Memphis Belle

To log onto UNITYINCHRIST.COM’S BLOG, Click Here

Unity in Christ
About the Author
Does God Exist?

The Book of Acts
the Prophets & Prophecy

Song of Solomon

OT History
Early Church History
Church History
Sabbatarian Heritage
The Worldwide Church Of God
Messianic Believers

America-Modern Romans

Latin-American Poverty

Ministry Principles

Topical Studies
Guest Book
Utility Pages

Share on Facebook
Tell a friend:

Excerpts From:

“Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire”

Congregational Prayer


“Then one day my father-in-law called from Florida, where he lived, and asked a favor.  Would I please go preach four Sunday nights over at the multiracial Brooklyn Tabernacle, another church he supervised?  Things had hit an all-time low there, he said.  I agreed, little suspecting that this step would forever change my life.” [Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, p.13, par.6]  “The Brooklyn Tabernacle—this woeful church that my father-in-law had coaxed me into pastoring—consisted of a shabby two-story building in the middle of a downtown block on Atlantic Avenue [in Brooklyn, New York]. [ibid. p. 11, par.2]  [When Pastor Cymbala took over full-time, initially there were only about 25 members in the congregation, debating on whether to continue on as a church congregation, much the same position Pastor Chuck Smith found himself in when taking over the tiny congregation of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Californica.  Just as Pastor Chuck found out, Pastor Cymbala knew, first of all, the sheep needed feeding.  While Pastor Chuck went on to master the expository sermon format, preaching through the whole Word of God, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, through the whole Bible, so Pastor Cymbala didn’t neglect his studies into the Word of God in order to better feed the sheep under his charge.]  “Weekdays found me spending hours in systematic study of God’s Word while on Sundays I was “learning” how to convey that Word to people.” [ibid. p.13, par.4]   


From here I’ve taken some short excerpts from Pastor Cymbala’s book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, that take you into a quick journey describing how he learned to make this particular congregation truly into a “house of prayer,” which the Word of God calls for all truly Christian churches and Messianic Jewish congregations to be, as the early church of God in Jerusalem had been in the time of the apostles.  So let’s begin this short journey, describing key elements of that journey taken by Pastor Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  I highly recommend you buy this book for yourself, to glean all the precious truths he has to convey to you and your church.  Order: Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, ISBN-10: 0-310-61024-9, Copyright © by Jim Cymbala, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530.  The book can easily be ordered off Amazon. 

“…when I was at my lowest, confounded by obstacles, bewildered by the darkness that surrounded us, unable to even continue preaching, I discovered an astonishing truth:  God is attracted to weakness.  He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him.  Our weakness, in fact, makes room for his power.

In a parallel vein, people are not put off by honesty either.  I don’t have to keep up a ministerial front, I could just preach God’s Word as best I knew and then call the congregation to prayer and worship.  The Lord would take over from there.  [and we have to be open to God to do that in our worship services too, leaving room for God to do what only he can do.]

How I treasure those early humbling’s.  Those experiences showed me that I didn’t need to play the preacher.  Jesus called fishermen, not graduates of rabbinical schools.  The main requirement was to be natural and sincere.  His disciples had to depend totally upon the Lord and his power.  In the same way, I had to stop trying to act ministerial—whatever that was.  God could only use Jim Cymbala the way he is.  What a breakthrough that was for me as I learned to trust in God to use my natural personality.  God has always despised sham and pretense, especially in the pulpit.  The minute I started trying to effect a posture or pose, God’s Spirit would be grieved.

What I could do, however, was to get even more serious about studying.  I began building a biblical library and giving many hours during the week to digging into God’s Word.  But another John Wesley or G. Campbell Morgan I would never be—that was obvious.  I had to find my own style and stay open and dependent on God.” [pp. 19-20, sel. par.]


In The Inner City, Transformation Of Desperate Lives Was What Was Needed


“I knew there were countless churches across the city and the nation that had not baptized a hundred truly converted sinners in a year, and most not in several years.  Any growth came simply through transfers from one church to another.  New York City was a hard mission field, but transfer growth was not what God had in mind for us.  What we needed was a fresh wind and fresh fire.  We needed the Holy Spirit to transform the desperate lives of people around us.  Alcohol and heroin dominated the neighborhood; LSD was also a problem, and cocaine was starting its wicked rise.  Prostitutes were working a couple of street corners within three blocks of the church.  Urban decay had clearly set it.  Anybody who could make any money was trying to get away from our area.”  [p. 22, par. 3-4]

“One day I told the Lord that I would rather die than merely tread water throughout my career in the ministry…always preaching about the power of the Word and the Spirit, but never seeing it. [p.23, par.1]…Moreover, Carol and I had frankly admitted to each other that unless God broke through, the Brooklyn Tabernacle was doomed.” [p.24, par.4]  “We had to have a visitation of the Holy Spirit, or bust.  “Lord, I have no idea how to be a successful pastor.”  I prayed softly out there on the water.  “I haven’t been trained.  All I know is that Carol and I are working in the middle of New York City, with people dying on every side, overdosing from heroin, consumed by materialism, and all the rest.  If the gospel is so powerful…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.  Tears choked me.  Fortunately, the others on the boat were too far away to notice as they studied their lines in the blue-green water.  Then quietly but forcefully, in words heard not with my ear but deep within my spirit, I sensed God speaking:  “If you and your wife will lead my people to pray and call upon my name, you will never lack for something fresh to preach.  I will supply all the money that’s needed, both for the church and for your family, and you will never have a building large enough to contain the crowds I will send in response.”

