I confess that I feel a lack in my life in being able to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. It seems to me that I am not alone in this, the people who sit beside me on the church benches Sunday after Sunday don’t seem to be doing a whole lot better than I am.
Every once in a while I read a book that promises to have the solution for our spiritual lethargy. Each time I read the first chapter or two with growing enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm slowly drains away as I realize the writer is just proposing one more sure-fire method for being a witness or evangelist, complete with guide books, podcasts and other paraphernalia to equip me for the task.
That usually brings me back to the following words found at the end of Jonathan Goforth’s book By My Spirit, first published in 1929. Jonathan Goforth was a missionary to China from 1888 to 1935.
Was there ever such an incomparable opportunity for Christian leaders to get rid of their ecclesiastical idols and bring themselves into heart contact with the unsearchable riches of Christ as at the Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910? There has been no Church gathering in modern times around which such expectations have centred. Missionary leaders had come from all parts of the world. It was the confident hope of many that a new era in missions had dawned. The subject for the last day was — “The Home Base.” It provoked visions of endless possibilities. The home churches, empowered by a mighty Holy Ghost Revival, would send out men fitted as were Paul and Barnabas. With their enormous resources in men and means the world would be evangelized in a generation.
Alas! it was only a dream. Never have I experienced such keen pain and disappointment as I did that day. Of the many who addressed that great missionary gathering, not more than three emphasized God the Holy Spirit as the one essential factor in world evangelization. Listening to the addresses that day, one could not but conclude that the giving of the Gospel to lost mankind was largely a matter of better organization, better equipment, more men and women. Symptoms, indeed, were not lacking that a few more sparks might have precipitated an explosion. But no, the dethronement of the idol of ecclesiastical self-sufficiency was apparently too great a price to pay.
But, brethren, the Spirit of God is with us still. Pentecost is yet within our grasp. If revival is being withheld from us it is because some idol remains still enthroned; because we still insist in placing our reliance in human schemes; because we still refuse to face the unchangeable truth that “it is not by might, but BY MY SPIRIT.”
That seems almost too simple. According to Jonathan Goforth, our problem is not a lack of training, a lack of knowing how to be a witness for Jesus. Our problem is that we very much want to be self-sufficient, in control, to know just what to say and when and where to say it. Our problem is that those feelings lead us to suppress the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit.
What if he was right?