A Fresh Call to Receive God’s Baptism of Love
This spring, I was in a hotel in Amman, Jordan, when I had an experience that changed me profoundly. I’ve written hints about this experience previously, but I haven’t shared it in full. I do so now because it has everything to do with our vision at World Challenge and our partnership with you in serving Jesus.
I was in Jordan to co-lead a series of international pastors’ conferences. This was the end of a long journey to several countries in the Middle East and Europe. One night in Amman, after several days of ministry, I was reflecting on the day—and the Lord opened my eyes to something.
Every morning a driver picked me up at the hotel and took me to the conference, where I led a morning session for pastors from the region. When the session ended, I was driven back to the hotel, where I had lunch and prepared for the next meeting. Then, in the afternoon, I was driven back to lead another session. This routine repeated for the evening session as well. In between meetings, I met with pastors and prayed with them. When the conference was over, our team would travel to the next city, where we would repeat the same routine.
Pondering this, my heart awakened: There were millions of people in this heavily Muslim country who had never heard the name Jesus. I passed by many of them each day: bellmen, concierges, drivers, waiters, shopkeepers, businessmen, people on the street. Yet the only place I spoke of Jesus was to pastors—that is, people who already knew him. I heard the Lord’s voice speaking to me: “Gary, do you bring me everywhere you go?”
You see, I’ve always considered myself a teacher, not an evangelist—and I reminded the Lord of this. “Lord, you know my gifts and my weaknesses,” I prayed. “I’m not the bold, in-your-face type. I’m an introvert who loves spending time alone. You just didn’t equip me that way.” But his Spirit reminded me, “Your life in Christ doesn’t happen when you gather with pastors. There’s no starting or ending time. Your ministry is with everyone you meet.”
Throughout the gospels and the book of Acts, Jesus tells us to go into all the world preaching his gospel, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God is here. When he says “all the world,” that includes our daily world. But, honestly, I’ve never understood how to live that kind of supernatural lifestyle. I’ve never been a Book of Acts kind of guy.
The Lord must have read my thoughts because he whispered, “I’m the One who makes you a Book of Acts kind of guy. And I know what you need, Gary: a fresh baptism of my love. If you don’t love people, you’ll ‘do’ my gospel out of duty. And that never accomplishes the work of my kingdom. Only a fresh infilling of my Spirit can do that.”
Suddenly I felt deep conviction—and it wasn’t a negative feeling. It was just the opposite: I felt excited. The truth is I was tired of being withdrawn, reserved and fearful as a witness for Jesus. I had always been frustrated to read about God’s miraculous works in Scripture and yet not participate in those works as his disciple. That moment in the hotel was crucial for me. I could no longer merely read about Jesus bringing forth his kingdom on earth and not take part. He was calling me to live it.
I know a lot of Christ-followers who live with the same frustration I’ve felt.
Many of us bring Jesus with us when we go to church but not so much to our everyday lives. We pray for the sick and ask people to receive Christ in church services. What about living like Jesus, going about doing good, healing, delivering, setting captives free, and bringing good news every day, everywhere to everyone? We bring him to our home group meetings and Christian conferences, where we profess him amid safe, supportive community. But much of the rest of the time we keep him hidden in our hearts. Deep down, for many of us, that doesn’t sit right. And it shouldn’t.
When we consider our lifestyles as Jesus followers, most of ours don’t fit the New Testament model. Christ sent out his 12 disciples to proclaim the good news, heal the sick and be willing vessels to bring about his kingdom on earth. Later, he sent out 70 disciples with the same instructions. He baptized 120 people and sent them out to do the same. Finally, after his Resurrection, he gave this commission to 500 people who saw him. Jesus told each of these groups, “Everything I’ve taught you to do—preach the gospel, heal the afflicted and bring about my kingdom—you’re to do in my name. Now go into all the world and do as I’ve commanded. I’ll supply you with all the power you need to be my witnesses.”
That’s the New Testament model. But the gap between it and the way we live our faith is vast. At one end is God’s wonder-working power, and on the opposite end is our lifestyle. That night in the hotel, I was compelled by the Holy Spirit to close the gap. So how do these two distant realities become one?
It happens through a baptism of my love, I heard the Lord say. When God sends people across our path, our role isn’t to “target” them for evangelism. It’s to love them with his powerful, discerning, wonder-working love.
