Have you ever heard of hot tub evangelism? Me neither. That was until a handful of friends and I stumbled into an opportunity to lead four middle-aged Korean women to Christ while bathing in a hot tub in the Canadian Rockies. Here’s how it happened…
It was like any other church board retreat on a budget. A handful of men cramped somewhat (un)comfortably into an affordable three-bedroom condo in a mountain resort town. The weekend was spent cooking together and sharing laughs while conducting SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses, visioning exercises, and seeking the Lord for direction for the coming ministry year. Another key objective for the weekend together was to check in with one another: How is your soul? How can we pray for you? What do you need from Jesus?
The answers to these questions varied: they included the need for encouragement after a long hard year, receiving a new vision for the church and her ministries and being filled afresh with God’s Spirit. Boldness was the final answer given. “Pray for more boldness in sharing the gospel with those outside of Christian faith,” requested Jordan. He asked. And we obliged. We listened to Jesus, prayed for Jordan in line with what we sensed was from the Spirit, and said amen when we felt we were done. Nothing special or miraculous happened. No voice booming from heaven. No shaking of the room where we prayed. No tears, even
(I mean, come on, Jordan. Really? No tears? We prayed some good prayers for you, man!). But there was hunger. Jordan wanted more boldness. He needed it. Truthfully, we all needed it. So, we asked. And I’m glad we did.
So how to finish off a night like that? As if our prayer time wasn’t holy enough, a member of our crew suggested an even more pious act:
An evening soak in the outdoor spa. It took little effort to convince one another that this was the best (and manliest) idea shared yet. Within minutes, we were changed, and settling ourselves into the warm waters of the crowded public hot tub.
While four-fifths of our group began talking amongst ourselves thinking little of what had just occurred in the condo upstairs, Jordan found himself seated beside a middle-aged woman of Korean descent. Having disclosed that she and her three friends were there having one last girls’ night before a member of their party moved to Vancouver, BC, the woman then asked what our group was doing here this weekend. Jordan shared we were part of a church board and had convened to pray and listen for the voice of God as we drew out plans for our year ahead. After a few more questions from the woman, Jordan shared his story of being called to pastoral ministry, including his hearing the voice of Jesus for the first time. Intrigued, the woman shared that she had never heard God’s voice nor knew that he could speak.
So, what did Jordan do? Having just prayed for (and seemingly received) new boldness in sharing his faith, he asked if he could pray for the woman and her friends. However, if this wasn’t enough, he also made a bold claim. Jordan affirmed that God speaks (John 10:3-4, 27) and that if these women would allow it, our group would love to listen to the Spirit on their behalf, trusting God had something special to say to each of them. “You’ve never heard God speak? Well, tonight that's going to change! We're going to ask God to speak to each of you tonight. Would you like that?” To say the least, Jordan was bold in his invitation. The four women were curious and optimistic. I wasn’t so sure.
For the next half-hour or so we spent a handful of minutes praying for each of these women in turn. As we lifted these unfamiliar fellow-bathers before the Father, we began to receive words and pictures that we in turn shared with each of the women.
Some of what we shared, while heartfelt, didn’t land. A couple of things seemed somewhat lost in translation – only one of the four spoke English proficiently and served as our translator. But much of what we sensed we heard from the Lord appeared to move these women. Our sharing was met with tears, laughter, subtle gasps, sideways looks at one another, and the nodding of heads. God was speaking to these women through us. Unbeknownst to us, however, things were just beginning to heat up.
While praying for the second of the group, a woman named Lucia, one of our group received a prophetic word that Jesus wanted to heal her. Again, leaning into this newfound boldness, Jordan asked the woman if she was experiencing any ailments in her body. At this moment, another of our party began to experience sharp pain in the left side of his neck and into his shoulder. Displaying no other visible ailments, the woman was asked if she too experienced pain in her neck and shoulder. She said yes and that this pain had plagued her for six years! This word of knowledge emboldened us to pray a short, faith-filled prayer commanding any constricting evil spirit to loosen its grip on the woman and for all pain to leave her body.
We said amen and then asked the woman to lift her arm and “test it out,” so to speak. As she lifted her arm above her head, her eyes widened, and her mouth fell agape as she raised her arm without pain for the first time in years! “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness!” she cried, covering her face with her hands. Again and again, she echoed this phrase while repeatedly raising her arm above her shoulder in disbelief, testing the healing, as it were. I’ll never forget this woman's face as she realized she had been healed. The pain was utterly gone. God was at work.
So, what do you do when the woman you prayed for in the hot tub is miraculously healed? You lean further into the boldness, I suppose. “What Jesus has done for your shoulder he wants to do for your soul!” I blurted out to Lucia. “Jesus wants to heal you completely. Every hurt, every wound, every area of brokenness and pain in your life, he wants to heal you entirely – body, soul, spirit. Do you want this?” I asked through the interpreter. “Yes,” she said, “I do.” And she did.
