How the first century Christians responded to a crisis.
Recently, I was musing about the economic crises and wondering if there are any insights to be gleaned from this cyclical and rather regular event that punctuates the pages of history. As my thoughts wandered about I realized that there could be many lessons to be learnt from famines mentioned in the Bible. Famine is a type of economic crisis and seems to have been very disastrous during the ancient times as it was primarily an agricultural society.
As I began to read through various mentions of famine in biblical history, I was quite fascinated by one such famine around the 1st century mentioned in the Book of Acts chapter 11 (verse 27-30).
“During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world.(This happened during the reign of Claudius.)
The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul” (NIV)
What’s fascinating about this incident is that I couldn’t find any mention of prayer or fasting or any sort of begging and pleading to change the mind of God or even ask Him to stop the famine in its tracks. These people just accepted what’s coming and started planning for it. What’s even more amazing is that they immediately proposed a plan of action to help the victims tide through the rough patch.
Don’t you think this is very surprising given the fact that we always pray for any catastrophe to go away? We, Christians, are known for praying and fasting for long hours during such a crisis or for many days if the situation is very dire.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not in any way trying to talk negatively about praying and fasting, and definitely, not degrading the importance of prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting has its place and is very much required. But what I’m trying to point out is that in this instance there seems to be no mention of the early Christians fasting or praying whereas we, the 21st century Christians, would have done so instinctively. Moreover, many would have set out to propose plans to conduct prayer meetings both in large and small groups across different times in a day all over the country.
The early Christians seem to have been very pragmatic in responding to the crisis, which we can infer based on their actions outlined in verse 30. They decided to help their brothers and sisters in Judea and then quickly made sure their help reached the intended recipients by quickly enlisting delivery agents (Paul and Barnabas) who can make that happen.
Now, very interestingly, even Paul and Barnabas did not fast and pray. They quickly travelled to Judea on their mission to deliver the gifts( be it money or things). That’s pure practicality in action.
Moreover, they were fully obeying the 2nd of the two greatest commandments given by Jesus Christ which is to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
I believe we can learn some lessons here on how to respond to crises.
- Crises come to both believers and non-believers just like the sun rises each day over the good and the bad.
- Crises are opportunities for us, believers, to act out our beliefs. A tree is known by its fruit.
- The first century Christians ‘decided’ to respond to the crisis immediately after the prophecy. They did not stand or sit still and pray.
- The response during a crisis should be pragmatic with a plan of action that will provide real and tangible help. No spiritual help will be beneficial here.
- Importantly, the believers were ready and well equipped which is a prerequisite to be helpful.
“No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d had only good intentions. He had money as well” – Margaret Thatcher