Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Robert Murray McCheyne—A man who came to Christ through the death of his brother

Death is an unnatural joy. This is not to say that death is not normal, because it certainly is. Its sting brings fear, and yet, by the mercy of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sting of death has been relieved (1 Cor. 15:55-57). For Robert Murray McCheyne, it was the sting of his brother’s death that awakened him to the Divine peace.

McCheyne’s brother David was 8 or 9 years older and was the light of Christ in the McCheyne household. It was said of him that he was a man of “sensitive truthfulness”. Just a grieved look from his godly brother often led McCheyne to inner shame and subsequent repentance.

The months leading up to David’s death were difficult for McCheyne. His brother had a severe bout of melancholy (i.e. depression—modern use), which ate away at his body, leaving him susceptible to physical illness. Before he died, the clouds of depression lifted, but David’s suffering had great impact on McCheyne, who often spoke of his brother’s death during his brief 29 years.
He wrote, “This morning five years ago, my dear brother David died, and my heart for the first time knew true bereavement. Truly it was all well. Let me be dumb, for Thou didst it; and it was good for me that I was afflicted. I know not that any providence was ever more abused by man that was by me; and yet, Lord, what mountains Thou comest over! None was ever more blessed than me!”
A couple statements are noteworthy in the above quote. First, Let me be dumb, for Thou didst it, and it was good for me. It is obvious that McCheyne grew up with godly Christian influences. To have the goodness of God this engrained in his thinking comes only through the Holy Spirit pricking the heart of a young, impressionable boy.

Parents, never doubt the eternal impressions placed on your children during the time under your care. Children watch. They take mental notes. The promises of God can be embedded within their hearts but it takes effort and a consistent visual example (Eph. 6:4). Furthermore, fight the discouragement of seemingly barren tree. Your child’s tree may look barren to you, but as with most trees, one evening it has its Winter deadness, but then the morning of Spring arrives and the tree now looks alive. In other words, trust in God and the power of His word. The Holy Spirit will blow where He chooses to blow (John 3:8-9) and when He chooses to blow. This humbling truth should bring us to our knees in prayer, to a God who is merciful and good (Eph. 2:4).

The second statement is my heart for the first time knew true bereavement. McCheyne was 18 when his brother died, but apparently this was the first time he truly grappled with the eternal reality of death. Suddenly, life seemed brief. Suddenly, the cares of this world seem empty, pointless, foolish, a bad joke. Through his devastated loss, McCheyne realized two life-changing truths: 1) Christ is sweet because only He can take away the sting of death and 2) the souls of men are the only fields worth reaping in this life.

Many of you readers may begin to wonder why death is a regular occurrence in my blog. This is not purposeful. Yet this is the reality when you focus (primarily) on the men of old and in their time of human history, people died on a regular basis. Here is a quote from McCheyne’s biographer about the reality of death:
“It is worthy of notice how often the Lord has done much work by a few years of holy labour. In our church, G. Gillespie and J. Durham died at 36; Hugh Binning at 26; Andrew Gray when scarcely 22. Of our witnesses, Patrick Hamilton was cut off at 24, and Hugh McKall at 26. In other churches we might mention many, such as John Janeway at 23, David Brainerd at 30, and Henry Martyn at 32. Theirs was a short life, filled up with usefulness, and crowned with glory. Oh to be as they!”
How old are you? How much have you done for the Savior? Is your youthfulness an excuse? I am 35 years old, an old man in light of the company above, but sadly I doubt I have accomplished an ounce of what many of these men sowed for the King.

Death is real. It will come for everyone. Often it comes without warning. The men of old thought about it often because it reminded them about the joys of eternity. We revel in the medical advances of our day and its abilities to extend our earthly life. The Devil uses these advances to lull the Christian to sleep. The “Enchanted Ground”, spoken of in the Pilgrim’s Progress, is now longer and more beautiful…..and more enticing.

Don’t stop Christians, keep running. If you do, your life will have meant something and death will bring you infinite joy.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Who is Robert Murray McCheyne?

Throughout this month, this blog will examine certain “snapshots” of Robert Murray McCheyne, which I hope will bring a deeper appreciation for this servant and a greater love for the God whom he gave his life to.


Why should you care about the life and ministry of Robert Murray McCheyne?

 --His response to his brother’s death is real and noteworthy.

 --He was known by many as a man of “unique holiness”.

 --His undivided zeal for the gospel was probably the main reason he never married.

 --His response to a great revival in his church is eye-opening.

 --He is one of the greatest preachers Scotland has ever produced.

 --He was a lover of poetry and music and wrote several hymns still sung today.

 --His life was plagued with sickness, which led to his premature death at the age of 29. 


EARLY LIFE

Robert Murray McCheyne was born in Edinburgh in May 1813, the youngest child of a leading solicitor in Scotland's Supreme Court of Justice. His parents took great care over the spiritual welfare of the family and as he grew up Robert developed a high standard of virtue in all his conduct, so much so that his father wrote of him in retrospect, "I never found him guilty of a lie or of any mean or unworthy action." At fourteen he entered Edinburgh University, studying literature and poetry, and graduated four years later in 1831. Robert also had great respect for his eldest brother David who in return took a keen interest in Robert's spiritual condition, but a sudden illness in the summer of 1831 resulted in David's death. Robert felt the tragic loss most bitterly, especially since his own virtuous behaviour brought him no consolation in his grief. He turned for comfort to seeking God through diligent study of the Bible, until in his own words, he was "led to Christ through deep and ever abiding convictions" that his sins were forgiven and that he had peace with God.

ENTRY TO THE MINISTRY

Soon after his conversion in 1831, McCheyne began to prepare for the ministry of the Church of Scotland and commenced his studies of divinity under Thomas Chalmers, the outstanding theologian and scholar of his day. He quickly mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, but his learning was solely for the purpose of advancing his understanding of scripture, since he had no time for intellectual speculation or scholarly controversies.

He also steeped himself in the journals and writings of Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd and Henry Martyn, and longed that the power of the Holy Spirit that had been so evident in their lives would also be granted him. It was in this way that he was led to start evangelistic work in the poorer districts of Edinburgh with his fellow students early in 1834.

SOWING THE SEED

Towards the end of 1835, McCheyne became the assistant minister of a parish near Stirling which included Larbert, an industrial town of ironworks and coal mines, and Dunipace, a country village surrounded by farmland. In preaching and pastoral care, he soon made a deep impression on the town dwellers and farmers alike. Each Sunday he expounded the gospel "as free as the air we breathe, fresh as the stream from the everlasting hills" and each weekday he systematically visited house by house, sharing the scriptures with any needy soul who was ready to listen. It was a time of patient preparation for the work God had in store for him and in 1836 he was called to the ministry at St. Peter's church in Dundee.

