IVP - Online Pulpit - The Preacher's Bookshelf

May 15, 2006

The Preacher's Bookshelf

With Pentecost Sunday approaching, here’s a helpful book dealing with the power of prayer and the movement of God’s Holy Spirit among his people.

Few books have influenced me with a vision for ministry as has Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997). In it, Cymbala chronicles the growth and ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Twenty-five years ago, the Tabernacle could barely draw twenty people to a Sunday service. Today it is six thousand strong, made up of former prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and homeless people—along with doctors, lawyers, and professional people. The book’s flyleaf calls the miracle of Brooklyn Tabernacle “a testament of what God can do when men and women begin to pour out their hearts to God.” It continues with this admonition: “Don’t look in this book for faddish techniques—you won’t find them. And while the Tabernacle today has an interracial membership and a world-renowned choir, don’t look for an emphasis on cross-culturalism, numbers, or well-orchestrated worship music. Instead, look for what God can do when a handful of people humble themselves and take the Gospel seriously. When believers turn to their last and only recourse—their knees—and discover there the life-changing reality of the Holy Spirit.”

From his recalling the cracking of a pew, which dumped five people onto the floor, to the overwhelming return of his prodigal daughter, Jim Cymbala shares a testimony of God’s power still to move in miraculous ways. Cymbala writes with a humble heart, desperately seeking God: “I discovered an astonishing truth: God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him.”

An evangelist once said: “You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor or evangelist is by who comes on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes when the church is called to prayer.” Which one of us could not use a more effective prayer ministry in our churches? I firmly believe that if our people would bathe us and our sermon preparation in prayer, our preaching would become more powerful than any of us would dare to imagine.

Based on personal experience, Jim Cymbala said, “Satan’s main strategy with God’s people has always been to whisper, ‘Don’t call, don’t ask, don’t depend on God to do great things. You’ll get along fine if you just rely on your own cleverness and energy.’ The truth of the matter is that the devil is not terribly frightened of our human efforts and credentials. But he knows his kingdom will be damaged when we lift our hearts to God. Let’s not divert attention away from the weak prayer life of our own churches. In Acts 4, when the apostles were unjustly arrested, imprisoned, and threatened, they didn’t call for a protest, they didn’t reach for some political leverage. Instead, they headed to a prayer meeting. Soon the place was vibrating with the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 23-31).”

Cymbala’s strong indictment of modern church life hits home too clearly: “If our people don’t have an appetite for God, what does it matter how many are attending the services? How would that impress God? In the face of a world ignoring Christ’s offer of salvation, we can either humble ourselves before God and return to his basics … or we can go on dancing with ourselves. The potential to see local churches explode with the life of God rests in the balance.”

Satan laughs when he can get churches to spend their valuable energy focusing on trivial pursuits—issues that have no eternal significance whatsoever. When you find yourself getting worked up over some issue in church, ask yourself, “Is this an issue that Jesus would spend the time I’m spending on it?” In our preaching and ministry, let’s be able to look back and say, “We focused our energy where God focused His energy.”

It’s my prayer that God blows fresh wind and fresh fire on your preaching. As we approach Pentecost in 1998, may God’s mission become our passion and God’s passion become our mission.

Posted by Craig Loscalzo at May 15, 2006 10:59 AM Bookmark and Share

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