The Missing Piece
The following message was given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2004 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Please turn to 2 Corinthians 3:1-6. This is Paul writing a defensive apostolic epistle to the Church in Corinth. Paul writes:
"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenantÖ." That infers you could be an incompetent minister of the new covenant or a minister of the wrong covenant. "Önot of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
Then follows the incredible passage where Paul calls what Moses received written on a stone by God Himself, the ministry of death which came with glory. But how much greater glory is the ministry of the Spirit, the new covenant (vv.7-11). What God gave Moses on Sinai, that which the people vowed they would do Ė Paul calls the ministry of death. Paul says that God "has made us competent ministers of a new covenant," not of the letter that kills but of the Spirit which gives life.
Let us go now to 1 Thessalonians. Commentators are not sure how long Paul was in Thessalonica. Some venture that he stayed as little as three weeks. Some say about six months, but it canít be much more than that. Itís amazing what God did with no written New Testament, no sound system, no church buildings. Let us read from 1 Thessalonians 1:4 and following:
"Brothers loved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lordís message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia Ė your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead Ė Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath."
Then look at 1 Thessalonians 2:6 and following: "We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the Gospel of God to you."
In the New Testament there are hardly any references to revival. You have to interpret and analyze to see how revival fits in. The terms "revive," "revival" and the concepts are more prevalently found in the Old Testament. For example, "O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years" (Hab. 3:2).
There were men and women who met God and who were used of God in the Old Testament, but what we see there were more reformations and a return back to worship. But the worship sometimes was, "You honor Me with your mouth, but your heart is far from Me" (Isa. 29:13). That would have to be so because the law lacked power to transform hearts. God said that in a coming day He will make "a new covenant" (Heb. 8:8), "a better covenant" (Heb. 8:6) with His people. The Old Testament is characterized by Moses and the law. The New Testament is characterized by Jesus Christ and the message of grace. We donít live in the Old Testament covenant.
Revival in the New Testament Sense
In the Old Testament concept of reform and revival, the best they could do was make vows of new obedience, which they soon broke. In the New Testament weíre not under the dispensation of the law. Weíre under the dispensation of grace. We live in the day of the Holy Spirit. We live in what Joel prophesied about, but what they in the Old Testament never experienced. We live with prophets and pastors and teachers and evangelists. This was unknown in the Old Testament. They had kings and the Aaronic priesthood and tabernacle and the Temple and there were daily sacrifices and animals being slaughtered. We live in a greater era. We live in the day of Jesus and the outpoured Spirit!
Instead of vows of obedience, the New Testament is more focused on Spirit-filled lives producing fruit. There are pictures of this and shadows and types in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament itís fruit being borne. Along with the emphasis on, "Will you obey?" there is an even greater emphasis on "Will you open your life to My Spirit so that My Spirit can produce fruit?" It is not us but Christ working through the Holy Spirit.
Thatís why Ephesians 5:18 is so important. Literally in the continual present tense it is, "Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit." Why? Because, as Samuel Chadwick said, "Christianity is hopeless without the Holy Ghost." We can give people the law, warn them about hell and disciple until Jesus comes, but nothing will happen unless there is the blessing and breath of the Holy Spirit upon what we are doing. Only the Holy Spirit can make us like Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit working inside of me will ever change this ornery person inside of me named Jim Cymbala. Itís the truth for you, too. The New Testament is more about being filled with the Holy Spirit. That assumes that not all Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, why would the Apostle Paul say as a command, which is very strong in the Greek language, "Be filled with the Holy Spirit," or "Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit," or Rotherhamís translation, "Be being filled with the Holy Spirit."
Are our churches Spirit-filled? In the Book of Revelation Jesus is seen walking among the seven golden lampstands, which are the churches. The Church is the vehicle for the message and it is the container for the presence of God, so that people can see Jesus through us, hear the message, see a manifestation of His glory in some way. We are the Body of Christ. As the Church changes and lives up to its Spirit-filled calling, as it lives in revival in the New Testament sense, then our countries have a chance to be changed. Remember what Jesus said: "By their fruit you will know them" (Matt. 12:33). Thatís not just for the people; itís for churches and ministers too. The New Testament is full of the concept of both individual and corporate fruit. Individual fruit we know: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, kindness, faith, meekness, temperance Ė all produced by the Holy Spirit. So no matter what a person claims to be, if he or she is not exhibiting fruit in some measure, we know the Spirit of God is not working there. Something is wrong.
