Vance's parents, George and Phyllis Christie, 60th wedding anniversary.

Vance’s parents, George and Phyllis Christie, 60th wedding anniversary.

I had the unspeakable blessing of being raised by committed Christian parents. Dad and Mom knew Christ Jesus as their personal Savior and were devoted to serving Him and His people. They loved God’s Word and sought to live faithfully by it. They were careful to lead their children to the Savior, to teach us the way of the Lord and to encourage us to obey and serve Him.

If ever I find myself taking my Christian heritage for granted, all I have to do is look back one generation to be reminded how blessed I truly am. Both my parents are first-generation Christians. If God’s saving and sanctifying grace had not intersected their lives, I would have had a very different upbringing in a non-Christian home.

While my mom was growing up her parents were good moral people but not churchgoers. (They professed faith in Christ later in life.)  As a young girl my mom attended a summer Bible school at a small Brethren church in the village of Ozark in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As the church had no regular pastor at the time, a Presbyterian minister and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. Morrison, came from lower Michigan to conduct the children’s Bible school. They clearly presented the Gospel and invited the children to trust in Jesus as their Savior. At nine years of age my mom responded to that invitation and committed her life to Christ.

I don’t know if that faithful pastoral couple even knew of Mom’s commitment that day. But likely by now in heaven they’ve learned of the spiritual fruit their Gospel witness bore not only in my mom’s life but also in the lives of her children and grandchildren.

A number of years after Mom came to faith in Jesus she met and married my dad. After Dad’s stint in the Army, they moved to East Lansing so he could finish his college education at Michigan State University. They had two young children at the time, and Mom was eager for them to receive some Bible training. So at her encouragement (and through God’s gracious providential guidance), they started attending a Grace Brethren church in nearby Lansing.

Like Mom, my dad had been raised by good moral parents who did not attend church or profess personal faith in Jesus. Dad grew up believing that the way to get to heaven is by living a good life. But Rev. Dick Sellers, the pastor of the church Dad began attending in Lansing, taught that eternal life is God’s gift through faith in Christ rather than something we earn by our own good works.

“That preacher is wrong,” Dad thought to himself, “and I’m going to prove it to him!” He went home and started reading through the New Testament, searching for all the verses that show we get to heaven by our good deeds. But what he discovered was that he was mistaken and the preacher had it right. Convinced by Scripture, Dad placed his trust in Jesus as his Savior.

About a year later Dad sensed the Lord leading him to prepare for vocational Christian ministry and went to seminary. While he and Mom were there I was born. During Dad’s first pastoral ministry several years later I was reborn when he shared with me the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ and led me to the Savior.

As I’ve gone through my adult years my appreciation has grown for the rich spiritual heritage the Lord has blessed me with – first in bringing salvation to our family beginning with my parents, then in the abundant spiritual blessings and advantages that I and my siblings were raised with as a result.

Some of you readers, like my parents, are first-generation believers. Doubtless you are well aware of God’s goodness in bringing salvation to you though you did not have the advantage of a Christian upbringing. May the Lord mightily use you to pass on a godly heritage that will continue as a tremendous blessing to your family for generations to come.

Others of you, like myself and my children, are second- or third-generation Christians. Still others of you come from a strong Christian heritage that stretches back several generations. May all of us who have received such a blessed heritage not take it for granted. Instead may we regularly and heartily thank God for such a rich blessing and earnestly seek to do what we can to pass on that same blessing to the future generations of our family.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch And StirLast year I had the privilege of teaching a ten-lesson course at the church I pastor on the topic of “Revival – Past and Present.” As the primary resource for the class (other than the Bible) we used Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s book A God-Sized Vision, Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan, 2010).  I highly recommend the book and encourage you to read it for the following reasons:

1. The authors are well qualified to write on the topic of revival. John Woodbridge is the esteemed research professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, having taught there for over forty years. Collin Hansen is the capable editorial director for the Gospel Coalition.  Both of them have published best-selling books and numerous articles in various journals and magazines. They’ve obviously done their homework for writing this book. Each chapter includes a list of endnotes, referencing several published works that can be consulted for further study on that chapter’s subject.

