Missions as Fasting
Desiring God 2009 Conference for Pastors
The following is notes taken during the session, not a manuscript. The full manuscript is available as a PDF.
I'm not Japanese. I'm Korean. And there is a history of horrible treatment of the Koreans by the Japanese. People ask me, "Why Japan, then? Why would a Korean person chose to do missions in Japan?" It's because Jesus said, "Love your enemies."
If you look beyond the high technology and smiles, they are a nation that is desperately lost. They are spiritually, sexually, and socially lost. The Japanese need the Lord and our love as well.
So the Lord called me, my family, and our team to love the Japanese people. Humanly speaking there seems to be no hope to reconcile the Korean and Japanese people, but Ephesians 2 says otherwise: through the cross there is reconciliation between all people.
Japan is considered by some people to be the hardest mission field in the world. Our goal has been to set up a ministry with theological education at the core. We're not looking for numerical conversions but a sustainable growing ministry, and theology is the foundational principle of all ministry. It must inform our evangelism and discipleship.
So please pray for Japan. This is an extremely exciting period of fruit bearing, especially among the younger people.
The danger of my theme today is that it uses a concept of fasting that is not widely understood. I commend Thomas Boston's work on fasting.
I'm no specialist on fasting, but it has been a regular part of my life for the past five years.
What Is Fasting?
At the very least it is presumed in the Old and New Testaments. It is a part of repentance before God (Joel 2:12), part of turning away from idolatry (1 Samuel 7:6), part of our response to affliction, etc.
Jesus presumes fasting when he instructs us how to do it in Matthew 6.
So I commend it, if in your life you see a need for humility and repentance, or you having idols you need to turn from, or you're facing difficult circumstances. It is the model of David, Jesus, and Paul, among many others.
Fasting represents longing, urgency and opportunity:
Fasting is a response to a longing for God to be known, loved, adored, and worshipped. It's a longing that inspires a forsaking of things present, including food.
Describing fasting as a "condemning of things present" is fitting. Choosing to not eat doesn't make much sense in a society where we have an overabundance of food. But in light of a longing for more worship and experience of God it makes complete sense.
We each have been given just one life, and it is short and fragile. We have no idea how long the Lord will grant us. Moreover, we were bought by Christ; our lives are not our own.
So we have a weighty stewardship. And the urgency of the task that we have now been called to makes the setting aside of food completely sensible.
Fasting helps us think aright. It orients everything upon God himself and not ourselves.
It's a response to the opportunity before us for spreading the gospel.
2.7 billion people have little or no opportunity to hear the gospel. The 10-40 Window contains 90% of the worlds poor, 95% of the least reached, and less than 10% of the world's missionary force.
If these three things call for a fasting of food, how much more does it call for the fasting of other things!
What Is Missions As Fasting?
It's a calling to forsake things present, even good things, to be invested for God's global glory.
Missionary fasting requires forsaking comfort, recognition and family:
This includes comfort of many kinds, including physically and politically.
Missionaries most of the time don't get brass bands and medals when they return home, but they don't need them. Missionaries wait to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." They wait for heavenly recognition.
The American dream embodies comfort and recognition. Will those who fast the American dream regret it in heaven?
Did Jesus die so that we could be comfortable? Comfort and recognition are both things missionaries forsake.
Family is the hardest. My parents need my care. They desire to hold their grandchildren. But there will be plenty of time for that in heaven.
But forsaking your family does not mean neglecting your family. Rather, it involves a mourning over lost time. It's a loss of physical and financial comfort for you children. And it exposes them to increased risk. This risk isn't always life-threatening. There is spiritual and sexual risk as well. Japan is a battlefield to bring your children to.
But fasting of things present is not just for missionaries. It's for every Christian who has a longing for Christ's exaltation in the world. As John Piper says, there are only 3 options for the Christian and missions: being a goer, being a sender, or being disobedient.
Two recent trends pose a problem to going and sending:
1) The idea that we're all missionaries.
There is something commendable about this idea. But there is also something flawed with it. The term "missions" historically meant crossing geographical or cultural boundaries to make Christ known. Making Christ known in your native context is called evangelism, which is distinct from missions.
To say that we're all missionaries is to ignore the reality that billions of people outside of your experience have never heard of Christ's coming. It ignores the obligation of every Christian to be a global Christian.
2) The abduction of mission language by non-missional groups.
There are so many misuses of the terms that have nothing to do with the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ into the world. Some churches talk about living missional lives here in America. But this can lull us into thinking that we don't need to go in order to make Christ known, but can fulfill our obligation from where we are.
What Are Some Ways That Senders Can Fast?
A globally-hearted church is usually led by a globally-hearted pastor. Get on board with the Lord with a burden for the world. Wield an eternal perspective, humility, and certainty of the victory that Christ has one.
North American evangelicals possess 80% of the world's evangelical wealth. O God grant us to be good stewards of this great wealth! O that the American church would have global ambition for Jesus Christ!
For many of you as pastors, the greatest way you can make an impact on global missions is by sending others.
There are 300,000 pastors in America. Giving to missions is not a compelled tax. It is a high privilege. If all the pastors in America would give 100 dollars a month to missions that would infuse 360 million dollars a year into missions.
Don't underestimate the impact that you, your family, and your modest salary can make to global missions.
If American evangelicals would invest just a tithe towards missions, that would release billions of dollars a year. That would fund 10 million missionaries.
So I want to call us all to global ambition for Christ. That we would forsake things present.
Fast from food. We've abandoned this discipline at the very time we need it most. It helps us sharpen our spiritual senses. But it has been lost in our generation and our nation. We hoard and consume when Jesus calls us to receive and give!
Fast comfort. Would you trade 50 years of earthly comfort for eternal glory?
I would call American Christians to invest a tithe of their resources to advance Christ's cause in the world. If it takes a global recession to waken Christ's church, bring it on!
Invest time and heart and tears in prayer.
Read Operation World.
Get to know the work of the Lausanne movement.
Fast the very best and brightest of your church. Send us 100 missionaries. Send us your sons and daughters. Send us your right hand men. Send us Paul and Barnabas. Send those who will leave the biggest gaps in your ministries.
Send us your hearts. So many Christians are living life so as to avoid suffering. They're living to be comfortable, physically, emotionally, financially comfortable. It's time to forsake our love of comfort, to repent of it.
Lead your people in such a way that they can say, "I have reason enough in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone that, should Christ call me, I would leave everything behind to make him known at the ends of the earth." Why is the gospel itself not motivation enough to go?
So for many of you the call is to stay and send 100. But if you are not also willing to go, then you are not qualified to send.
I also call you to invest a tithe of your life to missions. Spend five years of your ministry in missions. Many might think that your church cannot survive without you, but that may be just what they need to learn! You could give a month every year to teach at a seminary overseas.
So consider giving a tithe of your finances and a tithe of your life.
Consider Exodus 36:2-7: the resources are more than enough to do God's work, because the people were so generous.
And consider 1 Chronicles 29:1-9: David's devotion to God led him to provide from his personal treasuries, and to call the other leaders of the people to do the same. "And the people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord."
Could it be said of us that we have been so devoted?
May the prayers of our hearts be like that of King David in 1 Chronicles 29.