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What a beautiful phrase! Yet how many of us have almost forgotten the expression "A Passion for Souls." For years it was a tremendous motivating force for God¬ís children. Today with the emphasis upon such terms as church growth, counseling, Christian education and youth ministries we have almost forgotten the emphasis upon constantly winning people to Christ.
Every Christian, whatever his official title or role, should be characterized by a passion to lead others to Christ. We all give nominal adherence to winning people. We seem to feel a little embarrassed to speak about "souls" since we hear the constant emphasis upon treating people as "whole persons"¬óbody as well as soul. But every human being has a spiritual aspect of his nature which will live forever and ever. When the body dies, the spirit will live on. It will be eternally saved, at home with Christ, or eternally lost to Christ and heaven, lost in a Christless eternity in hell.
The word "soul" is still in the Bible. Throughout Scripture the concept is emphasized that we are more than body. We dare not let psychology rob us of the emphasis upon the soul. If you prefer, use "spirit" for the individual spiritual nature, but it seems more common to use "soul" for the whole being of humankind but with particular emphasis upon the spiritual nature. Salvation affects the whole being, lifestyle, and inner nature. We will use "soul" for the purpose of this discussion. Jesus asked, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt.16:26).
Our danger is that although in our busy schedules and ministry we recognize that soul-winning is part of our responsibility, yet it becomes almost incidental in our work plan and time plan. It remains our goal in theory, but in practice it is often not a priority in our public or private ministry.
We Need a Passion for Souls
No Christian is the person of God that our Lord wants him to be unless day after day the consuming desire of his heart is that people come to Christ. For this we must live, must long, must seek opportunities, must pray, and must believe. You have not drunk deeply of the spirit of Christ if you do not share His tears over the unsaved who are blindly hastening to an eternity forever separated from the love of God, the presence of Christ, and with all hope of change forever gone.
We need to feel the love for people that drew Christ from heaven to earth, that fills His heart on heaven¬ís throne today. We need to imbibe the infinite longings of His heart as He looks out on a world filled with people lost in their sins, their sorrows, and their spiritual helplessness. The passion for souls must come from the heart of Christ. From Him we must seek it until we find it.
Why was Jesus a Man of Sorrows (Isa. 53)? Surely it was because He took our sins upon Himself, because He totally identified with us in our sorrows, and because today His infinite loving heart still longs so ceaselessly for the lost of earth. We as Christians do not deserve His grace and we sin against His love if we do not live close enough to His yearning heart to receive and share His longing for the sheep still outside the fold.
D. L. Moody once said, "When I see young men by the thousands going in the way of death, I feel like falling at the feet of Jesus with prayer and tears to come and save them." Paul S. Rees wrote in World Vision, "In heaven¬ís name and for earth¬ís sake, let¬ís never allow to cool that ¬Ďinsatiable desire that men and women should be won to Christ.¬í"
Eloquent Bishop Joseph Berry, in describing our Lord¬ís parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:16-24), applying it to our gospel feast today at Jesus¬í table, pleaded, "Have you no concern, O happy guests, for the starving ones in the streets? Out, out of the light and warmth! Out into the chilling storm! Out into the dismal streets! Invite them to come. That is not enough. Persuade them to come. That is not enough. Compel them to come!"
The good bishop added, "The man who sits down to the banquet and selfishly enjoys its light and warmth, with never a thought of the hungry multitude outside, is a caricature of a Christian. He has caught no true vision of his Lord; nor have the fires of Christian evangelism been kindled in his heart. He may be a church member, but he is not a Christian¬ÖIs anyone a real disciple of Christ who is not swayed by this consuming passion?"
Let the Passion for Souls Kindle You
Many of the greatly used people of God, giant leaders of God¬ís people who moved the church and their world for Christ, were marked by this passion for souls. Read the following words not with a spiritual nonchalance nor a hurried casualness. These words poured forth from hearts of Christlike yearning, from their own Gethsemane of longing. They are the essence of their whole being. They cost them all in a Calvary commitment regardless of the price.