McCheyne's ministry at Dundee lasted only six years and was divided into two almost equal periods by his journey to the Holy Land in 1839. From the start he laboured without ceasing amongst the population in the overcrowded streets which his church. had been built to serve and his singleness of heart and mind can be seen from his statement, "I feel there are two things it is impossible to desire with sufficient ardour, personal holiness, and the honour of Christ in the salvation of soul." It was this inseparable combination of saintliness and zeal for soul-winning that was the chief characteristic of McCheyne's ministry. Indeed a modern authority has written of him, "He was convinced that a diligent minister ought to expect success in God's service, but he saw that he could not hope for such success unless he were willing to preach Christ for Christ's sake alone." McCheyne fully realised that one word uttered in the power of the Holy Spirit could do more than thousands spoken in a spirit of unbelief, and God's seal upon his ministry was so evident that a contemporary of his, remarked that the church had been filled with a Bethel-like sacredness' during the services. In the six short years he spent at St. Peter's church a congregation of twelve hundred members was gathered there and towards the end of his life, he was able to state, without a trace of boastfulness, "I think I can say I have never risen a morning without thinking how I could bring more souls to Christ."

GIFTS AND GRACES OF GOD

The years from 1836-39 were spent faithfully laying the foundations for the blessing which followed later in his ministry. His natural gifts in poetry, art and music were amply expressed in his sermons and writings which included a volume of verses entitled "Songs of Zion". Many of these were set to music and used as hymns of which, "When this passing world is done" is a memorable example. McCheyne's achievements were all the more remarkable when it is remembered that a severe heart condition often compelled him to lay aside energetic activities. This was especially so in the matter of missionary outreach which had occupied his thoughts from his earliest days as a Christian. He had eagerly sought the few accounts of missionary enterprises that had been published up to that time and he had been deeply moved by the sacrificial devotion shown by pioneers such as Brainerd and Martyn. By 1836 he felt willing to go to India and prayed that God would make His will plain, but the bouts of ill-health he suffered showed him that God had much to teach him.

In 1838 as he was recovering from a period of illness, McCheyne was suddenly invited to be one of a deputation sent to examine the possibility of missionary work amongst Jews in eastern Europe and the Turkish Empire. It was in this manner that God through HIS mercy and providence graciously answered McCheyne's longing to share in the work of opening new fields to the sound of the gospel.

On 12th April 1839, McCheyne set out from Dover with Andrew Bonar, Alexander Black and Alexander Keith on the start of their journey to the Holy Land. McCheyne could not contain his growing delight as he hurried ahead of his companions to gain his first long awaited sight of the City. The words of Psalm 122 verse 2, "Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem," were literally true in their experience as they spent the following days exploring the City. The slopes of the Mount of Olives, the paths through Gethsemane, the shores of Galilee — each scene was filled with its associations with the life of the Saviour, and McCheyne's accounts written for his friends at home show how deeply moved he was by his experiences.

After visiting as many Jewish settlements as time would allow, the four friends separated at Beirut. Black and Keith set out for Constantinople to return home through the Austrian Empire, while Bonar and McCheyne paid another brief visit to Jerusalem before embarking for Asia Minor. The weeks of travelling had severely strained McCheyne's health and by the time they set sail he had developed a fever. Even so he remained on deck to watch the hills of Lebanon fading out of sight and only as darkness fell did he sadly turn away from the scene. The fever so weakened McCheyne that he needed to be carried ashore at Smyrna and for two weeks he was nursed back to health by an English family who lived nearby.

While McCheyne had been abroad he had left William Burns in charge of St. Peter's Church in Dundee and McCheyne had faithfully prayed throughout his absence that God would honour and bless the ministry of the young preacher. Unknown to McCheyne, a remarkable awakening had swept the town of Kilsyth where Burns had preached in August and two days later he had returned to Dundee to give an account at the mid-week prayer meeting of the revival blessing that he had witnessed. As he spoke of God's wonderful dealings with the people of Kilsyth, his hearers became conscious of the Holy Spirit moving amongst them in great power. Many were brought tearfully to repentance while others rejoiced in the knowledge of sins forgiven, and meetings for prayer and praise were held every evening in the following weeks as the awakening continued in the town. Thus it was that McCheyne came home to find that the revival he had so earnestly longed for, had already flooded through the people of Dundee and at the first prayer meeting he attended on the day of his return he claimed, "I do not think that I can speak a month in this parish without winning some souls." Before the awakening of 1839 he estimated that around sixty conversions had taken place during his ministry, but he wisely refrained from exaggerating the fruits of the revival and only claimed souls had been born again when there was undeniable evidence of new life. Besides the spiritual discernment he exercised, McCheyne recognised it was God's prerogative to command blessing or to withhold it. When objections were made by some to the cries of contrition and tears of repentance which arose from the congregation in his church, McCheyne answered with simplicity, "I felt no hesitation as to our duty to declare the simple truth impressively, and leave God to work in their hearts in HIS own way. If HE saves in a quiet way, I shall be happy; if in the midst of cries and tears, still I will bless HIS Name."

The revival greatly increased McCheyne's sense of the urgency of the Gospel and on one occasion he declared while preaching, "Brethren, if I could promise you that the door will stand open for a hundred years, yet it would still be your wisdom to enter in now. But I can not answer for a year; I cannot answer for a month; I can not answer for a day; I can not answer for an hour. All that I can answer for is, it is open now." McCheyne's sermons were characterised by his fidelity to scripture, the unfailing tenderness of his delivery and the deep sense of reverence for God which shone through all his life, all of which gave his preaching a most effective quality. He was fond of using short but direct appeals to his hearers, "If God spared not HIS own S0N under the sin of another, how shall He spare thee under the weight and burden of thine own sin? If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"

THE CLOSING YEARS

The closing years of his life coincided with the Ten Years of Conflict over the power of lay patrons to make ministerial appointments. McCheyne never shrank from the struggle to assert the right of congregations to call their own pastors and he fully supported Thomas Charmers in the events leading to the establishment of the Free Church of Scotland. He was one of the 427 ministers who resolved in November 1842, to separate from the Church if lay control was enforced, and when Parliament took the crucial decision in favour of state patronage in March 1843, McCheyne stated, "Once more KING JESUS stands at an earthly tribunal, and they know HIM not." Yet McCheyne was not to see the "Disruption" which followed. The next Sunday he preached his evening sermon on the text, "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." (Isaiah 60:1) which many were later to recall as a rich blessing to their souls. Two days afterwards he was struck down by the typhus epidemic raging in Dundee and as his life drew to a close he continued to plead for the souls of his congregation in his prayers. On 25th March 1843, not yet thirty years old, McCheyne went to be with his Lord and the vision of his best known hymn was realised.

***This biography was copied and adapted from various sources on the internet. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Final Thoughts from George Müller (#13-#24)




Here are #13--#24:

#13—“But how much greater is the spiritual blessing we receive, both in this life and in the world to come, if constrained by the love of Christ, we act as God’s stewards, respecting that, with which He is pleased to entrust us!”

