Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Jun 30 2013

Have you ever met a father who is no longer speaking to his son?  Perhaps they were close while the son was growing
up, but they had an argument, words were said, and they haven’t spoken since.  Maybe you know a woman who doesn’t
get along with her sister.  Conversations between them are few and strained.  Perhaps there is a couple in your social
circle who, although they are married and still live together, don’t communicate and don’t enjoy each other’s company.

Those individuals have a relationship, and they even have the legal documents – a birth certificate or a marriage license
– to prove it.  But do they have
fellowship with each other?  How can a relationship be significant if there isn’t at least a
sense of camaraderie or intimacy between the parties?

As Christians we have a relationship with God.  He is our Father and we are his children.  But just because we have a
relationship doesn’t mean that we necessarily have the kind of
fellowship God planned for us.

The Importance of Fellowship

When we read the writings of some of the great Christian leaders from a hundred years ago or earlier, we see that there
was a strong emphasis on two-way fellowship between the Lord and his people.  They wrote about not just spending time
praising and thanking God, or even petitioning him, but also about spending time just waiting in his presence and
listening for his voice.  Fellowship with God is more than just attending church on Sunday; it is about spending time
alone with God.

We have no better model for this than Jesus, who “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).  Although
the Son of God, Jesus found it necessary to spend time alone with God in prayer, to discern what God wanted him to
do.  How else would he know how long to stay in Capernaum or Jerusalem unless he heard it from God?  Jesus certainly
did not talk and petition God during all those hours he was away by himself.  Instead, he listened to his Father for
guidance and for the very subject matter of his teaching: “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the
Father who sent me” (John 14:24).

It was while communing with the Father that Jesus was directed to pick twelve men to be his followers.  “Jesus went up on
a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve that they might be with
him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:13-15).  It’s
interesting to note the first reason Mark gives for appointing the Twelve.  
That they might be with him.  When Jesus
called someone, fellowship came before ministry.

Unlike the apostles, however, we can’t hang out with Jesus on the mountainside or get together to go fishing.  For us,
that fellowship can only happen through the person of the Holy Spirit.  

In Ephesians, Paul says that through Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles “have access to the Father by one Spirit” (2:18).  In
other words, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we now have the Spirit who brings us into God’s presence.  The
active work of the Holy Spirit makes fellowship with God a real and rich experience that brings strength to our souls.

My worst days in life didn’t happen because I lost my relationship with God, but because I had no time for fellowship –
fellowship through the Word, fellowship in prayer, in waiting on God, in talking to God, in listening to God.  When we run
around so much, we’re weakened; we have less faith, we have less grace, and we have more stress.  There is
something about being with Jesus, being in God’s presence, that helps us have more peace and joy.

He Wakens My Ear to Listen

When we spend time with God, we should want to do more than just present a list of requests – we need to listen for his
voice.  Someone once said, “What’s more important?  Us telling God our requests, which he already knows before we tell
him, or us listening for his voice, to hear what is on
his heart?”

I know some people don’t believe we can still hear God’s voice.  “He has already said what he is going to say in the
Bible.”  They would argue that hearing from God is religious fanaticism or a form of scary emotionalism.  But the history
of the Christian church totally negates that belief.  How else would people like British missionary Hudson Taylor – who,
while spending time with the Lord, felt God put a call on his heart to go to China – have brought the gospel to unreached
people in Asia?  In fact, how would any missionary who has ever done something great for God have known to do it
unless God had first communicated it to them?  There is no verse in the Bible that says, “Go to Bangladesh!”

Although we all know that the Bible is complete and God does not speak to replace doctrine or communicate on the
same level of Scripture, he does still speak.  He might offer vital words of warning or convicting messages that have
personal application.  Sometimes it is a word of guidance – a direction we should move in.  That kind of direction is
heard only by a listening ear and a hearing heart.

One of my favorite passages is found in Isaiah.

    The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue,

    to know the word that sustains the weary.

    He wakens me morning by morning,

    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

    (Isaiah 50:4, emphasis added)

Isaiah was saying that it was the Lord who taught him what to say, especially words that would sustain the weary.  But
that only happened because in the morning his spiritual ears were awakened to listen.  Although Isaiah described his
own experience, history has proven that housewives, school teachers, and truck drivers – in fact, anyone who belongs to
the Lord – can enjoy the blessing of this kind of fellowship with a listening ear.