“I knew I had heard from God, even though I had not experienced some strange vision, nothing sensational or peculiar.  God was simply focusing on the only answer to our situation—or anybody else’s, for that matter.  His word to me was grounded in countless promises repeated in the Scriptures; it was the very thing that had produced every revival of the Holy Spirit throughout history.  It was the truth that had made Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody, A.B. Simpson, and other men and women mightily used of God…He was telling me that my hunger for him and his transforming power would be satisfied as I led my tiny congregation to call out to him in prayer.” [p. 25] 


Catching Fire


“Brothers and sisters, I really feel that I’ve heard from God about the future of our church.  While I was away, I was calling out to God to help us—to help me—understand what he wants most from us.  And I believe I’ve heard an answer.  It’s not fancy or profound or spectacular.  But I want to say to you today with all the seriousness I can muster:  “From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church.  What happens on Tuesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us.”

“If we call upon the Lord, he has promised in his Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to himself, to pour out his Spirit among us.  If we don’t call upon the Lord, he has promised nothing—nothing at all.  It’s as simple as that.  No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer.  This is the engine that will drive the church.  Yes, I want you to keep coming on Sundays [and for you Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, Saturdays]—but Tuesday night is what it’s really about.  Carol and I have set our course, and we hope you’ll come along with us.”  A minister from Australia (or perhaps it was New Zealand) happened to be present that morning—a rare occurrence.  I introduced him and invited him to say a few words.  He walked to the front and made just one comment:  “I heard what your pastor said.  Here’s something to think about: 

You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. 

You can tell how popular the pastor is or evangelist is by who comes on Sunday night.

But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.”  And with that, he walked off the platform.  That was all.  I never saw him again.

THE NEW BEGINNING  ‘A Holy Ghost Emergency Room’

“If my announcement to that congregation sounds strange and overbearing, consider that it was not a whole lot different from what Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British pulpiteer, had said in a sermon almost exactly a hundred years before:

“The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings.  So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people.  If God be near a church, it must pray.  And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.”

That first Tuesday night, fifteen to eighteen people showed up.  I had no agenda or program laid out; I just stood up and led the people to singing and praising God.  Out of that came extended prayer…In the weeks that followed, answers to prayer became noticeable.  New people gradually joined, with talents and skills that could help us.  Unsaved relatives and total strangers began to show up.  We started to think of ourselves as a “Holy Ghost emergency room” where people in spiritual trauma could be rescued.  In most hospitals, the E.R. isn’t decorated as beautifully or fashionably as the rest of the building, but it’s very efficient in saving lives.

We were a prime example of what the great Scottish devotional writer Andrew Bonar wrote in 1853:  “God likes to see His people shut up to this, that there is no hope but in prayer.  Herein lies the Church’s power against the world.”  So week after week, I kept encouraging the people to pray.  And of course, as Samuel Chadwick said long ago, the greatest answer to prayer is more prayer.”  (Now this sounds weird, but this is what kind of took place without any design or leading.)  “We were not there to hear one another give voice to eloquent prayers; we were too desperate for that.  We focused vertically, on God, rather than horizontally on one another.  Much of the time we called out to the Lord as a group, all praying aloud in concert, a practice that continues to this day.  At other times we would join hands in circles of prayer, or various people would speak up with a special burden to express.”  [pp. 27-29]

“The format of a prayer meeting is not nearly as important as its essence—touching the Almighty, crying out with one’s whole being.  I have been in noisy prayer meetings that were mainly a show.  I have been with groups in times of silent prayer that were deeply spiritual…The atmosphere of the meeting may vary; what matters most is that we encounter the God of the universe, not just each other.”…

“After all, people weren’t hungry for fancy sermons or organizational polish.  They just wanted love.  They wanted to know that God could pick them up and give them a second chance.  In those early days on Atlantic Avenue, as people drew near to the Lord, received the Spirit’s fullness, and rekindled their first love for God, they naturally began to talk about it on their jobs, in their apartment buildings, at family gatherings.  Soon they were bringing new people…God has continued to send people who need help; often I can’t even find out how they learned of us.” [p. 30, sel. par.]  “People began to sense the presence of the Lord in that humble place.  They felt loved.  Hardened people would come in and break down even during the singing.” [p.31, par. 1]

  “The choir began to grow.  Carol would begin with a half hour of prayer.  Often a spirit of worship fell on the group.  Someone might volunteer a testimony or feel impressed to read Scripture.  Carol might offer a short exhortation.  Many nights there was more prayer and worship than there was practicing; sometimes the choir never got around to singing at all.”  [The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is one of the most famous and beautiful choirs in the world, their music selling on albums everywhere.] 