#14—“Our Heavenly Father never takes any earthly thing from His children except He means to give them something better instead”.

Early in my Christian walk I would have read this quote and believed that God would bless me like Job (Job 42:12-17). Now in my 23rd or 29th year as a Christian, I understand that the blessing may or may not be material, but it is always spiritual.

#15—“We have to guard against practically despising the discipline of the Lord, though we may not do so in word, and against fainting under discipline; since all is intended for blessing to us”.

The reader must not have a one-dimensional understanding of “fainting”. “Fainting” can mean wilting under the heat of God’s discipline, which makes us frail and weak, blaming others and playing the “victim card”. It can also mean “running from the discipline”, internalizing the bitterness, so the Christian begins to rot from the inside out, rather than experiencing the renewal of the inner man (Heb. 12:5-11; 2 Cor. 4:16-18).

#16—“In the whole work we desire to stand with God, and not to depend upon the favorable and unfavorable judgment of the multitude”.

How many mature Christians questioned and criticized the methods of George Müller? Quite a few I am sure. Yet he would not succumb to the worldly seduction of man’s approval (John 12:42-43).

#17—“Weigh everything well; weigh all in the light of the Holy Scriptures, and in the fear of God”.

#18—“To ascertain the Lord’s will we ought to use scriptural means. Prayer, the word of God, and His Spirit should be united together”.

This “blend” was the secret to Müller’s strength.

#19—“Our happiness, our usefulness, our living for God are often most intimately connected with our choice of a spouse”.

What if Müller’s wife did not agree with his conviction regarding “voluntary poverty”? What if she would have said a few years into marriage, “I didn’t sign up for this!” Would we be reading about George Müller today? Probably not.

#20—“True godliness without a shadow of doubt, should be the first and absolutely needful qualification, to a Christian, with regards to a companion for life”.

I did not write in my blog about the second Mrs. Müller. She was a co-laborer with Müller (in the Orphan Houses) and her fruits of her godly behavior had been observed for years. After the loss of the first Mrs. Müller, he was lonely and desired a companion. Again, his accounts speak little of her physical beauty, but her spiritual beauty was obvious, which made for an easy decision. Young men, pray for a wife that is “sold out” to Christ. In the meantime……go serve the Lord!

#21—“The very fact that day after day, and year after year, for 29 years, the Lord has enabled me to continue, patiently, believingly, to wait on Him for the blessing, still further encourages me to wait on”.

29 years! Have I prayed daily for one year about anything? Müller spent 52 years praying for the salvation of his brother. The parable of the persistent widow makes a whole lot more sense after blogging after the life of George Müller (Luke 18:1-9).

#22—“Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained and in not expecting the blessing”.

#23—“It is common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; while the truth is, in order to enjoy the Word, we ought to continue to read it, and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying; for the less we read the word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray”.

Many young Christians need to hear this quote of Müller. How true this is! If Satan can’t take away eternal life, he certainly can distract us and deceive us. Is this not simply another ploy of the Deceiver, similar to his work in the Garden of Eden? Let us not be “ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 1:11)!

#24—“The word of God is our only standard, and the Holy Spirit our only Helper”.

Simple words from a simple man. Thank you God for saving and using George Müller in my life. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Final Thoughts from George Müller (#1-#12)


These are my favorite quotes from George Müller. History does not label him the most profound Christian, but he was practical and holy. I would take that over “profundity” any day of the week.

Here are #1--#12:

#1—“My own experience has been, almost invariably, that if I have not the needful sleep, my spiritual enjoyment and strength is greatly affected by it.”

The reader must digest the implications of “needful”. Different people, different needs. But we all should be suspicious of the flesh. In other words, the Christian must discern between needful sleep and lazy sleep.  

#2—“There may occur cases when travelling by night cannot be avoided; but if it can, though we should seem to lose time by it, and though it should cost more money, I would most affectionately and solemnly recommend the refraining from night-travelling; for in addition to our drawing beyond measure upon our bodily strength, we will be losers spiritually.”

Here is Müller’s point: Loss of time or loss of money should be gladly given up for the sake of constant progression in the Christian journey. Has that ever come into your thinking as you plan your family vacation?

#3—Surely it ought not to be true that we, who have power with God to obtain by prayer and faith all needful grace, wisdom, and skill, should be bad servants, bad tradesmen, bad masters.”

If you are a bad worker, you are a bad testimony for Christ. I wonder how often the name of Christ is defamed, not by a worker who occasionally cusses, but rather a worker who is unproductive, who is only there to “collect a paycheck”.

#4—“Every instance of obedience from right motives, strengthens us spiritually, while ever act of disobedience weakens us spiritually.”

#5—“The longer I live, the more I am enabled to realize that I have but one life to live on earth, and that this one life is but a brief life, for sowing, in comparison with eternity, for reaping.”

I never thought of “sowing” and “reaping” in this way.

#6—“It has been my own happy lot, during the last thirty-seven years, to become acquainted with hundreds of individuals, who were not inferior to apostolic Christians.”

In other words, Müller was acquainted with legitimate, passionate, sacrificial followers of Jesus. This encourages me as a pastor to pray not for a return to the early church, but rather another generation of early church Christians.

#7—“As to the importance of the children of God opening their hearts to each other, especially when they are getting into a cold state, or are under the power of a certain sin; how often advice, under great perplexity, has been obtained—by opening my heart to a brother in who I had confidence.”

Do you have that type of “brother” or “sister” in Christ? If not, pray for someone. Until then, go be that “person” to someone else!

#8—“An unvisited church will sooner or later become an unhealthy church”.

That is convicting. My favorite quote so far.

#9—“Where faith begins, anxiety ends; where anxiety begins, faith ends.”

#10—“It is the very time for faith to work, when sight ceases. The greater the difficulties, the easier for faith.”

#11—“The natural mind is ever prone to reason, when we ought to believe; to be at work, when we ought to be quiet; to go our own way, when we ought to steadily walk on in God’s ways, however trying to nature (i.e. against our fleshly desires).”

How often I want answers! I don’t want to be quiet. I don’t want to wait. The tree of a “mature” man is filled with the “fruit of waiting”.

#12—“It is true, the Gospel demands our ALL; but I fear that, in the general claim on ALL, we have shortened the claim on everything.”

In other words, ALL only means SOME. Man, if this isn’t an indictment on American Christianity….I don’t know what is. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

George Müller—A man who read his bible on his knees


“The passion of George Müller’s soul was to know fully the secrets of prevailing with God and with man. George Whitefield’s life drove home the truth that God alone could create in him a holy earnestness to win souls and qualify him for such divine work by imparting a compassion for the lost that should become an absorbing passion for their salvation. And—let this be carefully marked as another secret of this life of service—he now began himself to read the word of God upon his knees, and often found for hours great blessing in such meditation and prayer over a single psalm or chapter.” (p. 138-139)
Here is the disclaimer: It is not the posture of prayer that ultimately matters to God. But it is wrong to say that posture doesn’t matter, because our posture often reflects what is happening in our hearts.

