71st Annual Convention: Recreation or Devotion?

Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer, Regem-melech, and their men to plead for the Lord’s favor 3 by asking the priests who were at the house of the Lord of Hosts as well as the prophets, “Should we mourn and fast in the fifth month as we have done these many years?”

4 Then the word of the Lord of Hosts came to me:

5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and in the seventh months for these 70 years, did you really fast for Me?

6 When you eat and drink, don’t you eat and drink simply for yourselves?”

Zechariah 7:2-6 (Holman Christian Standard)

1. Good or God?

I would generally have thought that God would have been highly pleased that a people, in fact, an entire nation, was seeking to know, and that from His own priests and prophets, whether to continue their religious activities that they have sustained for 70 years in His name.  Unfortunately, as the passage above seems to suggest, God did not seem impressed at all with their annual fasts and feasts.

Please, tell me, is it bad to fast, or to continue to fast?  I am certain that your answer would be “No”?  Yet, here, God seemed to have been announcing to the enquirers that their 70 previous annual conventions had not actually been about Him but about themselves; they had been conventions not of consecration but of recreation; a time to “eat and drink simply for yourselves.”

Can a people be so wrong for so long and still not know, even in the midst of priests and prophets? Could a people have been so religiously committed yet so spiritually unconnected? According to God, the ‘commitments’ of the past seventy years had merely been to a religious tradition; to ‘what we have always done, and how we have hitherto done it.’ Can something be so good yet it is not God?

2. Colourful Failures

The present 71st Convention Planning Committee could have gone ahead to hold their convention elaborately as every other Local Organizing Committee before them had done, without first inquiring from the Lord, and they would have had another ‘fantastic’ annual national fasting and weeping convention, with a couple of persons going back home with impressive testimonies of ‘the great move of God,’ yet…

The 71st Annual National Convention, if it held, would have been another glittering occasion for the people to make zealous sacrifices of food and drinks, of time and money, oblivious of what God thought of their wasted sweat.  Some ‘highly anointed’ but short-sighted priests, with some very notable but blind guest-Levites from all over the place, would have been engaged as usual to do their thing, unfortunately unaware or deliberately unmindful of how God thought of their efforts that year!

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Could such eminent clergy have been involved and the 71st convention would still have been just a recreation? Can an achievement be so colourful yet it is garnished failure?  Is it possible to be so busy, so religiously engrossed, so involved in ‘the work of God,’ while that God is outside all the rituals?  If Yes, could such events be altars of wasted sacrifices?

3. How Long, or How Right?

Is God always pleased with ancestral, national annual conventions?  Is it possible for such elaborate religious events to dwindle with time into social rituals that God could dismiss as feasts “simply for yourselves”?  Can commitment to such noble spiritual rigours as a national solemn convention of fasting and weeping be a spiritual waste?  Where is the line between tradition and consecration?  Where is the line between mere religion and spirituality?  When do long-held religious patterns become mere traditions that we sustain merely for our sake than for His sake?

How long we have been doing a thing does not make it spiritual.  How long we have been doing it does not make it right to keep doing it. That it is religious does not make it righteous; that it is a Christian does not make it Christly; that it is good does not make it godly.  God is not in every noise we make in His name (1 Samuel 4:5).  He is not at every feast simply because it is held in His house (Isaiah 1:13).

4. Revival Baits

It would appear that, sometimes, even religious activities, for all their apparent credibility, can deceive and detract.  Even an entire community could get so busy for God as to miss Him altogether. That was one bait that Jesus successfully avoided in Mark 1; a bait coming from no less a disciple than Peter himself.

32 And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him ALL that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils.

33 And ALL the city was gathered together at the door.

34 And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.

35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

36 And Simon and they that were with him followed after him.

37 And when they had found him, they said unto him, ALL MEN seek for thee.

38 And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth (Mark 1:32-39).

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The evening before, Jesus had concluded a very successful huge crusade where “many” were healed and “many devils” were cast out.  From that very successful meeting, He took time off to pray.  Just then, a powerful delegation of His own disciples led by Pastor Peter the hosting minister, came to Him announcing, “Everybody is waiting to hear You again.  You are the most successful preacher we have had since this town was founded.  Many were healed yesterday; many more can be healed today.  We have secured for you a new preaching channel, at our own expense. The people are outside waiting for You to continue from where You stopped, paused yesterday.  We are here to usher You back to the podium.”Jesus’ reply was a surprising disappointment.

5. The Courageous “No”

Jesus turned down the preaching invitation from Peter in spite of the huge crowds already waiting to hear Him. In other words, not even the size of the crowd should be the reason for accepting awrong invitation.

Jesus turned down the offer in spite of who had made it: Peter at whose house and in whose town the meetings had been going on. In other words, the matter is much more than sentiments:relationship also is not always sufficient reason why an invitation must be accepted.

Jesus turned down that great preaching invitation in spite of the huge success already being recorded in that place. In other words, what God did in a place yesterday is not always a reason to return there tomorrow.

Jesus would not accept that invitation even though it had been coming from one of His own respected, ‘inner circle’ disciples. In other words, an invitation to preach can be a distraction in spite of the eminent status of the one offering the invitation.

It seemed very ‘urgent’ that Jesus should accept that call and not let the chance be wasted, because the people were already willing and waiting. Turning down the invitationmeant that whoever had not been healed the previous evening was going to go back that way; whoever had not been saved at the previous meeting was likely going to end that way, in their sins.  How could Jesus turn away from such potential Kingdom candidates?  How could He bear to see souls slip by into apparent perdition in hell fire?  Was continuing to preach and heal in that place not going to be the same ‘work of God’ that He was hurrying off to do elsewhere?  It would then appear that even the ‘urgency’ of a program or of the souls likely to be saved or lost, is no indication that we are the ones to go there, or to continue there.

Is it possible for energetic religious engagements to sometimes decline into mere activities? I wish I could answer.

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6. Successful Failures

If Jesus had accepted to go back with Peter, “many” more would have been saved and healed; yet it would still have been a distraction from the ‘next’ station to which God had been sending Him.  In other words, the glamorous ‘results’ we get in a meeting may not always tell that we are in the right place, or doing the right thing.  Imagine Jesus preaching, sweating, ‘labouring in the vineyard of the Lord,’ with the excited city singing His high Hosannas, and all of that would be a gradual unconscious retrogression into mere religious activity!  Thank God that He was courageous enough to say the difficult “No.”

Alas, how we sometimes have wasted precious sweat in glamorous places to which God never sent us, deceived by the many healed voices that innocently hail us blindly on!  Can someone be so glamorously successful on the wrong path?  Is there such a possibility as a successful failure?  How does one define true success in the field of God?

38 And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.

39 And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils (Mark 1:38-39).

We may not accept every invitation to preach, even when drowning souls might seem to be crying specifically for our urgent attention.  To be in some places means not being in some other places; being in a wrong place means missing a right place.  Sometimes we get so busy in one wrong or expired spot that we miss the right people elsewhere; people we might never thereafter find again.  It is a mystery how a place that yesterday was the right place could turn literally overnight to be no more right, in spite of the “many” accolades from such a place.  In other words, that God sent me there yesterday, and had accompanied the mission with “many” signs and wonders yesterday, might not mean that He is still sending me there now, even in spite of the ‘Macedonian’ pressures from innocent but disconnected disciples and sickly folks (you can’t blame them) more concerned about meeting their own needs than knowing the limits that my God has drawn for me.

May you receive the gift and courage to say No when it matters most, even if it might mean disappointing a stadium of spectators, so long as you are still going in the Master’s direction.  Welcome to the many ways of God.

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