“Nicky’s story was a great inspiration to me [Nicky Cruz, The Cross and the Switchblade].  He was a symbol of things to come in our church.  God was taking hopeless, even crazy people and changing them.  I knew that a lot of churches gave lip service to the idea that God can do anything.  But we needed to have real faith that anyone who walked in, regardless of his or her problems, could become a trophy of God’s grace…We never knew who might come to Christ at the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  There were junkies, prostitutes, and homosexuals.  But lost lawyers, business types, and bus drivers turned to the Lord there, too.  We welcomed them all.  There were Latinos, African Americans, Caribbean Americans, whites—you name it.  Once people were energized by the Holy Spirit, they began to see other races as God’s creation.  Instead of railing at homosexuals, we began to weep over them.  People began driving thirty or forty minutes from Long Island.  The one—perhaps only—advantage of our location in downtown Brooklyn is that excellent mass transit was available, which meant that people from Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and elsewhere could reach us easily on the subways and buses.  By the time we grew to 150 to 175 on Sunday morning, the prayer meeting was up to 100.  There was life, joy, a sense of family, and love.  When a meeting ended, people weren’t in a hurry to leave; they lingered and prayed and talked to one another.”  [pp. ibid 33-34, sel. par.s] 

“God had created a core of people who wanted to pray, who believed that nothing was too big for him to handle.  No matter what roadblock we faced, no matter what attack came against us, no matter how wild the city became in the late seventies—as cocaine arrived on top of heroin, and then crack cocaine on top of that—God could still change people and deliver them from evil.  He was building his church in a rough neighborhood, and as long as people kept calling out for his blessing and help, he had fully committed himself to respond.” [p.38]

“On Sundays it was not unusual for the choir to sing and testify with such anointing that a spirit of praise would descend on the people, changing the whole direction of the meeting.  Once the choir had planned to do three songs.  To introduce the second one, a former drug addict gave his testimony.  There was such a powerful sense of God’s love that I couldn’t help walking up as the song was ending, putting one arm around the fellow, and making an invitation right then for people to receive Christ.  The response was immediate and strong.  The choir never got around to singing the third song—but after all, why should we hang onto some order of service if people were willing to get saved?  God could use the choir or anyone else, to turn the whole service into a prayer meeting if he wished.” [pp.39-40, sel. par.s]

“Today Roberta Langella heads up our ministry called “New Beginnings,” a weekly outreach to drug abusers and the homeless.  She now has a hundred workers involved, riding the subway every Sunday afternoon to the shelters and rehab centers to escort people to our church for a meal and the evening meeting.  The love of the Lord just exudes from her life.  Roberta is a real trooper these days, even when she doesn’t feel well.  As she sits in the balcony on Sunday nights with all the homeless she has brought with her, there’s nobody too dirty, too far gone for her to care about.  She sees herself in them.  She is a living example of the power of God to pick up the downtrodden, the self-loathing, the addicted and redeem them for his glory.” [p. 46, par.1-2]


“The biggest distributor of Christian choral music in America got acquainted with us, liked the music, and sat down with Carol one day to ask: “So what’s the formula here?  What makes this work?”  She began talking about the choir prayer meeting.  The visitor said to himself, ‘She didn’t understand my question.  I want to know what makes the music so inspirational.’  It was months before he realized that the life in the music comes from prayer.  That’s the formula.  Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars and symposiums.  It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need.  If I say, “I ought to pray,” I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong.  I have to be driven to pray.  Yes, the roughness of inner-city life has pressed us to pray.  When you have alcoholics trying to sleep on the back steps of your building, when your teenagers are getting assaulted and knifed on the way to youth meetings, when you bump into transvestites in the lobby after church, you can’t escape your need for God.  According to a recent Columbia University study, twenty-one cents of every dollar New Yorkers pay in city taxes is spent trying to cope with the effects of smoking, drinking, and drug abuse…The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray.  And the more we sense a need to pray, the more we want to pray.” [p. 50, par.1, sel. parts]


“PRAYER IS THE SOURCE of Christian life, a Christian’s life-line.  Otherwise, it’s like having a baby in your arms and dressing her up so cute—but she’s not breathing!  Never mind the frilly clothes:  stabilize the child’s vital signs…That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results.  Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled…Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, “We are not New Testament Christians if we don’t have a prayer life.  If we truly think about what Acts 2:42 says—“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer—we can see that prayer is almost a proof of a church’s normalcy.  Calling on the name of the Lord is the fourth great hallmark in the list.  If my church or your church isn’t praying, we shouldn’t be boasting in our orthodoxy or our Sunday [or Saturday] attendance figures.” [pp. 50-51, sel. par.s]

The Greatest Discovery of All Time

“During countless Tuesday night prayer meetings I find myself encircled by the sacred sounds of prayer and intercession filling the church, spilling into the vestibule, and overflowing from every heart present.  As the meeting edges to a close, I overhear mothers petitioning for wayward children…men asking God to please help them find employment…others giving thanks for recent answers to prayer…tearful voices here and there. I can’t help but think, ‘This is as close to heaven as I will ever get in this life.  I don’t want to leave here.  If I were invited to the White House to meet some dignitary, it would never bring the kind of peace and deep joy I sense here in the presence of people calling on the Lord.”  [p. 53, par.1]  Why peace and joy?  Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I AM THERE IN THE MIDST OF THEM.”  Jesus is in your midst when two or more are agreeing in prayer for something!  Jesus in your midst = JOY & PEACE.  When you pray together, agreeing in prayer, you’re pulling Jesus Christ right into your midst, right into that prayer-meeting!  That explains, from the Scripture, what Pastor Cymbala was experiencing and describing. 

