I will call him Nathan, but he could be Natasha or Jonathan or Kirsten. He is one of millions of men and women who have come forward to receive the Lord at an altar call. When numbers become so large, they lose their meaning; sometimes I think we must find a way to speak of just one - one person out of millions. So, I speak of Nathan.
A life ship-wrecked
He wanted a supervisor’s job in his town. His late father had held the position before him and he idolised his father. He wanted the position so much that he cheated on a qualifying test and was caught. The disgrace was made known, his reputation ruined, his job lost. The engagement to the love of his life fell apart. Nathan looked for new ways to succeed after his fall, but everyone knew his shame. No one seemed ready to give him a second chance. His life had become stuck in the muck of iniquity, and he had no one to blame but himself. This is the all-too-common story of sin.
But I did not know any of this, so how could I care about Nathan? What moves me is to know that the Holy Spirit is not limited the way I am, He knew every detail of Nathan’s failure, and He cared for him perfectly. He cares about all the ‘Nathans’ in our world. No one is left out.
A disturbing dream
As this story begins, the efforts in the early years in my ministry were behind me. This organisation was to be the vessel for accomplishing God’s vision for a blood-washed Africa - but my spirit was restless...
We were having powerful results. We were seeing decisions for Christ in the tens of thousands in the nations of Southern Africa. Stadiums were being filled. Many thousands more would crowd the outside to hear the Gospel. But still, the restless feeling kept nagging on the inside of me. What could it mean?
One night I went to sleep and began to dream. In this dream, I wore a sea captain’s uniform. I stood on the bridge of a great ship and I gripped the helm. I could feel the powerful vibrations from the engine room through the wheel in my hands. The deck moved beneath my feet as tons of water was displaced by this moving giant. The ship was a floating city - it seemed as large as the infamous German Bismarck battleship of World War II.
Searching for meaning
I noticed, however that the ship was not on the open seas where I would expect it to be. In my dream, I was guiding the ship upstream along the twisting course of an African river at night. Peering ahead in the gloom, I could see a bend. Looking to each side, I saw that the banks were growing narrower as I passed upstream. I slowly realised that my great ship was doomed. It would never make it around that bend - we were in dangerous waters. I looked to see if I could turn around to avoid disaster, but the channel had no room. There was no going back. The hair rose on the back of my neck as I realised that there was no going forward, either. Such a dilemma!
In my dream, I broke into a terrible sweat. Everything was at stake, all so suddenly. My hands trembled on the wheel as I watched the huge ship move closer and closer to unavoidable disaster. In desperation, I cut the power to the engines. They fell silent, but I had acted too late. The massive momentum carried us forward. Suddenly, I heard the horrible sound of steel groaning and screeching against the rocks. Gaping holes were torn in the hull. The huge Bismarck-sized battleship lurched to a stop as the narrow banks caught and held it fast in the African night. I stood riveted to the spot, swallowed up by the sound of the ripping current and the chatter of bush insects in the darkness...I woke up to find my bed linen soaked with sweat. No one had to tell me that I had just had a dream from God. But what did it mean?
A plan for avoiding disaster
“Lord,” I cried, “what is it?” “The ship,” the Lord said, “is a picture of your organisation, Christ for all Nations.” “Lord, will we get stuck?” I asked. “No.” He answered, “A great battleship needs more than firepower,” I heard Him say in my spirit. “It needs manoeuvrability. Your foundation is too narrow and too small. The battleship is fine, but I will widen the river for you so that you can pass. I will add prayer partners to Christ for all Nations. Every prayer partner will widen the river by one inch.”
Now I understood the restless feeling in my spirit. God had been warning me of trouble that I didn’t know was there. In His great love and wisdom, He had given me His plan for avoiding disaster. In obedience, I would find ways to gather new prayer partners to widen the river. I did not know, as I began this new direction, that Nathan’s life had run aground in a different way. His dreams of being a supervisor and a respected family man had been torn apart. His efforts to rise above his own shame continued to fail on every side. His family and friends had deserted him. His reasons for living had gone. I did not see him as he took a butcher’s knife from the kitchen drawer. Day after day, he had been thinking of ways to make the pain of his life end. He had read how others had slashed the vein in their wrists and had gone to sleep forever. This sounded like Heaven to him...
A breakfast appointment
I could not hear Nathan as he began to sob all alone in his bedroom, holding that knife to his wrist. My ears were filled with the sounds of an engine room on a great battleship. I was hearing myself repeat the words, “All Africa shall be saved.” I was thrilled to feel the ship moving again. My job was to guide Christ for all Nations to see a blood-washed Africa. I did not hear Nathan’s cries – but the Holy Spirit did. And He cared for him in his agony.