As we wrapped up our listening prayer time, another in our group sensed we should ask if these women were believers. Though they had been raised Catholic, they confessed that none of the four knew of the saving work of Christ and his gift of salvation. We spent the next few minutes sharing with them the gospel and asked if they wanted to follow Jesus. “Are you willing to trust Jesus for the forgiveness of sin? Do you long to be made well by him, inside and out, just like he healed your friend’s shoulder?” we asked. “Yes,” they exclaimed, “We want this!”
Once more we prayed, however this time, not for these women; we prayed with them as they received Christ into their hearts as King. God had spoken. To us, and to them. Each of us heard his voice in the hot tub that evening. And each of us, these four women included, responded in faith to his invitation to encounter him afresh. I’m convinced we were participating in a homecoming that night, our laughter and tears accompanying those of heaven as Father, Son and Spirit rejoiced with the angels in response to these women’s prayers.
As I’ve reflected the past few months on the series of events that transpired that night, here are a few observations I have made:
God Honours our Hunger
A first learning from this hot tub evangelism experience is that God honours our hunger. In Psalm 107:9 (ESV) the psalmist writes, “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” In revisiting this story in my mind, I was reminded of how our night started. It began with hunger - perhaps to varying degrees, but each of us was hungry. We wanted more of God. We needed (and still need!) more of him. And so, we asked. We prayed. And God satisfied our hungry, longing souls with himself.
Now, truth be told, he did so in a way very different than any of us were anticipating. Not one of us foresaw our evening to turn out the way it did. We didn’t anticipate we'd find ourselves sharing the gospel through a translator and witnessing God show up in demonstrable power while half-naked in a hot tub. But we did. And he did. Because he honours our hunger for him. Philip Yancey once wrote, “God goes where he’s wanted.” I think he’s right. God goes where he’s wanted, where he’s invited. He goes where people are hungry for more of him. This is good theology. How hungry are you for more of God?
Further, how hungry are you for others to know him?
Once again, as I revisit this aquatic evangelism experience in my mind, this really is how the whole chain of events started that night. Sure, we all expressed a degree of hunger for more of the presence and power of God in our personal lives, hence why we were praying for one another. But Jordan’s hunger was beyond himself.
Take note of this.
What did Jordan ask for that night? He asked for more boldness so that others might know Jesus and the good news of his gospel. To me, that seems to be the kind of hunger-prayer God honours. Remember the prayer of the Apostles in Acts 4? Remember what happened when they prayed for more boldness to proclaim the gospel of Jesus in word and deed to those who were far off. The place where they prayed was literally shaken, and they were all filled with the Spirit and boldly spoke the word of God. I believe the same to be true of us when we dare to pray something similar.
When we hunger like this, God shows up. He loves to satisfy hungry hearts – even those who don’t yet know what, or who, their souls are hungering after. Certainly, this is what happened that night in the hot tub.
Do you long for God to move in power in the lives of your family and friends who are outside of faith? Get hungry.
The Power of Community
A second observation from that night is that this experience likely wouldn't have turned out the way it did if just Jordan or I, or any one member of our group had been on our own in the hot tub that night.
Now certainly, one dude alone, preaching the gospel to four unknown women in a hot tub has the potential to be extremely awkward. However, I'm not talking about this dynamic of optics or uncomfortableness.
Instead, as I recount the events of that night I notice a certain interplay amongst ourselves, an interdependence upon one another that was absolutely necessary for these events to take place.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminds the members of the church of the divinely-designed interdependency of God's people for worship and their witness in the world. Every member of Christ's body is needed, says Paul. Every part brings something unique, be it a word, a skill, a personality type, a spiritual gift. Said alternatively, every person brings something different, unique to the party that no one else can. It's only when we work together, when we each bring what we have that the end result is complete, whole. In other words, we can't do it alone. You can't do it alone. And neither can I. Our worship. Our work. Our witness. We need one another. The Christian faith isn't a solitary one.
As I recount this event, every person played a role in the hot tub that night. Sure, Jordan led out in bold faith, inviting these women to pray with us. But then Jared gave a seemingly profound word. Matt prayed something that unlocked a greater degree of openness and curiosity in these women. Jordan received a word of knowledge, followed by another in our group experiencing an unfamiliar pain (another word of knowledge). Nick proclaimed healing in Jesus' name, authority and power. And Kyle asked a poignant, Spirit-inspired question that led to each of these women expressing their heartfelt desire to know Christ and receive him as Lord. All of us were necessary that night; all of us were needed -even the woman who played translator! None of this would have been possible had she not served as our interpreter that evening.
Each of us was needed. And each of us simply gave what we had. Freely we had received, and freely we gave. No striving. No attempt to conjure up something beyond ourselves, or go it alone. We just leaned into God and one another, trusting Jesus had something special for these four, and responding in obedience to the Spirit's promptings. It truly was a communal effort.
