When I read that throughout his life George Müller ‘never stopped learning’ and ‘was always willing to change’ I knew I had found a vital root to his fruitfulness. While laboring in close association with Henry Craik, Müller discovered that Henry’s sermons were saving more souls than his own. I’d have assumed my mix of gifts was different and resigned myself to smaller yields. Müller was smarter. Careful observation revealed that Henry was more spiritually-minded, more fervent in prayer for soul-winning power and had a more direct approach. George prayerfully and humbly appropriated these elements into his own life and became an equally effective evangelist.82
John Pollock writes of D. L. Moody’s amazing ‘capacity for growth right until the end.’
When eighteen-year-old Moody was interviewed for church membership he was asked ‘what has Christ done for us all – for you – which entitles him to our love?’
‘I don’t know,’ confessed Moody, ‘I think Christ has done a good deal for us. But I don’t think of anything particular as I know of.’
Two deacons were assigned to instruct him. Nearly a full year past before he was finally accepted into membership and even then, commented his kindly Sunday School teacher, ‘little more light appeared.’
After about another year his ungrammatical attempts at prayer made people so uncomfortable that he was asked to keep silent in future.
Eventually he decided that although he could not possibly teach children, he could at least bribe them with sweets and kindness to lure them to Sunday School. Once, to his horror, he found himself with a small group of children and no speaker. He was forced to stumble through a Bible story. He gradually discovered he could tell a story to children, provided no minister was within earshot. Addressing adults was unthinkable.
At age twenty-eight he would invite seminary students to preach at a church. One day a student failed to arrive and he felt obligated to act as an inadequate substitute. Slowly, year after year, decade after decade, he developed into an outstanding evangelist.
He once invited theologian Henry Weston to address his conference. Moody could draw far bigger audiences, and, through Christ, save thousands more souls than this man. In fact, it is conservatively estimated that in an era before microphones, not to mention radio or television or jets, 100 million people seized the opportunity to hear Moody. Of the eight encyclopedias, biographical and Christian dictionaries I consulted, all devoted space to Moody; Weston did not rate a mention. So vast was Moody’s influence that Weston’s own students challenged his views on the basis of what they had heard from Moody. Yet when Weston rose to speak, Moody carried his chair off the platform, placed it literally at Weston’s feet and sat there soaking in every word. Suddenly he shouted, ‘There goes one of my sermons!’ Startled, Weston asked for an explanation. Moody replied that he would now have to dump one of his favorite sermons because Weston had just proved to him that it was based on a misconception. Weston recommenced his address only to be interrupted a little later by, ‘There goes another ....’
Small wonder that like a towering tree, Moody kept growing and growing, eventually making those who had originally outstripped him look like stunted bushes. He developed gifts so vast that it is said he could have run for President of the United States.83
To turn a vibrant, growing Christian into a tragedy, convince him he has already learnt all that he needs to know. It’s not where you start that matters; it’s where you end.
A New Dimension
Thirty seconds before the parade Private Goodfellow (his real name) glanced in horror at his boots. He quickly rubbed his boots on the back of his trousers and prayed it would suffice.
The inspecting officer seemed to be flaying everyone that day. And he was edging closer and closer to Goodfellow. Finally, they were nose to nose. Cold, experienced eyes scanned him from head to foot. ‘Private Goodfellow, fall out!’ he barked.
‘Take a good look, men,’ he bellowed, ‘this is what you should all look like!’ When it seemed they had stared at Goodfellow’s front long enough, he ordered Goodfellow to about-turn so they could admire his back. He proudly turned, displaying the back of skillfully pressed trouser legs plastered with black blotches of shoe polish.84
Are you as prepared as you think?
A number of books hit the Christian market about losing weight. I’m told that after publication some of the authors ballooned to a size that suggests they know less about their subject than they thought.85 Embarrassing, but not surprising. Most of us imagine we have arrived long before we reach our destination.