“people affirmed their dependence on God by calling out to him.”…the literal meaning of the Hebrew word used countless times in the Old Testament when people called upon God.  It means to cry out, to implore aid.  This is the essence of true prayer that touches God.  Charles Spurgeon once remarked that “the best style of prayer is that which cannot be called anything else but a cry.”… “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).  God is not aloof.  He is not disconnected.  He says continually through the centuries, “I’ll help you, I really will.  When you don’t know where to run, then turn to me.  When you’re ready to throw up your hands—throw them up to me.  Put your voice behind them, too, and I’ll come and help you.”  Moses said this “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deut. 4:7).  [p.56, par.1] 

“Salvation itself is impossible until a person humbly calls upon the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21), for God has promised specifically to be rich in mercy to those who call on his name (Rom. 10:12-13).  “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” God says in Psalm 50:15.  “I will deliver you and you will honor me.”…Trouble is one of God’s great servants because it reminds us how much we continually need the Lord.  Otherwise, we tend to forget about entreating him.  For some reason we want to carry on by ourselves.” [p. 57-58, sel. par.s] “persistent calling upon the Lord breaks through every stronghold of the devil, for nothing is impossible with God.” [p.66]    




Mark 11:15-18, “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.  And as he taught them, he said “Is it not written:  “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  But you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’”  The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”

“What made God’s Son so agitated?  His house was being prostituted for purposes other than what was intended.  As the feathers were flying and the coins were clattering to the pavement and the businessmen were shouting for the police, Jesus said above the roar, “This place looks and feels more like a mall than a temple.  Whatever happened to Isaiah’s word about the real point of this building—to be a house of prayer for all nationalities and races?  Out!  Get out, all of you!” [pp. 67-68]

“For all of us involved in preaching the gospel, performing music, publishing Christian materials, and all the rest, there is an uncomfortable message here:  Jesus is not terribly impressed with religious commercialism.  He is concerned not only whether we’re doing God’s work but also how and why we’re doing it…If you teach a class, are you doing it with a heart that radiates God’s love for the students, or for some other reason?” [p.69]  “There was [is] to be no sharing the stage with the Lord.”  “The atmosphere of my Father’s house,” Jesus seemed to say, “is to be prayer.  The aroma around my Father must be that of people opening their hearts in worship and supplication.  This is not just a place to make a buck. This is a house for calling on the Lord.” [p.70]…“the New Testament teaches that we are now his dwelling place; he lives in his people.  How much more important, then, is Jesus’ message about the primacy of prayer?  The feature that is supposed to distinguish Christian churches, Christian people, and Christian gatherings is the aroma of prayer.  It doesn’t matter what your tradition or my tradition is.  The house is not ours anyway; it is the Father’s.  Does the Bible ever say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation, “My house shall be called a house of preaching”?  Does it ever say, “My house shall be called a house of music”?  Of course not.  The Bible does say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”…The honest truth is that I have seen God do more in people’s lives during ten minutes of real prayer than in ten of my sermons.  Have you ever noticed that Jesus launched the Christian church, not while someone was preaching, but while people were praying?” [p. 71]  “What does it say about our churches today that God birthed the church in a prayer meeting, and prayer meetings today are almost extinct?  Am I the only one who gets embarrassed when religious leaders in America talk about having prayer in public schools?  We don’t have even that much prayer in many churches!  Out of humility, you would think we would keep quiet on that particular subject until we practice what we preach in our own congregations.  I am sure that the Roman emperors didn’t have prayer to God in their schools.  But then, the early Christians didn’t seem to care what Caligula or Claudius or Nero did.  How could any emperor stop God?...In the New Testament we don’t see Peter or John wringing their hands and saying, “Oh, what are we going to do?  Caligula’s bisexual…he wants to appoint his horse to the Roman Senate…what a terrible model of leadership!  How are we going to respond to this outrage?” [p. 72] 

The clear message of Pastor Cymbala here is one I’ve been trying to convey as well on this website, that the early Christian churches of God Paul established across the Roman Empire were not interested in worldly politics, or trying to change worldly society outside the walls of these early churches of God that God established through the apostle Paul [see].  These early churches of God would never have considered voting in an election.  It was unheard of.

“In Acts 4, when the apostles were unjustly arrested, imprisoned, and threatened, they didn’t call for a protest; they didn’t reach for some political leverage.  Instead, they headed to a prayer meeting.  Soon the place was vibrating with the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 23-31).  The apostles had this instinct:  When in trouble, pray.  When intimidated, pray.  When challenged, pray.  When persecuted, pray. 


