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Jim Cymbala: Spirit Rising



In the early 1970’s, Jim Cymbala and his wife Carol took over the leadership of The Brooklyn Tabernacle. Although he did not have formal theological training, Jim felt a call to the ministry. The church started with less than 20 people and they met in a run down, inner-city building.  No money was available for adequate salaries during most weeks in those early years, so Jim and Carol took second jobs and struggled to make ends meet both in the church and at home. They realized this was a unique opportunity to see the power of the Gospel in action to the diverse people of that area. Most of them were poor and struggled with drug abuse or broken families. Immediately, they realized they were desperate for God’s grace and power to help them in their efforts.  The Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting, considered the spiritual engine that drives the church, started small but now is attended by 2-3,000 people. Currently, the church has over 10,000 weekly attendees that are comprised of different ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and life situations.  There are six church plants and numerous outreaches throughout the New York City area and internationally, not to mention the Grammy Award-Winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  Through the years, the church has seen thousands of lives change. At the center of this and the growth and expansion of the church is the continual emphasis on relying on the Holy Spirit.

Jim has witnessed many answers to prayer.  One he shares was, for him, a holy disruption but a wonderful example of how the Holy Spirit stirred his heart in an unusual way.  Jim was eating lunch at a café on Long Island and reading the New York Times on his Kindle. A headline caught his attention: “Hate Engulfs Christians in Pakistan.”  The story was about an attack on Christians in Gojra, Pakistan.  For eight hours a crowd of 20,000 Muslims went on a rampage against Christians killing a family of seven and burning and looting 100 Christian homes. This was a result of a rumor that Christians at a wedding party in a nearby village burned a Koran. Officials said the charges were false, but local Muslim religious leaders used this rumor to rally Muslims against local Christians. Jim couldn’t believe what he was reading.  The Holy Spirit came upon him and he began to pray.  As he prayed he wept over the story and felt really burdened.  He couldn’t stop praying for the Christians in Pakistan.  The next evening, he was at the weekly Tuesday night prayer meeting at Brooklyn Tabernacle.  Jim felt unsettled in his spirit.  He stopped worship, read the news story to the congregation, and then prayed for their Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan. Jim waited on God to show him what to do next. Then, one of the leaders in the church rushed to the front and told Jim a woman at the back of the church was from Pakistan.  At Jim’s request, the woman came up to the front.  She had never been to the church before.  Her husband, a pastor, and her father-in-law were among the first responders to the Christians in Gojra - at that very moment her husband was in the town the church was praying for.  When Jim told the congregation about this there was an audible gasp. They spontaneously thanked God and continued to pray for the woman, her husband and their ministry. The church ended up raising thousands of dollars for the town.

This testimony of Brooklyn Tabernacle praying for the Pakistani Christians is an example of how the Holy Spirit was working in Pakistan to protect the Christians there.  The Holy Spirit was also working among the believers
at Brooklyn Tabernacle as they fervently prayed with bold faith.  “If we want to see God work in extraordinary ways, we have to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” says Jim. 
                                                                                                                                                           A SPIRIT CONTROLLED LIFE
God’s plan in redemption was that we should live life full of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many Christians only vaguely understand who the Holy Spirit is and his role. The Holy Spirit isn’t a ghost, gas or a liquid. The Holy Spirit is a real person, the third person of the Godhead. He’s as much a person as the Father and the Son. He is often overlooked or neglected by many believers in the twenty-first century due to fears of emotionalism or fanaticism.
Early believers relied on the Spirit for everything. They knew all too well that Christianity was hopeless without the Holy Spirit for only He can make the things of Christ real and alive to people. “Without the Holy Spirit, we are like the disciples before Pentecost sincere but struggling with confusion and defeat,” shares Jim.

The apostle Paul taught that believers are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). There is a big difference between Christians who are born again and those who are living a Spirit-controlled life. “When God takes control of a life or a church, he takes control through the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the Helper Jesus sent to do the job. When we fear giving control to the Spirit we really fear God’s control over our lives. When we refuse to yield to the Spirit, we miss out on the holy excitement of living beyond ourselves,” shares Jim.

Spiritual vitality is available to believers, but it must start with sincere, humble acknowledgement that we need help from the Holy Spirit. Jim says, “We must give ourselves to fellowship with God in prayer and serious study of his Word. The Bible will help us pray in faith, and prayer will help us understand the words of Scripture. We must also separate ourselves from thoughts, words and actions that hinder the Spirit’s flow.”  In the words of Scripture, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” ( ). If we allow the Spirit to move through us, we will see his plans and purposes accomplished. Christ will be glorified. The church will be built up. The Word of God will be honored and the kingdom of God will be extended.

Jim says the Spirit moves when we’re willing to reach out no matter how messy or impossible.  At Brooklyn Tabernacle, when they go out to pray and minister to people, nonChristians are touched by the power of prayer.  A testimony that Jim likes to share is of a woman named Diana.  She grew up in a volatile home which caused her to be angry and rebellious as a teen.  Eventually, she was involved in a gang called Satan’s Spades comprised of the toughest guys and girls in the neighborhood.  She got in so much trouble she was eventually kicked out of school and then sent to a detention home.  Then she became involved with Santeria, a Satanic Latino religion involving voodoo and other occult practices.  With Santeria and doing drugs, most of the time she wasn’t in her right mind.  Her life got worse.  Her anger intensified to the point where she wanted to kill people.  She felt very dark and like something else was controlling her.  Her mother was worried about her.   She asked a girl who was Diana’s age, Annie, for help. Annie was on drugs but found Jesus.  Diana and Annie would talk on the phone.  Persistently Annie would invite her to her church, Brooklyn Tabernacle.  Eventually, Diana went to the Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting.  Annie had requested ahead of time that Diana be brought up to the front for prayer.  As they were walking down the aisle, she heard voices saying that they weren’t going to let go of her.  When she got to the front, she heard a woman say the name of Jesus and Diana started attacking Jim.  She was so strong that Jim, even though he was twice her size had to break free from her attack.  As he did, she ripped the collar of his shirt like it was tissue paper. 

After this the congregation continued to pray and Diana was delivered from the evil spirits that were controlling her. People from Brooklyn Tabernacle took her in and loved her.  Diana never felt so loved and accepted.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit her life was changed forever.  She had been totally delivered from anger, hatred, drugs, rebellion, and demons.  She now is very involved with ministry at Brooklyn Tabernacle helping others that are once like she was.

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