You may have appropriated more spiritual knowledge and power than anyone on this planet – had so many heavenly visitations that your house is knee-deep in angel feathers – yet in the vastness of God there is still more. From the day of his conversion, Charles Finney had overwhelming experiences with God and was mightily used. A full quarter of a century later, after participating in most of the revivals for which he is now famous, he entered a new level of God’s holiness.86
Though your present endowment be enormous, of greater value is a yearning for more. ‘I would rather have a man on my platform, not filled with the Holy Ghost,’ said old-time Pentecostal, Smith Wigglesworth, ‘but hungry for God, than a man who has received the Holy Ghost but has become satisfied with his experience.’87
Only the Lord knows if in the realm beyond your present experience is something you critically need for your divine assignment. For Hudson Taylor a momentous spiritual discovery came after fifteen years of missionary endeavor. In the words of one writer, ‘he was transformed.’88
This issue is not the theological minefield it is often made out to be. Though many of us believe Christians receive every spiritual gift at conversion, the practical outworking is that regardless of when or how we think we were endowed, we need heavy duty prayer, faith and revelation for the rest of our lives to discover and live in the power of just a fraction of our enormous inheritance.
As his closest friends, the disciples shared a unique intimacy with the Son of God. Besides having front pew whenever he preached, Christ confided in them, sharing spiritual secrets hidden from the crowds. For three intensive years they devoured his precious words.
Not only did they witness his power, they were often active participants. Peter walked on water and hooked the money-hungry fish. They cast out demons. They hauled in the net miraculously teeming with fish. They amassed much practical experience while ministering in twos.a Finally, they spoke with, and even handled, their Lord newly risen from the grave.
Yet still they were sidelined. They needed a further experience – the Spirit’s empowering – before they were ready for effective service.b
It was hardly a contest: two elderly ladies on their knees, versus a confident evangelist in the prime of manhood. They wanted Dwight Moody to have the Spirit’s power. He thought he already had it. But for him to resist was to pit his power of positive thinking against their prayers to the invincible Lord of every universe. A worn-out pop-gun versus a nuclear arsenal might have been less one-sided.
The One who hears the prayers of the frail gave power to the ‘strong’. The impact shook the planet. Moody preached the same sermons but suddenly hundreds were being converted. He declared he wouldn’t return to his earlier days if offered the entire world.89
Lest we confuse heaven’s endowment with human ability, consider A. B. Earle. With 150,000 people professing conversion in his meetings, Earle was one of the most powerful evangelists earth has seen, and his power defied natural explanation. A writer for a leading British religious paper analyzed Earle’s facial expression, emotions, voice, rhetoric and natural wisdom, and there was nothing to account for his impact. Every facet of his delivery ranged from poor to very ordinary and the content of his message was equally unremarkable. The writer said, ‘When he preached on the value of a human soul, I do not remember a single thought or illustration that was new to me; and yet I came away overwhelmed in this realization of the infinite preciousness of each child of Adam, and found myself as I awoke the next morning, weeping in sorrow and anxiety for lost sinners.’ Stirred to the core, that very day the journalist led two people to the Lord in private conversations.90
V. Raymond Edman, fourth president of Wheaton College, devoted an entire book to his thesis that truly effective Christians are those who have been reduced to discouragement, dissatisfaction and defeat until finally entering a new spiritual dimension that transformed their ministry. To prove his point Edman focused on the spiritual crises of twenty famous Christians, including Andrew Murray, John Hyde, Eugenia Price, Oswald Chambers, Charles Trumbull, Handley C. G. Moule, Walter Wilson and Major Ian Thomas. Yet even his twenty, he said, was but a tiny selection from a vast multitude.91
After thirteen crammed years as an ‘ordained minister’ Francis Schaeffer became so aware of spiritual deficiencies within him that he devoted a long winter to seeking God and re-examining his entire spiritual life. Schaeffer maintained that what he gained spiritually from this crisis played a critical role in the fruitfulness of his later years.92
It is undeniable that vast numbers of people have exploded into ministry because of a full, no-tongues-barred, pentecostal experience. Yet there are also innumerable tongue-speakers who seem less effective than they could be, and certainly less effective than thousands of outstanding non-pentecostals.
Malcolm Smith – a tongue-speaker from his early teens and a pastor thoroughly conversant with Scripture – could have continued to impress his loyal congregation, yet he resigned, overwhelmed by the consciousness that the power in his preaching fell far short of that of the first apostles. Finally, after much prayer and anguish, a truth he had paid lip service to for years broke through his darkness. God is All. Malcolm’s only contribution was yieldingness. It suddenly dawned he had been trying to serve God in his own strength. An outstanding ministry was born that day.93
I cannot nominate which truth you must surrender to. The critical factor in your life might be an experience frighteningly foreign to you, or a truth so familiar that you imagine you are living it. We can only maximize our fruitfulness by appropriating every spiritual truth.