SBC Life Articles

Recovery Of Urgency

Before evangelism was ever a program or a profession it was a passion for those of us called of God — a passion of the heart that drove us first to our knees and then out into the world to proclaim the gospel. That God-wrought urgency compelled us to tell the waiting world of Him. We were on fire, and we could not hide it!

But something has happened — that fire in many has been all but extinguished. This raises two compelling questions: on the one hand, how do we retain it; on the other, how do we recapture it?

Spurgeon once said, "Your sermons — make them red hot; never mind if men say you are too enthusiastic or even fanatical." God bless dear Spurgeon for reminding us that a witness of Christ is a laughing stock to the world — and to the devil — unless there is a Holy Spirit urgency burning within. But today some churchmen suggest heartfelt enthusiasm for Christ is a bit naive!

The well-worn story tells how the old deacon got carried away and mixed up his metaphors, praying, "Lord, if any spark of awakening has been lit in this revival meeting, we pray that you will water that spark!" After we wipe the smile from our faces, we're compelled to ask, "Who, indeed, watered the spark?"

When did a burning passion for souls last bring tears to our eyes and motivate us to rush out and tell someone about Jesus?

One thing is clear; a world in which red-hot zealots and terrorists are willing to die for their beliefs will not be converted by lukewarm preachers who sound more like impassive philosophers than fiery prophets sent from God! Preaching an easy, anemic gospel in a spirit of casual indifference earns no one's respect.

We must have urgency!

We must have men who are on fire proclaiming truth with passion, calling for a deep, heartfelt surrender to Jesus. That is the crying need of this hour.

David Hume, the noted sixteenth-century skeptic, was seen running down a cobblestone street. A friend said, "David, where goest thou?" He replied, "To hear Whitefield preach!" "But," sputtered his friend, "you don't believe what Whitefield says." The breathless Hume replied, "No, I don't, but he does!" and off he went.

We need such people today, those who sincerely believe and proclaim with such earnestness that even skeptics can't help but listen.

Skevington Wood, the English Methodist theologian and evangelist, rightly said, "It is the temptation of this pragmatic age to presume that technique is the secret of evangelism."

Frankly, I predict the total failure of Christian witness in this generation unless we are gripped with a more compelling urgency than what is common today.

The idea of the easygoing, casual preacher sitting nonchalantly on a stool with a bottle of "designer" water in his hand is not my vision of Paul in Athens or Corinth! Does it occur to anyone that this "playing footsy" approach to reaching people is, in fact, closer to a camouflaged lack of heart-conviction than an intense desire to reach unbelievers?

I am not calling for reckless and bombastic pulpit pounding as a symbol of urgency. Urgency in evangelism is not best viewed as a brush fire. Paul Rees once contrasted wildfire on the prairie with the internal combustion in a well-tuned engine. He said it's not wildfire, but controlled fire that we must have in our day. He was correct. Evangelistic passion produced by flared-up emotion or pep-rally excitement cannot last. It must be deeper – much deeper.

Consider the examples of six who vividly modeled evangelistic urgency:

• The resolute George Whitefield crossing the Atlantic tempest with a fire in his heart. He made the crossing thirteen times to preach to settlers scattered throughout the colonies, saying, "I would rather burn out than rust out." The phrase "burn out" did not have the unhealthy connotation then that it has today.

• The timid William Carey relentlessly pressing on with his vision and evangelistic burden for the world despite the ridicule of elder ministers who chided, "Sit down, young man. When God is pleased to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine!"

• The venerable John Knox wrapped in a thick, Scottish blanket, crying out in anguish on a cold Edinburgh morning before sunrise, "Give me Scotland, or I die." Knox often ate breakfast with swollen eyes from a night of weeping for the conversion of his countrymen!

• The brave David Brainerd preaching to American Indians, holding a Bible in one hand and a crimson handkerchief soaked with his own blood from tubercular coughing in the other. No wonder Indians understood his love!

• The fervent young Texas evangelist working extra hours to earn the money needed to be part of an overseas evangelistic venture.

• The grandfatherly Billy Graham with hands trembling from Parkinson's Disease saying, "I'm not quitting. I'm not finished. We can't go as long, but we can still go!"

Urgency! We require it as we face the flinty resistance of the stubborn will and the embittered cynicism of the modern mind. Make no mistake; the work of evangelism ahead will be in an increasingly difficult setting. One on the front lines of evangelism has observed, "Never has it been more difficult in America to speak up for Jesus and point people to Him, but never has it been more timely and more desperately needed." We face a head-on collision with a world that has no morals or Master — a world that scoffs at the notion of Christ's kingdom coming.

The madmen of Islam have their bold agenda — how can we excuse our loss of urgency and the deadening of evangelistic fervor? A preacher with a cold heart in today's world is a spiritual anomaly and a tragic liability.

So, where do we go to recover this urgency for evangelism? We go where Mary went, to the empty tomb! We go running with Peter and John to look on the place where He lay and realize, "He's not here — He's alive!" We go with the two on the road to Emmaus and say, "Did our hearts not burn within us as he spoke to us!"

The living, risen Jesus is the springing source of urgency in evangelism! We find recovered urgency where Dr. W. R. Dale found it early one Easter Sunday morning. The dignified, unflappable pastor of Birmingham, England, was in his study preparing his discourse when suddenly a thought came to him and shot through every fiber of his being. "Jesus is alive — really, Really, REALLY alive from the dead!" He got so excited, he jumped up and ran out into the street shouting, "He's alive; He's really alive!!!" To be sure, passers by were shocked, but it didn't matter! He had recovered his lost urgency.

The reality of the living Lord replaces the hollow ring in our sermons and songs with joyous vibrancy. We recover urgency through a ready and fresh response of our whole personality to the risen Lord Himself. The open secret is the living Christ alive within us expressing Himself through us — releasing His spirit of urgency through us — as we move out in obedience to Him to tell the world the Good News. That, and that alone, makes us as authentic as the first century Christians!

As Lloyd Ogilvie keenly observed, "Nothing can happen through you which is not happening to you."

    About the Author

  • Michael Gott