Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Jun 16 2013

As we were praying at the end of our first service on a recent Sunday, I met an older woman who had come to the altar
area at the front of the sanctuary.  While trying to encourage her, I learned she was a grandmother who lived in a one-
bedroom apartment in a troubled area of Brooklyn.  She was experiencing some very deep waters, indeed.  As I talked
with her more, I learned she had a grown daughter who had been in and out of a mental institution.  That daughter had
two teenage sons, and the three of them lived with the grandmother.  A second daughter, who had a six-year-old child,
lived in her small apartment as well.  But that wasn’t all; I was shocked to learn about a grown son who also called her
apartment home.  Eight people lived in her tiny one-bedroom apartment!

Earlier in the week, the authorities had come to the apartment and notified her that her teenage grandsons had been
molesting the six-year-old granddaughter.  The grandmother's heart was broken.  She loved Jesus and was fighting
desperately for her family.

I prayed with all my heart for her and then brought in our family ministries director.  What a brave woman to hang on to
God’s promises in the midst of such depressing chaos!

At the second service, a teenage girl came to the altar and prayed.  Tears glistened at the corners of her closed eyes.  I
waited for the right moment to talk with her, but even after I dismissed those who had to go, she continued to pray.  
While the musicians continued to softly play for those who remained in the sanctuary, I put my hand on her arm, a
fatherly sign that she wasn’t alone.  She suddenly began to sob from some deep place inside of her.  It was so deep
that, frankly, it alarmed me.  Standing next to her, I silently prayed,
God, come and comfort her.  Holy Spirit, guide me.  
What should I do?  What should I say?

I let more time pass, then finally I asked her to sit down on the steps in the front of the church so we could talk.  

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Fourteen,” she said, but she looked much older.  She told me her name and a few other details.

Finally, I asked, “What’s troubling you?  What’s wrong?”

Tentatively at first, she told me her story.  For the past three years, her stepfather had been molesting her.  Finally,
someone had called the authorities, and they were going to arrest him, but they hadn’t picked him up yet.  He was still
out there, and she was frightened.

About that time, I looked up and saw her mother standing over us both.  She was a lovely lady with tear-filled eyes.  It
was their first visit to our church, and God was dealing in love with both of them.

“Is it true what your daughter’s been telling me?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered with deep emotion.

“Where do you live?”

“We live in a shelter in another borough of the city.”

I took them up to my office, and while there I led both of them in a prayer to get their relationship right with God through
Jesus Christ.  Others brought them over to our hospitality area for lunch.  They stayed with me the entire day.  We
God show us the way out of this shelter, and show us where we’re supposed to go from here.

What Are We to Do?

Well, you can imagine that having heard those stories after the first two services, I wasn’t sure what to expect after the
third!  Anyone who has worked in ministry has probably had a day like that.  But we don’t even have to be officially in
ministry to find ourselves in the middle of someone else’s heartbreaking problems.  Perhaps something is going on in
your family, or a coworker has shared a personal struggle.  Maybe one of your own kids is rebelling, or the bottom has
somehow fallen out of your life.

On Tuesday nights, our prayer meeting begins at seven, but the doors open two hours earlier for those who desire extra
time with God.  Recently I entered the sanctuary around six to pray for those with special needs.  I stood in the front
along with other pastors, deacons, and Prayer Band members as we helped a long line of people requesting prayer.  I
must have prayed for at least a dozen people.  One first-time visitor was depressed because her marriage was falling
apart, but she also told me she was having an ongoing affair with her previous boyfriend.  Another woman had a test
coming up to get higher medical credentials, but currently she was out of work and living in a shelter.  A third person was
struggling in her efforts to quit smoking.  Another person was concerned about her son who was serving a sentence of
up to thirty years in an upstate penitentiary.

When we are confronted with people who have such desperate needs, what should we do?  I always want to pray for
people who are hurting, but sometimes I am not even sure what or how to pray.  There are days I have to pray to God
just to ask him
how I should pray!

When critical situations arise and I come to the end of my abilities, I deeply feel my inadequacy.  Something more is
needed.  But more of what?  Not more praise and worship choruses – I know tons of those.  Not a better translation of
the Bible.  Do I need a degree in counseling?  No, most of all I need power from heaven.  If we want to spread the gospel
and see Christ-glorifying conversions, if we want to see breakthroughs in difficult – even seemingly impossible –
situations, we must have more power from the Holy Spirit.  Without Holy Spirit power, we’ll never have enough of what we
need to become the people God wants us to be.


I love to look at the buildings of Manhattan, especially at night when the lights are all on.  It’s an amazing sight to see all
of those buildings filled with people, activities, and ideas at work, and to know that what is hatched there will not only
affect New York City but the entire world.  However, regardless of how influential New York City and its people can be, if
you take away the electrical power – which happens occasionally during a blackout – the whole thing shuts down.  The
office buildings become useless, the activity ceases, and the ideas die in the darkness.  Without power, all that potential
is wasted.