“Most ministries in our church have not begun with a bright idea in a pastors’ meeting.  We usually don’t say, “Let’s start a street outreach,” and then go recruit laypeople to staff it.  We have learned over the years to let God birth something in people who are spiritually sensitive, who begin to pray and feel a calling.  Then they come to us.  “We want to start such-and-such,” they say—and the ministry gets going and lasts.  Discouragement, complications, and other attacks by the enemy don’t wash it out.  A fellow named Terry and some others grew concerned for the subculture of male prostitutes that flourish on the Lower West Side of Manhattan in a place called the “salt mines,” where the city keeps salt for deicing streets in the winter.  This sick subculture ranges up to a couple hundred men when the weather is warm.  Living in abandoned vehicles or subterranean cavities, many dress in drag and offer themselves to customers who come by—some of them wealthy professionals in stretch limousines.  Many of them, as boys, were raped by adult relatives.  At the “salt mines” they start as young as age sixteen but they don’t last much beyond forty; after that, they are either in jail or dead from a sexually transmitted disease or a drug overdose.  The neighborhood has many leather-and-chain bars.  Some of the male prostitutes carry razor blades for protection.

Our outreach team began to bring food and blankets during the daylight hours on Saturday, when the men weren’t distracted by their “work.”  Although the men made considerable money, they tended to squander it on drugs.  That left them scavenging garbage cans and dumpsters for food.  To feel compassion for these guys, to understand their wretched life, was extremely difficult.  We prayed fervently on Tuesday nights for love, compassion—and protection.  My teenage daughter Susan became part of the team, and more than once she told me, “Daddy, it was so frustrating last night!  I was talking to this drag queen about Jesus, and he was really listening to me.  And just when I thought I was getting somewhere with him—up rolls this limo, the rear door opens a crack, a hand beckons—and he’s gone.  “Sorry, Susan—gotta take care of business now,’ he says to me.”  All was not in vain, however.  One Sunday afternoon about half an hour before the afternoon service, Terry knocked on my office door.  “Pastor Cymbala!  We’ve got twenty-seven guys here today from the “salt mines.”  Isn’t that great!” “How did that happen?” I asked.  “We got a bunch of vans and brought them.  For many of them, this is going to be their first time ever in church.”  I learned later that one of them had a machete inside the sleeve of his raincoat just “in case” he felt he needed to use it.  The congregation took their presence in stride, even though the men didn’t exactly look—or smell—All-American.  At the end of the service some of them responded to give their hearts to the Lord.  Others sat stunned as church members greeted them with smiles and handshakes.  Walking down the center aisle, I bumped into an attractive woman in a black dress, with blond, shoulder-length hair, nicely done nails, black stockings, and high heels.  “Excuse me, ma’am,” I said.  She turned…and this low voice with a heavy Spanish accent replied, “No, that’s okay, man.”  My heart skipped a beat.  This was not a woman after all.  But neither was it a sloppy transvestite.  This was a knockout of a “woman”—bone-thin, no body hair thanks to hormonal treatment.  As I took closer notice, the only visual giveaway was the Adam’s apple.  I edged toward my wife.  “Carol, you’re not going to believe this,” I whispered, “but that’s a guy standing over there.”  “Don’t fool me,” she said.  “I’m not kidding.  That is a guy—trust me.”  His name was Ricardo, known on the street as “Sarah.”  Terry reported later, “He was the main troublemaker of all.  He introduced all the young kids to crack cocaine and prostitution.”  Ricardo had been plying his trade for at least ten years, and the dreariness was finally starting to get to him.  Imagine the despair of hustling most of the night to make $400 or $600, immediately blowing that money on cocaine, falling asleep under a bridge…and waking up the next morning to pick through the garbage cans looking for some breakfast.  The next night, as evening draws near, you start all over again. 

Ricardo sat in the meetings, and it dawned on him that maybe he could be different.  This Jesus could actually set him free from crack.  Perhaps this Jesus could even change him into a true man, not this half-and-half person he assumed was his nature.  He had been teased from childhood about being effeminate.  His mother had pleaded with him to forsake homosexuality, and he had tried, to no avail.  His willpower had failed him countless times.  But the idea that God was stronger, that God could in fact change him on the inside…that was a new thought.  Ricardo kept listening, and after about a month, he gave his heart to the Lord.  It was not a dramatic conversion; I am not even sure when it happened.  But it was real on the inside.  I will never forget the Tuesday night we introduced him to the congregation.  He stood before us, a bit shy, in male clothing.  His blond hair had been cut, and dark roots were now growing out.  His nail polish had been chipped off.  Subconscious habits were being overhauled with instruction from Terry and the others:  “No, Ricardo, don’t cross your legs like that.  Put your ankle all the way up on your other knee…”  It sounds humorous, but they had to start all the way back at “square one” with how a man sits and walks.  The congregation couldn’t help but cheer and praise God for this miracle.  Ricardo stood there perplexed at the noise.  Why were all these people applauding him? 

