THE GREAT INVITATION
By Terry Pugh
When you study Jesus and the effect he had on people who knew him, you cannot help but notice that His greatest characteristic was compassion.
When the rich, young ruler came to Jesus, Jesus knew what this man’s final decision would be. He knew that this man was not going to serve Him, but the Bible clearly states that Jesus had compassion for him. That young man never forgot the encounter he had with Jesus that day.
Another time, Jesus was in a boat trying to get away from the crowds. He was tired and needed rest. When He saw the multitudes walking along the shore, trying to keep up with His boat, He went to the shore to teach them. His compassion was stronger than His desire for rest.
If Jesus had compassion, we need compassion. If He loved people, we must love people.
People feel your spirit better than they hear what you say. They know whether or not you have compassion for them. Sinners do not need to hear you get through thirty minutes of preaching and swinging your arms. There must be a driving desire burning in you to see them saved. I have heard men that can paint beautiful word pictures. They amaze me with the flow of eloquent silk words, but when they are finished, I can barely remember the silvery pictures, and I cannot remember at all what they were trying to say. There was a lack of feeling and compassion. You know from: your own experience that the sermons that affected: you most and moved you toward God came from a heart. You had the feeling that the preacher meant what he said.
If you want to be effective in altar calls, you must care whether or not sinners come. You must remind yourself over and over again that you are preaching to people who are lost. You are not giving a speech on the migration patterns of ducks coming out of Canada. You cannot just rattle-off a sermon thought that you put together months ago. Hell is not something that you mention in your sermon to shake and rattle people. Hell is not a point of leverage to pry them out of their seat into the altar so that you can count numbers at the altar. It is a place that is real. It is a place that exists. It is a place where the unsaved are going. They are charging toward hell, and you are the only one at that moment who stands between them and a terrible eternity.
The utmost priority in the service is the altar call. During the preliminaries, pick out the sinners. Begin to visualize each sinner being convicted while you preach. Visualize them moving into the aisle and coming to the altar, weeping and calling on God. If you believe they are coming to the altar, you will preach like you expect them to. Then they will come. If you do not believe they are coming to the altar, they probably will not.
It usually helps to talk to the church before your message to remind thorn of their purpose for being there. “We have lost people here tonight. Their destiny is at stake. This is not just another service, but eternity is weighing in the balance for people that sit among you.” Encourage the church to pray and get hold of God for the salvation of souls.
You need to be sensitive as when an altar call should be given. Many times preachers forget that their message is not the top priority. Your message is for the purpose of people. If people are convicted and ready to pray, it is unwise to make them wait until you get through all the points in your sermon. When you get through with the sermon, conviction might already be lifted. The altar call can come at any time. It can before the sermon, in the middle, or at the end, One preacher said, “When I start my message, I am looking for a place to stop.”
The main goal after you have convinced the sinner by your message that he is lost is to build his faith in the altar call, to believe that God is near and He wants to forgive him. No matter how deep in sin they have gone, they are close to the cross right now. If they will confess their sins, He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse them of all unrighteousness. Jesus loves them. Even if they were the only sinners in the world, He would have died for them. All of heaven rejoices when one sinner repents.
When they see how wonderful God is and how sinful they are, they will often come to the altar. They will learn that our great God loves them like they are, and that He is ready to forgive them and give them abundant life.
When the sinners come to the altar and the church gathers around them to pray, the most exciting part of God’s work is just beginning. I had the privilege of being with my wife during the birth of our baby. One thing I noticed in the delivery room was that everyone was excited. The people who worked there had seen several babies born just that day, yet they were excited about one more baby. One nurse summed up the feeling of all of them when she said, “Each birth is a new miracle.”
The altar area is the “delivery room” of the church, and each new birth is the greatest miracle that God performs.
Just like the delivery of a baby, working in the altar is a delicate thing. When people do not receive the Holy Ghost by the third time to the altar, someone said that it usually is not their fault. It is the altar workers’ fault. The sinner does not know what he is doing. He does what he is told to do, or he is forced to stumble along on his own because no one has told him anything at all. There is more to altar work than shaking their head, rocking them back and forth, and hoping they will pray through.
I heard of a Catholic priest who went to a Pentecostal church. When he went to the altar, everyone was excited. They gave him the “old Pentecostal work- over.” Several gave him a rubdown. One man yelled in one ear to hang-on while another man screamed in the other ear to let go. He was hungry for the Holy Ghost, but he could not keep his mind on God with all these distractions. He had learned to speak Latin in seminary, so he spoke Latin to make the people leave him alone. They thought he received the Holy Ghost and got excited and quit praying with him. He went home and received the Holy Ghost. He later came back to the church and apologized for deceiving them, but he told them he could not receive the Holy Ghost under the existing conditions.
Your number one priority while praying with someone in the altar is to generate faith. The atmosphere around the person must be permeated and charged with faith and expectancy for the Holy Ghost. I am sure you have noticed that when the saints get excited and begin to pray with intense expectancy, it is at that moment that most people receive the Holy Ghost. That is because faith is contagious. Your faith reaches out and builds the faith of others.