“Okay, Lord, I’m ready,” I prayed. “I want a fresh baptism of your love. Should I set aside time to pray for this? Or should I fast?”
“No,” came the answer. “I just did it in you. I baptized you in my love.”
I was puzzled. “I didn’t feel anything,” I prayed. “No, but watch,” the Lord said. “As my Word declares, my power will come upon you, and you will be my witness.”
Any way I pictured God using me seemed completely unnatural to who I am.
I couldn’t envision myself as a suddenly gifted evangelist. But I know God is good, and what eventually happened was nothing like what I expected. The next day, I met a young man and immediately asked, “Excuse me, I just want to say—do you know Jesus loves you?”
I couldn’t believe what came out of my mouth. He must have been shocked as well, because he answered simply, “Hm.” When he got off at another floor, I had a fleeting thought that I’d missed doing what God wanted. But I heard an assuring word in my heart: “That’s exactly what I wanted you to say.”
In all the other countries we visited on that trip, I had similar experiences with similar responses. But I saw another kind of response, too—the kind that happens when people’s hearts are prepared to be touched by Jesus. In Bosnia, a pastor and I were leaving a café when we saw a military veteran in a wheelchair, begging. He had lost a leg in the civil war, and his other leg was hurting. “I may have to lose this limb too,” he told us. “It’s burning, and I can barely stand being out here.”
I asked if we could pray for him. Like a lot of people I approach, he looked skeptical but seemed also to have a yearning hope. As we prayed, his expression softened. “My leg feels better,” he said. “It’s cool, not burning anymore.” I told him, “Jesus did that.” “Jesus?” he said. “I just watched a video that somebody gave me called ‘The Jesus Movie.’ You mean it’s not just historical? I didn’t know he was still alive today.”
Yes, Jesus is very much alive today—and he’s bringing his kingdom here on earth, the way he did for that suffering veteran. Christ has never changed since he first commissioned his church to take the gospel to a lost and hurting world. Yet something has changed: me. I’ve seen firsthand that reaching out to people in love isn’t duty—it’s exciting, adventurous and fun. And it’s a reality meant for all of us, from the most gifted preacher to the shyest introvert. It was a lifestyle for Jesus’ followers in the first century, and it is meant to be ours today.
I was still learning this on the flight home. Exhausted from ministry in five countries, I thought, “I’m glad to be done with that kind of evangelism for a while.” Immediately I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit: “I told you there is no ‘being done’ to ministry. You’re just beginning.”
We don’t do ministry; we are ministers—and we carry Christ’s wonderworking presence with us everywhere.
My wife, Kelly, and I continued this lifestyle after we returned. My first day back, I felt prompted to ask a young grocery bagger if I might pray for her for anything. Her eyes welled with tears. “Yes, I’m having problems with my mom. How did you know?” she said. After this, Nicky Cruz and I prayed for a waitress who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later, when Kelly and I returned to the restaurant, the waitress told us she’d just seen her doctors—and they had declared her cancer free. In a New York restaurant, we spoke with a waiter about Jesus, and a different waiter approached us asking for prayer. Another time I was compelled to ask a woman in a mall if she had migraines. Astonished, she answered, “Yes, they’re terrible. Can you help me?” We prayed for her healing.
Kelly and I have seen Jesus touch people in restaurants, at malls, on streets—healing some, saving others, and revealing his love to all. At one point we started keeping a journal of everyone we’ve prayed with, and they number in the hundreds. We try our best to follow up with them, just as we did with the waitress who was healed of cancer. Over a hundred have seen answers to their prayers: passing college exams after failing, forgiving people they’ve hated, being healed of painful diseases. These people’s lives are being changed not just because God answers their prayers, but because they experience the amazing love behind his supernatural works.
My own life is revolutionized by a simple but extraordinary baptism of love. Things that were impossible for me my whole life have been made possible by God and his power alone. I never thought I’d stop anyone to ask if I could pray for them, much less discern that they suffer from migraines. The insights he’s given me through these experiences have been invaluable. Most importantly, when I ask today, “What keeps us from doing the works of Jesus?” I know the answer: We need a baptism of his love.
I’ve learned there is one barrier more than any other that keeps us from loving boldly as Jesus did. It’s fear. When we imagine doing the works of Jesus, we’re afraid of people, of what they might think and of failing. The apostle John addresses this directly: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
Fear is why so many of us hesitate to pray for someone’s healing. We think, “What if I pray for somebody and God doesn’t heal them?” I can answer that with assurance: If someone we pray for isn’t healed, they still know they’re loved. That has been the case with so many people I’ve prayed for these past few months. The Bosnian veteran I prayed with didn’t rise up from his wheelchair, but he did feel God’s love when I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “Jesus loves you, and so do I.”