John Knox constantly carried the burden for his land. Night after night he prayed on the wooden floor of his hideout refuge from Queen Mary. When his wife pleaded with him to get some sleep, he answered, "How can I sleep when my land is not saved?" Payne reports that often Knox would pray all night in agonizing tones, "Lord, give me Scotland or I die!" God shook Scotland; God gave him Scotland. God respects such a passion for souls.
John Wesley, as he exhorted his pastors upon whom the future of their revival movement depended, urged, "Let us all be of one business. We live only for this, to save our own souls, and the souls of those who hear us." Again, Wesley cried, "Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth."
David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians, shared his heart cry in his diary: "I set apart this day for fasting and prayer to prepare me for the ministry¬ÖIn the forenoon, I felt a power of intercession for immortal souls¬ÖIn the afternoon¬ÖGod enabled me so to agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade and the cool wind. My soul was drawn out very much for the world: I gasped for multitudes of souls. I think I had more enlargement for sinners than for the children of God, though I felt as if I could spend my life in cries for both (April 19, 1742)."
Again, "I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through so that I could but gain souls to Christ. I continued in this frame all evening and night. While I was asleep, I dreamed of these things, and when I waked, the first thing I thought of was this great work of pleading for God against Satan" (July 21, 1744).
Philip Doddridge wrote, "I long for the conversion of souls more sensibly than for anything else. Methinks I could not only labor, but die for it."
James Caughey said it similarly: "Oh, to burn out for God! All, all for Him! Jesus only! Souls! Souls! Souls! I am determined to be a winner of souls. God help me."
John Smith (English soul-winner) said, "I am a broken-hearted man; not for myself but on account of others. God has given me such a sight of the value of precious souls that I cannot live if souls are not saved. Give me souls or else I die."
Of George Whitefield, great evangelist and friend of Wesley, William Cowper wrote,
He followed Paul¬óhis zeal a kindred flame,
His apostolic charity the same.
Prayed Whitefield, "O Lord, give me souls or take my soul." It is said his face shone like the face of Moses when He sobbed that prayer.
When William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was asked by the king of England what the ruling force of his life was, he replied, "Sir, some men¬ís passion is for gold, other men¬ís passion is for fame, but my passion is for souls."
Charles Cowman, founder of OMS International (formerly The Oriental Missionary Society), as he wrote of the millions of Japan, resolved, "By the help of God they shall hear if it costs every drop of my life¬ís blood. Here I am, Lord, send me! Send me!" It was said of him, "The winning of a soul was to him what the winning of a battle is to a soldier; what the winning of a bride is to a lover; what the winning of a race is to an athlete. Charles Cowman lived for just one thing¬óto win souls for Christ. This was his soul passion, and in a very extraordinary manner God set His seal upon it."
It was further said in tribute to Cowman, "Whenever the evangelization of the Orient was mentioned, his soul took fire and you felt he would die a martyr through his own ferventness before he reached the sunset of life, and it was even so. He belonged to the class of early martyrs whose passionate souls made an early holocaust of the physical man."
John Hyde ("Praying Hyde"), so mightily used in salvation and revival in India as the Apostle of Intercession, often cried out, "Father, give me these souls or I die!" He alternated in agony of intercession and joyous praise, receiving tremendous answers to prayer and by the end of his missionary service was averaging more than four souls a day, largely won through prayer.
President Walters of the British Methodist Conference recalled a Monday morning when he went into the study of Hugh Price Hughes who had launched the Wesleyan Forward Movement which founded churches and central halls. Walters was there to report on his Sunday work. "That morning Hughes looked like a broken man, his eyes were wet with tears¬óbroken, and he was but fifty years of age! ¬ĎAre you ill, sir?¬í I asked. ¬ĎNo,¬í he answered, and then continued, ¬ĎWalters, we have had three Sunday nights at St. James Hall without anyone in the inquiry rooms¬óno conversions¬óand I can¬ít stand it. It will break my heart¬ÖWhen God sent me to West London, it was that, whenever I preached, I should win a verdict for Christ.¬í"
How to Receive This Passion
Do you long to be a person of God with such a passion for souls that God begins to add a new dimension of fruitfulness to your leadership? Dare you believe that God will give it to you if you ask? Not everyone is called to be a Whitefield, a Billy Graham, or a Praying Hyde. But everyone of us is called to bear fruit¬óboth the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of souls.
