“You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning.”
“You can tell how popular a pastor is by who comes on Sunday night.”
“But, you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.”
These words echoed a private word which God spoke to Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, in New York City, several years ago. In his book, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” pastor Jim shares his story of the discouraging, early years of his church and how God led them to become the congregation they are today, known around the world.
Jim Cymbala’s story changed my prayer life. A watershed moment occurred when I realized that I treated conversation with God like a garnish on the plate of my spiritual life. How many of us are mucking about, wondering why we aren’t moving forward, seeing progress and victories, simply because we are slothful about prayer?
This is not a book about church growth. It’s the story of what happened to a group of believers when they prayed and asked God for “fresh wind and fresh fire.” The principles and applications that pastor Jim shares apply to any believer who is discouraged in their pursuit of dreams and destiny, or just plain discouraged.
When Cymbala assumed the lead pastor role of the tiny church with less than 20 in attendance, they struggled to pay the mortgage for their building let alone pay a consistent salary to a pastor. One Sunday evening after doing everything he knew to do to grow the church, Jim was so depressed, he couldn’t even preach. The church limped along for a couple years until one day, ready to walk away from the ministry, God spoke plainly to pastor Jim that his best energies should be focused on their Tuesday night prayer meetings.
After pastor Jim shared this word with his congregation, a visiting minister stood up and affirmed the idea with the quote you see at the top. The pastor and the church obeyed God’s directive and the rest is history with the congregation now numbering in the thousands, many of whom attend the Tuesday night prayer meetings.
Pastor Jim taught me that God will birth new ideas, solutions and strategies for our lives when we are in communion with him faithfully. He’ll show you the details of how to proceed when you earnestly seek Him every day. More than anyone else, he wants us to achieve all that he designed us to accomplish in this life, but, he is not obligated to bless ideas we pursue out of our own ambitions and desires.
My second book today is a fat devotional I willingly lug on vacations, to the beach, even sometimes out to breakfast with my husband. It’s worth it! “Sparkling Gems,” by Rick Renner, comes in two different volumes, each one providing 365 days of devotional study and prayers. The “gems” are the revealed facets and colors that come from Pastor Rick helping us understand the meaning of key Greek words and phrases within one or two verses each day.
I am continually astonished at how many Scripture passages I understood at a surface level only, by not knowing the original context and definition of important words. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from volume 2, July 12, in which Renner discusses Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
“The phrase, ‘all things’ is from the Greek word panta, the word pan with ta attached. The word pan is an all-encompassing word that includes everything and excludes nothing. The little word ta, denotes even the smallest of things. So, when Paul uses the word panta, he is proclaiming that through Christ, he has the upper hand over everything with nothing excluded, including even the most minute details.”
Along with jewels like this, pastor Rick shares many stories from his remarkably interesting life. As the pastor of a large church in Moscow, he’s endured unique trials and some crazy experiences. For example, one involves the early days of their television broadcasts in Moscow. A team member found the perfect bright light bulbs to try and create their first-ever television recording studio, no easy feat in the collapsed former Soviet Union.
After sitting in the makeshift studio for eight hours, Rick and his staff discovered that the bulbs were bulbs for sun lamps. Pastor Renner not only endured severe sunburn but eye damage, which threatened to take his sight. His story of fear and faith during the dark days of lying motionless, wrapped in compresses, not knowing if his sight would return, is remarkable in its honesty and encouragement. Many other personal stories help me remember the truth nuggets found in various verses.
These two volumes are treasures that belong in any believer’s library. I cycle back around to them several times a year when I’m in between other books or need a break from more intensive study. Over time, I’ve accumulated knowledge of important Greek words and ideas that help me understand the New Testament so much better than I ever did before.
I love great historical fiction or a captivating mystery, but I need to be careful that the time I devote to reading is balanced with books that challenge, provoke, teach and instruct in the ways of God, not just fun, recreational reading. Don’t brag to me that you never watch TV if you’re plowing through an Amish Christian romance every few days without cracking open something with spiritual steak in it. There’s lots of great brain candy books out there that are wonderful to rest the mind and allow ourselves to be taken into different worlds and cultures, but, a steady diet of sugar isn’t good. Okay, now I’ve gone from teaching to meddling, as my pastor says. Til next time, read often, read well.