When another prophet, Samuel, was a young boy, he thought he heard his teacher Eli calling his name.  It was actually
the Lord, but Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord’s voice.  After Samuel inquired of Eli three times, Eli instructed Samuel to
say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”  Later all of Israel flocked to Samuel to hear the word of the Lord that
he received through fellowship with God.  It was through fellowship with God that Moses received the Ten
Commandments and the building plans for the tabernacle.  Later, through listening, David received instructions on how
to build the temple that his son Solomon would construct.  God speaks to those who listen.

In the New Testament era, a simple believer named Ananias received Christ’s instructions to go to the recently
converted Saul of Tarsus and minister to him.  He wasn’t a prophet, but he heard from God a message not of new
doctrine but of personal direction. Why wouldn’t the Holy Spirit still want to guide the Christian believer today?

As we spend time listening to God, we can be taught what to say and be given words for that day.  Sometimes we’re
given a general feeling or section of Scripture that prepares our heart for the things that will soon confront us.  At other
times, God might give us a specific verse, nugget of wisdom, or word of encouragement that we can pass on to someone
we meet during the day.  But this listening ear and instructed tongue come only from times of fellowship with the Lord.  It
comes while we’re listening, not when we are talking.

A Man Who Listened

For weeks I had noticed a tall, handsome guy attending our Tuesday night prayer meetings.  I had seen him around the
church in passing, and I’d heard bits and pieces of his story.  I knew that he traveled a great distance each day to come
and volunteer at the church.  But at those weekly prayer meetings, I would see him huddled in a corner of the floor,
sometimes sitting against a wall, sometimes kneeling, but always waiting.  Even after everyone else had drifted away, he
was still there.  I’d be praying with people or waiting on God myself and see this young man there but not know what was
going on.  By his posture and prayerful attitude, I sensed he was tender and listening.  What was he listening for?  What
was he searching for?  Then I heard his whole story and learned that this was a young man who had a listening heart.

Todd Crews grew up in a basketball-loving family from a small town in southern Indiana.  During most of high school, he
was more interested in partying than he was in religion, but when his mother gave her life to Jesus, it transformed the
whole family.  Todd became a Christian in his senior year.  He knew he wanted to go to college, but two months before
graduation, he still hadn’t decided where.  He prayed about it and felt that God was leading him to attend a Christian
college.  He applied and was accepted to Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.

As a sophomore in college, Todd visited New York City.  He said, “I heard about a church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, that
had lines wrapped around the block for people to get in.  I had never heard of anything like that before, so I want to
check it out.”  While attending a service, Todd was moved by the worship, the people he met, and the love he felt.  “I was
overwhelmed by the presence of God, and while I was there, I just sensed God speaking to me.  I didn’t know that God’s
Spirit could move in such a way in a church.  It wasn’t a production.  It wasn’t entertainment.  It was just people
worshiping and hungering after more of God.

Todd spent the summer before his senior year of college praying and seeking God’s will for his life.  While his friends
lined up jobs, Todd was unsure of what to do or where to go.  “Midway through my college career, I knew that God was
calling me to full-time ministry, but I didn’t know in what capacity,” Todd said.  “I was totally open, telling God I would do
whatever he wanted, go wherever he wanted me to go, or stay and work in the ministry where I was already working.”  
Once again, two months before graduation, Todd heard from God.  It was during an intense experience of seeking God’s
will for his life while praying and weeping on the beach that Todd heard God say, “Go to Brooklyn and serve.”

“That was all,” Todd said.  “It was very vague, and there were no details.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the one who
thought it up.  I had attended the Tabernacle that one time during my visit to New York City three years earlier, and I
knew they weren’t the kind of church to post employment opportunities online.  So I didn’t tell anybody about what I had
heard, and I just kept praying and asking God if this was really from him.”

A few weeks later, Todd was back in Indiana attending basketball tournament with his dad.  They were just leaving when
someone randomly offered them tickets for that night’s Indiana Pacers’ game.  Tipoff was in fifteen minutes.  They
accepted and left for the arena.  Once they found their seats, Todd struck up a conversation with the man next to him.  
Todd learned the man’s name was Richie McKay.  He was the head basketball coach at the University of New Mexico,
and he was also a Christian.  During the game, they talked about a lot of things, and then at one point Richie asked
Todd, “What are you going to do after you graduate?”

“Well, there’s this church up in Brooklyn, and I’ve been thinking about going up there and seeing if I could help out in
some way.”

“What’s the name of the church?”

“It’s called the Brooklyn Tabernacle.”

“Really?  My good friend works there, and he’s actually in Indianapolis right now.  We should get you two together.”

