Few books have ever impacted and amazed me as much as Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. From the very beginning, Cymbala had me hooked as he spoke of the early challenges he encountered in ministry and moved into the lessons he learned and continues to learn even in the midst of pastoring one of America’s most successful churches. Every chapter impacted me in some way and as a future pastor who has a burden for church planting, Cymbala’s points are exactly what I needed to hear.
Perhaps what attracted me to Cymbala’s book the most was how simple, plain, and scriptural it was. As a modern Christian with a burden for reaching the modern western world I often find myself frustrated and even annoyed by books that criticize anything new and innovative as “unscriptural” and that the “old ways” of evangelism and church ministry should be maintained. Cymbals book impacted me in a profound way because he did not argue for or against new methods, but he unapologetically lifted up the simplicity of true biblical ministry. This emphasis on such basic concepts as prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit greatly encouraged me as I look forward to planting churches in a secular context. For the remainder of this book report I would like to share six quotes from Cymbala’s book which I believe capture the simplicity and power of a biblical church ministry.
The first quote I would like to share comes from the very first Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire titled “The Amateurs.” In this chapter Cymbala shares the difficulties and challenges he faced during his early years in ministry when nothing (and I mean nothing) seemed to be going well for him. After experiencing their “first spiritual breakthrough” Cymbala stated, “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” (19). Clearly Cymbala must have had 2 Corinthians 12:9 in mind for in it God says, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” This concept is a powerful one for me to learn because as a new pastor looking forward to beginning a new work of church planting I need to remember that the more I admit my weakness and lean on God for strength the more success I will experience. Ministry does not rest on my collar bones. It rests in the mighty arm of God.
The second and third quotes come from chapter two, “Catching Fire”, where Cymbala discusses the importance of prayer. Cymbala really hones in on the importance of prayer and really emphasizes the prayer meeting as the most important meeting of the church. While many of us consider the main service to be the most important, Cymbala learned that it is when we cry out to God in prayer that we begin to experience his power. I have heard it said that the early Adventists would not miss two meetings: The Sabbath school class and the prayer meeting. The main service, while important, was not as important for them as prayer and Bible study. Cymbala said it well in page 28 when he wrote, “You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor or the evangelist is by who comes on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.” This is indispensable truth for those in ministry for it reminds us where the true source of power lies. It is not in our wisdom, gimmicks, charisma, or talents but in our commitment to prayer. Cymbala then goes on to quote Charles Spurgeon: “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” (28).
The fourth quote comes from chapter eight, “The Lure of Marketing”. This quote impacted me so much that I shouted the moment I read it. In this chapter Cymbala tackles the problem of the church’s lack of spirituality and commitment to Christ. True success can never be measured by attendance (122) and while our churches may be filled to the brim, it is commitment to Jesus that counts. Cymbala states in page 132, “The same people who want sixty-minute worship services rent two-hour videos and watch NBA and NFL games that run even longer. The issue is not length but appetite.” This is the quote that made me shout. Cymbala hit the nail on the head! As a future pastor my goal is not to meet peoples carnal needs or accommodate their unspiritual desires for non-intrusive, easy going church ministry but to help them grow in their desire for God.
The fifth and sixth quotes I would like to share come from chapter nine, “The Lure of Doctrine without Power”. This is perhaps the most important chapter for an Adventist minister to read. Historically our church has focused more on the intellectual arguments of our faith but sadly, we have done so at the expense of presenting Christ. Doctrine without power is useless. While doctrine is important it must always be centered in Christ. Cymbala states in page 145, “I can affirm the existence of Jesus Christ all I want, but in order to be effective, he must come alive in my life in a way that even the pedophile, the prostitute, and the pusher can see.” A few pages later Cymbala comes down hard when he wrote, “Does anyone really think that America today is lacking preachers, books, Bible translations, and neat doctrinal statements? What we really lack is the passion to call upon the Lord until he opens the heavens and shows himself powerful” (150).
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire impacted my worldview as a minister of the gospel in many ways. I had many “aha moments” during the reading of this book and this report captures a miniature picture of how valuable this book is to me. I highly recommend this book to both clergy and laymen for it contains wisdom and power that was learned, not in the study, but in the trenches of ministry.