When it comes to preaching, I happily preach about the difference that Jesus makes to life, but I find it difficult to ‘draw in the net. When I preach the Gospel, I ‘preach for a verdict’, but I leave it to individuals to decide how to respond. I appeal to people’s hearts and minds, but I do not feel comfortable with making an ‘altar call’.
Over the years I have tried a variety of ways of helping people to respond to the good news of Jesus, crucified and risen. This year I have tried a different tack. Instead of ending with a general ‘prayer of response’, I have been ending with two prayers – one enabling people to respond for the very first time to the love of God in Jesus; and the other, for people who have already made that response. Let me illustrate.
Currently I am preaching a series of five sermons on Romans 8. So far I have preached the first three, and have ended the sermons in the following manner:
Sermon 1: Rom 8.1-4 ‘Set free to live’
As our response to God’s Word, let me lead you in two prayers.
A prayer for those who have yet to experience the freedom Jesus offers – the freedom from sin and from the condemnation that sin occurs. ‘Lord Jesus, this morning with sadness I acknowledge that I am a sinner – for there are so many good things I have not done, and so many selfish and hurtful things I have done. But with joy I also acknowledge that you gave your life for me on the cross that I might be set free from sin and sin’s condemnation. So now I open the door of my heart to you: come into my life as my Saviour to cleanse me; come in as my Lord to control me; and I will serve you all the remaining years of my life’.
A prayer for those who have prayed this prayer in the past: ‘Lord Jesus, you have set me free in order that I might serve you. And yet so often I have failed to serve you. Forgive me I pray and fill me with your Spirit that I may truly live for you this coming week.
Sermon 2: Rom 8.5-17 Living as children of God;
Let me lead you in two prayers of response
First, a prayer for those who have yet to know God as Father. ‘Lord Jesus, you died on the Cross that I might find my way to the Father. This morning I open the door of my heart to you: come into my life as my Saviour and cleanse me from the sin that has come between me and God; and by your Spirit’s power bring me into your Father’s presence, so that I may discover him to be my Father too’.
A prayer for those who have entrusted their lives to Jesus: ‘Father God, thank you for the joy and security of being your children. Forgive us for those times when we have blocked your Spirit working in our lives. Help us truly to live as your Spirit tells us too, and so live lives which befit your children’
Sermon 3: Rom 8.18-25 ‘Living in Hope’
It may be that there is someone here this morning, who came to church without this morning without hope – feeling perhaps overwhelmed by the suffering and distress of this life – and yet now discovering that there is a new world coming where tears will be no more. If so, here is a prayer for you. ‘Lord Jesus, thank you that by cross and resurrection you have dealt with the powers of sin and death. Yes, Lord, thank you that as a result of your death on the cross, you offer me forgiveness for my sin; that as a result of your resurrection you offer me hope of life beyond the grave. Lord Jesus, this morning I want to receive that forgiveness, that promise of life. And so I open the door of my life to you. Come in as my Saviour to cleanse me of my sin; come in as my Lord to control me; and I will serve you all the remaining years of my life’.
A prayer for those who have already opened their hearts to the Lord Jesus. ‘Father God, thank you for the wonderful hope that is ours; we look forward to the day when we shall be free from all the suffering and pain of this world. In the meantime, help us to draw alongside people who struggle with suffering and pain; help us by the very way in which we care to be signs of your kingdom’.
The prayers are simple, but are carefully crafted. The first prayer of response for each sermon is similar in structure and uses the imagery of Rev 3.20. Surprisingly the congregation gives an equally hearty ‘Amen’ both to the first prayer as much as to the second prayer.
Strangely, not one church member has commented on my approach – but on asking two members whose opinion I respect, both have warmly endorsed the approach.
I have wondered whether it is right after every sermon to encourage people to open up their lives to the Lord Jesus – after all, the vast majority are well and truly committed to the Lord. But in justification of this approach, I say to myself: ‘It’s like the notices: every Sunday I always welcome people who are visiting us for the first time, and in doing go through the same kind of patter, for although it will be familiar to the members, for those visiting us it will be fresh’.
I confess that I have known of nobody who has come to Christ over the last three weeks of preaching, but at the moment I am minded to continue the approach. I don’t want anyone to miss out responding to Jesus, simply because they did not know how to do so.
What I wonder do you, my readers, feel?