I am not getting fed at this church!
If you haven’t heard this statement, you probably haven’t been around many churches. Many churchgoers feel that their pastor is not giving them the deeper truths of the scriptures. In some cases, this may be true, but by and large, the opposite may be true. The greatest need for the average person sitting on a church pew is not for a more profound revelation of God’s truth but the application to their lives of the truth they already have. Although we never totally achieve it, Jesus set the pattern, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 14:1 NASB).
And so what do we do, we develop a citywide ministry, and we hop from one church to another in search of that elusive, more profound knowledge of the truth.
There was once a man stranded on a desert island for twenty-five years. When finally rescued, they found he had built a house and two churches. When asked why he had made two churches, his answer was, “the first one is the church I used to attend.” The truth is applied to our lives when we walk through, not around our struggles.
True discipleship occurs only where an intellectual understanding of God’s Word proceeds to a radical heart transformation; when we navigate those critical eighteen inches between our head and heart. Our lives should not only be a proclamation but a demonstration of God’s truth. My ongoing journey from head to heart revelation started for me in all places, a chicken farm!
The Chicken Farm
“Lord, do you know that chickens are pretty stupid animals? You do, huh? I assume that, being God, you also know I don’t like getting dirt under my fingernails!” I worked for seventeen years with an organization called Youth With A Mission, YWAM for short. To my surprise and sometimes dismay, one of the first opportunities for service was a Hawaiian chicken farm. A wealthy chicken farmer from California had offered to give YWAM all we needed to start producing eggs if we would provide the labor to build the farm. And here I was, a former schoolteacher who didn’t like getting my hands dirty. The whole idea seemed like a bad dream. There was one other job option but believe it or not; it was even less enticing than chicken farming. That option was working on the training center’s sewage system. A missionary honey-dipper would have been an apt description. So being the spiritual giant that I was, I agreed (somewhat grudgingly) to help out on the farm.
The chicken farm, located on a spot of land mauka (Hawaiian for “toward the mountain”), was several miles from the main training facility. It was a beautiful but isolated location. A supervisor, several other workers, and I reported for work the first day. There we were, with the trees and the geckos, and that was about it. We undertook to build the structures to house the chickens, mostly from solid Hawaiian lava rock.
The days stretched into weeks, and the effect of isolation took its toll. Gone were the familiar sounds of the training center’s activities. My attitude started to change. Work was not exciting. Instead of “Good morning, Lord,” it was more like “Good Lord, it’s morning.” Occasionally, a leader visited the building site and walked past me like I didn’t exist (or at least I imagined they didn’t notice me). Have you ever felt like you have fallen off the face of the earth and no one is looking for you? Returning from work one day, I said to my wife, “Pinch me and see if I’m real. Maybe I’m just a mirage.”
To make matters worse, I had an identity crisis. Sharon, my wife, had become my alter ego. She served as the base nurse, worked in the counseling ministry, and knew just about everybody—sort of the life of the party. Meeting new people at the center took on an interesting twist for me. “Hello, my name is Ken Barnes.” “Oh yeah, you’re Sharon Barnes’s husband.” I would think to myself, Yeah, that’s me, Sharon Barnes’s husband.
Things started coming out of my mouth, which was at best somewhat negative and at worst outright grumbling. Little comments to my supervisor let him know that I was not a happy camper. I never came right out and said it since that would have been too obvious and unspiritual. I was losing my joy.
Things continued in this downward spiral until one day, I decided that I would have it out with God. Little did I know that an encounter with the Almighty would change the entire course of my life.
My aha moment!
That morning I had had enough. When I opened the door of the brooder house, the pungent odor of chicken manure pushed me over the edge. I threw my rake on the floor and complained, “I am tired of working on this chicken farm! I did not come here to work on a farm and clean up after stupid chickens!” Amid my tirade, I said something that must have caught God’s attention: “Nobody cares whether I work up here. No one even sees me.”
Immediately, God dropped a couple of questions into my mind. First: Why did you come to Hawaii? Without delay, I answered, “Because I wanted to serve you, Lord.” The next question penetrated the recesses of my heart: Don’t I see? I was dumbfounded as the blinders fell from my eyes. Suddenly I saw myself as I was—I didn’t serve God like I thought I did.
When I was overlooked, when my purposes were not being fulfilled, I did not serve God with joy and gladness when I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. Though I said that I served him, I saw that so much of my service was based on rewards and recognition from man. For the first time that morning. I had to honestly admit that I had “I” problems. I served myself more than God.
When God shows us a bit of our hearts, we have a choice to make. We can justify our actions by saying everybody is like this and it is no big deal, or we can repent. I chose to repent. “Forgive me, Lord,” I prayed, “and help me to serve you, and you alone.”
Although I had prayed the prayer, sometimes words are cheap. God had started to work in my heart. He was in the process of changing my understanding of him from head knowledge to heart revelation, from an intellectual understanding of his Word to the application of it in my life. Our hearts don’t change quickly, or at least mine didn’t. I needed to walk out this newfound truth. I needed to take practical steps to direct my affections and devotion toward him and to place my security in him and him alone.
How did walking it out appear? Right then, it looked like picking up the rake I had thrown to the floor in disgust when entering the brooder house. Lifting my rake to heaven, I said, “I’m going to do this for you, today.” Then I added, “Lord, when I start to struggle”—and I did—“and when I crave recognition from people, I am going to look to you for recognition and acceptance.”
And you know what? From then on, when I did that, God was always there. Was there a dramatic and immediate change in my life? No, I had good days and not-so-good days. But I noticed one difference: my joy started to return. It was two steps forward and one step back, but I was moving in the right direction.
I was finally progressing from talking about being a servant to actually starting to be a servant. I was learning that the way up in God’s kingdom is always down. And it is often in the ordinary situations and places—not extraordinary ones—that God teaches us lessons of eternal consequences. I was becoming a doer of the Word instead of just a hearer. “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22 NASB). The process was all set-in motion by navigating those critical eighteen inches.
Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 24–27.
Ken Barnes is the author of BROKEN VESSELS: God’s GLORY through FLAWED Humanity. He was born in Tennessee and grew up in western Pennsylvania. He worked for seventeen years as a missionary with Youth With A Mission. He also has taught school in various parts of the United States. His missionary work has taken him to Mexico, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Spain, and the Ukraine. He holds a Masters of Education in curriculum and instruction from Virginia Commonwealth University. He presently lives with his wife Sharon, in Richmond,Virginia.