It is not only true for individuals; it is also true for a church. On Paulís first missionary trip, he left Antioch in Pisidia with Barnabas, and as he left, in Acts 13:52, it says, "The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost." Think what that means! The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Godhead. They were filled with God! Have we ever scratched the surface of what that sentence means? Filled with God!
Imagine what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit Ė not trying to live for God, but filled with God! It is not us doing anything. What in the world could I do? Ah, but filled with God Ė thatís something else!
Now corporately what does that look like? The Bible tells us itís a fruit-bearing, life-filled ministry like we saw in 1 Corinthians 3. Paul is saying there something like this: "You are letters from Christ, letters which He sent Himself, written not with ink. You werenít programmed like brainwashed people. You have had the Holy Spirit write on your heart. Youíre new creations through our ministry."
Paul is not bragging. He is a humble man. But heís challenging us: "through our ministry God wrote on your heart." Thatís what I want. Isnít that what you want Ė that God would write in peopleís hearts, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God? God has made us competent ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter but of the Spirit who gives life. Notice in 1 Thessalonians 1:5: "not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, with deep conviction."
Catherine Booth, about 1890 said, "Burning words! Thatís what Iím looking for. I travel all around, and I hear oratory; I hear clever preaching. But what Iím searching for is something that will burn my heart like the men on the road to Emmaus" (Luke 24:32). "The Gospel came not to you simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction." The Jews were against them, and the Roman Empire also for the most part. Yet Paul founded a church in a few months in Thessalonica, because the Gospel came not just in word but in power and in the Holy Spirit, deep conviction, with none of the advantages we have.
Model of the New Testament Church
The converts in Thessalonica turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from heaven (1 Thess. 1:9). The New Testament Church is the model that we should be aiming for. In Acts 2:42 weíre told: "They continued steadfastly in the apostlesí doctrineÖ." This included fellowship and the breaking of bread and prayer meetings. They were waiting on God, seeking God, and seeing God add to the Church daily those that were getting saved. The marks of the New Testament Church were evangelism, discipleship, prayer, worship, Spirit-filled believers, and God dwelling among His people.
Oh yes, there was an Ananias and Sapphira. There is always going to be some trouble. But the Bible shows us the golden age of the Church. This is our model, not what we saw when we were growing up. Most people are merely trying to propagate the church culture into which they were born Ė be it Baptist or Methodist or Nazarene or Assembly of God, or whatever. The goal for the rest of their life is, "This is the way we do it, praise God." Yes, but how many are getting saved?
I got an e-mail some months ago from a minister who said, "I read your book, ĎFresh Wind, Fresh Fire,í and I got stirred about how prayerless our church was. I called a prayer meeting." I read on with eagerness to see what great thing happened, and he said, "It split the church. The board had a meeting and they called me in front of them, and said, ĎWhat are you doing? What are you innovating? When we were growing up did we ever go to an all-night prayer meeting? No. Brother, what are you innovating?í"
"But the BibleÖ."
"Forget the Bible. This is the church we were born in and this is the church weíre going to die in."
How few want to change. Many are saying, "God, do a new thing, but Iím not changing. Iím not changing my doctrinal position; Iím not changing how I like to pray, and Iím not changing how I like to worship."
God says in passages such as Psalm 134:2 and 1 Timothy 2:8 that He wants holy men and women everywhere to lift up holy hands. The response may be: "No, we donít do that. Others may do that, but we are not used to that."
It doesnít matter what you are used to; God said He likes it. Is worship about making me feel comfortable? Or am I adoring God? I have no idea why lifting up my hands means anything to God, but if it does, I will do it. And Iíll give Him the fruit of my lips, a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We are so culturalized. Many say, "I must keep up the tradition which I inherited from my forefathers. It has to be in the perimeters that I have pictured in my mind." The noisy folks canít have a service unless they are noisy, and the quietists canít take any noise. But both are in the Bible. "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord" (Psa. 100:1). Some say, "Oh, we donít do that." The Bible says to do it.
Revived Back to the Spirit-filled Life
In looking at revival ministry we see that the missing piece is the component of the Spirit-filled life. All ministers have studied Paulís message: "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:16). He preached the Gospel. This is the secret of the great model of a preacher, Paul. He preached the law to bring conviction, but immediately afterward he gave the balm of the Gospel, because the law alone kills. It might bring conviction, but it leaves people lying in their misery and weakness. His methodology was that he was guided by the Holy Spirit.