Do you want to know what the best part of it all was? As we said our goodbyes to our new friends that evening, they mentioned their party consisted of a fifth member. Though four of the five wanted to go for a soak in the hot tub, the fifth member did not, they told us. No, instead, this friend insisted on staying behind in the room to do something very specific that night. What, you ask? She stayed behind to pray. "Oh yes," they said, "She's the 'devout' one. She always just wants to pray when we're hanging out together. But we wanted to go to the hot tub instead."
Though we laughed when we heard this, based on how the night had progressed thus far, we were curiously unsurprised by this revelation. It made total sense. I mean, of course, why wouldn't there be a fifth member of their party upstairs interceding in her hotel room while her unsaved sisters were encountering God in the public spa below? Again, every part of the body is needed.
I wonder if it ever dawned on these women the significance of their friend's prayers that evening. Truth be told, it wasn't just the five of us men praying for these four middle-aged Korean women in the hot tub. No, we were joined by a sixth member: Their unnamed friend who was upstairs in the hotel room interceding on their behalf.
This is the power of all God's people joining together in worship and witness, bringing what they have as an offering unto the Lord.
Never underestimate the power of community. And never underestimate the role you play in the body of Christ.
The Need for a Renewed Imagination
A third and final observation from this experience is the church’s propensity to live with limited imagination.
Now I don’t know about you, but before the events of that night, I had never envisioned myself engaged in this kind of aquatic evangelistic encounter. Before this night, “Lead Someone to Jesus While Soaking in a Hot Tub” wasn’t exactly an item on my bucket list. And I’m going to assume it’s likely not on yours either!
But why not? Why isn't it? Sure, as the Apostle Paul professed to the Ephesian church, we believe in a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20, NIV). This is true. An infinite God can and will certainly do infinitely more than what we can conceive of him.
However, here lies the rub.
I’m convinced the kinds of things we ask or envision God doing are far too often too limited, too narrow and constrained, boxed in. We lack imagination. We lack creativity. We lack faith. We expect little, so we ask little. And when we do, we get comparable results that often leave us feeling underwhelmed. Worse yet, we may even find ourselves disappointed in what we perceive to be meagre results from an almost all-powerful God. But didn’t James the half-brother of Jesus write, “You have not because you ask not”?
Why aren’t these kinds of weird and wonderful experiences like our hot tub evangelism one more normative in the church? Perhaps because we don’t ask for them. Or, perhaps because we lack divine creativity, expectancy, faith.
I have a sneaking suspicion that these kinds of “strange” encounters like the one I’ve described above feel unfamiliar or even, to a degree, wrong because we operate from a worldview that separates sacred from secular. Many of us go to church on Sundays with a certain degree of expectancy that we will encounter God there. We believe that in the gathering of the saints, we will hear from him, or be moved by a song or the proclaimed word. We come to the sacredness of Sundays, and we anticipate encounter. However, when we leave that place and enter the “real world” as it were - the secular environment within which the remainder of our lives takes place - our expectancy for a move of God is stifled. Why is this? It’s dualism. It’s the separation of secular and sacred, the division between the places and spaces where we've convinced ourselves God can and does operate, and where, as we've erroneously believed, he cannot and does not.
But what if I told you that God is not limited to time and place? What if I told you that every moment is holy, that every place where God's people step, the in-breaking of the Kingdom is only a word or moment, a touch or prayer away?
What if we had a renewed imagination here? What if our expectation of God was unboxed and enlarged? What if our divine creativity was enlivened again, revivified to truly believe God for the impossible, even beyond what we conceive to already be at the limits of what’s possible?
And what if we forsook the fallacy of dualism, sacred versus secular, and embraced rather a biblical worldview that says God is in the business of bringing his kingdom into every sphere of human existence? What if we believed hot tubs (or the lunchroom at work, the field where your kid plays soccer, or whatever fill-in-the-blank secular setting you find yourself in) to be as sacred as our church buildings? I would imagine our expectancy of God to move in presence and power would increase. So too would our experience of such.
Narrative builds faith. This is why I’m sharing this story with you. It’s not to brag about this unique-to-me experience but to give glory to God, and to inspire us, his church, to expect more, even in those mundane moments of life.
The Triune God is relentlessly on mission, wooing all mankind to himself. And he has invited each of us to participate alongside him as co-labourers with Christ in the Father’s mission – perhaps even while soaking in a hot tub in the Canadian Rockies!
Why share this story? Because stories like this build faith. And they open our imagination to dream of new experiences and new realities of where, when, and how God wants to move in the hearts and lives of those not yet in relationship with him.
Again, none of us expected the events of that night to go as they did. Yet now, after experiencing that night firsthand, I get excited every time I see a hot tub. What might God want to do in a place like that? Who might he be longing to encounter in a similar, or wildly different way? And how might he be inviting you to join him in his mission of redeeming and restoring all things?
The possibilities are endless.
May this story, and others like it, renew your imagination to believe in God for the impossible.