Three men worked together in the same office, their desks a few feet apart from each other. They had worked this way for years and through the course of business, they often spoke to one another about work-related matters. Of course, as will happen when people are together over time, they would also discuss other matters of interest from current events, their families, favorite sports teams and plans for their futures.
In the ten or so years they had all worked together, the men, Ben, Dave, and Mike had enjoyed time with each other’s families at the annual company cookout and Christmas Party, but had for the most part developed circles of friends outside of work. One thing was known about Mike, however, not only by Ben and Dave, but by everyone in the office. Mike was a devout Christian. It wasn’t that he bragged about it, but subtle things told everyone that he was. He didn’t have to wave a flag or announce it with a loud voice, you just had to watch.
He wore a Christian lapel pin on his suit jacket every day. On his desk, next to a picture of his wife, was his Bible. In fact, sometimes at lunch people would see him reading it after he had finished eating. Everyone was aware that he never ate his lunch without first taking a moment to bow his head and thank God for the meal provided, even if it was nothing more than a sandwich from home. Several years ago, he had unsuccessfully tried to start an office Bible study after work. Lastly, in a very tasteful way so as not to offend anyone or violate company policy, Mike had been known to invite people to come to church with him and from time to time even asked people about their own relationship with God.
One day, things seemed to begin as any other, but Ben arrived at work looking particularly distressed. He even arrived fifteen minutes late, which was very out of character for him. Several people noticed but said nothing. Not Mike. He went to Ben after he had a chance to get settled in and inquired, “Hi Ben, I noticed you seem a bit stressed today. It may be none of my business, but if you want to talk about it, please know that I’m here”. Ben went on to tell Mike that he had received a notice from his doctor about some test results showing that he had inoperable cancer and he was very scared.
Mike, concerned about his friend, also saw this as an opportunity to talk to him about Jesus. “Ben, I can’t even begin to imagine what you are going through. The shock, horror, and wonder of what is going to happen next must be overwhelming”, Mike explained. “You have no idea”, said Ben, as he tried to find the words to go further, “I’m not even fifty and I don’t know what happens from here!”
Mike seizes the opportunity (He thinks)
Mike saw this as an opportunity to assure Ben that while he, (Mike), had no way to help explain why this had happened, he did have an answer, found in the Bible on his desk, that could give hope for Ben’s future and give him peace of mind now, while he endured the uncertain times. Ben was quite skeptical of this, having never been one to rely on anything religious. He had grown up going to church because his mother made him go and was glad for the day he went away to college so that he no longer had to go. Ben replied as politely as he could, “Thanks, Mike, but I’m not sure I’m interested in that. Besides, you know Dave? Do you remember a few years ago when his wife was in that serious accident and they didn’t think she would ever walk again? Well, look at her now! Not only is she walking again, but she is back to teaching dance lessons at the studio!”
Mike was caught a little off guard. You see, one thing that was unknown to Ben, as well as everyone else in the office, was that Dave also attended church with Mike. In fact, he and his wife led a Bible study at their home on a weekly basis and had provided lodging for missionaries when they were in town. He gave financially to the church and was, in the eyes of anyone who ever asked, a “good, moral person”. Nobody could complain about Dave’s life personally, professionally or otherwise. The only problem was, as a Christian, he wasn’t letting people know that the reason he lived this way was because he was first serving Christ his King instead of himself! By not letting people know this, he was not being a witness for Jesus Christ.
Where does this leave us?
There is a lot of scripture devoted to how we are to present ourselves as Christians, and if we are not careful, we can read too much or too little into it and go too far in any of a number of directions. For example, Jesus, aware that many of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were very fond of being noticed when they prayed publicly, warned about this. We read this in Matthew 6:5-7, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” The context here was that the religious leaders were saying, in essence, “Look at me, see how holy I am!” In fact, they wore tefillin, or prayer boxes, with a special prayer or scripture on it often times on their foreheads. It seemed that the larger the box, or larger the prayer in it, the holier the person was implying he was!
Jesus warned at the same time He spoke about praying openly for shows about fasting just for the sake of letting people know that you were doing something for God, or making a bigger deal of it than was necessary. As we continue reading in Matthew’s account of the Gospel, we read in chapter 6:16-18, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
Notice that Jesus begins this by saying “when ye fast…” indicating that fasting was to be practiced, just as was the praying He spoke about earlier. However, it was the way in which it was perpetrated.