After reading this you may be thinking, “Good for George Müller. He has his way and I have mine. God only wants my heart.” Fair enough. But before you shut the “door of self-examination”, please allow me to give some of the reasons this “posture” may help the Christian.

First, this posture reminds us we need the Holy Spirit.

George Müller not only knew the bible, but he knew that he needed the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is called our Helper (John 16:7) and His primary role is to help illuminate the scriptures so the Christian can accept it as God’s word. Look at these key passages:

1 Corinthians 2:12-13 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

For Müller, this posture reinforced his need for the Holy Spirit. It reminded him how much he needed divine guidance. Did George Müller saturate his mind with the scriptures? You bet he did. 4-5 times a year during the last 20 years of his life (age 72-92)! Yet his personal discipline alone did not help him hear and accept the “heartbeat of God”, it was his relentless cry of a child, who knew the best place was in the hands of the Divine Helper.

When is the last time you began your time in the scriptures crying out to the Divine Helper? When is the last time you bowed your heart before the Divine Teacher? School is always in session. Sadly, it is our delinquency that explains the spiritual illiteracy of this generation.

Second, this posture reminds us to approach God’s word with a submissive heart.

It is humbling to get on your knees. When this posture reflects a correct heart attitude, the Christian is ready to receive a word from God. Have you ever tried to pray on your knees with a consistent pattern of sin yet unresolved? I have. It doesn’t work. It can’t. My relationship with my Heavenly Father is fractured and it needs immediate repair. Here is the best part: Either I choose to get right with Him or I choose to get up and walk outside of God’s will. By God’s grace most of the time I get right with God (Psa. 51:4) and then get right with those who I sinned against. In other words, this posture tends to bring me to the place of submission, a place where the Holy Spirit can give me spiritual eyes to see spiritual truth.

Third, this posture reminds us of the importance of biblical meditation.

Though I live in the Western world, the adjective “biblical” is always necessary when bringing “meditation” into the conversation. Here is a good definition (not to be confused with transcendental meditation):
Meditation in the Bible means reflective thinking on biblical truth so that God is able to speak to us through Scripture and through the thoughts that come to mind as we are reflecting on the Word, but that must also be filtered by the Word.”  J. Keathley III
This is seldom practiced in the high-paced lives of American Christians. Too many meetings, too many activities and too many social events make quiet times of reflection impractical for most Christians. Yet it is precisely this practice that set Müller apart from his contemporaries. Müller’s biographer states:
“But perhaps the greatest advantage will be that the Holy Scriptures will thus suggest the very words which become the dialect of prayer. “We know not what we should pray for as we ought”—neither what nor how to pray. But here is the Spirit’s own inspired utterance, and, if the praying be molded on the model of His teaching, how can we go astray? Here is our God-given liturgy—a divine prayer-book.” (p. 140)
If you are like me, maybe you need an example of what this looks like. Here is one of them:
“In meditating over Hebrews 8:8, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,’ Müller would begin translating it into prayer, he besought God, with the confidence that the prayer was already granted, that, as Jesus had already in His love and power supplied all that was needful, in the same unchangeable love and power He would so continue to provide.” (p. 140)
How simple! But again, this mindset is cultivated by faithfully walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), praying in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18) and being renewed by the Spirit (Titus 3:5).

Fourth, this posture reminds us this time is worship with God.

How it must grieve God when His children open up the scriptures, but do not listen to Him!

Listen to God’s words in Isaiah 29:13,

Then the Lord said, "Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,

Now some of you will say, “See, kneeling can become a tradition and not an act of worship before God!” I agree, but again….the problem is the heart and not the posture. Can you be worshipful praying standing up? Praying walking around? Praying with your eyes open? Absolutely. But we must also admit that some posture is less reverent or less advantageous than others (i.e. lounging in bed while praying or trying to read scripture while watching T.V.).

I guess the question I want you to ask yourself is this: “Is my posture helping our hindering the goal of worshipping in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)?”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

George Müller—A man who attended a prayer meeting a few hours after his wife of 40 years died


The death of Mrs. Müller was no surprise to Müller or anyone else, but his response did catch a few people off guard. His biographer reveals the details below:  
“The death of this beloved wife afforded an illustration of this. Within a few hours after this withdrawal of her who had shared with him the planning and working of these long years of service, Mr. Müller went to the Monday-evening prayer meeting, then held in Salem Chapel, to mingle his prayers and praises as usual with those of his brethren. With a literally shining countenance, he rose and said: “Beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, I ask you to join with me in hearty praise and thanksgiving to my precious Lord for His loving kindness in having taken my darling, beloved wife out of the pain and suffering which she had endured, into His own presence; and as I rejoice in everything that is for her happiness, so I now rejoice as I realize how far happier she is, in beholding her Lord who she loved so well, than in any joy she has known or could know here. I ask you also to pray that the Lord with so enable me to have fellowship in her joy that my bereaved heart may be occupied with her blessedness instead of my unspeakable loss”.
My anniversary is at the end of November. 10 years with my wonderful wife. I honestly don’t know what life would look like without her. Even more unsettling is thinking about my children dealing with the loss of their mom. She is the sweet one. She is the detailed one. She is one who offsets my intensity. She is the one I am supposed to grow old with. But what if tomorrow I had to say goodbye? What if tomorrow was the last day I saw her smile?

I am not sure I would go to that prayer meeting. I am not sure I would want to go to that prayer meeting. I am not sure I would want to speak, but if I did my words would undoubtedly be different than the saintly Müller.

How did Müller push forward? How does he seem so genuine, so peaceful and so content in the midst of a great loss?

Here are a couple thoughts:

First, Müller desired to be with his brethren.

The genuine response of Müller is because Müller genuinely enjoyed being with the brethren. At no point in the narrative is there a sense Müller showed up because this is what a “pastor is supposed to do”. This “Monday Evening Prayer meeting” was something valuable to him, something essential to his spiritual growth. In reality, Müller needed this prayer meeting, because he needed God’s grace, which is as abundant as God Himself (Heb. 4:16).

Another reason that Müller wanted to be at that prayer meeting is that he understood the importance of the church as a means of grace. Furthermore, the scriptures seem to put a high priority on the spiritual family. I have often wrestled with the statements of Jesus in Matthew 12:46-50.

Matthew 12:46-50 While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. 47 Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." 48 But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! 50 "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother."

Is Jesus saying our spiritual family more important than our physical family? Is it unbiblical to hold to the maxim, “Blood is thicker than water”? Should it rather say, “The blood of Jesus is thicker than both blood and water”?

The issue is not the priority of family. The issue is the priority of the gospel. In other words, Jesus’ point is that “obedience to the will of the Father” is more important that the opinions and traditions of your earthly family. Your relatives are your “blood”, but does not mean that they are “cleansed by the blood of the Lamb” (Eph. 2:13). Your spiritual family can encourage you through the lens of the gospel, but that is not always true with your physical family.