Being freed from our fears brings incredible changes.
Paul enumerates the gifts that come with being freed from fear: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV). Freedom from fear allows us to think clearly on all levels. We’re totally free from Satan’s accusations. We’re able to sense the Father’s vast, merciful love for us. And, most amazingly, we’re able to think with the mind of Christ himself. That’s how we can discern when someone is in need of prayer, a healing touch or a tender act. His light comes on in our minds, and we know how to move forward in love.
Nothing in our human ability can fill us with a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. These are gifts of God, and he gives them to all who ask. When he frees us from fear, we’re freed to love people with his love and minister to their deepest needs. And I can testify with confidence from the hundreds of encounters I’ve had with people these past months: His love changes everything.
Curiously, though, many of us pursue a different kind of Christian lifestyle. We spend our days trying to learn more, improve more to get more information—in short, to get our head knowledge right. We are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Coming to the truth means living it out, not getting more head knowledge. It means experiencing and putting into practice what we have learned about the power and love of God.
In this sense, we’re like the disciples, who asked Jesus, “Increase our faith.” Note how he answered them: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6). The key here is that if you believe, you would begin to say in faith to the sick, “Be healed,” you would say to the lost, “Come to know Jesus,” you would say to the broken hearted, “Be comforted,” you would say to those in darkness, “Turn to light.” The important thing here is not just getting more faith but stepping out in faith. His message was clear: The disciples didn’t need more faith. They needed to act on the faith they had. Like them, we need to take the vast knowledge we absorb about God and move it from our heads to love-baptized hearts.
I share this message with you in part to tell you how it affects our vision of ministry at World Challenge.
Ever since its founding, the mission of World Challenge has been to reach the lost, the suffering and the downcast with the good news of Jesus. It all began nearly sixty years ago by showing God’s love to teenagers who were abused and shunned by society; by bringing supernatural healing to heroin addicts when no medical cure existed; and by proclaiming the arrival of God’s kingdom in violent areas of New York City that officials had written off as gang turf.
Our DNA has remained the same throughout the decades. All of our ministries fit under the umbrella of Jesus’ commission to his followers—to preach the good news, to offer healing, and to proclaim God’s kingdom on earth. We still evangelize. We still pray for people to be physically healed and delivered. And World Poverty Solutions—our whole-person/whole-community outreach to the world’s neediest people—is a long-term picture of God’s kingdom saturating the earth with his blessings.
Usually on this back page, we include a monthly missions report. This month, YOU are our missions report. It is my primary purpose in this unusual newsletter to “impart to you some spiritual gift” to believe that, like me, you are hungry for more than sermons and church services. You want to live out Jesus’ works outside of the four walls of the church. I am believing this impartation will so stir your heart and fill you with his baptism of love that not only will you absorb various ministries’ missions reports, you will become your own mission report. Maybe even write to us and tell us your story of a fresh baptism and how it is impacting you and the world around you. We are blessed to partner with you to do the works of Jesus—preaching good news, offering healing, and proclaiming his kingdom has come.
It’s our privilege to serve you with these written messages to help equip you to live out Jesus’ commission in your life. This message is meant to transform you so that your life is one of walking in his love—of a faithful witness, of service as a vessel for his glorious works, of involvement in your local church body and its mission. In addition, this coming year we’ll share with you several opportunities for hands-on ministry with World Challenge in the U.S. and other parts of the globe. But for now, this message is for you. This is a direct call to be raised up to the works of Jesus.
I can tell you firsthand that God uses the least likely person to do his kingdom work, because I’m the world’s unlikeliest evangelist. And I have been changed by his sovereign design. Yes, I’m still a teacher, and I love spending hours studying his Word. But now I spend that time not trying to solve theological mysteries but marveling at Jesus’ love to share it with the world. The verse I’ve landed on during this amazing season is Acts 10:38: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (ESV, my emphasis).
Friend, God is with you at all times. And if he is with you, who can be against you? I pray you will join us in wholeheartedly doing the works of Jesus in the coming year. To do that, may you receive from your heavenly Father a fresh baptism of love. We are praying for you!