2. Hansen and Woodbridge handle the complex and sometimes controversial topic of revival with balance and grace. While acknowledging that some of what has been called revival doubtless was not, they nevertheless believe that revival is a legitimate, biblical phenomenon that has occurred repeatedly in Church History and that Christians today do well to prepare for and seek. The authors are of the persuasion that bona fide revival is something that God graciously brings about rather than something that people work up on their own. But unlike some books on revival, Woodbridge and Hansen are gracious in how they speak of and represent proponents of the opposite view from their own.

3. The first chapter of this work does an excellent job of laying out a biblical foundation of revival, introducing the two main camps of thought on revival (sovereignly brought about by God or initiated by man), and defining what true revival actually is. Genuine revival is shown to have its roots in Bible times, not just in subsequent Church History.

4. Chapters 2-8 of the book describe a number of major revivals that have taken place in various parts of the world during the past three centuries:

  • The First and Second Great Awakenings in North America (1730s-1740s and 1790s- 1840s).
  • The Prayer Meeting Revival in the United States, Northern Ireland and South Africa (1857-1860).
  • The Global Awakening in Wales, India, Korea and North America (1900s).
  • Revivals in China and Manchuria (1900s-1930s).
  • The East Africa Revival (1920s-1970s).
  • North America’s Evangelical Boom (1940s-1950s).

I was delighted to learn much more through this book about how God has worked in mighty reviving power not only at different times in my native country but also in other parts of the world.

5. This volume presents these revivals in an engaging and manageable fashion. The book provides a popular-level overview rather than a detailed scholarly analysis of these periods of significant spiritual awakening. Each chapter moves along at a brisk pace, with plenty of fascinating personal narratives (involving various key players in the revivals) and helpful statistical summaries to keep the reading interesting.

6. The book’s Conclusion suggests several practical ways we contemporary Christians can prepare for and seek a God-wrought revival in our own day. Doing so will strengthen our current “routine” service for the Lord even as we look for an exceptional stirring of His Spirit among us.

7. Many modern Christians know very little about the mighty revivals that God has brought at various times and places in the past. This volume is a handy way to gain an overview of those extraordinary spiritual awakenings and to be encouraged by them.

8. Some may be tempted to think that revival cannot take place today because conditions in society and the Church have reached such a low moral and spiritual ebb.  This book reminds us that’s precisely when revival has often come in the past – when conditions had become excessively dark and discouraging. Such desperate circumstances motivated God’s people to cry out to Him for a gracious, mighty moving of His Spirit that would address and correct the overwhelming difficulties being faced.

I think you’ll receive, as I have, significant spiritual encouragement and benefit from reading A God-Sized Vision, Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.

About the Authors:

Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is editorial director for the Gospel Coalition. Formerly an associate editor for Christianity Today, he is the author of Young, Restless, Reformed and co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision. He has written for Books and Culture, Tabletalk, Leadership, and Christian History and Biography. He has appeared as a commentator on Fox News, and his work has been featured in Time magazine.

Follow Collin’s blog at The Gospel Coalition.

John Woodbridge

John Woodbridge

John Woodbridge (PhD, University of Toulouse, France) is research professor of Church History and History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he has taught since 1970. He was previously a senior editor of Christianity Today and is the author of Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal and coauthor of Letters Along the Way. He is the editor of Great Leaders of the Christian Church and coeditor of works including The Mark of Jesus. Woodbridge is the recipient of four Gold Medallion Awards.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Little boy prayingWhen Emily Chubbuck married and sailed from the United States to Burma as Mrs. Adoniram Judson in 1846, she immediately assumed the care of Judson’s two young sons by his previous wife, Sarah. (Sarah, like Judson’s first wife, Ann, died of illness after years of faithful missionary service in Burma.) Emily mothered her two young stepsons, Henry and Edward, as affectionately and attentively as though they were her own children.

One night around the time of Edward’s third birthday, Emily heard him call out from a little room where he slept by himself that he was “afraid.” At first she was unable to comfort and reassure him.

Emily had not taught the children to repeat memorized prayers. But she was in the habit of helping the youngsters determine what it was they needed, then having them repeat a prayer after her that addressed their need. So on this occasion she prayed with Edward, kissed him goodnight and left him apparently satisfied.

Here’s her own touching description of what happened next: “Pretty soon, however, I heard him call out, as though in great distress, ‘O, Dod!’ The poor little fellow had not sufficient acquaintance with language to know what to say next. But this up-lifting of the heart evidently relieved him, for in a few minutes after he again called out, ‘O, Dod!’ but in a tone much softened. I stepped to the door but hesitated about entering. In a few minutes he again repeated, ‘O, Dod!’ but in a tone so confiding that I thought I had better go back to my room, and leave him with his Great Protector.”