The same is true for us believers.  If we don’t have access to spiritual power, how can we accomplish what needs to be
done?  Power to overcome sin.  Power to overcome spiritual enemies that attack us.  Power to endure hardship and
affliction.  Power to witness.  Power to speak.  Power to pray.  Isn’t more spiritual power probably the greatest need we
have today?  

It’s interesting that the risen Christ’s final words before his ascension concerned spiritual power.  “I am going to send you
what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49,
emphasis added).  It was as if Jesus looked down the corridors of time and knew that even having the right gospel
message wouldn’t be enough.  We would face so many such obstacles from satanic strongholds that we would never
evangelize the world effectively without the power that only the Spirit can impart.

Think about the situation the disciples were in.  They had been with Jesus who had risen from the dead.  And for the first
time, they finally understood the meaning of the sacrifice he made on the cross, the blood that was shed for the
remission of all sins.  They had seen the nail marks in his hands.  They had seen him ascend into heaven.  Imagine how
badly they must have wanted to tell people about what they saw!  Think of the excitement when they finally understood
the good news.  They felt the desperate spiritual state of those in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, as well as the rest of the
 Let’s start this evangelizing business right now, they must have thought.  Let’s get the message out.  We’re
wasting valuable time

We might even think that Jesus would agree with that kind of thinking.  That he’d say, “Okay, now that you’ve seen the
nail marks and you know I’m alive, go out and preach the message!  But he didn’t.  He told them to do the exact opposite
of what they were inclined to do.

Jesus told them to wait.


Jesus knew far better than the disciples did that the equipment needed for the job was more than keen intellect, human
talent, and even a sincere heart.  So they obediently did as Jesus said.  They waited in the upper room praying, singing,
and praising God.  “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the
blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed
to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and
began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).

The Spirit was poured out just as Jesus promised.  What the prophet Joel predicted had happened.  “In the last days,
God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see
visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17-21).  This meant that a new kind of ability was available.  “[For] you
will receive power
when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8, emphasis added).  This awesome power from heaven
was needed on earth to build Christ’s kingdom.

Were those disciples sincere believers in Jesus as they waited in Jerusalem?  Yes.  Did they have correct doctrine?  
Yes.  Could they have gone out and preached without the Holy Spirit?  I am sure they wanted to, but Jesus knew they
were not ready.  He knew the power of the enemy they would face, the discouragements, and the opposition.  If the Holy
Spirit’s power was needed then, has anything changed to this very day?  Will anything else but the Spirit’s power working
through us pull down the walls of unbelief and break the powers of compulsive sinful behavior as we share the gospel?

We all know about Peter’s failings as a disciple, but let’s be honest – the others weren’t much better.  They weren’t
educated people.  Jesus could have asked twelve rabbis to be his followers, but he didn’t.  He asked fishermen and a
despised tax collector.  Jesus purposely chose men who weren’t religious professionals.  They weren’t born charismatic
leaders; none of them had seminary training.  Why did Jesus pick such a motley group of men to be responsible for
spreading his message throughout the world?

Powering Up

I believe one of the reasons Jesus picked those men was specifically because they lacked natural resources.  They
have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.  What else could they fall back on?  When these former fishermen and
tax collectors stood up to proclaim the good news of Jesus, who else could make them effective in turning people to
God?  Yet when speaking about Christ, the apostles and early disciples displayed a spiritual power totally unknown in
the history of world religions.  “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke
of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you
by the Holy Spirit sent from
” (I Peter 1:12).

Every believer is probably familiar with the important role that preaching and good teaching play in extending Christ’s
kingdom and helping us mature.  But over the last few years, I’ve begun to wonder if our understanding of preaching is
defined more by our life experience than by the Bible.  In most churches, a minister stands before the congregation and
shares a passage of Scripture, usually in a sequential, logical manner that breaks down the meaning of the passage for
everyone to understand.  Illustrations are often used, followed by an application of truth.  If the message is Scripture
based and the speaker’s communication skills are of a high caliber, one would usually define that as a “fine sermon.”  
The same can be applied to us when we share the Word one-on-one with a friend or coworker.  The recommended
advice is to use your head, be as persuasive as you can, and try to bring the person to a belief in Jesus.

While all of that is good, what are we going to make of the apostle Paul’s description of his method of preaching?  
Reminding the Corinthian church of his eighteen-month ministry there, he said:

    When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about
    God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in
    weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,
    but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s
    power.  (I Corinthians 2:1-5, emphasis added)

What?  A speaker not depending on wise and persuasive words?  Isn’t that what most seminaries and books on effective
preaching almost exclusively emphasize?  Isn’t that what most of us aim for when we share with others?  But here the
apostle states unequivocally that his message and preaching were not “with wise and persuasive words.”  That was
never part of Paul’s strategy as a preacher of the gospel.  What he did claim was that his ministry involved “a
demonstration of the Spirit’s power”!