When you are praying with someone, believe and have faith that he is going to receive the Holy Ghost. The Bible teaches that we are saved by faith. If people do not have the faith to believe that God has forgiven them, they cannot receive forgiveness. Unless the person in the altar believes he will receive the Holy Ghost, he cannot. It is with faith that we reach up to receive the gifts that God is giving away. Since faith is so crucial to their sinners’ salvation, you must believe they will receive forgiveness and the Holy Ghost, and do all you can to help them believe and expect the Holy Ghost.
It should not be hard for us to believe people are going to receive the Holy Ghost instantly. After all, the Holy Ghost is a gift. It has already been given for the people before they come to the altar. All they need to do is receive the gift that has already been promised to them. Joel 2:28 promises that the Holy Ghost has been poured out for everyone. They do not have to pray the Holy Ghost down. It has already been poured out for them to receive. So when you are praying in the altar, do not refer to the Holy Ghost as something that is going to happen in the future. Drive home the point that the Holy Ghost is here now. They are receiving the Holy Ghost tonight. It is their gift tonight. There is no point in putting it off any longer. They are in the altar praying now, so they might as well receive the Spirit now. We need to talk in terms of God filling them now, not later.
Most of the people who come to the altar for the first time do not know how to pray. They feel convicted of their sins and they want desperately to talk to God, but they do not know how. They may say “hail Marys” or the Lord’s Prayer and then they are at a loss of what to do. No one has taught them how to pray. You must teach them.
While they still have their head bowed, encourage them to talk to Jesus like they would to a friend. They do not need to use a lot of thee’s and thou’s and fancy words to touch God. He understands them just the way they normally talk. Encourage them to pour their heart out to Jesus and tell Him just how they feel.
As they begin to try to talk to God, it helps for you to pray a prayer of repentance for them. You have repented a thousand times. You know how it feels to repent. Begin to repent for them in their ear. “Oh God, we don’t understand all that is going on here. We aren’t sure what is happening in our lives. God, we are not sure we know what Your Spirit feels like, but it seems like you are so close to us right now. We need You, God. We have tried to change by ourselves, but we can’t seem to get very far, and we seem to always fail.” By this time the sinner begins to catch on and to pray on his own. Encourage them by letting them know that they are doing right and that God is forgiving them.
It is important to help them to accept God’s forgiveness. It is hard for most people to believe God would forgive them for all they have done. Quote verses of Scripture that promise them God’s forgiveness and acceptance (John 6:37; Hebrews 4:15-16; I Timothy 1:19; Hebrews 7:25; I John 1:9). You will also find many people who believe God has forgiven them, but they start to condemn themselves. Help them to realize that if God, the One they sinned against, forgave them then they need to accept that and forgive themselves.
One last note on repentance You need to be sure they have repented and accepted forgiveness before you pray for them to receive the Holy Ghost It does not need to take five nights to repent, or even thirty minutes Many people repent while they are still sitting or while they are coming down the aisle But you must be sure they repent I have been guilty of trying to build people’s faith to receive the Holy Ghost before they are through repenting It is impossible for them to receive the Holy Ghost before they have accepted forgiveness first You might even stop them from praying and ask them if they feel like God has forgiven them If they are not sure, you can help them to understand God’s forgiveness. If they feel forgiven, then you are ready for the excitement of seeing someone receive the Holy Ghost.
Now that they have been forgiven, it is easy to get them to worship. Just tell them that we ought to take a little time and thank God for forgiving them. Explain to them that while they are thanking God and worshiping Him, they will feel the Holy Ghost stronger than they do now. God inhabits our praise. Praise is the atmosphere God dwells in. No one has ever received the Holy Ghost while pleading and begging for the Spirit. Begging does not build faith. Besides, there is no need to beg for a gift that has already been given. If they begin to ask for the Holy Ghost, you lead them to worship. Tell them while they are praying that they do not need to beg for the Holy Ghost. God is ready to fill them with His Spirit right now. Then lead them into simple worship by worshiping as an example. If they pray long sentences, they will concentrate on how to place their words and not on Jesus Christ. “I love you, Jesus” or “I thank you, Jesus” is all they really need to say.
The more they tell Jesus they love Him, the closer they will feel to Him. As they feel Him getting and stronger, the more they will want to worship.
Sometimes there is a tendency for the persons at the altar to be tense. They begin to get excited about what they feel and they begin to get desperate to receive the Holy Ghost. Remind them that the Holy Ghost is a gift. They are receiving this gift now. They are not asking God to give them something that He is reluctant to give up; He has been waiting two thousand years for this opportunity to fill them Spirit. Help them to relax because God is in the process of filling them at that moment. Like water glass until it is full, so does the Holy Ghost rise up in the soul of man until he is full. When he is filled with the Holy Ghost, he will speak with tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance.
The invitation can be the most exciting and rewarding aspect of your evangelistic ministry. Give it all you have, and God will bless you with many souls.