Jim Cymbala has served as pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City since the early 1970s. He has also led seminars at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove and has spoken to pastors leading up to Rock the Lakes, BGEA’s evangelistic outreach to youth.
Q: How has God been working in your own heart lately regarding a message of encouragement or exhortation for the church?
A: For the last couple of years I’ve been traveling quite a bit around the country and the world talking with pastors. But I must be careful not to imply that a single message is to be equally applied to every church, because each church needs different words of encouragement or correction or refocus at different times, depending on what that church is currently going through. Jesus wrote seven letters and sent them to specific churches.
Now, having said that, there are two related issues that I think are applicable in all cases. First, Paul told Timothy, who was then a pastor in Ephesus: “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). We have to remember that the main reason the church is on the earth—we could be in Heaven if the Lord wanted us—is to bear witness to Christ and the cross and the Gospel. We must come to grips with the fact that people are being born and are dying, and they don’t know about Jesus. That is the local church’s responsibility. Remember, the angels rejoice when one sinner repents, and that’s the kind of rejoicing we want to see.
Second, not only did Paul teach that we’re to proclaim the Gospel, of which he wasn’t ashamed, he said that in order to do it effectively, we must preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Q: How can we ensure that happens?
A: I believe there are two dimensions to this. First, just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, we need to receive a burden from God that transcends our personality and our intellect. You can’t teach weeping over a city. Only the Holy Spirit can impart compassion. My personal challenge is to see people in downtown Brooklyn the way God sees them and to feel what He feels for them. I’m not an orator, nor am I a great speaker. But I will reach people if I love them.
Second, when we present the Gospel, we must rely upon the Holy Spirit as we invite people to commit their lives to the Savior. That’s what happened with Peter. He was a fisherman who messed up and failed God. But the Lord chose him to be the preacher on the Day of Pentecost, and the Bible says when Peter got done, the people were pricked in their hearts. Why? Because the Holy Spirit led, both in presentation and in invitation.
We can only drink in the Spirit’s grace if we spend time alone with the Lord in His Word and in prayer. We can’t get around that. Otherwise, we will only be talking heads—we may say the correct thing but we’ll have all the power of a slug.
Q: How can we be more filled with Christ’s love in order to better reach out to a world in such need?
A: When God sent His Son to this earth, Jesus came to accomplish many things, foremost of which was to die on the cross as our substitute. Before He died, Jesus told the disciples that it was better for them that He physically leave and that the Father send another Helper, another Advocate. Before, Jesus was with them; now He was going to be in them.
No human effort can produce the love that we need to do God’s work. Again, that can only come by the Holy Spirit. As Samuel Chadwick, the great Methodist preacher of another generation, once said: “Christianity is hopeless without the Holy Ghost.”
Only the Spirit gives us revelation from God’s Word and helps us obey what God has called us to do. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are controlled by the Spirit, and He changes us and His love emanates from us. Christians are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. If we just be what God intends us to be, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our world will be changed.
Q: When you want to share personally the love of Christ, how do you pray beforehand?
A: First of all, I pray for what the Apostle Paul prayed for. In Colossians 4:3, Paul said: “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” When it comes to personal witness, we need the opportunity of an open door. And I pray that people will be receptive and will be ready to hear. There’s no pre-set formula. I ask that the Lord will give me just the right words to say.
You know, what we believe is totally supernatural—God speaking the world into existence; a virgin giving birth; a man dying on a cross bearing the sins of the world; a man resurrecting from the dead. These are not normal things. So, when we proclaim the Gospel, we must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to prepare hearts and that God’s Word will penetrate those hearts.
Q: You have visited sites of upcoming Rock the Lakes Festival events. What is it about these youth and family oriented outreaches that has resonated with you?
A: I’m so happy that Franklin Graham has sensed God’s leading to invest in today’s youth. Many will hear for the very first time that God loves them and sent His Son to die for them.
I was invited to come and encourage pastors and to urge their involvement. As I connected with them and attended prayer rallies, I was deeply moved. Their prayers were heartfelt. Jesus said to lift up our eyes and look unto the fields that are ripe for harvest. People within these cities are doing just that, and it’s been a joy to be a part of Rock the Lakes to spread the Gospel to people of any age.
Q: What are you learning about being more effective in reaching youth for Jesus?
A: Today’s youth is one of the hardest mission fields in the world. Let me illustrate what we face in Brooklyn by telling the story of LaToya and Cristina.
I met LaToya about a year ago when she was 12. She has no dad in the house, and her mother works so much, she’s really been raised by an aunt who cannot hear or speak. LaToya lives in an area of Brooklyn that’s so dangerous the police don’t like to go there. She lives with constant gunfire outside her window.
To show you how tough LaToya is, the Junior Crips approached her one time and said they were going to force her to join. She said, “No, I’m not.” They said, “Oh yeah you are.” Again she refused. “Well, we’re going to come and mess you up then.” When a gang member accosted her on the bus, LaToya, who’s tough as tungsten, got in his face and said: “How about this? We get off at the next stop, and I’ll fight you right now.” The guy passed and said, “No, no, no thanks.”
When I was introduced to LaToya, I sensed a quiet rage about her. So I asked her, “Who are you angry at?”
“Who am I angry at?” she replied. “I’m angry at God. I’m angry at Jesus. I’m angry at my mother. I’m angry at my father. I’m angry at the school. I’m angry at the cops.”
I knew right then that I couldn’t come back with some trite pastoral remark. I knew I had to somehow get close to her.
So I said, “LaToya, I want you to come and work for me.” She answered, “What do you mean?” I told her, “On Sundays, you help the assistants who work with me. I’ll pay you out of my own pocket for the time you put in.” She accepted.
Over the next year, God worked in LaToya’s life, and wall upon wall that she had erected came down. And she committed her life to Christ. I’ve met her mother and her father.
And then I met 15-year-old Cristina, who LaToya has known forever. LaToya brought her to church recently and sat with her during the service.
When I met Cristina, I asked her what brought her to church. “I just got to live a better life and make something of it,” she said.
There were thousands of people at church that day, and Cristina was the first one to respond to come forward to give her life to Christ at the end of the service. Afterward, I brought her up on the platform and had her join me in front of our choir. I wrapped my arm around her and then told the choir, “This is Cristina. She came forward to receive Christ.” The choir members were beaming, then in unison said, “Cristina, we love you!” She broke down weeping.
Then I put my arm around LaToya and told Cristina, “LaToya’s like a spiritual granddaughter to me.” LaToya was touched that somebody would say they cared about her. That’s the impact of our caring in the name of Christ.