There is an old saying, “Opportunity knocks but once—and then is gone.” The truth of that statement is attested by Paul’s repeated command that we “redeem the time,” (Col. 4:5; Eph. 5:16), which means to make a wise and sacred use of every opportunity presented to us. And the Lord certainly presents opportunities to us. But the question is, what are we doing with them? Are we missing precious chances to advance the cause of Christ? Are we overlooking opportunities to help ourselves and others reach that heavenly home?
One area where tremendous opportunities are often missed is with regard to the Lord’s invitation. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Mt. 11:28). Each time we extend the invitation during our assemblies, we are but echoing our Lord’s heartfelt desire to encourage obedience to the gospel. We are enabling lost souls to come to Christ, making it more convenient for them to accept his terms of salvation. Like Ananias, the faithful gospel preacher, we are saying to the lost, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name,” (Acts 22:16). We are imploring with the Spirit and the bride, “Come! He that is athirst, let him take the water of life freely,” (Rev. 22:17). And we are following the example of the Hebrew writer and the Psalmist, who both urged their hearers to “harden not their hearts” but to hear and obey God’s voice “today!” (Heb. 3:7-13; Ps. 95:7ff).
Extending the invitation of our lord at the close of a gospel sermon is eminently scriptural, and can be highly productive. It is traditional, yes, but it is a tradition founded in the Scriptures. It is a practice born out over and over in the sermons recorded in the book of Acts, and the epistles which follow. When we fail to extend the invitation after preaching a gospel sermon to an assembly of attentive listeners, we are missing great opportunities forever.
The invitation is arguably the most important part of the sermon, because it ties the message to practical obedience. It connects the argument developed in the sermon with an application in the lives of the hearers. It encourages and exhorts those hearing to do more than just listen. When properly presented, the invitation persuades hearers to act upon their conviction, before it is forgotten and lost.
The invitation can be accompanied and supported by a stirring invitation song, started immediately. Thus the emotional appeal of the moment is seized and capitalized upon. While hearts are beating fast, and perception is clearest, the hearer is persuaded to overcome the inertia of unbelief. The song leader must recognize that the sudden call of the congregation in the united song of encouragement can often overcome the apathy which Satan places before each of us. Song leader, do not lose the moment by strolling down the aisle toward the podium to begin the song. Start! with an arousing and supportive song. Strike while the iron is hot! This opportunity may never come again. Never use and unfamiliar or inappropriate song. Select a song which you know by heart, and which the congregation can sing earnestly!
Some congregations have stopped extending the invitation because they no longer expect anyone to respond. Expect results! Remember that God’s word will not “return unto him void,” but “shall accomplish the purpose” that God pleases, (Is. 55:11). Don’t miss the opportunity by being unprepared for responses. I have known of congregations whose baptisteries were cold or empty continuously. They were totally unprepared for a response, and everybody knew it! Would you respond under those circumstances? Other congregations have missed great opportunities by rushing through the invitation, or unintentionally signaling that a response would be inconvenient to the group. Never act surprised or confused when someone responds. Be sure it is not a time of embarrassment, but of wholehearted support. When someone responds, don’t miss the opportunity to encourage others to do so. Seeing someone else respond can be a great motivator. There may be others on the verge, so encourage them with the one who has already come forward. Don’t hesitate to stop the song and exhort, or repeat verses if needed. If the fruit is falling, keep shaking the tree. Seize and utilize the opportunities the Lord gives you, especially with respect to his invitation!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.