Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
This week I am walking through a lot of last meetings with Pete—worship planning, leadership, session, staff. Sunday will be his last worship services, and we will hear his last sermon to us in his position as senior pastor. Don’t miss the last chance to honor Pete by going to our website to share your words of gratitude, to participate in the Serve the Lord, Serve the Lord initiative, and to enjoy the Getty concert.
I can only imagine the mix of emotions Pete is feeling. I know I catch myself crying because I feel sad and will miss him a lot. Then I feel anxious because of uncertainty about the future regarding a new pastor’s arrival, and stressed about the weight of responsibility I am assuming as interim head of staff.
Not only is it a time of transition in our church, it’s been quite a year for me and my family. Please don’t worry about me. I’m human, so this mix of emotions is not unusual or over concerning. It is what it is. Pretending it is otherwise is actually not helpful and only leads to shallow and superficial solutions. The question is what to do with it all. What do we do with all the emotions in the midst of so much change, so much pain, so much uncertainty?
The answer for me is to fast and pray. It’s not a bad thing to know you are bumping up against the limits of human resources. Actually, it’s an opportunity to let go of relying on our own resources to let God do in and through and for us what only he can do.
I don’t know about you, but I am feeling the need to pray. In fact, I think it is time for intentional time of strategic prayer for our church. That’s why we are setting aside time in this Lenten season to gather as God’s people to pray. So I invite you to join me and others on Zoom for our weekly Lenten Gatherings for an evening of prayer, music, Scripture, and a 5-minute devotional. These will be held throughout Lent (Wednesdays from February 24 – March 24) at 7:00 pm.
As you know, I like to find myself in God’s story of redemption. This week I having been reading and reflecting on Mark 9. I’m feeling a little like the disciples after Jesus came down off of the mountain of transfiguration. You remember when Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain, the other disciples were dealing with a difficult ministry situation. A father was desperate for his son to be healed of an unclean spirit, but the disciples couldn’t do it.
When Jesus arrives, he asks more about the situation. And the father replied, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you are able?’ All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
I love this statement. It’s true for every one of us. Even when we are full of faith and confidence in God, some crisis, new circumstance, or challenge can trigger us. In renewing prayer, we call this being double-minded. We may know what God can do and really believe it in our heads, but in our hearts we are more convinced that this challenge, this difficulty will undo us because we are inadequate or out of control.
In the story, Jesus goes on to rebuke the unclean spirit, commanding it to come out of the boy who is then restored. Later, the disciples ask him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer and fasting.”
It may be tempting to think we can leverage God’s power by what we do. But that’s not what this passage is about. It’s really about letting go and letting God.
You see, fasting is one of the greatest acts of self-denial. Eating and drinking are absolutely essential for life. We cannot live without food and water. But when we refrain from what we need physically, we become aware of a deeper kind of emptiness. We recognize our true condition, not just physically but spiritually.
Food is necessary. Yes. But we need more than food; we need fuel of another kind as well that can only come from God. We need the love of God, the grace of Christ, and power of the Spirit for our life in the kingdom of God.
In our attachment and achievement culture, we may never become aware of this need because we keep so busy trying to do and have more. Even in the midst of a pandemic when we have had to let go of so much, we may have found ways to fill the void by distracting ourselves or at least occupying ourselves since we can’t engage in what we are accustomed to doing. That’s not always bad, but it can keep us from becoming aware of a deep, abiding need for God and the supernatural resources of the kingdom.
Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean only food. Some of us may do well to use this season of Lent to unplug. A few years ago a cousin fasted from Facebook for a season. You might consider unplugging from YouTube, TV, or whatever is keeping you from going deeper with God and attending to your relationships with God and your primary relationships in life with your spouse, children, other family, and friends.
Fasting is the one of the primary ways we open our hands to let go of self-reliance and trusting our human, fleshly resources. Prayer is the way we intentionally turn to God receive to what is needed. We let God give us his supernatural resources of love, grace, and power to do in and through and for us what only he can do.
Let’s be clear: fasting and prayer do not achieve for us what is needed. They are spiritual disciplines, “intentionally directed actions by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort” (Richard J. Foster, Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation).
I can’t willfully make myself stop being anxious or stressed, but I can employ intentional practices that help me turn my attention to God and open up to him. I can let go and let God accomplish his work in me.
What we need in this season of transition are fasting and prayer as we wait on God to see us through. I do hope you will join me in an intentional season of prayer for Pete and Chris, me, all of our staff, the new senior leader, our elders, deacons, and our whole church. Again, I invite you to join in praying together at Wednesday evening Lenten Gatherings.
While I had not planned on being an interim head of staff in this season of life and ministry, I know God has called me to step into this gap. It will be fine not just for me, but for all of us in the church. As Pete said on Sunday, “We will be all right because God is with us.” I also know the road ahead in this transition period will not be easy, but I am confident it will be good because God is good.
I know this season of transition will provide an opportunity for deeper transformation and growth for me, and I trust that will be true for all of us—both individually and corporately as the body of Christ. We have a hopeful future ahead with much kingdom work to do. It is in times of transition that God does some of his most important work in getting his people ready for something new.