Müller needed the encouragement of his spiritual family. He knew they would be faithful to remind him of the joys of his salvation and the glories that await for those who long to see His return (2 Tim. 4:8).  

Second, Müller truly believed God is good and does only good.

For Müller, the implications of this belief made his response to his wife’s death a no-brainer. God is good, therefore, the death of his wife is an act of goodness. Furthermore, if God is good, how could Müller do anything else but praise God (Job 1:21)?

Are you surprised that Müller preached at his wife’s funeral? I’m not. Nor should it surprise the reader the text Müller preached at Mrs. Müller’s funeral.

Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes.

It is not just the joys of Heaven that help us to “not grieve as those who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13), but also a hearty dose of the knowledge of the Holy One that leads to understanding (Prov. 9:10).  

Third, Müller (and his wife) desired the greater joys of Heaven

Probably the part of Müller’s speech that impressed me the most is when he said,
“….and as I rejoice in everything that is for her happiness, so I now rejoice as I realize how far happier she is, in beholding her Lord who she loved so well, than in any joy she has known or could know here.”
In other words, “I want to rejoice that my wife is with her first love. I want to rejoice that she is with Jesus.” Many spouses are eager for their loved ones to die because of the suffering and/or deterioration experiences in the final moments. But for Müller, the greatest joy in her death was sending her to her Creator, the One in whom true life and happiness in found.

The perspective of Müller can only be understood by those who long for Heaven, by those who live by the words of Matthew Henry:

“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day.”

To be clear, these individuals are not isolationists or “ivory tower” theologians. Rather, these are Christians who “set their minds on things above, not on things of this earth” (Col. 3:2). These are Christians who understand the gospel and are genuine followers of Jesus Christ. These are Christians who truly grapple with and obey these commands of Jesus:

Luke 14:27 "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

Luke 12:51,53 "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Matthew 8:21-22 Another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead."

These are the Christians that long for Heaven, the ones who give up everything because they understood the value of the gift of salvation.

Matthew 13:45-46 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

The real issue is, “What is it that you value most?” Your answer will most likely reveal how much you really long for Heaven or how attached you still are to the “fleeting pleasures of this world” (Heb. 11:25). 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

George Müller--A man who grew up in the faith fast, but not all at once (Part four)

One of my favorite sections of the biography is when A.T. Pierson presents a list of 24 important steps, steps that he believes were essential in the spiritual formation of George Müller. Here are the final steps 19-24:

19. His surrender of all earthly possessions.
Both himself and his wife literally sold all they had and gave alms, henceforth to live by the day, hoarding no money even against a time of future need, sickness, old age, or any other possible crisis of want.
Again, the reader must look at Müller as a description of a godly Saint, not as a prescription of a godly Saint. In other words, don’t finish reading this blog post and then go sell all of your belongings. That response is probably not in the will of God.

Yet we must re-examine our love of money or at least the security that money provides. Our lack of prayerfulness is often connected to our self-sufficient heart and our self-sufficient heart is fueled by having the monetary resources to “fill our mouths” (Psa. 81:10b) rather than waiting for the joy of the manna from Heaven (Psa. 78:24).

20. His habit of secret prayer.
He learned so to prize closet communion with God that he came to regard it as his highest duty and privilege. To him nothing could compensate for the lack of loss that fellowship with God and meditation on His word which are the support of all spiritual life.
The key phrase in the above summary is “He learned so to prize closet communion”. Müller learned. And as he learned, he began to “prize” his communion with God.

Do you “prize” your communion with God? Does your affections for Him burnt bright and hot? If not, it is probably because you have not been faithfully seeking His face. Maybe you have forgotten (as I often have) that it is the Holy Spirit that illuminates and helps us to accept His word (I Cor. 2:12-13). Therefore, if we don’t cry out for the Helper we should not be surprised if our time with Him seems mundane and lifeless (James 4:2-3). We need spiritually empowered eyes to accept spiritual truth. 

21. His jealousy of his testimony.
In taking oversight of a congregation he took care to guard himself from all possible interference with fullness and freedom of utterance and of service. He could not brook any restraints upon his speech or action that might compromise his allegiance to the Lord or his fidelity to man.
This verse says it all:

Romans 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

22. His organizing of work.
God led him to project a plan embracing several departments of holy activity, such as the spreading of the knowledge of the word of God everywhere, and the encouraging of world-wide evangelism and the Christian education of the young; and to guard the new Institution from all dependence on worldly patronage, methods, or appeals.
23. His sympathy with orphans.
His loving heart had been drawn out towards poverty and misery everywhere, but especially in the case of destitute children bereft of both parents; and familiarity with Francke’s work at Halle, suggested similar work in Bristol.
Compassion was perfectly exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ. A Christian without compassion for the lost and destitute is either walking around without their gospel-centered glasses or never received them. Someone that thinks that highly of themselves likely never came to terms of their desperate need for the Savior.

24. His life was Divinely held by God (my heading; the summary below is Pierson’s)
Besides all these steps of preparation, he had been guided by the Lord from his birthplace in Prussia to London, Teignmouth, and Bristol in Britain, and thus the chosen vessel, shaped for its great use, had by the same divine Hand been borne to the very place where it was to be of such signal service in testimony to the Living God.
Every life of faith shows steps of spiritual growth. The question is not, “How many steps have you taken?”; rather, “What step of faith is God placing on your heart today?”

Monday, November 14, 2011

George Müller--A man who grew up in the faith fast, but not all at once (Part Three)


One of my favorite sections of the biography is when A.T. Pierson presents a list of 24 important steps, steps that he believes were essential in the spiritual formation of George Müller. Here are steps 13-18: 

13. His companions in service.
Two most efficient co-workers were divinely provided: first his brother Craik so like-minded with himself, and secondly, his wife, so peculiarly God’s gift, both of them proving great aids in working and in bearing burdens of responsibility.
History doesn’t speak much of Mr. Craik, but to be as like-minded as George Müller says volumes about this man.

In a similar way, history speaks little about George Müller’s wife. This amazing woman entered into marriage agreeing to a life of voluntary poverty, desiring to “help” her husband live out God’s plan for him. Here are Müller’s words about her at her funeral:
“She was God’s own gift, exquisitely suited to me even in natural temperament. Thousands of times I said to her, ‘My darling, God Himself singled you out for me, as the most suitable wife I could possibly wish to have had’.
14. His view of the Lord’s coming.
He thanked God for unveiling to him that great truth, considered by him as second to no other in its influence upon his piety and usefulness; and in the light of it he saw clearly the purpose of this gospel age, to be not to convert the world but to call out from it a believing church as Christ’s bride.
The eschatological focus of Müller helps explain his commitment to voluntary poverty and his unusual walk with God. Being convinced that the world is fleeting, he simply was committed to the proclamation of the gospel and living under the Lordship of Christ. For Müller, why spend time hoarding money when you can’t take it to Heaven (Matt. 16:26)? Furthermore, money and resources are the Lord’s, not yours (Psa. 24:1). As the popular maxim goes, “The issue is not how much you give to God, instead, the issue it is how much you keep for yourselves”.