I was invited to a breakfast, sponsored by another evangelist. What I saw opened my eyes. I saw that this man of God had invited people to a special meal at which he presented his vision and invited his guests to become prayer partners. The Holy Spirit spoke to me that I should do this same thing. And so I did. As I sat at the head table, my heart swelled with gratitude at the response. There was not an empty chair at any of the tables in that large ballroom. I looked across the faces of wonderful Christian leaders from all denominations and ministry organisations in the region. Some of my former critics were there – people who had said bad things about me, but now wanted to support our ministry.
An altar call - to Christians?
Then came the time for me to present the vision, I spoke of God’s plan for increasing our manoeuvrability. The time had come to ask them to consider joining us as prayer partners. Suddenly, the Spirit whispered in my heart, “Give an altar call.” Surely I had heard wrong! This was not a crowd of sinners. These were Christian leaders. They might be insulted if I gave an altar call for salvation. Or, if someone in the room who had a great reputation was somehow still unsaved, that person would be exposed for his or her hypocrisy by responding in this public meeting. “Give an altar call.” I heard the message clearly this time. No mistake about it.
You could hear a pin drop...
“My friends,” I said, “I have heard from the Holy Spirit that I should give an altar call. In a crowd like this, I must say, I did not plan to do so, but I will simply obey the Lord.” There was a lot of clearing of throats in the room, as they waited in silence.
“I would like to ask everyone to examine themselves honestly this morning. If your life should end today, do you know where you would spend eternity? Do you have that certainty?”
In every altar call there is a moment of recognition for the audience. It comes when they bow their heads in prayer, and then hear the speaker say, “Yes, I see that hand.” These words mean that in the assembled group, someone is not saved, and that person has acknowledged it by raising his hand. He has made his private, lost condition public.
It would be fair to say that among these Christian leaders, each was highly curious to know if any of their number would respond. No doubt, they would be shocked if one hand was raised. And, frankly, so would I. You could hear a pin drop in that room as I asked for a show of hands.
An overwhelming response
“Yes, I see that hand,” I said. “And you, and you, and you, and you, and another, and yet another.” And still, there were more. You could feel something like electricity ripple through the atmosphere. But what none of my Christian friends knew was that I was receiving a great revelation of God’s love and grace. It was coming to me in a way I would never have imagined.
Each member of that crowd was, no doubt, asking him or herself, how could so many wonderful Christian leaders not know Christ as their Saviour? Some in the audience even began to break from their positions of prayer to see who had raised a hand. “This is a solemn moment,” I said. “I ask that we remain in an attitude of prayer. The Spirit is speaking to many hearts here this morning. We do not want to miss what He is doing. I would now like to ask those who raised their hands to come forward. Do not delay. If you need to receive Jesus this morning come now.” I will never forget it.
We are battleships, winning
the war for lost souls
Seventeen people came forward, some of them running, some weeping, all moved by the Holy Spirit to accept Jesus as their Saviour. The crowd of Christian leaders raised their heads. Now they received the same revelation that had already come to me. Each of the 17 persons standing in front of me wore a Carlton Hotel uniform.
These were the people we had overlooked in our search for prayer partners. These were the waiters whom we had not counted in our minds as we had enjoyed our breakfast. I looked at this crowd of Christian friends, and said, “Is this not why we came here?” A holy silence had fallen. Nothing I could have said or done better illustrated the nature of our calling to be witnesses and evangelists of the Good News. One young pastor was totally changed that morning. He vowed from that day forward that he would never address any group, anywhere, for any reason, and not give an altar call. Such evangelistic faithfulness will always bear fruit.
A new destiny for Nathan
I went on to lead those 17 waiters in the sinner’s prayer. When I reached the last waiter in line, a young man, I took his hand. “And what is your name?” I asked. “Nathan” he answered. “Nathan,” I said, “welcome to the Family of God.” He nodded and smiled at me with tears streaming down his face. He held my hand in both of his, and for a long time he just kept shaking it. He would not let it go. I could tell he was deeply moved. I didn’t have time to ask, but I knew that a very long and important story lay behind this moment of decision in his life.
There is a story like Nathan’s behind each of the millions of decisions for Christ that we register. Won’t Heaven be wonderful? We will be given more than enough time to hear them all, from beginning to glorious end.