Matthew Henry wrote, “When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them praying.” History affirms this maxim, as the great revivals that God has sparked around the world have always been launched by prayer. There may have been grand movements of Christians joined in crying out to God that brought the revival, but it hasn’t always been so. In countless instances, the hearts of just a handful of people united to plead with God for new life in their community, their country or their church were the passion to which God responded. It is not the size of the group praying that matters as much as the depth of that group’s heart. They need this depth for the perseverance in petition that renewal often requires. God does not put a shot-clock on these prayers, and He may respond to them at once, or it’s more likely that revival comes after a season of souls persevering in long hours of communal prayer.
God uses our commitment to prayer to prepare us for receiving the life-giving power of the Spirit, and this preparation is two-fold. He first sets out to prepare our hearts to burn for revival. The Christian must be able to see the dry bones of the church or the distracted hearts of their community and then believe that spiritual life can come to them if God moves. This hope is the second area in which the heart is prepared because these prayers for new life can require extraordinary perseverance. Revival may appear like a single cloud on the horizon, no bigger that a fist, and prayer warriors must be patient in the time it takes to blossom into a drenching storm pouring down torrents of living water. Without preparation, our hearts would often fail to have the vision needed or the strength to carry on when answer is not immediately forthcoming.
“From the day of Pentecost, there has been not one great spiritual awakening, in any land, which has not begun in a union of prayer, if only [among] two or three. No such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined.” A.T. Pierson
The prepared heart prays in complete honesty [JAS 5:16]. Christians recognize that the spiritual vitality of their church is not what it should be and the prayers that issue forth confess as much to God. Sin, cold fellowship, poor leadership – whatever the list of known deficits holds is boldly and openly laid before the Lord for his correction. Genuine repentance in revival prayer forges a heart soft and malleable for God to turn and shape, addressing these things so that new life does not germinate in rocky soil where it cannot flourish. When we pray for our community and for salvation to come, we are open with God about those areas in which we have not reached out or cared for. He may take the first step of turning our attention to knowing our neighbors and serving this community before He sends the Spirit with revival for the hearts of the lost. Honesty starts in the humbled heart, and a humbled heart is prepared by God and committed to Him above all other things.
A Mission Field Nobody Wants to Engage
The presence of the unsaved thinking of themselves as Christians has been a reality forever. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself warns against putting stock in a false conversion saying, “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says it, but the state of the modern church is often resistant to hearing and heeding the admonishment. As author Inserra relates, cultural Christianity has embedded itself deeply in the Church, its comforting lack of accountability enveloping people in a warm embrace of false belief.
Inserra structures is excellent book along the lines of a missionary guide for an unreached people group. The interaction that he shares at the beginning of the book with his seminary classmate sets a challenging tone. While Pastor Inserra looked at his brother’s assignment to Northern California as an incredible challenge (the land of proud unbelief), his brother turned the table to warn him against the assumptions that came with an assignment to the Bible Belt. This bracing moment is when he began to really examine the reality of faith amongst those who proclaimed a belief in Christ as a part of their everyday life. Examination proved that this belief was anecdotal in some cases, cultural in most of them and simply a part of being a citizen of the South for many. The chapters of the book that follow the analysis give the reader excellent study points for ways in which to approach each of these groups and more.
“Unsaved” is a quick read but not shallow. As someone involved in ministry, I can see a face to go along with each of the belief types that he describes. This personalization gives the reader the opportunity to think through the conversation that you want to have in the way that you want to approach that person. It didn’t begin the book with high hopes because I thought it was simply stating the obvious, but Inserra has performed a valuable service for Christ’s church, saying the hard things that need to be said in love.
As we follow our particular paths through life we’re all going to encounter people like Jack, people laying tile nearby another conversation, and spend moments with our neighbors and friends. We may find ourselves in the company of a young Hindu farmer or even a Billy Moore. In every one of these interactions there is an opportunity for God to call us into the adventure of a lifetime, opening the door for a spiritual conversation that may be the turning point in someone’s life. In The Unexpected Adventure, authors Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg draw us into the excitement of recognizing these moments without the pressure that sometimes accompanies a programmed evangelism process.
Adventure is about opportunity. Strobel and Mittelberg speak do not set out a program as we might find in Mark’s earlier effort ‘Becoming a Contagious Christian’ and the training program of the same name. Thousands of churches have participated in these types of programs and trained numerous people in how to have the most important conversation that can be had. You learn your spiritual style and how to find those interactions where this can be utilized to the greatest advantage. In many cases, men and women have been successful in implementing the lessons and have gone on to important evangelistic efforts. Many others have found themselves watching and waiting for their opportunities to put the steps into practice but have been too shy or hesitant to move. What sets Adventure apart is its singular focus on the moments of spiritual opportunity that surround us every day. Strobel and Mittelberg serve up vignettes of personal contacts in which they recognized an opening to tell the gospel story, both directly and obliquely.
Written as a collection of 42 devotion-style entries, each of the chapters serves up a different example of the myriad ways in which God arranges spiritually needy lives to intersect with His evangelistic partners, you and me. From an overheard conversation with someone else, through a misunderstood Buenos Dias, or to a close friend who confides her darkest secrets to you; each is a possible invitation to introduce the hope that you know to someone keenly in need of that hope. The variety of encounters that the authors recall is so broad that you will be able to easily locate yourself in more than one. When you have tuned your spiritual antennae to be alert to these invitations you will find that it becomes the most natural thing in life to share what you know without the pressure of thinking about the ‘E’ word or worrying that it must be done in a specific way.
Strobel and Mittelberg have made a fantastic contribution to the Church and her commandment. This book stands up with Rebecca Pippert’s Out of the Shaker, Paul Little’s Know books and Joe Aldrich’s Lifestyle Evangelism in making sharing your hope a natural outpouring of your transformed life. What sets Adventure apart is page after page of recognizable moments in life that we all have. After reading each chapter, you will fold the pages over your finger and think back to similar times in your own life, perhaps recognizing them for divine appointments and hungry for another chance. With no steps to remember, telling your story of hope or simply answering a question will become a response as easy as breathing. Sign up now for The Unexpected Adventure, you won’t regret it.