15. His waiting on God for a message.
For every new occasion he asked of Him a word in season; then a mode of treatment, and unction in delivery; and, in godly simplicity and sincerity, with the demonstration of the Spirit, he aimed to reach the hearers.
Sounds mystical, doesn’t it? Müller wasn’t. But he did believe God answered prayer. He knew God’s word so intimately that as the Holy Spirit brought the truths of scripture to life, Müller simply acted in faith. How did he end up ministering to orphans? Initially, it was a simple heart for the fatherless provoked by the reading of a biography of A.H. Franke, who opened an Orphan house, a hundred years previous. Then the moving of the Spirit, through the study of God’s word, brought key verses to Müller.

Psalm 68:5 A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.

Isaiah 27:3 I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.

Psalm 81:10b "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”

These verses, used by the Holy Spirit, empowered Müller to take God at His Word. Again, nothing mystical. Just a man of God listening and applying the Word of God.

16. His submission to the authority of the Word.
In the light of the holy oracles he reviewed all customs, however ancient, and all traditions of men, however popular, submitted all opinions and practices to the test of Scripture, and then, regardless of consequences, walked according to any new light God gave him.
17. His pattern of church life.
From his first entrance upon pastoral work, he sought to lead others only by himself following the Shepherd and Bishop of Souls. He urged the assembly of believers to conform in all things to New Testament models so far as they could be clearly found in the Lord, and thus reform all existing abuses.
To be clear, Müller viewed the era of the early church as descriptive in principle, not prescriptive. Furthermore, he desired in every way to be simple, pure, exalted, excellent, patient, Biblical and controlled in how he led his sheep throughout the week and specifically on the Lord’s Day.

18. His stress upon voluntary offerings.
While he courageously gave up all fixed salary for himself, he taught that all the work of God should be maintained by the free-will gifts of believers, and that pew-rents promote invidious distinctions among saints.
Again, this shows the balance of George Müller. God laid this (i.e. voluntary poverty, no fixed salary) on his heart, but he never pushed this on any other minister of the gospel. It was simply George Müller and God walking through life together…..on God’s terms, not his own. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

George Müller —A man who grew up in the faith fast, but not all at once (Part Two)


One of my favorite sections of the biography is when Pierson presents a list of 24 important steps, steps that he believes were essential in the spiritual formation of George Müller. Here are steps 7-12: 

7. His cutting loose from man.
Step by step, all dependence on men or appeals to man for support were abandoned, together with all borrowing, running into debt, stated salary, etc. His eyes were turned to God alone as the Provider.
Early on in his Christian journey, Müller committed himself (and his wife) to voluntary poverty and then to the rejection of a fixed salary. Is this approach a prescription for the Christian life? No, it is not. Yet this does not mean we should disregard the reason that drove Müller to this commitment, a desire to trust God and to show others that God is the Great Provider. Furthermore, how often does “the law of sin” convince us that this approach is irrational, irresponsible and foolish….but really we simply want to stay comfortable. We like the security of the bi-weekly check. We put on the scales verses like Proverbs 6:6- 8 and quickly conclude that this verse trumps many other verses.

Proverbs 6:6-8 Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, 8 Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest.

But what about faith and trust? Please I am not advocating anyone to quit their job and wait at home for God to show up with a check. But I am saying that we ought to be suspicious of our heart and its propensity to love self and to love money (I Tim. 6:10-11). In other words, Müller showed Christians that material security often hinders genuine trust in God.

8. His satisfaction in the Word.
As knowledge of the Scriptures grew, love for the divine oracles increased, until all other books, even of a religious sort, lost their charms in comparison, with God’s own text-book, as explained and illumined by the Divine Interpreter.
It is good to remember that there is a difference between knowledge of the Word and satisfaction in the Word. Now that I think about….I guess there shouldn’t be a difference. True knowledge, according to scripture, always excites the heart (Jam. 1:22; Phil 1:9-10).

9. His thorough Bible study.
Few young men have ever been led to such a systematic search into the treasures of God’s truth. He read the Book of God through and through, fixing its teachings on his mind by meditation and translation them into practice.
In other words, young men are lazy and are not given to diligence (Deut. 6:17). Müller’s life of holiness began during his early mornings with the Lord. This provides a simple reminder that God’s way is always the best way, even if the “fruit” is not seen immediately.  

10. His freedom from human control
He felt the need of independence of man in order to complete dependence on God, and boldly broke all fetters that hindered his liberty in preaching, in teaching, or in following the heavenly Guide and the serving the heavenly Master.
Admittedly, I have struggled with the extent of Müller’s independence. Where does human accountability come in? I understand that ultimately Müller will answer to God for what he did in this life, but scripture tells us in many places to seek and listen to human counsel (Prov. 27:9).

Yet, in Müller’s defense, he was a man “of the Book”. His principles, which guided his life and ministry, were based in the character of God and the clear teachings of the scriptures. Furthermore, there is no documentation that Müller ever tried to apply his principles to other Christians or even other para-church organizations.

So what do we conclude? Müller listened to the Holy Spirit and bathed himself in the word of God and prayer. Let’s do an experiment….you and I live this out in our Christian lives. I am willing to let the “chips fall as they may”………are you?

11. His use of opportunity
He felt the value of souls, and he formed habits of approaching others as to matters of salvation, even in public conveyances. By a word of witness, a tract, a humble example, he sought constantly to lead someone to Christ.
12. His release from civil obligations
This was purely providential. In a strange way God set him free from all liability to military service, and left him free to pursue his heavenly calling as His soldier, without entanglement in the affairs of this life.
All I would glean from this step is the wonderful reminder of the providence of God. Sadly, though, few Christians enjoy seeing His providence, usually because they rarely trust in His sovereignty.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

George Müller —A man who grew in the faith fast, but not all at once

In my opinion, the best biography written on George Müller is George Müller of Bristol, written by A.T. Pierson. One of my favorite sections of the biography is when Pierson presents a list of 24 important steps, steps that he believes were essential in the spiritual formation of George Müller. Here are the first six:

1. First of all, his conversion.

In the most unfortunate manner and at the most unexpected time God led him to turn from the error of his way, and brought him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

2. Next, his missionary spirit.

That consuming flame was kindled within him, which when it is fanned by the Spirit and fed by the fuel of facts, inclines to unselfish service and makes one willing to go wherever, and to do whatever the Lord wills.

I would also add that Müller’s missionary spirit was not a global missionary spirit. Many Christians have the wrong idea of missions, which in turn, limits their usefulness in their present context or simply feeds their nominalism and love of self. Müller understood that his life was Christ’s and his mission was to “make disciples of all men” (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). No matter where he was. No matter what God placed in his path.