After all, one only needs to open a Bible to find that there are 650 different recorded prayers we can read about that were sent to God by men or women of faith from Adam through the end of John’s writing of Revelation. There are twenty-five recorded prayers of Jesus, Himself in His short thirty-three year life, and when we consider that most of what we have recorded is during an even shorter three-year ministry, the significance is even greater.
Fasting is seen throughout the Bible beginning in Deuteronomy 9:9-18 when Moses fasted for 40 days prior to receiving the Ten Commandments. Other times of fasting throughout the Bible, (we will not explore all of them), were to give thanks, ask for forgiveness, give praise or to ask blessing on others.
Regarding the posture of the person fasting, we have already read above that Jesus tells us to keep ourselves appearing clean and proper, not letting others even know that we are doing it. This is between you and God.
So what does all this mean? Are we, as Christians, supposed to worship God in silence? I have actually met and spoken to way too many Christians who believe this is true. Either that or they feel that speaking out for Christ is the “job” of those called specifically to Christian vocations such as the clergy who serve as ministers in churches, evangelists, missionaries in the field and Christian writers and musicians. However, for the average church-going Christian who works in the secular world and has hobbies and interests that do not always include being inside the church walls 5-7 days a week, it is fine to just have some prayer time with God when it feels right and leaving the ministry duties to the “paid professionals”, let’s see what the Bible tells us.
When Jesus started His ministry, He easily could have recruited only the most highly educated men of religious backgrounds to do the work He had planned. He could have called to be His apostles any number of scribes and Pharisees who had the education to take up the task. However, He instead saw that a willing and humble heart that was capable of opening up to what the Holy Spirit could and would do was far more valuable to furthering His Kingdom.
After a three year ministry, Jesus comforted His followers, letting them know that the Holy Spirit would be with them. We read about this in John 14. Obviously, they were concerned about being left alone. However, He also gave very concrete instructions later, after His resurrection, just before He ascended back into Heaven when He said in Matthew 28: 18-20, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen’.” (Emphasis added by author)
Jesus, while speaking specifically to the men He had called, was giving instruction to all who would follow Him from that day forward. The instruction to tell others about the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us as Christians is not reserved for those who hold positions in churches. While the pastor of a church has a designation of addressing his congregation on Sundays and overseeing the flock in general, it is the duty of every Christian to go into the world and share the gospel.
We read in Acts that instruction was given right before Jesus ascended, telling them to not only spread the word locally but to every corner of the globe Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Obviously, if this message is being given to only eleven men, and the scope of the delivery is the entire world, when we consider the limits of first-century technology and travel, there would have been no way they could get the message to the whole world themselves. Furthermore, with more people being born every day, it would be an ongoing job until the end of the ages. It is quite obvious that every Christian had then and has now, the duty to share the gospel with others.
Looking back at the Office
When we look back at the men in the office in our story earlier, in all likelihood there is really nothing “bad” about Dave. After all, we even found out that he is a leader in his church and a good friend. However, is he doing all he can to further the Kingdom of God in his daily walk with unbelievers? Is he truly representing God and letting people know that he walks uprightly because his relationship with Jesus is a strong and personal one that they, too can have? To ask Ben, it looks as if he isn’t.
As we look at this there is a question we must ask ourselves. When you read this account, who are you most like in the story? Are you Mike, the Christian who everyone sees doing God’s work, not because it brings you special favor but because you find joy in serving your Lord? Are you Dave, the Christian who lives a good Christian life around other Christians but keeps things quiet otherwise, to the point that a non-believer wouldn’t even know you had any kind of relationship with God at all? Lastly, are you possibly even Ben, the non-believer who doesn’t know Jesus at all and now, after understanding the need, wants to reach out to Him as your only hope for salvation?
We all have a Choice
One thing is for sure. God has given us free will in our lives. Examine where you are in yours. If you are not sure where it is or if you are sure that it is not where it needs to be, there is no magic formula for getting right with God. Just humbly bow before Him and ask Him to guide you through it. He has been waiting.
Serving Him through Serving Others,
James M. Dakis, D.Min