The next day, Todd met Craig Holliday, one of our staff members.  “I just shared my heart with him,” Todd said.  I told him
that I wanted to be a part of what God was doing there, and that I would come up and literally scrub toilets if it meant I
could be a part of everything.”

“Great!” Craig said, handing Todd his card.  “Call me when you get there.”

“I knew it wasn’t a job offer, but it was the confirmation I needed that this was from God and not something I made up in
my head.”

Back in Florida, Todd graduated, packed up his car, and drove to New York City.  By then, his parents were living in
West Point, in upstate New York, so he went to live with them.  The day after he arrived, he called Craig, and they set up
a time to meet for lunch in Brooklyn.  It was a fifty-mile drive that could take two and a half hours each way.  “I went to
lunch with him, but there wasn’t any opportunity for a job.  Instead, Craig just offered to introduce me around and invited
me to come to a service.”  Todd was disappointed, but he took Craig up on the offer and met some of the people who
are a part of our church.  Eventually he was offered a volunteer job in the church’s Downtown Learning Center library.

“It wasn’t cleaning toilets,” Todd said, “but I had to put stickers on every single book in the entire library.  It was a good-
sized room full of books, and I was in there by myself for eight hours a day putting on stickers.”  But Todd used the time
well.  He would listen to sermons on the computer, he would pray, and he would listen to God.  “I began to meet people,
and they started giving me more responsibilities.”  Todd also began teaching classes and tutoring students in the center.

After three months of commuting two and a half hours each way for a volunteer job, Todd got discouraged.  “I wondered
what I was doing there and if it was ever going to evolve into something else.”  Around that time, my son-in-law, Pastor
Brian Pettrey, heard what Todd had been doing and invited him to come live with his family.  Todd refused at first, not
wanting to put anyone out.  But Brian wouldn’t take no for an answer, and eventually Todd moved in.

“I stayed with his family for seven months,” Todd said.  “That turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life
because it was such a learning opportunity.  I got to see him be a pastor, father, and husband, and to see how a family
worked with Christ at the center.”

One day during that time, I called Todd into my office because I finally had an opportunity for him.  I wanted him to work
with my daughter Susan to reorganize BT Kids – our children’s ministry.  I could see the disappointment in his eyes.  He
told me later, “I love kids, but I didn’t want to do kids’ ministry.  I didn’t think I had the skills, and it certainly wasn’t my
desire to work with kids.”

A few weeks later, he came back to me and asked if he could do something else.  But we didn’t have any other
opportunities available, and I could already see the impact he was making, so I asked him to stick with it.  Todd kept
seeking the Lord and listening for his voice.  Again, through waiting and listening, Todd heard God speak.  “I felt like he
told me that I should do it as long as it took, because that would make me more like him.”  But something else happened
along the way; God gave Todd a heart for kids.  “I started to pour my life into it, and I got really passionate about the

During the next few months, Todd also volunteered in the young adult ministry.  “I really had a passion for that.”  Later
when the pastor who was leading that ministry left, I asked Todd to take over the leadership.  “It really surprised me,”
Todd said.  “It is for nineteen to thirty-year-olds, and at the time, I was only twenty-three.  I was young and
inexperienced, but I loved serving them.”

Todd had prayed, waited, and listened for a long time before he found God’s niche for him.  But it was because he
listened and obeyed that it all came to fruition.  “There were so many times I was discouraged, but God would just
impress on me to stay put.  ‘This is where I want you, and don’t worry, it will all fall into place.’”  Now Todd would tell you
that those waiting experiences, while hard at the time, were some of the most precious experiences he has ever had.  
“When I was teaching those classes, I met a lot of great people.  The five-hour daily drives gave me time to process
those meetings, to pray for people, and to weep for the things they went through.”

As I learned more about Todd and watched his story unfold, I knew why he stayed so late in those prayer meetings.  He
felt his need for fellowship with God, to wait on him and listen for his still, small voice.  Having served humbly and
faithfully in the shadows, Todd Crews has now been elevated to a strategic leadership role in our church.  The Spirit was
able to do great things through him because he had a patient, teachable spirit and allowed the Lord to prepare his heart
for what came next.

The Love of the Father

Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century priest who initiated the Protestant Reformation, was initially afraid of God because
he believed that the Lord was a holy but angry judge.  That’s what the legalism of his day taught him to believe.  No
matter how hard Martin tried to please this holy God, he failed, felt condemned by God, and experienced the guilt of his
sin.  Some of us have the same battles – we’re up against a God who is some sort of harsh, austere king that delights in
punishing us.  But that is not who God is.  He is a loving Father who is full of mercy and patience.  Without a proper
understanding of who he is, a life of intimate fellowship is impossible.

