No matter how many times I experience the power of God, I never get used to it. I never grow complacent with the way He can bring even the coldest, hardest neighborhood to conviction. The way He can dissipate evil within a matter of seconds and expose the deepest parts of a person’s heart, bringing him to his knees before the cross.
No matter how much it seems that Satan is winning this war, I know it’s just a matter of time before God steps in and takes charge, before God blows His breath, sending the devil cowering into a dark corner.
During a crusade rally as I was standing on that platform in the Bronx, NY, feeling the power of God’s Spirit settling on us, moving among us, blowing like a cool northern wind, I felt completely invigorated. Like I could take on all the forces of evil and send them back to hell! It’s something I feel every time the anointing of God is near. Every time His Spirit takes charge. Every time we go to battle against evil with Jesus by our side.
You could feel God moving among the crowd, ministering, healing, doing miracles in the hearts of those who needed Him. His Spirit echoed between the buildings, moving in and out of windows and doors, between corridors, down hallways, into apartments. Hearts of sin were broken. Minds of filth were filled with thoughts of remorse and shame. Bodies ravaged with drugs felt the healing power of salvation.
This is how God works. This is how He moves. This is where you’ll find Him at war with Satan. And in the middle of this war is where I most long to be.
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:5-8).
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.
A watered-down half-gospel is an abomination to the Lord. You see, I could write to you saying, “Jesus loves you and wants to bless you. He wants you to enjoy your life. He desires to give you miracle after miracle.”
But that is only half the truth of the gospel. The whole gospel also includes warnings against the deceitfulness of sin. It includes repentance and godly sorrow, preparation for persecution, and a yearning for the coming of Christ. Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms, “Follow . . . holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). The gospel of Christ always confronts man and then brings comfort to him. It will never accommodate the likes of sinful men.
Yes, Jesus ministered miracles. He delivered up bread and meat to the multitudes. But the day came when He no longer performed or preached miracles. Instead, He told His followers, “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no part in Me.”
I am not a prophet, but the Holy Spirit has led me to deliver some prophetic messages that have been considered by many to be too hard. Some people have called me a doomsday preacher. And I readily admit I’ve preached some messages that caused me to walk right out the church doors, go home, and weep. Yet this was all because of one verse: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15).
Occasionally after a service, I will put on earphones and replay the message I just preached. And sometimes I tremble as I listen, asking the Lord, “Oh, God, did I cross a line? Did I condemn your righteous saints here? Did I unconsciously wound your servants?” On other occasions, I ask, “Jesus, did I preach only half of Your gospel in this sermon? Did I give a sermon that makes people feel good about their sins? Did I give them false comfort by watering down Your call to turn from iniquity?”
The only hindrance to His gospel is the unbelief in our hearts.
“If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31–32). So, how are we to judge ourselves, as Paul says to do?
Here is the criterion by which I constantly judge myself: I ask, “Have I in any way hindered the gospel of Christ?” We know that the world cannot hinder the gospel, but the fact is, we who preach it can. Paul judged himself on this matter, writing, “[I] suffer all things, lest [I] should hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).
The apostle is telling us, in essence, “I have to be careful about how I present the gospel. If I’m materialistically minded, or if I harbor covetousness or lust, I cannot possibly represent Christ accurately. It would cause a hindrance to the gospel I present. No, the way I live has to be a part of the gospel I preach.”
Consider the Corinthians in Paul’s time. They were bringing fancy foods to the feast table, while the poor among them didn’t have any food at all. Paul told them, in so many words, “You’re not really concerned about the needs of Christ’s Body if your eye is fixed only on how to better your own life. You simply can’t be focused on God’s concerns if you don’t care whether your brother has enough money for his next meal.”
Any works or ministry that’s done with such a mind-set won’t endure the Lord’s holy fire. Large numbers, successful methods, and monumental achievements won’t mean anything in that hour because God judges the motives of the heart. The question we have to ask ourselves today is, “Am I doing this for recognition? To be somebody? To secure my own future, with no regard for my brothers or sisters in need?”
Make no mistake: The gospel of Jesus Christ goes forth unhindered, mighty and unstoppable. But this happens only when it is preached and taught in its fullness. It has to be delivered in the context of “the whole counsel of God.” As Paul says, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, italics mine).
What God did through Paul’s imprisonment in Rome was amazing. The Lord did not need fancy methods in order for His gospel to go forth. He needed only a single servant, and this one was hidden away on a backstreet, in a small rented house, under armed guard. Yet for two years, a steady stream of hungry souls from all walks of life came to him in his makeshift jail (see Acts 28:30-31).
In fact, that little rented house served as the Holy Ghost’s Grand Central Headquarters for “Operation Rome.” Inside, God’s Spirit was raising up a devoted body of believers who would come out preaching the gospel with power and anointing. And they would take the good news of Christ to the farthest corners of the empire.
What is God trying to tell us through this account? Could the Lord be telling us here not to look for bigness in ministry, not to focus on numbers or techniques? Simply put, God is telling us that the Holy Spirit can lay hold of any common person, bring him to a place of total dependence, and through him reach communities, cities, even nations, from the most insignificant places.
Why did these people come streaming into Paul’s house? Why did they respond to mere word-of-mouth information to hear a poor, non-celebrity preacher? I say it was because that house was filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus was present there, the Holy Spirit convicted all who entered, and Christ’s presence healed their hungry souls.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not preaching, “Be small.” I’m preaching, “God can use the most humble.” He can use anyone who is willing to be stripped of all confidence in the flesh and be dependent on Him for everything. And the Lord can do that with any Christian, from any walk of life. I know, because I’m an example of it. God found a skinny preacher in the Pennsylvania countryside and sent him to New York City to work with gangs and drug addicts. What could be more unlikely?
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
The Book of Acts closes on an amazing note. The final two verses find Paul in chains, under house arrest, and guarded by Roman soldiers. Yet, read the joyous note with which Paul’s situation is described: “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30–31).
The original Greek for forbidding here actually means “hindering.” The New American Standard Version says Paul preached and taught the gospel “with all openness, unhindered.” What an amazing statement, given that Paul was imprisoned. The gospel was “unhindered,” meaning unstopped, unobstructed. The author uses this testimony to close Acts with a powerful declaration: “The gospel cannot be hindered!”
Make no mistake, there were hindrances on all sides to Paul’s message. When he called on the Jewish leaders in Rome to visit him in his chains, they were indignant. They said, “We don’t even know you. Who are you to us?” When Paul finally did preach Christ to them, they ended up squabbling among themselves. At the same time, the Emperor Nero was torturing and killing Christians in the streets of Rome.
Given these mountainous hindrances, how did God plan to impact the godless Roman Empire? What would be His method for building a church in Rome that would influence the world throughout the Empire for ages to come? Could it really be this jailed, Jewish former terrorist, whose speech was said to be contemptible? Was Paul God’s best instrument to evangelize Rome and all its vast territories?
For two years, the apostle was shut up in this nondescript house on a side street. He had no associate evangelist, no Timothy or Barnabas, to work alongside him. He had no microphone to broadcast his messages. He had no consultants or political connections to help him. Paul simply had no planned program or agenda. And even if he had, there was no way to advertise it. He couldn’t go door-to-door evangelizing or hold street meetings.
He declared, in so many words, “Here I am, Lord. Use me as You see fit.”
No, Paul was just there. And yet he was absolutely content with where God had had placed him. He declared, in so many words, “Here I am, Lord. Use me as You see fit. I don’t know Your plan, but I do know You put me here. Your gospel will go forth unhindered.”