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Have you ever considered the implications of Christ’s startling words when He tells His disciples in John 15:5 “Apart from Me you can do nothing”? Are we really so spiritually helpless that nothing can be accomplished without God?
My wife, Carol, and I made that discovery in the autumn of 1971 when the little inner-city New York church I was pastoring was struggling to keep the lights on. Carol and I had frankly admitted to each other that unless God broke through, the Brooklyn Tabernacle was doomed. We couldn’t finesse it along. We couldn’t organize, market and program our way out. The embarrassing truth was that sometimes I didn’t even want to show up for the service. And our weekly Tuesday night prayer meetings were sparsely attended and less than powerful.
We had to have a visitation of the Holy Spirit, or bust.
I remember praying, “Lord, I have no idea how to be a successful pastor. I haven’t been trained. All I know is that Carol and I are working in the middle of New York City, with people dying on every side, overdosing from heroin, consumed by materialism. If the Gospel is so powerful … .” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
Quietly but forcefully, I sensed God speaking: If you and your wife will lead My people to pray and call upon My name, you will never lack for something fresh to preach. I will supply all the money that’s needed, both for the church and for your family, and you will never have a building large enough to contain the crowds I will send in response.
I knew I had heard from God, even though I hadn’t experienced some strange vision, nothing sensational or peculiar. God was simply focusing on the only answer to our situation—or anybody else’s for that matter.
The next Sunday, I came back to the church and told the tiny congregation, “I really feel that I’ve heard from God about our church’s future. From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church. … If we call upon the Lord, He has promised in His Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to Himself, to pour out His Spirit among us. If we don’t call upon the Lord, He has promised nothing. No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer.”
In the weeks that followed, answers to prayer became noticeable. Unsaved relatives and total strangers began to show up. There were junkies, prostitutes and homosexuals. But lost lawyers, business types and bus drivers turned to the Lord there, too. We started to think of ourselves as a “Holy Ghost emergency room” where people in spiritual trauma could be rescued.
I knew that a lot of churches gave lip service to the idea that God can do anything. But we needed to have real faith that anyone who walked in, regardless of his or her problems, could become a trophy of God’s grace.
The story of our church’s growing dependence on Christ is such a vivid reminder to me of how God uses praying believers to draw the lost to Himself.
Dave Butts has written a chapter in the short book, My House Shall Be a House of Prayer. The name of the chapter is, Prayerless Leaders = Prayerless Church. Butts began by describing the Brooklyn Tabernacle, the church built around prayer, pastored by Jim Cymbala:
Recently, when I I visited the Brooklyn Tabernacle’s Tuesday night prayer meeting (with more than 2,000 in attendance), it impressed me that the first three rows in the sanctuary were roped off. These rows were reserved for the leaders of the church. They were expected to be there–down front–and visible to the rest of the congregation. That was their place as leaders of prayer for the church
Brooklyn Tabernacle understands that godly leaders need to step out by faith in the direction that God lays out before then, and the people of God will follow–especially in the area of prayer. The local church will not become a house of prayer until its leaders become people of prayer. When prayer has its proper place in the life of the church leaders, it will move to a place of centrality in the rest of the church (My House Shall Be a House of Prayer, complied and Edited by Jonathan L Graf and Lani C, Hinkle, 32).
“Will we settle for the status quo, or will we reach out for what God can supernaturally do through us?”
If we call upon the Lord, He has promised in His Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to Himself, to pour out His Spirit among us…No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer.
This is the engine that drives the church
Life Action Ministries has been hosting Revival Forums since 1989. The panelists at the 2011 Moody Pastors’ Conference included the following well known speakers and authors:
- Richard Owen Roberts, founder of International Awakening Ministries
- Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle
- Steve Canfield, revivalist for Life Action Ministries
- Colin Hansen, editor for The Gospel Coalition and editor-at-large for Christianity Today
Byron Paulus, president of Life Action, moderated the panel. “The difficulty and disasters within our country have encompassed more than just tornados, but a growing interest in revival among Christian leaders is resulting in hunger for God to manifest His presence in great spiritual power.”
Nearly three hundred pastors gathered to hear the speakers share from their own experiences relating to personal revival, and their continued passion for a widespread move of God in revival and awakening.
The speakers represented a broad spectrum of theological persuasion, yet they reflected a common understanding of the need and hope for a fresh move of God’s Spirit in our day. Each panelist shared what they described as functional substitutes for an authentic work of the Spirit in local churches and among believers in general.
A pastor from Uganda shared how the revived believers there are praying for revival in America. These believers feel that the Lord will send it, either through desperation or devastation, but the choice of how we obtain it is up to us. If we don’t become desperate on our own, then we are asking for devastation to turn us back to God.
Sounds like a great conference on revival!
All revivals down through history have begun by people, even five or six gathering together, saying, “God, we’re not satisfied with the status quo.”
We live in a day where all the attention and emphasis is on the cleverness and skill of the speaker. Yet at the same time, all the statistics show that the average American Christian’s spiritual health is going down in every category measured.
One of the reasons for this problem is that we’re putting all of our eggs in the basket of oratory and worship songs. There’s a precious time for all of that, but there’s also a time to get alone with God and say, “God, I can’t make it without You! God, You have to come and help!”
Paul, the greatest apostle—maybe the greatest Christian—ever known, reminded the believers in every letter he wrote, “I pray for you.” Why? Paul knew that his preaching alone wasn’t enough, but that teaching and prayer have to go together.
In particular, notice that Paul prayed for believers to be recipients of something called dunamis, or “power,” as it is translated in our Bibles. This is the Greek word from which we get the word dynamite. It is the explosive power of God in our lives.
Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). In other words, we will receive the ability and might to do things we can’t do in our own strength.
Some people say, “But I’m a Christian. I’m a child of God; Christ lives inside of me. I already have all the power I need.” But Paul prayed for these believers, that “by his power [God] may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”
So even though Christ lives in us, we need to pray for God’s power every single day. In fact, I’m feeling more and more as I walk with the Lord that I don’t just need it day by day—I need it hour by hour. I need God to impart fresh power, fresh wind, fresh fire.
Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle charges all the new members of the church to deal with the sin of slander. It doesn’t matter if they hear slander or are involved with it themselves. They are to put a stop to it.
Why? Because slander can render a church ineffective.
He says this of slander in the church: “I know what most easily destroys churches. It is not crack cocaine, government oppression, or even lack of funds. Rather it is gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.”
Ephesians 4.29 commands us: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
When slander is on its way out of the church and encouraging words are the increasing norm, then the church will more and more reflect the image and heart of the Lord Jesus