Pastors, if you seek God about what He wants you to preach this Sunday, youíd do better than speaking according to some mechanical preaching plan. Only God knows what your congregation needs. Only God knows what the devil plans to disrupt your church. God can give you a message even before the devil delivers his blow. So make your plans, but be Spirit-led.
Todayís missing element that made Paul so effective was not just his message and his methodology. It was his motive. Paul said to the church of the Thessalonians, which was mostly a Gentile church, with some Jewish converts, something like this: "Remember when we were with you, how much we loved you, and like a mother, we gently nursed you." The picture in the Greek language is like a woman taking a baby to her breast and feeding the baby. Then Paul goes on to say something I havenít met in probably five ministers in my life: that they were determined to love them so much that they not only gave them the Gospel, but they were ready to give them their lives as well. (See 1 Thess. 2:7-8).
Paul reminded them that they worked day and night and did not take anything from them, not that they couldnít claim it as apostles but when you love people, you go the extra mile. I wonder how it was to sit under Paulís sermons. He not only had truth and not only was he directed and anointed of the Holy Spirit, but he was deeply in love with the agape love of Godís Holy Spirit passionately driving him on. This is how he felt about, not people he grew up with, but with gross heathen. Love made Jesus a friend of sinners. Most ministers in most circles would never let it be said of them that they had a sinner who was their friend.
People need love. Paul said something like this: "Tenderly I cared for you. I wanted to come to you but Satan hindered me. In the day of Christ, what is my joy? What is my crown? What is my reward? Is it not you? Now Timothy has come back and told me about your faith, that it is strong. Now I really live because you are standing firm in the Lord." (See 1 Thess 2:18-3:9). He is in Corinth facing all kinds of problems when he writes to the Thessalonians. The Lord had appeared to him to hold him steady in his ministry in Corinth, but heís saying that now he really lives; now he can rejoice just to know that the Thessalonians were holding on to Jesus. He is just like a mother.
We wonder why we donít get the results Paul got. Weíre studying his message and giving lip service to the Holy Spirit, but how about this "umbilical cord," this connection of love that he had with his audience that only God could give? This comes by the Holy Spirit producing a way of looking at people and feeling about people the way God does. Paul looked at people and saw people and felt about people the way God did, and that will make you preach, that will make you pray with passion. When youíre in love with someone and desperate, you will get through to them.
I remember years ago when Chrissy, my firstborn, was away from the Lord, and my wife and I had tears rolling down from our eyes. Do you think anybody had to tell me to pray for Chrissy? Do you think somebody had to say, "Talk to her, Jim"? With tears in my eyes, I pleaded, "Chrissy, donít do it!" Paul felt that way about everybody. Oh, how Iíve been praying before I go in the pulpit now, "Yes, God, I need Your anointing; yes, I need You to help me preach the truth, but oh God, help me feel about the people what You feel. Help me see the people the way You see them, because otherwise Iíll turn away because I see so much."
How ridiculous it is to think that we can successfully preach the Gospel, no matter how good our doctrine is, without the Spirit and the love of the Gospel! We may think it is some mechanical thing Ė just speak the Word and the Word goes out. No! Thereís an umbilical cord. Success has a lot to do with the messenger. A great definition of preaching is "truth coming through personality." Paul was not only giving them the truth; it was coming through a heart filled with mercy, compassion, love, and weeping over them. How many pastors do you know would say, "I not only want to preach to you; I want to die for you if I have to." Do not write this off as emotionalism. This is not emotionalism; this is the Bible. No one had to tell Jesus it was time to weep over Jerusalem. He wept over Jerusalem Ė the city that had rejected Him. "Oh, Jerusalem, JerusalemÖ." You canít teach that; it only comes by the Holy Spirit possessing me in areas in which I need to be possessed. But weíre not going to have success just parroting the Gospel without the Spirit of the Gospel.
Donít you think this is part of the reason the prayer meeting is dead? It is phony to talk about God answering prayer if we donít pray. For some, it is just our church culture to talk about God answering prayer, just giving lip service. How many churches you know take a main night for prayer meeting, with the leadership present, and say, "Weíre going to call on God"? Thereís a time to teach; thereís a time to worship; time for the choir to sing; time to evangelize. But if we donít pray, whatís going to happen in all these things?
