He smiled a perfect smile as he took the stage, “It’s good to be here!!” he declared. He knew that half this crowd was already his.
“I don’t know what you’ve come here expecting this morning…” he began, then a calculated pause as he leaned forward grasping the pulpit and gazing across the auditorium, “…but I’m expecting God to do great things!!”
A gentle murmur of approval punctuated by an enthusiastic “Hallelujah!!” and “Yes Lord!!” issued from the congregation.
“GREAT THINGS!!” he repeated almost shouting now, hands raised, bouncing slightly on the spot. It was a start. This crowd was going to need some warming up.
He began a circuit of the stage, “You know, the Bible says without faith, you shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord… do you have a strong faith this morning…??”
He halted his march, arms spread in a gesture of questioning. Another wave of approval and a loud “Yes sir!!”
“Listen – I’m going to tell you a story – this may change your life…”
It was a well practised routine. Build tension, then break it. Create expectation. Tell some stories, use humour, take them on a journey.
He’d learned to read the insecurities of a crowd like this – not that there was anything unique about this particular audience as far as he knew.
He was a student of human nature. He had to be. To know the hopes, the ambitions, the hidden fears, the darkest secrets common to all humanity was to have a doorway to the heart and the mind. And with no tools to engage the heart and mind his work was pointless.
As he glanced around he saw a mosaic of lives. Their faces told a story. There were tragedies, some tales of redemption, other stories of promise yet to unfold.
He knew what it was to be insecure. His first years of ministry had been plagued by fears and doubts. He wasn’t ashamed to admit it. But that was the past. He’d put those old ways behind him – that person had died. He’d been made new. Taken hold of the Truth. He’d applied the principles and learned from some great men of God and he’d walked down some rough roads along the way.
And finally he’d arrived. He often thought of it as his own promised land. A successful ministry, well known, respected and God willing, years of fruitful ministry ahead.
He knew he wasn’t without his critics. What true man of God didn’t have his detractors? That was ministry. As his old mentor used to say, “There’s only two types of people in the world – those who have found their God-given ministry and those who criticise those who have found their God-given ministry… Amen?”
His detractors – at times those whom he would have considered fellow believers – had questioned his message and methods on occasion.
But over the years he had learned to recognise those as the fiery darts of the enemy, seeking to destroy that which God had entrusted to him. They were seeds of darkness the enemy would try and use to discourage and confuse. But there was no place for doubt. Not when souls were at stake.
And as for those critics who would assail his God ordained work – he knew they would, in the end, reap a harvest of destruction.
He knew his message, a message of victory – he knew where he was going. The only question was, would these ones follow?
As he neared the end of his message, he assessed the state of his audience. It was an art. Leading a group of people to a place of response. Some, he could see were moved and ready, others were restless, undecided. A few wandered in from the foyer, attendants were poised to help those who came forward to receive prayer.
It was then that one particular figure caught his eye. A youth stood in the shadows at the back of the hall. He seemed somehow out of place. Not so much in what he was wearing or his general appearance, but in his demeanour. He kept looking around nervously, glancing over to the other side of the hall.
He followed these furtive looks and to his surprise, noticed two other youths on the other side of the hall, again somehow out of place. He glanced at the attendants who would generally be alert to new comers, but they were all caught up in the moment, focussed on the event and the appeal they knew was coming.
A knot formed in his stomach as he realised that something was not right. His mind began to race. From his perspective on the stage he could now see this group were glancing at each other and at their watches. Just then there was a muffled cry and the foyer doors slammed shut.
He saw the first youth nod his head. He watched with a growing sense of dread. Somehow knew was what coming.
Stepping forward the young man pulled a gun from his coat and pointed it at the ceiling.
“Everyone shut up and get down on the floor!!” he shouted
To be continued…