Becket Cook didn’t believe in God and was surprised that anyone did. He was a little surprised to meet a pastor, and even more surprised to find himself in a church, just to check it out.
As he listened to the hour-long sermon, he realized: every word is true. It completely changed his understanding of Christianity.
After the sermon, the pastor invited people to come up to the front of the auditorium where people were waiting to pray for them. “Hi. I’m not a Christian, and I don’t know what I believe, but I’m here,” he said.
A few minutes later he sat down and collected his thoughts. Suddenly, everything changed. “All of a sudden, a giant wave of God’s presence came crashing over me. A flood of intense warmth, emotion, and power coursed through me. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I now believe it was the Holy Spirit … In that moment, everything became clear: God was real, Jesus was real, the Bible was real, the resurrection was real, heaven was real, hell was real—it was all real. Everything that I had dismissed as a fairy tale was all true. Like Paul, it was as if the scales fell from my eyes and I was able to see.”
In his book A Change of Affection, Cook describes what happened in that moment. “Every Christian term I had heard over the years to describe this indescribable reality was appropriate: ‘saved,’ ‘born again,’ ‘regenerated,’ ‘adopted into the family of God,’ ‘given eternal life’!”
He hadn’t expected it, but he was changed in an instant through the preaching of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Primary Instrument
Jonathan Leeman writes, “God’s Word, working through God’s Spirit, is God’s primary instrument for growing God’s church.”
“God’s Word, working through God’s Spirit, is God’s primary instrument for growing God’s church.” (Jonathan Leeman)
As a pastor in a secular setting, it’s easy to doubt Leeman’s statement. The obstacles seem so large, the resistance so high.
But God has always worked through the preaching of his Word in the power of the Spirit. The book of Acts should be enough to convince me. Take the connection that Luke makes between the focus of the apostles on the Word and prayer, and the results: “‘But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word’ … And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:4,7).
I used to think that we needed more creativity, better strategies, and fresh insights. I know believe we need greater focus on what matters most: a recovery of our belief in the power of the gospel, the preaching of God’s Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Stories vary. Many come to faith slowly. Some come to faith quickly. Some resist; some believe. Regardless of the individual stories, God has told us the kind of ministry that he blesses.
Our job is to stay close to the means that God gave us. Let’s worry less about innovating; let’s be people who trust God to work the way he always has, through the proclamation of his Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.