May 22, 2007

Preach It Till You Get It

Peter Bohler was one of the people who changed Wesley’s life and theology. He told Wesley how faith in Christ could be an instantaneous work of God and that when a person had a saving faith God’s Spirit would affirm it.

Despite years of disciplined pursuit of God, Wesley still felt unsure as to his inheritance of heaven. He was afraid to die; the oceanic storms coming and going to America were enough to convince him of that. He could not understand why someone who hoped to go to heaven would be afraid of death, and, yet, he was afraid of death.

On the voyage to America, Wesley was intrigued by the Moravian Christians. Despite the fiercest storms, they were not afraid. Wesley (or one of the Moravian Christians) might have overstated the case when he claimed that even the women and children were unafraid. But they had something Wesley wanted. They were confident of their place in heaven.

On March 5, 1738, Wesley wrote,

“I was, on Sunday, the fifth, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.

Immediately it struck into my mind, ‘Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?’ I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, ‘By no means.’ I asked, ‘But what can I preach?’ He said, ‘Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.’

Accordingly, Monday, 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work.”

Bohler’s statement intrigues me. “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” I don’t think this is an admonition to hypocrisy. I believe it has a two-fold purpose. First, it is a statement that certain beliefs often follow action. For example, sometimes you have to begin to show love and forgiveness toward someone before the fullness of it is realized in your heart. Second, it is a statement that when Wesley preached the doctrine he would be forced to study the doctrine, and in studying he would learn more. It is often said we learn more by teaching something than by being taught something.

It is to the first point that I would like to reflect.

When I planted the church in Pleasant Hill, we started out like any other church. We gathered a group of interested people. We did community surveys. We sent out a mass mailing and did the phone calling. We also did some outreach events.

I wanted to reach lost people, but, to be honest, I didn’t know why. I had my calling to the ministry which I took as a call to reach the lost, but I couldn’t really say why I ought to. I also didn’t want people to go to hell, but, again, not a real point of passion for me. (I know that sounds bad.) I just couldn’t put it into words. And while I wanted to reach the lost, there was nothing behind it.

Everything began to change when I started preaching about the Great Commandment. I started to realize that evangelism must come out of my love for the person, and that love is often developed and demonstrated through action (see the story of the Good Samaritan). So, I began serving people. I served everyone; especially the people I didn’t like or that really made me mad. I served them, and the love began to grow. The more I preached about loving my neighbor…the more I wanted to love my neighbor…the more I served my neighbor…the more I grew in my love for my neighbor.

The church I attend and where I work does a tremendous amount of outreach. There are very few churches in the world who do as much for others as we do. We use the tagline that we are doing this to “Show you God’s love.” I believe that church needs to market that God loves to people around them because they don’t often get that message from the church. But, I fear we can focus so much on “Showing God’s Love” that we miss the point where we are actually supposed to love the person.

But then again, we do learn by doing.

What do you think? Would this be advice that you gave to someone who was honestly searching? How would this advice change the way you dealt with young leaders?

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