After hearing nothing further from Edward for some time, Emily at last went and found him on his knees fast asleep. “He never fails now to remind me of asking ‘Dod to tate tare of him,’ if I neglect it,” Emily afterward reported. “And I have never heard him say a word since of being afraid.”

1 Peter 5:7 encourages Christians: “Cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because He cares for you.” Romans 8:26-27 further reveals, even more amazingly, that when we don’t know exactly how to pray concerning matters that are troubling or perplexing us, God’s Spirit intercedes for us with deepest earnestness and complete effectiveness: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

If we’re anxious, fearful, distressed, perplexed or in some other way burdened presently, let’s take our concerns to our loving heavenly Father in prayer with a spirit of childlike dependence and trust. Even if we’re not sure exactly how or what to pray, God’s Spirit will fervently intercede in our behalf, God will see our situation and what’s in our hearts, and He will compassionately come to our aid.

Have you heard of, witnessed or personally experienced an occasion when a child of God faced a situation that was so distressing or confusing that words failed when they tried to pray about it? How did the Lord respond to their unverbalized prayer? I would enjoy hearing about it.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson

Galatians 6:9 encourages us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest of righteousness if we do not give up.” Adoniram Judson’s thirty-seven-year ministry in Burma (from 1813 to 1850) serves as an excellent example of that scriptural principle.

Judson’s opening years in Burma can only be described as slow sledding. His first three years were spent learning the Burmese language by studying it twelve hours per day. He then wrote a seven-page tract to introduce Christianity to the Burmans and translated Matthew’s Gospel into Burmese. Public worship services were begun and were attended by about thirty people. After nearly six years in Burma, the first Burman came to saving faith in Christ. That was it for the first six years – he learned the language, wrote one short tract, translated one book of Scripture into Burmese, started worship services with a relatively small number of attendees and led one Burman to the Savior.

After Judson had been in Burma ten years, he completed an initial translation of the entire New Testament into Burmese, although it still needed revising before it was ready to print and distribute. By that time there were eighteen known Burmese Christians but all but three or four of those had been scattered by persecution.

Then came a war between Burma and Britain. Though he was an American, Judson, like all foreigners in Burma at the time, was suspected as being a spy for the British. Consequently, he was incarcerated in a pair of brutal Burmese death prisons for a year and a half. He survived those only by God’s preserving mercy. Judson then spent the better part of a year serving as a translator in the treaty negotiations that needed to be carried out at the war’s conclusion.

After the war, two coastal provinces of Burma came under British control, and religious toleration was exercised in that pair of provinces. The rest of Burma remained under the control of the Burmese government, and Christianity was still not tolerated in that vast portion of the country. At last, after thirteen and a half years of achingly-slow ministry progress, Judson and the few Burmese Christians had a secure place where they could practice their beliefs and serve the Lord unmolested.

As a result of this religious freedom and the foundational ministry work that had already been done, the final twenty-four years of Judson’s ministry were marked by considerable spiritual fruit. Virtually every day he was involved in evangelizing and edifying indigenous people. Assisted by a number of native associates, he carried out several evangelistic and church-planting itinerations in a few different parts of Burma, including areas officially closed to Christianity.

Judson translated the Old Testament into Burmese, then revised his Burmese translation of the entire Bible. He wrote several other Gospel tracts and church manuals to assist in winning Burmans and building up Burmese congregations. This literature was translated into a few different languages that were used in Burma. Literally millions of pieces of Christian literature were distributed throughout the country. In the closing years of his life Judson produced a 600-page Burmese-English dictionary to assist missionaries for generations to come in learning and using the language.

By the time of Judson’s death, scores of churches had been established in Burma. As many as 6,000 indigenous people, representing a variety of ethnic groups, had become Christians. More than thirty missionaries were serving in several different locations.

More often than not in our individual or collective ministries, there’s an initial foundation-laying stage when progress is slow and results are modest. Even after a ministry is up and going there are inevitable plateau periods in which it seems little progress is being made. It’s easy during such phases to get impatient, discouraged and to be tempted to give up.