3. Next, his renunciation of self.

In more than one instance he was enabled to give up for Christ’s sake an earthly attachment that was idolatrous, because it was a hindrance to his full obedience and single-eyed loyalty to his heavenly Master.

Though I wrote on this in a previous blog entry http://cpletter.blogspot.com/2011/11/george-muller-man-whose-conversion-to.html , the renunciation of self is vital for Christian growth. This is not some monastic endeavor, rather it is the mark of true discipleship (Mark 8:34). Jesus Christ walked in perfection during His earthly ministry, submitted and humbling Himself to the Father. One of last acts, the washing of His disciple’s feet, exemplified the “denial of self” as the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe stripped off His outer garments to love and serve others (John 13:1-14; Phil 2:5-8).

4. The approach of taking counsel from God.

Early in his Christian life he formed the habit, in things great and small, of ascertaining the will of the Lord before taking action, asking guidance in every matter, through the Word and the Spirit.

This approach, more than anything, reinforces the purpose of prayer, which is bending our will to God’s will. As John Stott stated:
“Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his.” 
This quote has always been a helpful reminder to me.

5. His humble and childlike temper.

The Father drew His child to Himself, imparting to him the simple mind that asks believingly and trusts confidently, and the filial spirit that submits to fatherly counsel and guidance.
The irony is that the spiritual life emphasizes childlikeness, where the physical life emphasizes adulthood. It has been said that George Müller was more “like a child” in his 90’s then he was in his 20’s. May that be said of you and I.

6. His method of preaching.

Under this same divine tuition be early learned how to preach the Word, in simple dependence on the Spirit of God, studying the Scriptures in the original and expounding them without wisdom of words.

How do you “encourage” or “counsel” others? It is your wisdom…or God’s. Do you know enough about God and His word to give them His truth? People need truth. People are also more compelled by truth when they see it lived out.

Müller will never be mistaken as the “prince of preachers” like Charles Spurgeon, but listen to the words of Spurgeon (regarding the preaching of Müller):
“With no flash of oratory, or brilliance of poetry, or breadth of thought, or originality of mind, George Muller is enabled to be one of the most useful of living preachers by his simply testifying to facts by which he has for himself proved the love and truth of God. His preaching is the gospel and nothing else. Of flowers of speech he has none, and we hardly think he cares for them; but of the bread of heaven he has abundance. With speculations he does not intermeddle, but the eternal verities he handles with practical, homely, realizing faith.”
To those who read this, let us covenant to strive to have “the bread of heaven with abundance”.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

George Müller —A man who argued with God

Every Christian should sit at the feet of George Müller. His discipline and his faith are worthy of study, but most of us need to learn how Müller pleaded with God. The excerpt below gives us a snapshot into his prayer life:
“This method of holy argument—ordering our cause before God, as an advocate would plead before a judge—is not only almost a lost art, but to many it actually seems almost puerile (this means infantile or childish…I didn’t know what it meant). And yet it is abundantly taught and exemplified in Scripture. Abraham in his plea for Sodom is the first great example of it. Moses excelled in this art, in many crises interceding in behalf of the people with consummate skill, marshalling arguments as a general-in-chief marshals battalions. Elijah on Carmel is a striking example of power in this special pleading. What holy zeal and jealousy for God! It is probable that if we had fuller records we should find that all pleaders with God, like Noah, Job, Samuel, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul, and James have used the same method.” (p. 148-149)
When did Müller do this “arguing”? Mostly, pleading for the provision of the orphans. Müller was convinced that God is the ‘Father of the fatherless’ (Psalms 68:5) and therefore, He will fulfill His promise to provide. Furthermore, what made Müller so unique was the abiding principle of his ministry that he never (publicly) made known the needs of the orphans or the financial needs of the Orphanages. No matter how many orphans God entrusted him with, no matter how many staff he employed, no matter how many institutions were built, Müller never revealed their needs but only to his Heavenly Father. This is not to say that Müller was never tested. His biographer writes:
“At a time of great financial distress in the work, a letter reached him from a brother who had often before given money, he wrote:
‘Have you any present need for the Institution under your care? I know you do not ask; except indeed of Him whose work you are doing; but to answer when asked seems another thing, and a right thing. I have a reason for desiring to know the present state of your means towards the objects you are laboring to serve. Kindly then inform me, and to what amount (i.e. what amount you need at this present time).” (p. 167)
To most men, even those who carry on a work of faith, such a letter would have at least been a temptation (there was only 27 pennies left to meet the needs of hundreds of orphans at that time), but Mr. Müller did not waver. Here is Müller’s response by letter:   
‘I thank you for your love, and while I agree with you that, in general, there is a difference between asking for money and answering when asked, nevertheless, in our case, I feel not at liberty to speak about the state of our funds, as the primary object of the work in my hands is to lead those who are weak in faith to see that there is reality in dealing with God alone.’” (p. 167)
By the way, that brother sent 100 pounds, which came when not one penny was in hand.
At this point, some readers will cry out or at least think thoughts like, “Müller is foolish! Irresponsible! This is lunacy!” Is it? Is it lunacy to believe God’s word and wait confidently for His answer? Furthermore, it is appropriate to “argue with God”? If so, how?
Here are a few things to consider:
To employ a “holy argument” assumes you are holy.
To be clear, I am not referring to our positional sanctification before God, which is accomplished at the moment of regeneration. Rather, I am referring to the journey of progressive sanctification, specifically, a Christian who is NOT involved in consistent sin and therefore is holy enough to discern God’s will in their life (Romans 12:1-2). In other words, this is a mature Christian whose mind has been renewed to the degree that they know the promises of God and are appropriately “suspicious” of their heart.
In the case of George Müller, he knew what God said about the Fatherless (Psa. 68:5) and believed  his motives were pure in wanting others to see and experience the God who promises to hear and deliver those who are in need (Psa. 69:33). By trusting in God alone, Müller believed this would glorify His name before the unbelieving world (in the most extensive way), which is God’s primary objective, to bring glory to His name.
Isaiah 48:11 "For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
Therefore, in the purity of his heart, Müller lived out a lifetime experiment. He purposefully stripped away all human safety nets so he and others could watch the God of the Universe provide for their every need.
Yet the irony is this is why most Christians cannot reconcile the faith of George Müller with their own. To them, a life waiting on God is a life wasted. To them, engaging daily with the God of the Universe is not as satisfying as elevating themselves as “the God of their own Universe”. To them, the visible is always safer than grasping for the Invisible. Sadly, this is why the George Müller’s are rare and the Doubting Thomas’ are “a dime a dozen”.
Müller was not Superman, but he was supernaturally driven.
Some are tempted to put Müller on a pedestal or ascribe to him a gift of faith, a gift that “common” Christians cannot attain. Yet Müller was just a man, like you and me. What made him different? The words below are the key:
“In fact he felt himself rather more often wicked by nature, and utterly helpless even as a believer: was it not this poverty of spirit and mourning over sin, this consciousness of entire unworthiness and dependence, that drove him to the throne of grace and to the all-merciful and all-powerful God?”
Are we driven to the throne of grace daily, hourly….moment by moment? Müller was. He prayed over the big things, but more often he prayed over the little things. The result: A man who walked with God. A man that walked close enough to God to believe his principles were blessed by God. A man who lived without human “safety nets”….really, he lived without even a pole to balance himself.
Müller was raised up for this purpose.
Though I believe George Müller was no different than you and I, this does not mean you and I could imitate what he did for God. Müller was uniquely crafted and molded for this assignment. It is absurd to think that I could ever have an open air preaching ministry like George Whitefield or an evangelistic ministry like D.L. Moody or the theological precision and influence of J.I. Packer. But I can be me. I can be ready to respond to the calling and mission that God has for me in the life. Müller began his Christian journey wanting to be a missionary, then a preacher, but never an earthly ‘father to the fatherless’. Yet this is his legacy. His journal (documenting God’s dealing and answers to prayer) is the stuff of legends.
Is the purpose of this blog post to encourage “holy arguments” with God? Not really, I guess. The purpose is for Christians, whether young or old, immature or mature, to pull away the human “safety nets” of visibility and trust the invisible God.

