The world has lost a great man of God, a modern-day prophet, and a humble warrior for the Lord. He sadly died in a car crash earlier this week just before his 80th birthday. He was one of those rare Christian preachers who actually took the gospel message of Jesus Christ with the utmost seriousness.
He is known for so many important things. He was not just a preacher who promised pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye, but he offered solid, practical ministry as well. For example, in 1958 he founded Teen Challenge, the most successful drug recovery program in the world.
He is of course famous for his work with hardened gangs in New York, which his best-selling The Cross and the Switchblade documents. He fearlessly proclaimed the gospel and never shied away from speaking biblical truth. How many people have passed from death into life because of his ministry may never be known – at least in this life.
I regard him as one of the few prophetic voices in a very carnal Western church scene. Leonard Ravenhill and A.W. Tozer would be two other recent examples of those who feared only God, dedicated themselves to a life of holiness, hated sin, and preached without a hint of men-pleasing.
I recall very early on in my Christian walk going to hear an evangelistic crusade featuring Nicky Cruz. He of course was one of those New York gang leaders who was gloriously converted as a result of the efforts of Wilkerson. His story is told in the 1968 book, Run Baby Run.
Others can more capably present the full story of Wilkerson. Here I simply want to conclude with one short portion of one of his sermons. The sermon is entitled “A Call to Anguish”. It reveals the broken heart of Wilkerson, who in turn reflected the broken heart of God.
I can think of nothing better for everyone reading this than to turn to this short video clip now and soak it in. It can be listened to here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGMG_PVaJoI&feature=share
Here is part of that message:
And I look at the whole religious scene today and all I see are the inventions and ministries of man and flesh. It’s mostly powerless. It has no impact on the world. And I see more of the world coming into the church and impacting the church, rather than the church impacting the world. I see the music taking over the house of God. I see entertainment taking over the house of God. An obsession with entertainment in God’s house. A hatred of correction and a hatred of reproof. Nobody wants to hear it any more. Whatever happened to anguish in the house of God?
Whatever happened to anguish in the ministry? It’s a word you don’t hear in this pampered age. You don’t hear it. Anguish means extreme pain and distress. The emotions so stirred that it becomes painful. Acute deeply felt inner pain because of conditions about you, in you, or around you. Anguish. Deep pain. Deep sorrow. The agony of God’s heart.
We’ve held on to our religious rhetoric and our revival talk but we’ve become so passive. All true passion is born out of anguish. All true passion for Christ comes out of a baptism of anguish. You search the scripture and you’ll find that when God determined to recover a ruined situation… He would share His own anguish for what God saw happening to His church and to His people. And He would find a praying man and take that man and literally baptize him in anguish. You find it in the book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem is in ruins. How is God going to deal with this? How is God going to restore the ruin? Now folks, look at me… Nehemiah was not a preacher, he was a career man. But this was a praying man.
And God found a man who would not just have a flash of emotion. Not just some great sudden burst of concern and then let it die. He said: “No. I broke down and I wept and I mourned and I fasted. And then I began to pray night and day. Why didn’t these other men… why didn’t they have an answer? Why didn’t God use them in restoration? Why didn’t they have a word? Because there was no sign of anguish. No weeping. Not a word of prayer. It’s all ruin.
Does it matter to you today? Does it matter to you at all that God’s spiritual Jerusalem, the church, is now married to the world? That there is such a coldness sweeping the land? Closer than that… does it matter about the Jerusalem that is in our own hearts? The sign of ruin that’s slowly draining spiritual power and passion. Blind to lukewarmness, blind to the mixture that’s creeping in. That’s all the devil wants to do is to get the fight out of you and kill it. So you won’t labor in prayers anymore, you won’t weep before God anymore. You can sit and watch television and your family go to hell.
Let me ask you… is what I just said convicting to you at all?
Not only do I recommend that everyone watch this video and let God minister to them through it, but let me be even more forthright here. I sometimes wonder if the best thing that could happen to the church in the West would be if every single Christian pastor, minister, priest and leader would simply tell their flocks something like this:
“Sorry folks, but I am sick and tired of a dead and lifeless ministry. I have decided to go away to be alone with God. I will not return until I have had a deep and lasting encounter with the living God. You can feel free to do what you like, but I will not return until God has radically and utterly transformed my life.
“I don’t care if it takes 3 days or 3 months. I will no longer waste your time or my time until God has so broken me, moulded me, and filled me that he can start to use me for his glory, and his glory alone. Anything else is not worth getting up for each morning. Please keep me in prayer as I go away and commune with the Most High God. Let him have his way with me, and in me, and through me.”
Sound a bit too radical? Well, can I suggest that we are well beyond the place of anything less. Bandaid solutions will not help a haemorrhaging church. Unless we start getting serious with God once and for all, we all might as well stop playing church and just go back into the world. We can sell our churches and let them be turned into mosques or gay discos.
But why keep going through the motions? Why play games when so much is at stake? Why do we fool ourselves into thinking everything is just alright when we really stink to high heaven, and the judgment of God must surely come soon?
David Wilkerson will be sorely missed. May God raise up many more such men of God before it is too late.