Your leadership assignment may involve you primarily in administration, teaching, or other non-evangelistic duties, but you can still be fruitful. Aletta Jacobsz of South Africa, a teacher and counselor, visited the OMS work in China in 1938 and ¬í39. Before long God through her brought revival to OMS and many Presbyterian centers. She was not a public speaker, but her radiant love for Jesus so attracted people and moved them toward Christ that people came constantly to her room or asked her to share with small groups. Hundreds found a new experience in Christ during her visit.
R. Stanley Tam, Lima, Ohio, businessman and president of U.S. Plastics, tirelessly leads his successful business, but is also in constant demand to speak to church and business groups across the country. He has deeded his business to God, receives a modest salary, and all profits go to missionary evangelism. He has the joy of constantly leading people to Christ during his travels, over the phone, through gospel booklets in all his shipments through the film and books on his life, and through his public witness. People have even come across the country to find Christ in his office. In 1987 he led 1,644 to Christ¬ómore than four per day.
There is no greater joy than to lead a person to a transforming experience of Christ. The more you taste this joy, the more you will want God to make you a soul-winner. How can you increasingly find this joy in your own experience?
1. Become more passionately committed to Jesus Christ than ever before. This is the foundation of soul-winning motivation and this is the secret of radiant Christian attractiveness. The more personal your daily fellowship with Jesus, the more thrilling your personal prayer communion, the more naturally and eagerly you speak about Jesus as you share with others, the more God will be able to use you. It is not professional motivation to witness that brings results. You need personal love for Jesus so real and so preciously rewarding that you overflow with love for Jesus. Then you will not be able to keep silent.
2. Specifically ask God to give you a passion for souls. Make it part of your daily prayer to ask God to help you lead people to Christ. Make it one of your daily priority requests.
3. Ask God to give you a sensitivity to others. Ask Him to give you eyes to see and ears to hear those about you. Ask Him to help you discern the hurts, heart cries, and needs of those you meet.
4. Ask God to make you spiritually radiant. Each day ask Him to make you Christlike, overflowing with joy in the Lord, and anointed by the Spirit in all your contacts. Ask Him to put something of His presence and glory so evident in your face and in your actions so that others will be attracted to Him.
5. Ask God for winsome boldness in witnessing. Ask Him for a loving, caring spirit of initiative to make you recognize open doors and help you buy up your opportunities. Ask Him to make you alert to seize strategic moments for the Lord.
6. Ask God to make you confident and positive. He will gladly deliver you from fear. The more you speak to others about Christ and about their personal spiritual life, the more confident you will become and the easier it will become for God to use you.
7. Put constant priority on prayer. Put priority on both communing prayer and interceding prayer. Prayer is the key to your personal spiritual radiance. Prayer is the key to guidance in your contacts and witness. Prayer is the key to the anointing of the Spirit on your life and efforts. Prayer is the key to God¬ís power clothing you so that there is a divine dimension in your soul-winning efforts. Prayer is the key to a passion for souls and to all your spiritual life. Put priority on prayer.
A century ago God greatly used Dr. A. T. Pierson, a Presbyterian minister, as a pastor both in America and at Spurgeon¬ís Tabernacle in London, and as editor and leader of the Student Volunteer Movement. Here he tells how to receive this fiery passion for souls:
"There is a secret fellowship with God where we get this heavenly fire kindled within, and it makes personal work for souls easy, natural, a relief, and a rest. To linger in God¬ís presence until we see souls, as through His eyes, makes us long over them with a tireless longing.
"This passion for souls is probably the highest product of spiritual communion with God. It absorbs us, and even our own salvation is forgotten in that passionate yearning which made Moses ready to have his name blotted out of God¬ís book for Israel¬ís sake, or Paul willing to be anathema for the sake of his brethren.
"It seems to me that such passion is the highest form of unselfish love, and the nearest approximation to the divine motive that impelled the Lord Jesus Christ to empty himself of his original glory and majesty, and assume ¬Ďthe form of a servant,¬í enduring even the cross.
"No man can kindle in himself that celestial fire; it must come from the live coal from the altar above."