swords, javelins, and spears. Right up front to lead the parade of God’s army were the praisers. They weren’t led by a man with a sword or a spear.
They were led by men singing and praising the Lord.
They ministered to the Lord. As they marched along, they shouted, “Praise the Lord; for His mercy endureth for ever” (2 Chron. 20:21).
We see in the next verse what happened as a result: “And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.”
When they began to sing and praise, God did something for His people. They saw a manifestation of His power. They didn’t have to draw a sword or throw a javelin. The enemy ran off and left all their goods. There was so much spoil it took three days to gather it up and carry it home!
Paul and Silas had their feet in stocks. Their backs were bleeding. From the natural standpoint, they had every reason to be downcast. But at midnight, as they ministered to God, there came a manifestation of God’s power.
There are many today who have been praying and petitioning God to move in their behalf. If they would quit praying and begin praising, God would give them so much they couldn’t carry it all home at one time!
We need to have praise services where we gather to praise God and to minister to the Lord—not to minister to one another —not to brag on one another—not to tell what I have and you don’t—or what I’m trying to get.
We need services where we minister to the Lord and sing praises to Him. Then we would see mighty manifestations of God’s presence in our day.