In the months that followed, Ricardo made great progress in his spiritual life.  It took three months to get him straight enough even to be accepted in a drug rehabilitation program.  Nevertheless, his commitment to follow Christ was solid.  The old had gone, the new had definitely come.  Ricardo had come out of pitch blackness and into the light.  Charles Spurgeon once said that when a jeweler shows his best diamonds, he sets them against a black velvet backdrop.  The contrast of the jewels against the dark velvet brings out the luster.  In the same way, God does his most stunning work, where things seem hopeless.  Wherever there is pain, suffering, and desperation, Jesus is.  And that’s where his people belong—among those who are vulnerable, who think nobody cares.  What better place for the brilliance of Christ to shine?  Ricardo eventually moved to Texas.  I was in Dallas one summer and ran into him.  It was great to see the transformation.  He had gained weight and was every inch a real man.  I hugged him, and then he delivered a new shock:  “Pastor, I wish you could come back in two weeks.  I’m getting married!”  “You’re what?”  My mind flashed back to the first time I had met him dressed in drag.  “Oh yes,” he said.  “I’ve met a Christian woman named Betty, and we love each other deeply.  We’re getting married.”  The fact that Ricardo had AIDS made the situation complicated.  But with proper guidance and counseling, he and Betty established a new home together.” [ibid. pp. 76-78]


“A few years later, at Christmastime, while I was in my office just as the Sunday afternoon service was beginning, I received a message that said Ricardo was dying.  He wanted to talk to me.  I slumped in my chair, and as I picked up the phone, Betty’s voice greeted me.  “Hello, Pastor…When I put my husband on the phone, you won’t be able to hear much, because he’s very weak.  But he still remembers all that you and the church did for him.”  In a moment I heard a fragile, wispy voice say, “Pastor—Cymbala—so—glad—to—hear—you.”  I choked up.  Ricardo continued, forcing out the breathy syllables:  “I—never—forgot—how—you—all—loved—me—and—took—me—in.—Thank—you—so—much.”  My ministerial instincts then revived, and I prepared to make a comfortable little speech, to tell him he would be going to heaven soon, that he would get there before me but I would see him on the other side for all eternity…”

“The Holy Spirit stopped me.  No! a voice seemed to say.  Fight for him!  Cry out to me!  I changed course.  “Ricardo, I’m going to pray for you right now.  Don’t try to pray along with me; save your strength.”  I began to intercede with intensity, fighting against the death that loomed before him.  “O God, touch Ricardo with your power!  This is not his time to die.  Restore him, for your glory, I pray.”  I remember hitting my desk a couple of times with my fist.  When I finished, I marched directly into the meeting and stopped it.  “I’ve just gotten off the phone with Ricardo, whom most of you know,” I said.  People looked up expectantly all across the building.  “He’s very sick with AIDS—but I want us to pray for his recovery.”  That unleashed a torrent of prayer as people cried out to God for Ricardo.  I called Betty two days later.  “Pastor Cymbala, it’s incredible!” she reported.  “He went to sleep after the two of you talked—and the next day, all his vital signs had done a U-turn.  He began to eat, after taking almost nothing for days.”  Within three weeks, Ricardo actually flew to New York and came walking unannounced into a Tuesday night prayer meeting.  The crowd gasped with joy.  In my heart I felt God spared him for a reason.  To get his testimony onto video so that others could know his remarkable story.  This eventually became a gripping eight-minute segment of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s concert video called Live at Madison Square Garden (Warner Alliance).  The power of his testimony, shown on the streets of the “salt mines,” is riveting.  It may partly explain why the video surprised us all by staying on Billboard’s national best-seller list for months.  The last time I saw Ricardo, a year later, his weight had dropped again.  “I’m so tired,” he said.  “I’ve fought this disease long enough; I just want to go to Jesus.  I can go now, because you have me on film, and everybody will know in years to come what Jesus did in my life.”  He passed away not long afterward.” [ibid. p.79-80]


“Christians often hesitate to reach out to those who are different.  They want God to clean the fish before they catch them…Jesus didn’t just speak the healing word to lepers from a distance of thirty yards.  He touched them.  I shall never forget Easter Sunday 1992—the day that Roberta Langella gave her dramatic testimony, as I recounted in chapter 3.  A homeless man was standing in the back of the church, listening intently.  At the end of the evening meeting I sat down on the edge of the platform, exhausted, as others continued to pray with those who had responded to Christ.  The organist was playing quietly.  I wanted to relax.  I was just starting to unwind when I looked up to see this man, with shabby clothing and matted hair, standing in the center aisle about four rows back and waiting for permission to approach me.  I nodded and gave him a weak little wave of my hand, ‘Look at how this Easter Sunday is going to end,’ I thought to myself.  ‘He’s going to hit me up for money.’  That happened often in this church.  ‘I’m so tired…’  When he came close, I saw that his two front teeth were missing.  But more striking was his odor—the mixture of alcohol, sweat, urine, and garbage took my breath away.  I have been around many street people, but this was the strongest stench I have ever encountered.  I instinctively had to turn my head sideways to inhale, then look back in his direction while breathing out.  I asked his name.  “David,” he said softly.  “How long have you been homeless, David?”  “Six years.”  “Where did you sleep last night?”  “In an abandoned truck.”  I had heard enough and wanted to get this over quickly.  I reached for the money clip in my back pocket.  At that moment David put his finger in front of my face and said, “No, you don’t understand—I don’t want your money.  I’m going to die out there.  I want the Jesus that red-haired girl talked about.”  I hesitated, then closed my eyes.  God, forgive me, I begged.  I felt soiled and cheap.  Me, a minster of the gospel…I simply wanted to get rid of him, when he was crying out for the help of Christ I had just preached about.  I swallowed hard as God’s love flooded my soul.  David sensed the change in me.  He moved toward me and fell on my chest, burying his grimy head against my white shirt and tie.  Holding him close, I talked to him about Jesus’ love.  These weren’t just words; I felt them.  I felt love for this pitiful young man.  And that smell…I don’t know how to explain it.  It had almost made me sick, but now it became the most beautiful fragrance to me.  I reveled in what had been repulsive just a moment ago.  The Lord seemed to say to me in that instant, ‘Jim, if you and your wife have any value to me, if you have any purpose in my work—it has to do with this odor.  This is the smell of the world I died for.’

