When I was 21 I lived for a year in South Africa and Kenya. I was blessed to be asked to do quite a bit of open air preaching. The expectation was that after my message I would ask people to respond by making a decision to follow Jesus. Hence about half way through the sermon I would begin to get a sickening feeling in my stomach… the end is approaching… I am going to have to ask people to respond… what if no one comes forward… this could look very stupid.
Graciously, God would often draw people to respond, but what was most helpful was a Kenyan friend of mine who took me aside. He basically encouraged me that it was the Gospel that is powerful, it is God through his Holy Spirit that will convict people, so all we needed to do was preach faithfully and then relax. It is God who draws out a response in people! It was a great relief to hear this and I actually found myself growing in confidence in my ministry… because it was no longer about me.
When I moved to London I ended up at a great church called St Paul’s Hammersmith. It was an Anglican church that had come alive in the things of the Spirit. Again I experienced great times of ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. After each message an opportunity was given for people to respond to the Word of God by coming forward to be prayed for. I loved it! The journey I have been on since has been in discovering the value of response and the power of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Last Sunday at Manly Life we looked at Ezekiel 37 and the valley of the dry bones. God promises that he will breathe His Spirit into us and we will live. At the end of the sermon it was obvious that we needed an opportunity for people to respond. For those without hope or life, to come forward and be prayed for. It allows God to take what has been said and then move powerfully in the lives of those being prayed for. Over half the church probably came forward for prayer and we are hearing great testimonies of what God did and is doing in his people.
Here are some keys…
– Without an opportunity for response and prayer a lot of our preaching can just end up being information. But information with response can lead to transformation. It allows God to minister prophetically into peoples lives, and to meet them where they are.
– Often when we have a ministry time we will see God move powerfully in the life of the responder. These visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power are often a sign that God is doing something new or powerful in a person. Other times we just see a sense of peace enter the person (think Jesus appearing to his disciples after his death, saying peace be with you and breathing his Holy Spirit on them).
– We need to trust God that he will move as he promises to, in the lives of those who respond. We simply ask the Holy Spirit to come and minister. We don’t need to whip it up or be all emotional… In the words of John Wimber, we can be naturally supernatural. “God we ask you to come and fill x with your Spirit.” Then shut up… and let God move! If you are saying a lot, often that can be a sign that you don’t trust God to move. Come Holy Spirit…
– Responses can be defining moments in a persons life. God loves a decision, he loves an act of faith, he loves a heart responding to him. God will use that! Never underestimate the power of putting a stake in the ground. Faith in God is a choice, it is an action, it is a response.
– Don’t be afraid of coming forward time and time again. Often if we don’t see God move like we hoped for, we lose that hope. But like the persistent widow, we need to personally be responding time and time again. Seek first the Kingdom, ask, seek, knock, open the door, reach out to touch his robe, come in the dark of night, confess simple prayers of faith… Go after God!
– Finally I would say try and build in a culture of response in your lives and ministry. I take my hat off to the Hillsong’s, and C3’s of this world. They are always giving people an opportunity to respond to the Gospel. There is a reason these churches have experienced huge growth for the kingdom. They give opportunities for people to respond, and then create space and believe God will move.
Bless your ministry and please keep praying for Manly Life!