Friday, November 4, 2011

George Müller —A man who ministered with someone more effective (humanly speaking) and more popular.

I will get right to it. Müller was the #2 pastor in his church. Was it stretching for him? Look and see:
“Mr. Müller found opportunity for the exercise of humility, for he saw that by many his brother’s gifts were much preferred to his own; yet as Mr. Craik would come to Bristol only with him as a yokefellow, God’s grace enabled him to accept the humiliation of being the less popular, and comforted him with the thought that two are better than one, and that each might possibly fill up some lack in the other, and thus both together prove a greater benefit and blessing alike to sinners and to saints—as the result showed. That same grace of God helped Mr. Müller to rise higher—nay, let us rather say, to sink lower and “in honor preferring one another,” to rejoice rather than to be envious; and like John the Baptist, to say within himself: “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above.” (p. 98)
The reader might be tempted to think, “That is not hard. I would be humble enough to deal with it, at least for a while.” Maybe you could. Most pastors could not. How long did George Müller minister as the “second fiddle”? Until the death of Mr. Craik, an astounding 34 years. Could you imagine every week listening to your sheep, raving about someone else? Fighting thoughts of insecurity, especially knowing that the people preferred Mr. Craik’s preaching to his own. Müller’s biographer reveals his inner struggle:
“Mr. Müller’s unfeigned humility, and the docility (i.e. submissiveness) that always accompanies that unconscious grace, found new exercise when the meetings with inquirers revealed the fact that his colleague’s preaching was much more used of God that his own, in conviction and conversion.” (p. 99)
I am a pastor. This would be brutal. To preach “my guts out” and then to hear this response….."Hey, when is the other pastor going to preach again?” would be at best “humbling” and at worst “depressing”. Yet read the classic response of Müller:
“This discovery led to much self-searching (obviously!!), and he concluded that three reasons lay back of this fact: first, Mr. Craik was more spirirtually-minded than himself; second, he was more earnest in prayer for converting power; and third, he oftener spoke directly to the unsaved, in his public ministrations.” (p. 100)
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at that response, but I do know my response probably wouldn’t look like that (at least not immediately).

So what can we learn?

Müller was thankful for his co-laborer.

No seeds of bitterness. No moments of “slanderous whispering”. No politicking. Müller seemed to genuinely enjoy the response given to his co-laborer. To his credit, this is the obvious “fruit” of a follower of Christ. For Müller, this was a simple application of I Cor. 13:4-6.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

If he loved Mr. Craik, why be envious of his reception? If he loved Mr. Craik, why would he demand to preach every week, if Mr. Craik was more gifted? If he loved Mr. Craik, why he becomes resentful knowing that he is obviously “blessed by God” and living squarely in His will? Yet most of us in our daily lives disregard or twist these commands of God.

How often are we envious or resentful of a co-worker who seems to advance up the corporate ladder, especially when we work harder and with more integrity (at least in our opinion)? Or how often do the seeds of bitterness begin to sprout when one spouse “does not get their way”? Or when a spouse seems to be growing more in the Lord and others are affirming it, but you find yourself NOT “rejoicing with the truth”. This is why we need God’s sanctifying grace, a grace that He generously bestows (James 4:6).

Müller looked at himself.

Please understand that self-introspective can be harmful. Robert Murray McCheyne said it well, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” Yet I believe Müller was balanced. He took an honest assessment of himself, sought to be teachable and humbly “stayed the course”.

How quick do we look at ourselves? If you were Müller, would you have the same response or would you start making excuses (like these)?

“These people don’t get good preaching.”
“Mr. Craik is just more of an “ear-tickler” than I am.”
“Maybe I should go and pastor another church.”

Tempting, isn’t it? Our daily lives give us plenty of moments to be humble, even INVITE constructive criticism. Yet many of us choose a different path. We blame our parents. We blame our situation. We blame our co-workers. We blame our past. Scripture tells us to “think different”. The verse below says it all:

Philippians 3:13-14 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Sadly, this "thinking" is foreign, especially with those who struggle with depression. These individuals are usually self-consumed, rather than consumed by Christ and the glories of eternal life.
In other words, if the goal is to protect our reputation or seek the “applause of men”, then YOU ARE PRESSING TOWARDS THE WRONG PRIZE. 

Müller acknowledged God’s sovereign hand.

This admission cut multiple ways in the spiritual development of George Müller. First, it brought comfort since he knew that “a man can receive nothing except it be given him from above” (James 1:17). Therefore, how can Müller be resentful at Mr. Craik since it is God who gave him these gifts? Furthermore, if God gave Mr. Craik these gifts and He states that His word will not return empty (Isa. 55:11), how could God not fulfill His promise, specifically through the mouthpiece of his co-laborer.

Second, the sovereignty of God is not just seen in the elevation of His servants, it is also shown through the humbling of His servants. Apparently, God in His goodness, planned that the “redwood growth” observed by others would come through the daily exercise of “living in the shadow of Mr. Craik”. Whether Müller perceived it fully or not, this “exercise” helped force him to his knees and fuse the daily habit of persistent prayer, a discipline that brought (by Müller's estimation) 50,000+ specific answers over a 60 year span.

It is amazing to me how many Christians cherish the sovereignty of God in the “major” moments, but miss the blessings during the “minor” moments. God loves us and puts events in our lives to break us, to mold us, to humble us, to remind us that He is the Potter and we are the clay (Jer. 18:6).

I am striving to trust God enough to grow me in His time, through His methods, to His glory (James 1:2-4)