But as we carry on faithfully and diligently in ministry, month after month and year after year, God has a way of blessing that type of service. Over time He allows our ministry to grow, to bear much spiritual fruit and to accomplish great good. So let’s be encouraged to keep on keeping on in our ministry efforts for the Lord, even if we’re in a slow, discouraging season presently.

I would enjoy hearing instances you’ve seen or heard of where long-term faithfulness in Christian service led to significant spiritual fruitfulness.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Trusting God In Tough Times

Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) endured numerous hardships in his thirty-eight years of pioneer missionary work in Burma. He experienced: permanent separation from family and friends in the homeland; protracted periods of isolation and loneliness; spartan living conditions; challenging ministry circumstances in a pagan religious culture that opposed Christianity and persecuted Christians; recurring, debilitating illness from foreign disease; the deaths from illness of two wives (at ages 36 and 41), six young children and several missionary colleagues in their 20s and 30s; the strain of living under a government that was despotic, corrupt, capricious and sadistic; extended imprisonment in a pair of Burmese death prisons where he endured horrific, brutal conditions.

Judson readily acknowledged the difficulty and heartache of undergoing such trials. But at the same time he ever trusted the Lord and sought to willingly submit himself to the divine will even in the midst of marked hardships. In facing trials, Judson did not assail God’s character, question His wisdom or doubt His love. Instead, he clung to the fact that God is totally righteous, all wise and ever loving as the bedrock truths upon which he could firmly stand in enduring hardships.

Following the death of his second wife, Sarah, a house fire that destroyed many of his family’s possessions, and a long delay in a vital translation project, Judson wrote to a fellow missionary who had suffered similarly: “I have recommenced the work of the dictionary, which has been suspended nearly two years. Why has this grievous interruption been permitted, and all this precious time lost? And why are our houses and property allowed to be burned up? And why are those most dear to us, and most qualified to be useful in the [missionary] cause, torn from our arms, and dashed into the grave, and all their knowledge and qualification with them? Because infinite wisdom and love will have it so. Because it is best for us, and best for them, and best for the cause, and best for the interests of eternity, that it should be so. And blessed be God, we know it, and are thankful, and rejoice, and say, Glory be to God.”

Near the end of his ministry, missionary support from America suddenly faltered, forcing Judson to abandon plans to return to the capitol of Burma where he hoped to further advance the Gospel. Instead, he needed to retreat to a mission station where a number of other missionaries were already serving. At first Judson felt forsaken by supporters in the homeland and was deeply disappointed at these developments.

But his third wife, Emily, reported: “He very soon began to devise apologies for everybody, and said we must remember that so far as we were concerned, or the missionary cause itself, God had done this thing, and done it, as he always does, for good. It was not his will that we should go to Ava then, and we had no right to complain of the means he made use of to prevent it. He insisted, too, that our obedience was not to be yielded grudgingly; that it must be a cheerful acquiescence in all that God had done, and a sincere, careful study of the indications of his providence afterwards, without any suspicion that our ways were hedged by any thing harder or thornier than his love and mercy.”

Emily further testified of Judson: “His trust in Providence was so implicit and habitual, that he was never gloomy, and seldom more than momentarily disheartened. On the other hand, being accustomed to regard all the events of this life, however minute or painful, as ordered in wisdom, and tending to one great and glorious end, he lived in almost constant obedience to the apostolic injunction, ‘Rejoice evermore!’”

Many modern Western Christians do not handle adversity well. They are surprised by it and quick to doubt or even accuse God when He allows them to experience hardship.

Instead, like Judson, we should fully expect trials and should seek to willingly embrace adversity and sacrifice in our living for and serving the Lord. By readily trusting in God’s character and submitting to His will, we will be helped through the inevitable trials of life, others will be benefited by our example and Christ will be glorified.