David surrendered to the Christ he heard about that night.  We got him into a hospital detoxification unit for a week.  We got his teeth fixed.  He joined the Prayer Band right away.  He spent the next Thanksgiving Day in our home.  We invited him back for Christmas as well.  I will never forget his present to me.  Inside a little box was…one handkerchief.  It was all he could afford.  Today David heads up the maintenance department at the church, overseeing ten other employees.  He is now married and a father.  God is opening more and more doors for him to go out and give his testimony.  When he speaks, his words have a weight and an impact that many ordained ministers would covet.  As Christians reach out to touch everyone, including the unlovely who are now everywhere in our society, God touches them too—and revolutionizes their lives.  Otherwise we would just be circling the wagons, busying ourselves with Bible studies among our own kind.  There is no demonstration of God’s power because we have closed ourselves off from the need for such demonstration.” [pp. 141-143]




“A man such as Eleazar (2nd Samuel 23) brings to mind the little-known, seldom-seen partner of the great evangelist Charlse Finney during the Second Great Awakening.  His name was Daniel Nash, and he had had a lackluster record as a pastor in upstate New York.  He finally decided, at the age of forty-eight, to give himself totally to prayer for Finney’s meetings.  “Father Nash,” as some called him, would quietly slip into a town three or four weeks before Finney’s arrival, rent a room, find two or three other like-minded Christians to join him, and start pleading with God.  In one town the best he could find was a dark, damp cellar; it became his center for intercession.  In another place, Finney relates:

“When I got to town to start a revival a lady contacted me who ran a boarding house.  She said, “Brother Finney, do you know a Father Nash?  He and two other men have been at my boarding house for the last three days, but they haven’t eaten a bite of food.  I opened the door and peeped in at them because I could hear them groaning, and I saw them down on their faces.  They have been this way for three days, lying prostrate on the floor and groaning.  I thought something awful must have happened to them.  I was afraid to go in and I didn’t know what to do.  Would you please come and see about them?”

“No, it isn’t necessary,” I replied.  “They just have a spirit of travail in prayer.”

Once the public meetings began, Nash usually did not attend.  He kept praying in his hideaway for the conviction of the Holy Spirit to melt the crowd.  If opposition arose—as it often did in those rugged days of the 1820s—Finney would tell him about it, and Father Nash would bear down all the harder in prayer.  One time a group of young men openly announced that they were going to break up the meetings.  Nash, after praying, came out of the shadows to confront them.  “Now, mark me, young men!  God will break your ranks in less than one week, either by convicting some of you, or by sending some of you to hell.  He will do this as certainly as the Lord is my God!”  Finney admits that at that point he thought his friend had gone over the edge.  But the next Tuesday morning, the leader of the group suddenly showed up.  He broke down before Finney, confessed his sinful attitude, and gave himself to Christ.  “What shall I do, Mr. Finney?” he asked then.  The evangelist sent him back to tell his companions what had changed in his life.  Before the week was out, “nearly if not all of that class [group] of young men were hoping in Christ.”  Finney reported.

In 1826 a mob in a certain town burned effigies of the two:  Finney and Nash.  These unbelievers recognized that one man was as big a threat to their wickedness as the other.  Shortly before Nash died in the winter of 1831, he wrote in a letter,

“I am now convinced, it is my duty and privilege, and the duty of every other Christian, to pray for as much of the Holy Spirit as came down on the day of Pentecost, and a great deal more….My body is in pain, but I am happy in my God….I have only just begun to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”

Within four months of Nash’s death, Finney left the itinerant field to become the pastor of a church in New York City.  His partner in cracking the gates of hell was gone.  If you want to see Father Nash’s grave today, you will have to drive to northern New York, almost to the Canadian border.  There, in a neglected cemetery along a dirt road, you will find a tombstone that says it all:




NOV. 17, 1775-DEC. 20, 1831

Daniel Nash was a nobody to the elite of his time.  They would have found this humble man not worthy of comment because he lived on a totally different plane.  But you can be sure that he was known all too well in both heaven and hell.  The Bible tells about another Daniel whose dedication made an impression in the courts of God.  “A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.  He said, ‘Daniel, you are highly esteemed…’” (Dan. 10:10, italics added).  Imagine being acclaimed by heaven itself!  This is how it is with God’s mighty men and women.  They are famous in heaven; they win crowns that make all earth’s riches seem like cheap tinsel.  They may witness, teach, lead, and pray in obscurity on earth, but they are all the talk of heaven.  In every century, on every continent, warriors such as these are the ones who press forward the kingdom of God.”  [ibid. pp. 174-177]


Something To Consider About Revival


“Consider how many gospel-preaching churches there are in the fifty states of America—200,000, if not more.  If each of these churches, on average, brought only two converts to Christ a week—not robbing people from the First Baptist or First Nazarene down the road, but winning new people for the kingdom of God—that would mean 100 new baptized believers in each church in a year’s time, or 20,000,000 nationwide.  The population of the entire United States is about 270,000,000.  By merely bringing eight or nine people a month to Christ in each church, America would be dramatically changed within two to three years.  Can any serious Bible-preaching church not take on this modest goal in the name of its King?

