At church this Sunday, I'll be preaching on Paul's prayer for the Colossian Christians in Colossians 1:9-14. One of the remarkable requests Paul asks of God on behalf of these believers is that they would "be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy" (v. 11). The apostle Paul wanted to see these Christians stick it out to the very end and he asked God to strengthen them so it could happen. He knew that was God's will for them and wanted to spur them on. Over 1700 years later John Wesley did the same thing for a struggling William Wilberforce.
On February 24, 1791, six days before John Wesley died, the 88-year-old minister asked his helper to bring paper and quill to his bed.
For years Wesley had followed the attempts of William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament, to have slavery abolished in England. In 1774, Wesley had written Thoughts on Slavery, a book that had influenced Wilberforce to push for abolition. Sadly, all attempts had been unsuccessful.
Now, on his deathbed, Wesley heard that Wilberforce was about to give up the fight. The vested interests of slavery in Parliament were too powerful.
With faltering hand, Wesley wrote Wilberforce a powerful letter of encouragement.
“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God?
“O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
“Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a law in all our Colonies that the oath of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!
“That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, your affectionate servant. John Wesley.”
Wilberforce received the letter after Wesley died. He vowed to once again take up the fight. It took 16 years, but in 1807 the British empire abolished slavery. (Jeremiah, David. Prayer: The Great Adventure. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1997.)
The road will get rough. The obstacles may seem insurmountable. But remember: God wants to see you finish well and to stay the course. May God grant you the strength to do so.
In his book Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper talks about the danger of flushing your life down the toilet as we exhaust our time and energy on things that don't matter, don't bring glory to God and don't further his kingdom. He speaks of the Christian Life as a battle and that we need to adopt a war-time mindset. God calls for a constant alertness and vigilance as we serve him. Rather than frittering our time away download apps and taking selfies, we need to be reminded live life with a singular devotion to a greater goal.
The many stories that exist of the courage and bravery of those who fought for our country serve as a great parallel to the courage and bravery with which we are to fight the spiritual battle God has called us to. Piper tells the story of Jacklyn Lucas:
He’d fast-talked his way into the Marines at fourteen, fooling the recruits with his muscled physique. . . . Assigned to drive a truck in Hawaii, he had grown frustrated; he wanted to fight. He stowed away on a transport out of Honolulu, surviving on food passed along to him by sympathetic leathernecks on board.
He landed on D-Day [at Iwo Jima] without a rifle. He grabbed one lying on the beach and fought his way inland.
Now, on D+1, Jack and three comrades were crawling through a trench when eight Japanese sprang in front of them. Jack shot one of them through the head. Then his rifle jammed. As he struggled with it a grenade landed at his feet. He yelled a warning to the others and rammed the grenade into the soft ash. Immediately, another rolled in. Jack Lucas, seventeen, fell on both grenades. “Luke, you’re gonna die,” he remembered thinking. . . .
Aboard the hospital ship Samaritan the doctors could scarcely believe it. “Maybe he was too damned young and too damned tough to die,” one said. He endured twenty-one reconstructive operations and became the nation’s youngest Medal of Honor winner—and the only high school freshman to receive it (Don't Waste Your Life, p. 127).
That is bravery. This is a teen committed to a cause greater than himself. This was someone who was wholeheartedly devoted to a mission. Would that more of our Christian teens and adults live life with such passion and courage. This Memorial Day, as we honor those who have bravely fought for our country, let's step back and take a little time to reassess our lives and mission. May we fight for souls the way Jacklyn Lucas fought for his country.
Maybe you don't vent--you just stew. A leaking, low-level irritability is a great temptation on a journey of love. You feel you have the right to be moody--you've earned it. It is a way of exacting emotional payment from a disappointing life. Grumpiness provides momentary relief, but it always involves a splitting of the self. I commit outwardly, with my hands, but not with my heart. I go through the motions of love, but anger smolders just below the surface like a simmering rant. . . . The result? I'm split. My will has slipped off the tracks of quiet surrender to the Master, and I'm just going through the motions. Life ceases to be fun. If left unchecked, my inner moodiness begins to distort my heart, and I can slip into cynicism, which begins a downward trajectory into bitterness.
Self-pity, compassion turned inward, drives this inward spiral. Instead of reflecting on the wounds of Christ, I nurse my own wounds. . . . But self-pity is just another form of self-righteousness, and like all self-righteousness it isolates and elevates. . . .
The cure for a cranky soul begins by repenting, by realizing that my moodiness is a demand that my life have a certain shape. Surrendering to the life that my Father has given me always puts me under the shelter of his wings. That leaves me whole again, and surprisingly cheerful.
--Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (Crossway, 2014), 109-10
An important biblical truth many Christians have overlooked in their evangelistic endeavors is that it's not all on my shoulders to make this person convert. God seals the deal. In his fantastic little book on evangelism, J.I. Packer writes:
It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish. To do that is to intrude ourselves into the office of the Holy Spirit, and to exalt ourselves as the agents of the new birth. And the point that we must see is this: only by letting our knowledge of God's sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in his service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault. For where we are not consciously relying on God, there we shall inevitably be found relying on ourselves. And the spirit of self-reliance is a blight on evangelism.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p. 33-34
rom today's Tabletalk devotional based on Romans 6:15-23:
Scripture knows nothing of an autonomous existence in which we have no master to serve. We are made to be servants, and we will serve either the mast of sin or the master of righteousness -- God Himself. We cannot serve the master of righteousness apart from God's grace, and if He has bought us with the blood of Christ, we will -- imperfectly but truly -- serve Him.