And how are you going to get people to pray if they donít care about anybody? Intercessory prayer means you feel for someone else. Iíve noticed this: you can hardly get people to pray for anyone else, but let their daughter get in trouble, let their son get in trouble, then you see copious tears. Why? Because they love. Without love, you canít get people to pray. Tell them they ought to; tell them to get the disciplines of the spiritual life Ė itís to no avail. As Brother Henry Blackaby said so well, "Love is the discipline."
Let me go further. How about the scandal of closed-door churches, churches whose doors are not open aggressively to everyone? How many pastors or ministers, when on Saturday night theyíre hopefully praying for their message and for the services and praying that God will bless Ė how many do you believe can pray a prayer like the following and mean it from their heart? "Dear God, I know that You died for everyone in my community. I know You suffered, bled and died for every human being walking outside my church. So Lord, tomorrow I pray in the Name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, call them in Ė any color, homeless, poor. Bring them in. Weíll love them. Weíll be Your hand extended to them. We will nurse them. We will bless them. We will weep over them. Send them in, O God, in Jesusí Name."
I talk to well-known ministers and they tell me, "If I follow what youíre saying, Jim, half of my church will get up and leave." What kind of church do you have? The human beings that Christ died for come in and your people are going to leave? You tell me how much you teach them the Bible and how good they are at coming to church on Sunday and how they serve the Body. But they donít love other human beings that Christ died for. Is that Christianity?
This is a great sin. Pornography slays its thousands. Prayerlessness and lack of study of the Bible, fanaticism, emotionalism Ė I am against all that. But God is love. The angels must weep over our lack of love. They know what Christ did for all humanity, and here are Christian churches that are less integrated than the world. In New York City, people do crack cocaine interracially; they go to jail interracially; they go to Madison Square Garden and see the Knicks play; they go to the stadium to see the Yankees play interracially.
Letís not talk about, "Itís cultural." We have to understand that itís a lack of love. We talk about God coming into our midst. Coming for what? Why would He come if you donít want the people there that He died for? He cannot come any place that rejects the people for whom He died. The Holy Spirit would have to deny His own loving nature.
Iíve been rebuked by the Lord many times because what I am preaching to you, Iíve had to learn. I will tell you the story of how God corrected me one day. On Easter Sunday some years ago, we had an outreach in the last service, and a girl in the choir which Carol, my wife, conducts gave her testimony in between some of the songs. She had been saved out of deep sin. Then I preached the Gospel. People came forward. At that time we were having three services a day, each two hours long.
That Easter Sunday I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. The prayer workers were praying for people I had invited to receive Christ. I was sitting there bone tired. There had been lines outside. We had turned hundreds of people away for lack of space.
As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, "Could I talk to you?" We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, "What a way to end a Sunday. Iíve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and hereís a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine."
He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like Iíd never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then Iíd talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldnít inhale facing him.
I asked him, "Whatís your name?"
"How long have you been on the street?"
"How old are you?"
"Thirty-two." He looked fifty ó hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed.
"Where did you sleep last night, David?"
I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking, Iíll give him some money. I wonít even get a worker. They are all busy praying with others. Usually we donít give money to people. We take them to get something to eat. I took the money out.
David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, "I donít want your money. I want this Jesus this girl was talking about, the One you were talking about, because Iím not going to make it. Iím going to die on the street."
I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not filled with the Spirit. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels. But oh, did that change!
David just stood there. He didnít know what was happening. I pleaded with God, "God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. Iím so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!" And God baptized me afresh with love. Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep because he could feel what was happening in me. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: if you and Carol donít love this smell, I canít use you, because this is why I called you where you are. This is what you are about. You are about this smell. Itís beautiful.
Christ changed Davidís life. He started memorizing portions of Scripture that were incredible. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital. They detoxed him in about six days. He spent that Thanksgiving at my house. He also spent Christmas at my house. When we were exchanging presents, he pulled out a little thing and he said, "This is for you." It was a little white hanky. It was the only thing he could afford.
A year later I had him give his testimony. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, "The man is a preacher." This past Easter I helped ordain David. Heís an associate pastor of a church in New Jersey. And I was so close to saying, "Here, take this; Iím a busy preacher." We can get so full of ourselves.
Who will join me in saying, "I need a baptism of that love"? God has set us such an example. He is love. Might God change the way we preach and the way we pray. Might He change our churches and our staffs. Might there be brokenness and tenderness and love and compassion and mercy and patience and longsuffering.
Used by permission. Jim Cymbala is the pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle in Brooklyn, NY.