I would enjoy hearing how Judson or other stalwart Christians have encouraged you to trust the Lord, even in hard times.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

10 Significant Reasons to Read Adoniram Judson's Biography

I’m excited, delighted and grateful to God that my newest biography, Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life, is being released in the U.S. this month. Judson (1788-1850) was a pioneer missionary in Burma (modern Myanmar) for thirty-eight years. Here are several significant reasons it’s worthwhile to read an account of his life and ministry:

  1. Judson was reared in the home of a conservative Congregational minister. But as a precocious young man full of carnal pride and ambition, he rejected his parents’ Christian faith. The true story of how God used a stunning turn of events to graciously show Judson the error of his way and to draw him to Himself is both fascinating and instructive.
  2. Judson has the distinction of being the foremost member of the very first group of foreign missionaries ever sent out from the United States. So in reading his history we also learn the exciting story of the birth and rapid growth of the foreign missionary enterprise in the U.S.A.
  3. Judson became America’s first great foreign missionary hero. Accounts of the Judson family’s trials, triumphs and tragedies captured the hearts of Americans and British alike and became the most widely ready American missionary lore of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To this day their story remains one of the most inspiring and compelling sagas of the modern missionary movement.
  4. Judson is a premiere example of steadfast service to Christ, even in the face of numerous sacrifices and hardships. The trials he endured while carrying out nearly four decades of costly missionary service included: permanent separation from family and friends in the homeland; isolation and loneliness; spartan living conditions; challenging ministry circumstances in a pagan religious culture that resisted and opposed Christianity; recurring illness from foreign disease; the deaths of several family members and missionary colleagues; a brutal and protracted period of imprisonment. Judson’s example motivates us to remain faithful in our service of Christ, despite the challenges and hardships we encounter in doing so.
  5. Judson persevered through staggering trials with unshakable trust in God’s all-wise, ever-loving providential will. In spite of the ongoing challenges, Judson continually manifested undimmed faith in the power and ultimate conquest of God’s Word and the Christian Gospel. In doing so, he models for us some of the primary keys to carrying out steadfast Christian service despite attendant difficulties.
  6. Judson’s missionary career reminds us of the considerable spiritual fruit that can be borne through patient, persevering ministry effort. In Judson’s first six years of tough, slow pioneering work in Burma, only one Burman came to faith in Christ and Judson was able to translate only the Gospel of Matthew into the Burmese language. By the end of Judson’s life, there were 5,000-6,000 indigenous Christians and scores of churches in Burma. Judson had not only translated the entire Bible into Burmese but had also produced an extensive Burmese-English dictionary to assist other missionaries in their ministry endeavors.
  7. In his ministry, Judson was first and foremost a missionary and an evangelist. He was consumed with the desire and the necessity to carry the Gospel to those who had not yet had the opportunity to hear and receive it. His passion and example in that regard serve as a needed reminder of the importance and effort that contemporary Christians should continue to give to missions and evangelism.
  8. Judson was adept at leading indigenous people to Christ and in training and releasing them to carry out fruitful ministry themselves. He has much to teach modern missionaries about how to work skillfully with the native peoples they’re trying to reach, disciple and train.
  9. Judson was serious about and disciplined in his personal spiritual life. He worked hard at exercising spiritual disciplines, growing in personal holiness, developing a Christlike character, and interacting with others in a loving, godly fashion. He shows us that it’s important to give serious attention and effort to our personal spiritual development, character and habits. That is the necessary personal spiritual focus and conditioning out of which faithful, fruitful service of the Lord flows.
  10. My book, Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life, is the first new extensive biography published on Judson in fifty-seven years. I’m glad and grateful that Christian Focus Publications has agreed that the time had come for a fresh retelling of Judson’s worthy life story for the encouragement and benefit of the current generation of Christians.

I would enjoy hearing of your level of acquaintance with Adoniram Judson and what you’ve appreciated learning from his example.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

1920s College StudentsMost historic Christian biographies are written about outstanding servants of Christ whose ministries were marked by exceptional events, fruitfulness and significance. For every such prominent person, thousands of ordinary Christians serve the Lord faithfully and fruitfully but never have the story of their life and ministry recorded in a book … or even in a magazine article or a blog.

Recently I was reminded of one such ordinary individual. In fact, some originally thought of her as below average in terms of her Christian service capacity. It’s a privilege to share her story, both as a way of honoring the Lord for how He used one of His “lesser” servants and as a means of encouraging ourselves in our own service for Christ.

Malena Svalheim was born in Norway on April 6, 1899. Her family possessed modest wealth, and she was raised on a large farm. She also grew up with a strong interest in missions.

Malena and her brother inherited an estate from their grandmother. Malena used her part of the inheritance to go to America and to fund her education at a Scandinavian Bible institute in Minneapolis. There, due to her being a slow learner and having difficulty with the English language, she soon gravitated to the bottom of each class. Rather than dropping her as a student, her instructors encouraged her to attend classes taught in English merely as an auditor.

