Another well-loved hymn was nearly lost. Just in time, the only surviving manuscript was discovered in a rubbish bin. This was not the slip of a careless cleaner. It was a deliberate act. Someone had almost succeeded in defrauding God and countless people of a blessing.
After investigation, the offender finally confessed. It was the writer himself! John Henry Newman had judged his beautiful work as worthy only of destruction.105 One wonders how much such distorted judgment is the work of the Evil One.
‘The devil is trying to make me think my talent is no good,’ Andraé Crouch confessed to Oral Roberts. He had just finished performing for Oral Roberts’ television program.106 If such a famous singer can be afflicted by these feelings, few of us can hope to avoid them.
Surprisingly, this fact constitutes a first line of defense. The Enemy gains an advantage if he can isolate us, convincing us our trial is unique. Scripture affirms that every type of temptation is normal.c
To prove how common it is to be blitzed by temptations to underrate ourselves, study the following enthralling, though drastically shortened list. Skim over it, if your need is superficial. If you are as dry as me, however, you will imbibe each instance, savoring every hope-giving drop.
¶ In 1933, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote that nothing but failure lay ahead of him. (His biggest failure was his prophecy.)107
¶ He had no voice at all, said his teacher. Nevertheless, Enrico Caruso became the greatest opera singer of his day.
¶ Beethoven’s music teacher declared him ‘hopeless’ at composing.108
¶ ‘Balding, skinny, can dance a little,’ they said of Fred Astaire at his first audition.109
¶ ‘What will they send me next!’ said Edmund Hillary’s gym instructor of the puny school boy now known as the man who conquered Mount Everest.110
¶ Said Professor Erasmus Wilson of Oxford University, ‘I think I may say without contradiction that when the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it, and no more will be heard of it.’111
¶ An invitation was extended to witness one of humanity’s most historic moments – the Wright brothers’ first flight in their heavier-than-air machine. Five people turned up.112
¶ Walt Disney was fired for ‘lacking ideas’.113
¶ H. B. Warner of Warner Brothers fame scoffed at the notion of ‘talkies.’ No one would want to hear movie actors talk.114
¶ Television, too, was once written off. It would never appeal to the average American family, pronounced the New York Times.115
¶ ‘Sit down, young man, and respect the opinions of your seniors,’ chided the man of God. The seasoned pastor was just one of an army of saints opposed to this young upstart’s radical ideas. ‘If the Lord wants to convert the heathen, he can do it without your help.’ But William Carey (1761-1834) didn’t ‘sit down’. Instead, he spearheaded the modern missionary movement.116
¶ For years, Hudson Taylor tried to glean knowledge about China – a difficult task in his era. Then up jumped a chance to be advised by a missionary with experience in that very country.
‘Why, you will never do for China!’ exclaimed the missionary. He glared at the blue-eyed youth, certain that the Chinese would find his features grotesquely alien. ‘They would run from you in terror! You could never get them to listen to you,’ he told the founder of the China Inland Mission.117
¶ It is Kenneth Pike’s genius as a linguist that earned him acclaim as ‘one of the great missionaries of the twentieth century’. He has been ranked with ‘the most brilliant and highly honored linguists of the twentieth century, recognized the world over in secular as well as Christian circles’. Inadequacy at language learning was cited as a major reason for his rejection as a missionary candidate. Humiliated, he continued writing to different mission boards until at last one did not reject him, and even they reportedly exclaimed, ‘Lord, couldn’t you have sent us something better than this?’118
¶ Mentally backward Max Raffler loved to paint. Over the years, as his paintings piled ever higher, his sisters would burn them to make room for more. Finally, when an old man, his artistic ability was recognized. The well-meaning sisters had destroyed paintings that would have sold for tens of millions of dollars. (Quick! Where are my finger paintings?)
¶ It was the dead of night. A shadow slunk down the street. It was Charles with the dickens of a problem. He was off to mail his manuscript, huddling his guilty secret, petrified lest friends find out and ridicule him. The manuscript was rejected. More rejections pierced him before he won the hearts of millions with such classics as Oliver Twist.119
¶ ‘All his discourses are redolent of bad taste, are vulgar and theatrical . . .’ said a newspaper. Another paper described his preaching as ‘that of a vulgar colloquial, varied by rant . . . All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly and impiously handled . . .’120 They were referring to C. H. Spurgeon, the man routinely hailed as the prince of preachers. Moreover, they were writing after he had already attained immense popularity.
¶ As Billy Graham preached, a missionary’s daughter battled an almost uncontrollable urge to run out of the meeting. It was his future wife, and it wasn’t conviction that made her squirm. It was her response to what she considered appalling preaching.121
¶ To these could be added a gaggle of other instances, too humorous to mention.
If only we could laugh in the midst of our trial. Coping with rejection and apparent failure is a serious matter. The tragic death of John Kennedy Poole screams this truth at anyone lucky enough to need an explanation. No publisher would touch Poole’s book. In a vain attempt to kill the pain, he suicided. Posthumously, his book was published. It won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.122
But don’t knock the knockers. In its early stages, virtually every great achievement has seemed pathetically insignificant.
The pressures to undervalue your contribution may be even greater than Poole faced. Spiritual work, not secular writing, is the focus of Satan’s rage. Through Jesus, however, your power over oppression is greater still.