Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God's Spirit Invades the Heart of His People

According to 1 Corinthians 14, if meetings are governed by the Holy Spirit, the result for the visitor will be that “the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (v. 25). This should be our goal. When a visitor comes in, there should be such a mixture of God’s truth and God’s presence that the person’s heart is x-rayed, the futility of his life is exposed, and he crumbles in repentance.

Am I the only one who gets embarrassed when religious leaders in America talk about having prayer in public schools? We don’t have even that much prayer in many churches! Out of humility, you would think we would keep quiet on that particular subject until we practice what we preach in our own congregations.

Can you imagine someone handing Peter a microphone on Sunday morning and whispering, “Okay, now, you’ve got twenty minutes. We have to get the people out of here promptly because the chariot races start at one o’clock”?

Carol and I have found that unless God baptizes us with fresh outpourings of love, we would leave New York City yesterday! We don’t live in this crowded, ill-mannered, violent city because we like it. Whenever I meet or read about a guy who has sexually abused a little girl, I’m tempted in my flesh to throw him out a fifth-story window. This isn’t an easy place for love to flourish. But Christ died for that man. What could ever change him? What could ever replace the lust and violence in his heart? He isn’t likely to read the theological commentaries on my bookshelves. He desperately needs to be surprised by the power of a loving, almighty God. If the Spirit is not keeping my heart in line with my doctrine, something crucial is missing. I can affirm the existence of Jesus Christ all I want, but in order to be effective, he must come alive in my life in a way that even the pedophile, the prostitute, and the pusher can see.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British pulpiteer, had said in a sermon almost exactly a hundred years before: The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.1

Does anyone really think that America today is lacking preachers, books, Bible translations, and neat doctrinal statements? What we really lack is the passion to call upon the Lord until he opens the heavens and shows himself powerful.

How is it that Christians today will pay $20 to hear the latest Christian artist in concert, but Jesus can’t draw a crowd?

I am sure that the Roman emperors didn’t have prayer to God in their schools. But then, the early Christians didn’t seem to care what Caligula or Claudius or Nero did. How could any emperor stop God? How, in fact, could the demons of hell make headway when God’s people prayed and called upon his name? Impossible! In the New Testament we don’t see Peter or John wringing their hands and saying, “Oh, what are we going to do? Caligula’s bisexual … he wants to appoint his horse to the Roman Senate … what a terrible model of leadership! How are we going to respond to this outrage?” Let’s not play games with ourselves. 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).

I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf.

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. Our weakness, in fact, makes room for his power.

I’m not qualified,” I protested. “Me, a minister? I have no idea how to be a pastor.” He said, “When God calls someone, that’s all that really matters. Don’t let yourself be afraid.

In fact, Carol and I have told each other more than once that if the spirit of brokenness and calling on God ever slacks off in the Brooklyn Tabernacle, we’ll know we’re in trouble, even if we have 10,000 in attendance.

Instead of trying to bring men and women to Christ in the biblical way, we are consumed with the unbiblical concept of “church growth.” The Bible does not say we should aim at numbers but rather urges us faithfully to proclaim God’s message in the boldness of the Holy Spirit. This will build God’s church God’s way.

In the church today, we are falling prey to the appeal of “New!” The old truths of the gospel don’t seem spectacular enough. We’re restless for the latest, greatest, newest teaching or technique. We pastors in particular seem to search for a shortcut or some dynamic new strategy that will fire up our churches.

IN THE WORLD OF advertising, every copywriter knows the power of two magic words: “Free!” and “New!” We see them in the supermarket, in the newspaper, on billboards. And consumers respond. In the church today, we are falling prey to the appeal of “New!” The old truths of the gospel don’t seem spectacular enough. We’re restless for the latest, greatest, newest teaching or technique. We pastors in particular seem to search for a shortcut or some dynamic new strategy that will fire up our churches.

In too many churches today, people don’t see manifestations of God’s power in answer to fervent praying. Instead, they hear arguments about theological issues that few people care about. On Christian radio and television we are often merely talking to ourselves.

Jesus called fishermen, not graduates of rabbinical schools. The main requirement was to be natural and sincere.

No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer.

Peter, the biggest failure of them all, became the preacher that day. It was no homiletical masterpiece, to be sure. But people were deeply convicted—“cut to the heart,” according to Acts 2:37—by his anointed words. Three thousand were gathered into the church that day. Which church? Baptist? Presbyterian? Pentecostal? There were no such labels at that time—and in God’s view of things, there still aren’t. He ignores our categories. All he sees when he looks down is the body of Christ, made up of all born-again, blood-washed believers. The only subdivisions he sees are geographical—local churches. Other distinctions are immaterial. I

Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars and symposiums. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, “I ought to pray,” I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray.

Some have said, “The miracles, signs, and wonders of the book of Acts were temporary. They served to authenticate the apostles until such time as the New Testament could be written. Now we have the completed Word of God, which erases the need for supernatural happenings.” My response is this: If we have a completed revelation in written form, are we seeing at least as much advance for God’s kingdom, as many people coming to Christ, as many victories over Satan as those poor fellows who had to get along with just the Old Testament? If not, why not? Are we missing something valuable that they felt was essential?

THE ABSENT ELEMENT IS what is expressed in the final sentence of the prayer recorded in Acts 4: “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders” (v. 30). What gains unbelievers’ attention and stirs the heart is seeing the gospel expressed in power. It takes more than academic rigor to win the world for Christ. Correct doctrine alone isn’t enough. Proclamation and teaching aren’t enough. God must be invited to “confirm the word with signs following” (see Heb. 2:4). In other words, the gospel must be preached with the involvement of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.

The message of the cross will always be foolishness to some, a stumbling block to others. But if our attention is on the market reaction, we move away from the power of the gospel. This fearfulness to talk about the blood of Christ is an overreaction. Worse than that, it borders on heresy, distorting and deflating the power of the Good News.

The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray. And the more we sense a need to pray, the more we want to pray. C

The old saying is true: If you have only the Word, you dry up. If you have only the Spirit, you blow up. But if you have both, you grow up.

There are relatively few churches that have a heart for the lost and for the inner city; Jim Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle are one of the few. They have allowed the Holy Spirit to use them to breathe fresh life into seemingly hopeless lives. Nicky Cruz

The Scriptures are not so much the goal as they are an arrow that points us to the life-changing Christ

Trouble is one of God’s great servants because it reminds us how much we continually need the Lord. Otherwise, we tend to forget about entreating him. For some reason we want to carry on by ourselves. H

Why do the greatest miracle stories seem to come from mission fields, either overseas or among the destitute here at home (the Teen Challenge outreach to drug addicts, for example)? Because the need is there. Christians are taking their sound doctrine and extending it to lives in chaos, which is what God has called us all to do. Without this extension of compassion it is all too easy for Bible teachers and authors to grow haughty. We become proud of what we know. We are so impressed with our doctrinal orderliness that we become intellectually arrogant. We have the rules and theories all figured out while the rest of the world is befuddled and confused about God’s truth … poor souls.

Yet Christians often hesitate to reach out to those who are different. They want God to clean the fish before they catch them. If someone’s gold ring is attached to an unusual body part, if the person doesn’t smell the best, or if the skin color is not the same, Christians tend to hesitate. But think for a moment about God reaching out to us. If ever there was a “reach,” that was it: the holy, pure Deity extending himself to us who were soiled, evil-hearted, unholy. God could have said, “You’re so different from me, so distasteful, I would really rather not get too close to you.” But he didn’t say that. It was out very differentness that drew his hand of love. Jesus didn’t just speak the healing word to lepers from a distance of thirty yards. He touched them.