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When I was a teenager, full of evangelical zeal and determined the world should know about Jesus, I attended a weekend School for Evangelists in Sheffield (sleeping bags on threadbare mattresses on floor etc). From what I remember, it mainly consisted of talks by evangelists and ministers of the ‘how to witness effectively’ and ‘lessons from the great evangelists of the past’ variety. It was quite inspiring though I don’t recall any actual practical outreach like going onto the streets and chatting to people etc. Maybe we did, it was a long time ago.
I also remember that it wasn’t so much the message itself that conveyed enthusiasm and ‘fired us up’ but rather the charisma and vital enthusiasm of the speakers themselves. Years later I would encounter another example of the same contagious enthusiasm. Church history can be a truly dull topic if delivered in a dull way which is tragic as it’s the one topic which should inspire us. Thankfully our Church History lecturer was the Principle, the Rev Colin Peckham and the way he related past times of revival and excerpts from the diaries of John and Charles Wesley held us all in thrall. That’s why I still remember them to this day. He had fire within him as he ‘lectured’ us. It wasn’t work for him, it was a labour of love. We felt that fire then and now. Back to the School for Evangelists weekend…
At the end of the weekend I went to the train station for the journey home. I had time to spare. I had some Christian leaflets with me (as a good evangelist I’d learned always to have ‘something handy’ on me to give to anyone who was interested). I had a notion to stand at the station entrance and give the leaflets out. I was hesitant. I remember why. It’s frequently alot easier to ‘do’ evangelism when you’re in a group doing the same thing. I learned this in later years at Bible College as well. Go out door to door or street preaching (when you could do that without fear of being arrested) in a group and confidence was easier to find and when people walked past and shouted at you and gave you the fingers or mocking glances, it didn’t matter so much, you had your friends there with you, comfort in numbers.
I was on my own. It was different. No-one else to turn to after a mocking shout or look, and sympathise with. Now it’s just you and your inner dialogue. In the quietness of my mind I sought God. I don’t think I spoke to him with words, even inner silent ones. I simply pictured God in my mind and, as though he was watching in some control room somewhere, looked at the station entrance before me, as if my eyes were the camera through which God saw where I was.
I felt a response in my thoughts. I knew of great evangelists of the past like John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and others, and I felt the presence of my Godly grandparents who were in heaven. I felt their voices say, “What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid?” Their faces were full of love for me, full of encouragement.
Why was I afraid? I was supposed to be all fired up having attended the School for Evangelists. I was afraid of a negative reaction from passers by, I was afraid of people looking at me as a religious weirdo. I was afraid because I was on my own. I thought again of that great cloud of witnesses in heaven, they were cheering me on, they had run their race, claimed their prize. They had been mocked, ridiculed, they had feared God more than man and loved God more than they loved man’s praise. They had loved humanity enough to know humanity was sick whether they knew it or not. They knew God loved humanity enough to reach out to them knowing many would reject, scorn and ultimately crucify. The great cloud of witnesses were not ashamed. They were in heaven right now cheering me on. It felt as though they were standing next to me cheering me on.
I gave out the leaflets. A few people took them. Nobody ridiculed. If they had I’d just have nodded politely. Then a man walked past who turned out to be a missionary on his way home having just got off the train. He offered to buy me a drink. I declined but was grateful for the encouragement.
It’s a wonderful thought, the great cloud of witnesses is cheering us on, multitudes of them. Some of them we know and many multitudes we’ll meet in heaven for the first time. At the front is our beloved Messiah, Saviour, Jesus. His sense of love and sheer glowing pride in us for witnessing to him would utterly overwhelm us if we could feel it in its unfiltered form. We can feel some of it, and it causes us to love him back and worship.
That great cloud of witnesses is cheering us on.