The April 29, 1925, issue of a Norwegian denominational paper contained a photograph of those at the Bible institute who were preparing for missionary service overseas. The article accompanying the picture detailed the future service plans of each student … except one. Though Malena was included in the picture and desired to go as a missionary to Africa, there was not a word in the article about her. The omission was not accidental. Not even the teacher who wrote the article thought she would ever reach the foreign field.

After failing to be accepted by a mission board as a candidate for Africa, Malena returned to Norway. A year or two later she received a sizeable estate from another relative. Employing that inheritance as her means of ongoing support, she went to Swaziland, South Africa, as a self-supporting missionary at twenty-nine years of age.

There at the Esinceni Mission Station she cooked and kept house for two other women missionaries, thus freeing them to devote more of their time to evangelism and teaching. Capitalizing on her farm upbringing, Malena superintended the work of the local school children in the fields and made sure the mission’s cows were well taken care of.

Malena also had a heart for evangelistic ministry. Like the other missionaries, she went out, sometimes for weeks at a time, to live with and minister to Africans in outlying villages.

Once after returning from a week of meetings at an out-station, Malena, at the urging of others, related some of her recent ministry opportunities. She told of sharing from God’s Word at a meeting at a school the previous Thursday. Immediately following her testimony, several individuals stood and declared, “I choose Jesus.” There was much weeping and confession of sin. Several Christians at the meeting also confessed their sins in a spirit of genuine repentance. “I couldn’t explain what happened,” Malena concluded, “except that the Spirit of God came over us. It certainly could not have been the result of something I said.”

When Malena died in 1958, after three decades of service in Africa, many fellow missionaries and Africans attended her funeral. Several spoke of her faithful service to Christ. “She gave us the Gospel,” one woman testified with tears.

Malena Svalheim serves as a reminder that Christians of ordinary or even seeming-lesser abilities and potential can be significantly used of the Lord if they remain faithful and active in serving Him. The story of our life and ministry will probably never be compiled in a book and may not even be mentioned in an article. That’s perfectly fine as we’re not to serve the Lord in order to be noticed or honored by others. Instead, we serve out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us and seek to honor only Him through our service. We count it a high privilege to be used of Him in advancing His kingdom work and helping others in His name.

I would enjoy hearing about ordinary or even unlikely-seeming individuals you know of whom the Lord has greatly used for His glory and the good of others.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

As part of his preparation for missionary service in China, Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) pursued a course of medical training in London. One of the patients he treated was an avowed atheist who was dying of gangrene. It was Taylor’s daily duty to dress the man’s infected foot.

The ailing individual was vehemently antagonistic toward anything religious. He had not entered a church since his wedding day forty years earlier. Recently when a local minister had visited him, the man spit in the pastor’s face and refused to allow him to speak.

Taylor was deeply concerned about this man’s eternal welfare but at first did not broach spiritual matters with him. Through Taylor’s physical care the patient’s suffering was eased somewhat, and he expressed appreciation to the young medical student.

Eventually Taylor worked up his courage and talked with the man about his grave condition and his need for the Savior and life eternal through Him. The man’s countenance instantly betrayed obvious annoyance. He rolled over in bed with his back toward Taylor and refused to say another word. Future efforts by the would-be evangelist to share a spiritually-beneficial word with his patient elicited similar responses.

Finally one day the earnest Christian could contain himself no longer. As he prepared to leave the dying man’s room, he paused at the doorway then suddenly burst into tears. Crossing to the patient’s bedside, he exclaimed, “My friend, whether you will hear or whether you will forbear, I must deliver my soul. How I wish you would allow me to pray with you.”

The man was completely taken aback and stammered, “W—Well, if it will be a relief to you, then do.” Immediately Taylor fell on his knees and poured out his soul to God in behalf of the individual.

Taylor later recorded: “Then and there, I believe, the Lord wrought a change in his soul. He was never afterwards unwilling to be spoken to and prayed with, and within a few days he definitely accepted Christ as his Savior. Oh, the joy it was to me to see that dear man rejoicing in hope of the glory of God!”

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

Years afterward Taylor reflected further on the incident: “I have often thought since, in connection with this case and the work of God generally, of the words, ‘He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him’ (Psalm 126:6). Perhaps if there were more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire. Sometimes it may be that while we are complaining of the hardness of the hearts of those we are seeking to benefit, the hardness of our own hearts and our own feeble apprehension of the solemn reality of eternal things may be the true cause of our want of success.”

