Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

I recently picked up a copy of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire somewhere and I'm about halfway through it now. I'm taking it slow, letting it soak in (I usually blaze through books, but there are some books that need to be savored slowly). This is an amazing story and has been very thought-provoking and challenging to me in several areas...neat how God brings things into our lives to bless, encourage, and move us to change.

If you aren't familiar with this book, it's written by Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City and is basically the story of how this church has grown over several decades to be the church it is today (or rather, in 1997 when this book was written; I think he's written at least two more books with similar titles since). Pastor Cymbala also shares his thoughts on current ministry trends and other subjects relating to ministry in the church. His experiences with the inner-city in Brooklyn resonate with me because I think it's quite similar to overseas or cross-cultural missionary work.

Early in the book, Jim Cymbala shared that during his first few months at the Brooklyn Tabernacle he was literally depressed by the ministry challenges and didn't necessarily want to even be the pastor there. One Sunday night as he was preaching, he broke down and embarrassingly couldn't even continue preaching. Instead, he called for the few people that were attending the service to come pray with him at the altar. He said that as they began to call upon the Lord, the Spirit of God came down on them and began stirring their hearts. So much so that one of the ushers even confessed to having stolen money out of the offering plate! Pastor Cymbala says it was their first spiritual breakthrough.

He continues..."That evening, when I was at my lowest, confounded by obstacles, bewildered by the darkness that surrounded us, unable even to continue preaching, 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.

In a parallel vein, people are not put off by honesty, either. I didn't have to keep up a ministerial front. I could just preach God's Word as best I knew and then call the congregation to prayer and worship. The Lord would take over from there.

How I treasure those early humblings. Those experiences showed me that I didn't need to play the preacher. Jesus called fishermen, not graduates of rabbinical schools. The main requirement was to be natural and sincere. His disciples had to depend totally upon the Lord and his power. In the same way, I had to stop trying to act ministerial--whatever that was. God could only use Jim Cymbala the way he is. What a breakthrough that was for me as I learned to trust in God to use my natural personality. God has always despised sham and pretense, especially in the pulpit. The minute I started trying to effect a posture or pose, God's Spirit would be grieved.

What I could do, however, was to get even more serious about studying. I began building a biblical library and giving many hours during the week to digging into God's Word. But another John Wesley or G. Campbell Morgan I would never be--that was obvious. I had to find my own style and stay open and dependent on God."

Good reminders for both Miguel and I as we continue to wonder what is our place in ministry, exactly? Our primary ministry is in the process of changing and we're not sure what the future holds. We've already discovered many weaknesses and we have moments of wondering how God can use us when we are so prone to failure in many areas of our lives! Good reminder for us to humbly and honestly admit how desperately we need Him. How desperately I need Him!

Later, Jim says he received a promise from God of blessing for the church if he and his wife would lead the people to consistently pray and call upon the Lord. As they have actively pursued calling on the name of the Lord as a church, God has fulfilled this promise (although he does emphasize that the 'success' of a church doesn't depend on "attendance, buildings and cash", but on whether "that church is proclaiming his (God's) Word to people he loves under the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit to produce results that only he can bring about.").

Jim quotes Charles Haddon Spurgeon in saying,

"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."

Jim notes that after Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple, Jesus seemed to be saying that "The atmosphere of my Father's house is to be prayer. The aroma around my Father must be that of people opening their hearts in worship and supplication. This is not just a place to make a buck. This is a house for calling on the Lord."

The book continues..."The feature that is supposed to distinguish Christian churches, Christian people, and Christian gatherings is the aroma of prayer. It doesn't matter what your tradition or my tradition is. The house is not ours anyway; it is the Father's.

Does the Bible ever say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation, "My house shall be called a house of preaching?"

Does it ever say, "My house shall be called a house of music?"

Of course not.

The Bible does say, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." Preaching, music, the reading of the Word--these things are fine; I believe in and practice all of them. But they must never override prayer as the defining mark of God's dwelling. The honest truth is that I have seen God do more in people's lives during ten minutes of real prayer than in ten of my sermons."

I like a book that challenges me in my own spiritual walk with God. I like a book that challenges me to think about how I am living out God's truths...the passages in the book about prayer, especially, have been convicting because I don't think that I can truly say that I am a Woman of Prayer. Oh, I talk to God a lot, here and there, throughout the day or night. But I can't say that I spend a significant part of my day in prayer, or that I am faithful to pray for this or that request for long periods of time, or that I pray with passion and power. In fact, I think that most times, my underlying thought is that of 'what much difference can this one woman's prayer make?'. I know that I have a tendency to underestimate the power of my prayers...

For example, this last week we had to address some issues with both Micah and JD...and it ocurred to me that although I am not praying faithfully for my kids every day. On Sunday, Miguel's brother Ivan called from Venezuela in a very drunken state and I realized that I haven't prayed faithfully for my dear brother-in-law who struggles with addictions and alcoholism.

I long for God to use me. I long for Him to manifest His power in my life. I long to truly believe His promises and truly live out my life as if I DO believe. I think that I, too, could use a fresh wind and a fresh fire.


Norberto Kurrle said...

Thanks for sharing. Don't we all need more prayer in our lives? Yet, how often do I neglect it?! I've read and re-read FW,FF and I've been sharpened and encouraged by it as well. His book, Fresh Faith is also inspiring.

What else is on your reading list this year?

Rebecca Conduff Aguirre said...

Julie, that's a good way to put it, "sharpened"! Would love to read his other books, too, but not sure if I can find copies here.

I've been reading through Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend and I also just finished a series of books by Gilbert Morris and his daughter (I think?) about a woman doctor, Cheney Duvall, and her male nurse Shiloh Irons. That series was pretty good and I would enjoy reading more of Gilbert Morris or Karen Kingsbury.

Other books I am reading or want to read are The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, A Path Through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot, and Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Rebecca Conduff Aguirre said...

Oh, and friend just reviewed the book Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore at http://unveilingradiance.blogspot.com/2010/01/same-kind-of-different-as-me.html. I have heard of that book, it sounds really interesting, so I'm putting that on my list as well. :)

Katrina Marti said...

Becky, I just read that book and was blown away by it too. The Lord is really challenging Steve and I both in the area of prayer so this was a good book to read, and be challenged by.