By God’s grace, He has allowed me to preach open air in many major cities across North America including: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax – just to name a few. However, for the very first time, the Lord saw fit to lift me to a new level of persecution last night when I was suckerpunched for preaching the Gospel open air.
The night started like any of our typical Friday nights in the mission field. We prayed together before hitting the streets to preach Christ to the lost and dying of our hometown of London, Ontario.
During the first half of the night we all enjoyed glorious Gospel conversations with sinners of all shapes, sizes, and religions. I, personally, found myself thanking God for the encounter He allowed me to have with 7 young Muslims surrounding the truth of Prophet Isa (the Islamic name for Jesus). Not only did they hear the truth of how God satisfied His justice and demonstrated His love for us on the Cross of Christ, but they also gladly gave me their email addresses for further follow-up. Praise the Lord!
During the second half of the night, we made our way to the downtown core – a piece of real estate that we’ve affectionately coined “The Lions Den of London”. Over the years the intersection of Richmond and Dundas has easily earned the title of both the busiest and most belligerent toward the things of God. Perhaps that’s precisely why we find the Lord leading us there to preach His Law and His Gospel there week after week to the pagan passer-byes?
Just before I stepped onto the box to break the ice as the first preacher of the night, I had a strong sense from the Lord that we were about to face a wild night and thus had to pray for His protection. In obedient to His prompting, our team huddled together to pray that God would be glorified and that all those who would hear His Word being preached would repent of their sins and believe the Gospel. What happened next still shocks me.
As I began open air preaching about our sinfulness in the light of God’s holiness, I immediately heard several loud voices heckling and mocking the Name of my Lord. However, in obedience to His command, I persisted preaching. But then – out of the corner of my eye – I saw a man with sunglasses walking quickly across the street and before I knew what hit me (literally!) he walked up to me blindside and suckerpunched me right in the face! Thankfully, he hit me in about the best place possible and I was able to continue preaching beyond the condemnation of the Law into the glorious grace of the Cross and Christ crucified.
At the end of the night, I humbled myself before my team during our time of debrief and confessed the fact that as the leader I should have taken more seriously the warning I received from the Holy Spirit about the volatility of the battlezone in which we were standing. In other words, I totally underestimated the spiritual attack that we were facing and should have been more responsible to prepare our team accordingly. They obviously received my confession in love and grace, and I was very thankful that one particular team member actually took the time to pray for the man who hit me – that the Lord would grant him repentance and eventually hide this experience in his regenerate heart to keep him humble.
Having since had the opportunity to further pray and think about the events that transpired, the Lord has led me to a few preliminary conclusions both practical and personal.
Here are a few practical words of wisdom about open air preaching that you may find helpful (none of which we followed during last night’s incident):
- When open air preaching, have your team form a “rent-a-crowd” in front of you as support. Not only will a crowd draw more of a crowd, but hecklers are less likely to become dangerous and haymakers are much less likely to happen at all.
- Always always always (should I type it again?) ALWAYS video record your open air preaching sessions. This will allow you to use the footage again to critique your own preaching plus naysayers are much less likely to attack if it’s all on tape.
- Have one or two of your team members stand to your right and left, just in case the session becomes dangerous.
Now for just a few of my personal reflections from the incident.
First, I was reminded again that the battle for souls is real and dangerous. There is enemy of our soul who hates what we do so much that he will use any and all people, places, and things to get us to stop! That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that when we step onto the box and shine the light of Christ into the darkness, the cockroaches scatter and the animals may attack. The truth is that people hate God and love their sin, so they often take serious issue when we expose their evil deeds under the light of God’s holiness.
But I was also reminded of the faithfulness of the Gospel preachers in the Early Church, even amidst the most severe persecution! Here is just one such testimony that comes to mind as the Apostles are arrested and then freed by the council:
…when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42)
Let’s keep this in perspective – I was punched. I wasn’t whipped. I wasn’t flogged. I certainly wasn’t killed. I was struck by a fairly soft suckerpunch that didn’t even leave a bruise. That being said, we all know that the persecution the devil has in store for the faithful only escalates from here. Are you ready to pay the ultimate price for preaching the Gospel? I am. Because to live is Christ but to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
To Him be all the praise, glory, and honour!