Do we care about the temporal and eternal well-being of our acquaintances who don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? When was the last time we were burdened about, or even wept over, their plight without Him? Perhaps the first thing we need to do to rekindle our evangelistic fervor is to pray for ourselves to have a heart of genuine concern for those without the Savior.

This and many other true incidents (from the lives of various outstanding Christians) modeling how we can bear a fruitful witness for Christ are related in Timeless Stories, published by Christian Focus. An inspiring account of Taylor’s remarkable life and ministry is found in Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China, published by Presbyterian & Reformed (P&R).

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on how Christians can more effectively share the Good News of Jesus with those who need to hear it.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary Slessor with four of her many adopted African children.

Mary Slessor (1848-1915) was a Scottish Presbyterian who served for thirty-eight years as a missionary among the degraded, savage tribes of Calabar (modern southern Nigeria), West Africa. She pioneered in remote, rugged regions that other missionaries and even traders avoided as too dangerous. Mary spread the Gospel of Christ and planted churches and schools in several previously-unreached areas. She influenced a number of tribes to stop their warring and to lay aside their ghastly, pagan practices (such as: killing twins who were commonly thought to be the offspring of demons; forcing suspected wrongdoers to drink poison to prove their innocence; mass killing the wives and slaves of chiefs who died so they could accompany them in the afterlife). Mary adopted and raised several orphan children who otherwise would have been killed or left to perish on their own. She served as a government-appointed judge for Calabar’s large Okoyong region, to help individuals and groups settle their disputes justly.

For Mary, personal prayer and Bible study were absolute necessities, not optional luxuries. Throughout her years of active, sacrificial service, she was strengthened and sustained through constant prayer and the regular study of Scripture.

Of the former she once testified: “My life is one long daily, hourly, record of answered prayer. For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor service, I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I believe God answers prayer. I have proved during long decades while alone, as far as man’s help and presence are concerned, that God answers prayer. It is the very atmosphere in which I live and breathe and have my being, and it makes life glad and free and a million times worth living. … I am sitting alone here on a log among a company of natives. My children, whose very lives are a testimony that God answers prayer, are working round me. Food is scarce just now. We live from hand to mouth. We have not more than will be our breakfast today, but I know we shall be fed, for God answers prayer.”

She normally did her personal Bible reading first thing in the morning, as soon as there was enough daylight. Numerous times over the years she read carefully and patiently through the Bible. She would not move on to a new chapter until she was satisfied she had thoroughly considered the previous one; sometimes she spent three days in a single chapter before proceeding to the next. As she read she underlined key words and phrases. She packed the margins of nearly every page in her Bible with handwritten observations and applications from the text of Scripture: “God is never behind time”; “If you play with temptation do not expect God will deliver you”; “We must see and know Christ before we can teach”; “The smallest things are as absolutely necessary as the great things”; “Blessed the man or woman who is able to serve cheerfully in the second rank—a big test”.

The Gospel of John was her favorite Bible book. She also had a special interest in the opening books of Scripture because they depicted moral and social conditions similar to what she dealt with in Calabar. Notations such as “a chapter of Calabar history” or “this happens in Okoyong every day” were common in those books. Each time she read through God’s Word she did so using a different Bible. In this way she found that new thoughts came to her when, as the years passed, she returned repeatedly to previously-considered Scripture passages.

Sometimes we Christians who live and serve in more comfortable, less strenuous settings and circumstances fail to sense the need we have for ongoing, regular personal prayer and Bible study. We ignore Scripture’s many admonitions and encouraging examples to pray (Luke 5:16; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thes. 5:17) and study God’s Word (Josh. 1:8; Psa. 1:2; Acts 2:42; Eph. 6:17) regularly and diligently. We delude ourselves into thinking that we’re getting by alright without those routine disciplines. As a result, we rob ourselves of two primary sources of daily spiritual guidance, strength, encouragement and blessing that God has provided for us. In time we discover that we’re not getting along as well as we thought we were without them.

If we’ve become slack in those basic spiritual disciplines, let’s allow Mary Slessor’s example to motivate us to get back to practicing them regularly. You can learn much more about and from Mary Slessor in my book Women of Faith and Courage. And I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the benefits of regular prayer and Scripture study.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie