During our first assignment with Cru, Ginnette and I lived in an apartment over a feed store in a cute little town called Excelsior, MN, a western suburb of Minneapolis. Our weekly date night cost three bucks, and very little shoe leather. (Seven steps to the left of our door—dollar theater, followed by a shared ice cream cone at ‘Licks Unlimited,’ 10 steps across the street). With no children yet, we threw ourselves into the work of reaching the local high school. But early on we learned that unless we prayed, it would have all the appearances of ministry, but not be a movement, something happening outside our reach of influence. Strangely, the seed of that conviction was planted in a library a half hour west in the middle of roiling farmland, at St. Paul Bible College.
I can’t remember how I came to find it, but the library became a sanctuary. Once every two weeks, I would drive thirty minutes, park in the same spot, climb the same stairs, and sit in the same seat, all the way in the back by the musty rows of theology books. Antique brown rows of Spurgeon and others whispered to me as I passed, ‘I have something to say, please pick me up, break my spine, absorb the wisdom of another generation.’ So I did, for whole days at a time. I’ll forever be in their debt.
The first story I read was about the day Charles Spurgeon’s eyes opened. In his own words:
“I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, when I was going to a place of worship.
When I could go no further, I turned down a court and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel.
In that chapel there might be a dozen or fifteen people.
The minister did not come that morning: snowed up, I suppose.
A poor man, a shoemaker, a tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach.
He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had nothing else to say. The text was, ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth’ [Isa 45:22].
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter.
He began thus:
‘My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, “Look…”
Then it says, “Look unto Me.”
‘Ay,’ said he, in broad Essex, ‘many of ye are looking to yourselves. No use looking there. You’ll never find comfort in yourselves.’
Then the good man followed up his text in this way:
‘Look unto Me: I am sweating great drops of blood.
Look unto Me; I am hanging on the Cross.
Look: I am dead and buried.
Look unto Me; I rise again.
Look unto Me; I ascend; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand.
O, look to Me! Look to Me!’
Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.
He then said, ‘Young man, you look very miserable.’
Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made on my personal appearance from the pulpit before. However, it was a good blow struck.
He continued: ‘And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.’
Then he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist can, ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ.’”
That’s when God stopped my reading and said, ‘Young man, YOU look to Jesus Christ!’ Don’t rely on your cute games, folksy songs, connections, or your training, as good as all of that; but cry out to me, for I am the only Person who can change the heart of a young person. Unless I build what you dream can happen, in the end it will amount only to a house of cards.
That day I surrendered a place in my heart, which has never been the same. I told God I would devote myself to prayer, and the work of searching His face for the cues I need to follow His plans, and not my own. I would spend the hours arrested by love, to enjoy the fellowship I need to stay true to my calling. (Fellowship means follow-ship). I would call others to do the same, because in the end, all the plans and strategies, the labor and the execution of time tested strategies fall far short of how wide and deep He wants to build His mission.
It wasn’t long after, that God burst onto the campus with a stunning array of unexplainable events, which led to a movement that still exists 30 years later.