What kind of Spirit-saturated messages did Paul give the people in Corinth?  He certainly didn’t mean that every five
minutes or so he interrupted his talk to heal someone’s blind eyes or have the lame walk, because there is no record of
that in Scripture.  Yet this brilliant Pharisee-trained convert to Jesus dismisses “wise and persuasive words” and instead
boasts in the Spirit’s power resting on him.  Why?  In order that the Christians in Corinth might have their faith “in God’s
power” and not “human wisdom.”  I wonder how many of us ministers have that as our goal every time we open God’s
Holy Word.

Power for a Purpose

And here is some great news.  There is no place in Scripture where God says that kind of help is not available to us two
thousand years later.  Of course, if we don’t believe in that sort of supernatural anointing and Holy Spirit manifestation,
we will never experience it.  One of the basic principles that Jesus laid down was that according to our faith, so it will be
done to us (Matthew 9:29).  Unfortunately, our traditions and denominational positions on the Holy Spirit often rob us of
expecting strong divine influences when we speak for Christ.  May we be granted new faith in God the Spirit!

Beyond a lack of faith, there is another reason why the Holy Spirit’s manifestation of power is often withheld from our
lives and churches.  In the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, a remarkable thing happened in the synagogue in his
hometown of Nazareth.  Acting as the designated reader of the Old Testament passage for that Sabbath day, the Lord
read these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

To set the oppressed free,

    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus then followed his public reading by these astounding words: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke
4:21).  This famous passage from Isaiah 61 was spoken of the Messiah for whom Israel was waiting.  Jesus declared
himself to be that Promised One.  By this he explained to his own townspeople that he was much more than the mere
carpenter’s son they thought him to be.

Carefully note why Jesus was anointed by God and why the Spirit rested on him in power.  His purpose was to bring
good news to poor people with little earthly hope, to proclaim spiritual freedom to those bound by sin and Satan, to
deliver the message of salvation that God wanted everyone to hear and experience.  That’s
why the Holy Spirit
empowered Christ so amazingly – to help sinful, needy people find their way back to God.  And that’s why the ascended
Christ sent the Holy Spirit to the waiting disciples in the upper room.  He wasn’t given so we Christians could have
exciting meetings as we circle the wagons and talk to one another.  He wasn’t promised to us for moments of spiritual
ecstasy, as wonderful as that might be.

The Holy Spirit was sent to accomplish many divine purposes, but at the top of the list was the empowering of God’s
people to reach the world with the gospel of Christ.  Notice Christ’s words: “But you will receive power when the Holy
Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the
earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis added).

If we lose sight of God’s heart of love for the world – including our own cities and neighborhoods – we will experience
little of the Spirit’s power, since we are on a different page than our Lord is on.  But whenever we reach out with purpose
to share the good news of salvation through Christ; whenever we are determined to help the spiritually blind see and to
set the oppressed free, we can prayerfully expect the Holy Spirit to work in power as promised by Jesus.

The Body and the Spirit

Sadly, many of us don’t experience the power of the Holy Spirit because we so seldom do what Christ commissioned us
to do.  No matter how spiritually dark the world seems, no matter how bound and oppressed by Satan, he that is within
us is greater than he that is in the world!  Oh that the church of Christ would rise to its calling to be the
body of Christ
continuing his work today of reaching out in love to people who need the Lord.

Think about the needs of the people around us.  We don’t have to have all the answers.  We don’t have to know
beforehand the right things to say.  And more important, we should not be afraid to get down in the trenches with hurting
people and their tangled lives.  The Spirit’s power was promised for those very situations.  The Holy Spirit was sent so
that all of us – whether or not we’re in formal ministry – could reach out to humanity and rely on a power beyond

Amazing “coincidences” seem to happen when we have an open heart of love and dare to reach out in Christ’s name.  
Remember that abused fourteen-year-old girl who was so frightened of the future while she and her mother were living in
a shelter?  They continued to visit our church each Sunday, and there they found a new loving family of believers who
ministered to them.  Despite her situation, the girl was an honors student; and a few weeks later, another visitor from out
of state came to our church and happened to meet her.  She was a university professional, and when the woman
learned about the girl’s story, she huddled with her for a few moments and talked about the young lady’s life.  The
educator’s heart was moved by God’s Spirit.  A few minutes later she told the teenager’s mom, “Don’t worry.  When she
graduates, I am going to find a way for her to attend my university.  We’ll get her a scholarship by the grace of God.  Just
wait and see what God will do with her life.”

I was present when these words were spoken.  And I can still see the happy excitement and new hope dawning on the
faces of both mom and daughter.

Isn’t it amazing to see the Spirit work through ordinary people in extraordinary ways?  How broad and beautiful life
becomes when the Holy Spirit empowers us to pray, respond, counsel, listen, speak, and even awaken in the middle of
the night to pray for others.  Like the early disciples, we are flawed people.  But Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to
empower us in amazing ways as we do his work on earth.  Remember again the promise we looked at earlier.  “If you
then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give
the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

All the power we need is there for the asking.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.