Falling Flat on Your Face

  Nobody likes to fall flat on their face. It means embarrassment, humiliation, and defeat. I doubt there’s a pastor alive who has not had that dream where he fell flat on his face while giving a sermon: his notes blow away; his manuscript is unfinished; he has no clothes on. The variations are many, but however your dream goes I’m quite sure you wake up with a start. That’s why it will probably strike you as strange to hear me say that falling flat on your face is the solution to all problems in the ministry.

Yes, fall flat on your face before God confessing to be a poor miserable sinner, the least of all pastors (as St. Paul would say) or a useless maggot sack (as Father Luther would put it). It’s always good to fall flat on your face before God confessing that to Him belong all power, honor, glory, and praise.

 Isn’t this what we find in Scripture? Men falling before God confessing their worthlessness and His worthiness? When Abraham finally gets it through his head that God has purposely been waiting for decades to give him the Promised Seed he falls flat on his face in laughter that the joke was on him (Genesis 17:17). After Christ shows Peter His power in a way he can understand, by means of the fishing trade, Peter falls on his face before Christ as an unworthy sinner (Luke 5:8).

In heaven not only pastors and people but the angels too fall flat on their faces worshipping God (Revelation 7:11). If the 24 elders symbolize the pastoral office of all time (both Old and New Testaments), then falling flat on the face before God is something those in the office of the public ministry particularly do. Revelation 11:16 speaks specifically of the 24 elders who sit on the thrones before God falling on their faces and worshipping God.

That falling flat on your face before God is the solution to the problem of you being a sinner in the ministry probably didn’t surprise you. What I’m about to say will.  Falling flat on your face before your congregation is the solution to the problem of ministering to sinners.  A solution I all too few times have availed myself of.

This idea is not original with me. It comes from Moses. When the 12 spies returned from scoping out the Promised Land 10 of them were carrying unbelief and the congregation grumbled against their pastors. What did pastors Moses and Aaron do? “Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel” (Numbers 14:5). When the sons of Korah rebel against the office of the public ministry, what is Moses’ reaction? “When Moses heard this, he fell on his face” (Numbers 16:5). On the next day, after all Israel had witnessed God’s judgment on those opposing His divine office, the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron again, blaming them for the death of the anti-clerics.  What do the pastors do? Fall flat on their faces (Numbers 16:45) leaving their defense up to God. Four chapters later when the congregation is once more up in arms over no water and laying the blame on pastors Moses and Aaron, what do the two do? Lecture on the authority of the office of the ministry? Try to intimidate those bringing the charges? Nope. “Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them” (Numbers 20:6).

We constantly find Pastors Moses and Aaron falling flat on their faces before the Lord to intercede for the congregation or to beg them not to sin against God.  Moses and Aaron don’t deny their God-given office or authority, but they leave the defense of it up to God. That’s because the office of the public ministry is to the glory of God, and it is never up to us mere mortals to defend the glory of God. All we can do is fall flat on our face before it in humble worship and fear.

May we then fall flat on our faces regularly before God and men. Always out of fear and in faith of the former never, ever out of either for the latter.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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