I love spending time with my grandson Levi.  I enjoy just having him on my lap and being with him.  He doesn’t have to do
anything; I don’t need him to perform or sing to give me great joy.  Similarly, the Lord is that kind of Father who delights
in his family.  He wants us to come into his presence because he loves us and wants to spend time with his children.

In Romans 8, Paul says: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the
Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘
Abba, Father.’  The Spirit himself
testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (verses 15-16).  What an important passage that is!  Paul tells us that
the Spirit will bear witness to our spirit – to our innermost being – that we
are God’s children and he is our Father.  
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can experientially
know that God loves us.  We don’t have to be afraid.  He is not
merely the omnipotent creator and ruler of the universe.  He is also Abba, Father, the tenderest and most loving Dad
anyone could have as a parent.

The Spirit assures us that God is our loving Father.  He feels no anger toward us though we have sinned and failed him
so many times.  Our well-deserved punishment was completely borne by Jesus on the cross.  There is not one blot of
transgression against us in his sight.  As a loving Father, he
will discipline his children, but not in a judicial way.  His
chastening is done in love for our good that we may become like Christ in every area of our lives.

During quiet times of fellowship, the Holy Spirit makes God’s love real, not just in our heads, but also in our hearts.  
When God’s Spirit is moving, we have rest and peace.  We know we don’t have to strive for a personal righteousness of
our own to gain acceptance before God.  We are secure in what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, and we can
approach God boldly.

Broken Fellowship

There are times, though, when we get out of sync with God – when we don’t have the kind of fellowship that he longs for
and we need.  During those moments, I am reminded of the church in Laodicea.  Jesus told them, “Here I am!  I stand at
the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with
me” (Revelation 3:20).  When Jesus requested to share a meal with them, he was speaking of his desire for fellowship
with the Laodicean church, but for some reason he was found standing outside the door seeking entrance.  Imagine the
tragedy of Christ locked out and separate from the believers for whom he died on the cross!  What was the remedy for
them and for us?  Christ directed them to repent of everything that raised a wall between them and him.  That would
enable them to freely open their hearts to enjoy sweet communion with their Savior.

I love this brief excerpt from an old book in my library.  The author describes God’s desire for fellowship and how we can
lose that intimacy if we allow our hearts to wander away and become cold:

    The church is the glory, crown, joy, and fullness of Christ; over it He is especially Lord; in it He delights to dwell, as
    in His “own house”; and when any of the living stones that compose this spiritual temple meet together in His
    name, thither he especially resorts – “there am I in the midst of them.”

    But as we may individually walk so as to grieve Him, and thereby lose the sense of His presence in our souls, we
    may also collectively so dishonor Him, by neglecting His word, and turning aside from reliance on His Spirit, as to
    render our assemblies powerless and dead; the living presence of Christ may not be experienced, and fellowship
    with Him may altogether be lost.

    We may be assured of this, that if we desire to have the consciousness of the Lord’s presence with us when we
    meet together, we must each cultivate communion with Him in our own hearts and homes – we shall find the best
    way to ensure a happy meeting with the saints will be to be happy with the Lord Himself in private.

    When, therefore, we find our little assemblies are cold and spiritless, let us ask ourselves if our own hearts have
    not been previously wandering away from the Lord; for if the majority of us bring cold and worldly hearts, our
    collective meeting will partake of the deadness of those who mainly compose it.

If we desire a more intimate relationship with God, we will be encouraged to remember the story of the prodigal son.  
After breaking fellowship with his father and wasting money on riotous living, the son humbly returned home and asked
to be a mere servant and to live in the barn.  But the father would have none of that.  Instead, a robe was placed on him,
a ring was put on his finger, and sandals were slid on his feet.  The father didn’t want to dwell on the son’s past
mistakes; he only wanted to receive him into the house, sit him down at the banquet table, and eat with him.

That’s what God’s heart wants for all of us today.  He sent his Son to wash away our sins, and now the Spirit has been
sent to bring us the Father’s invitation.  “Come into the house, sit at my table, and eat with me.”

Imagine sitting down to dinner with our Lord – what an intimate and glorious evening that would be!  Robert Murray M’
Cheyne, a minister in the Church of Scotland in the first half of the nineteenth century, said, “A calm hour with God is
worth a whole lifetime with man” We don’t have to imagine what that meal might be like.  That kind of fellowship is
available to us at any moment of any day through the Spirit.  We only need to ask.


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