God’s plan for the local church has always centered in evangelism.  Those brought to Christ are thus born into the very place where they can be nurtured and discipled.  This avoids the slippage we often see when parachurch ministries try to do the work mainly assigned to the local church.  An evangelistic focus, of course, would force us back to serious prayer and an emphasis on the simple gospel of Jesus Christ [what is that Gospel?  see it’s also important that we all preach the same thing, the same Gospel message].  God would prepare us as only he can for victorious spiritual warfare.  Concerned believers wouldn’t have time to watch as much television as they do now.  A lot of other activities would have to give way.  Living in the Bible, calling upon the Lord, fasting, and then reaching out to the unsaved would consume us.  We would require God’s anointing, whatever the cost.  Some churches in very small towns might have trouble reaching [converting] 100 people per year, but they would be offset by churches in urban areas, where the need and the opportunity are so great.

If the American church actually set out to do this “exploit” for God, bringing in 20,000,000 to Christ this year, another 20,000,000 next year…in three or four years we wouldn’t recognize our culture.  Broadway and Hollywood would have to acknowledge the shift in audience preferences.  Abortion clinics would wonder where all their customers went.  Drug abuse would plummet.

Some will accuse me of idealistic dreaming, but isn’t this plan the last thing Jesus told us to fulfill before his ascension?  “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  [notice, those being baptized are those who have answered God’s call, and notice that it is this group Jesus instructed us “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” i.e. we’re not to be teaching the unconverted world to obey Christ’s commandments, only those who accept his calling.  We’re only to witness to and preach the Gospel to the world in general.  The apostle Paul never preached God’s commandments to the Roman world in general, he only preached the Gospel to them.  That’s an important distinction we must be careful to make.]  What will it take to shake denominational leaders, pastors, and laypeople, seeing that we all must answer to Christ at the Judgment Seat one day?  Our sense of inadequacy is no excuse, given that he has promised to work with us as we set our hearts to the task of extending his kingdom.” [ibid. pp. 179-180]


Practical Advice About Setting Up Prayer-Meetings


Remember: “We must face the fact that for our churches and ministries to be all that God wants them to be, they must be saturated with prayer.  No new revelation or church-growth technique will change the fact that spiritual power is always linked to communion with God.  If you and I are prayerless, if our churches have no appetite for God’s presence, we will never reach our full potential in him.”

“Many visitors to our Tuesday night prayer meetings get inspired and want to go and do likewise back home.  But it is very important to discern God’s guidance as to the true spiritual temperature of a congregation and what the next step should be.  While some pastors have started prayer meetings similar to ours and have seen wonderful responses, others have been disappointed.  Many times the spirit of prayer has been so absent in a church that a weeknight prayer meeting, no matter how biblical or laudable, meets with apathy and coldness.  This discourages pastors even more, and they feel doubly defeated as fewer and fewer people come each week.  I often recommend that these pastors adjust the Sunday service instead.  Preaching time can be shortened somewhat, and when the sermon is over, invite those who feel touched by the Word to come forward for prayer.  Get your staff and the church’s spiritual leaders around you and pray with them.  What is an “altar service”?  It’s a mini-prayer meeting.  After people find more freedom to bring their needs to God, the spirit of prayer can begin to take hold.  Then God will lead you to the next step.  We must always remember that prayer is a gift from the Holy Spirit, and we can’t work it up.  So give God time to work in people’s hearts.  After they have experienced the joy and power of his presence, God will be able to do even greater things.” [ibid. pp. 183-184]

i.e. Matthew 18:19-20, remember Jesus said when two or three gather together in his name, he is there in the midst of them.  When I started a prayer meeting in a Sabbath-keeping Church of God house-church, we did just the same thing, I started out with the elder of the house-church and me, just the two of us, and after we experienced Jesus’ presence and many answered prayers, we slowly added to the group, and as the group grew, each new member experienced the joy of sensing Jesus’ presence and answered prayers.  Our prayer group was more structured, owing to the nature of our churches.  Find your own way with God, all the while realizing that God’s house is to be a house of prayer, as Jesus said, quoting himself in Isaiah.  [all emphasis mine throughout these excerpts]

For the full and awesome story of Pastor Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle, be sure to order a copy of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire for yourself.  Order: Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, ISBN-10: 0-310-61024-9, Copyright © by Jim Cymbala, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530.  The book can easily be ordered off Amazon. 


related links:


Pray the Bible Way (Charles Stanley)

George Mueller, Man of Prayer and Faith

Prayer Groups

Family Prayer Groups



Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and Fresh Faith     


Click Here to Print

content Editor Peter Benson -- no copyright, except where noted.  Please feel free to use this material for instruction and edification
Questions or problems with the web site contact the WebServant - Hosted and Maintained by CMWH, Located in the Holy Land