Jamie Buckingham describes the great love Kathryn Kuhlman had for the sick – a love intensified to almost tangible radiance whenever she pressed an ailing babe to her bosom, or tearfully hugged an alcoholic. The love of God, caught by a heart that could know no lover but the Holy Spirit and rainbowed through an empty womb, became a distinctly feminine love; love of a hue so special that it could only shine from an unfulfilled woman who had brought her pain to Jesus. ‘No man could have ever loved like that,’ writes Buckingham. ‘It took a woman, bereft of the love of a man, her womb barren, to love as she loved.’ In her younger days, however, she came within a hair’s breadth of losing her ministry by marrying a divorced preacher.257
In the South Sea Islands – where beautiful, highly promiscuous, nude women mobbed unmarried men fresh from conservative Britain – tragedy struck.258 Marriage might have rendered them less vulnerable. On most mission fields, however, the greatest danger fell on married women. Had early missionaries treated New Testament teaching on singleness less as a Pauline eccentricity and more as a manifestation of God’s benevolent wisdom,e an appalling amount of death and suffering would have been averted. In harsh, disease-riddled environments and in an era when little was known about birth-control, child-bearing killed vast numbers of female missionaries. And the infant mortality rate was horrific. The dangers were great for all missionaries, but so many married women died that it was not too unusual for male missionaries to marry three times. One buried seven wives.259 I can only admire the enormous sacrifices godly women made for Christ in foreign lands, but I wonder whether they all died solely for Christ or whether some died because they preferred marriage to the solitude of singleness – a solitude tortuously accentuated by living in a foreign culture.
Today – though it’s marriages, not women, that face a frightening mortality rate – high stakes and powerful forces still rule the marriage game.
More than almost any other decision, our resolution of the marriage issue shapes our lives and shrinks or expands our life’s work. ‘Family problems,’ wrote Harold J. Westing, ‘are the number one cause on the missionary casualty list.’260 Remain single, and some ministry opportunities remain closed. Marry a divorcee, and in some circles various ministry possibilities evaporate.
Baptist Billy Graham married a Presbyterian who refused to accept Baptist beliefs. Perhaps it helped in the long term, but in the early days it threatened his ministry.261
If the decision is still within your grasp, prayerfully consider the ministry implications before acting as if you were a slave to passion, rather than a slave of Christ. If you are already married, do everything to nurture that union to make it the best possible instrument for the Lord to wield for his glory.
Tragically, the people most potentially worthy of heaven’s thunderous applause sometimes forget that self-denial loses its virtue when it inflicts involuntary suffering on loved ones. Married men are particularly prone to the noble sacrifice that turns sour. Like a powerful missile seconds from blast off, our sights can be so mindlessly locked on to a worthy target that we are a danger to anyone near us.
A pastor who was spearheading a significant breakthrough in an ethnic community, confided that his marriage was floundering. Overcome by the need in the community, he would have a guilt attack whenever he spent time with his family. I thought afterwards (that’s when most of my gems turn up) I should have reminded him, ‘With millions of Christians at God’s disposal, our Lord has only to whisper and suddenly your community would be the focus of more evangelistic effort than you could ever equal. No evangelist is indispensable. Your marriage role, however, is far more serious. God cannot give your wife another husband – unless he kills you.’
Tend the marriage garden; nurture its delicate joys, not to withdraw into hedonism, but to avoid the complacency that turns a work of God into a desert.
If anyone ever had cause for complacency it was Adam. His was a marriage made in heaven. Like no other romance it had all the ingredients for the endless bliss reserved for fairy-tales. Yet even Eve, literally made for Adam, led her God-given partner into a spiritual nightmare.
Whether you are single, married or whatever, your marital status is a bed of roses, complete with thorns. Cultivate this garden with tender, holy devotion and, in season, your life will fill with fragrant beauty. Treat it roughly, and you’ll bleed.
It was the most thrilling moment of his life. Isaiah was about to receive his call. Suddenly he was seized by an overwhelming consciousness of his ‘unclean lips’.a
Simon Peter fell before Jesus. ‘Depart from me, I’m a sinner!’ he blurted out. It was then that he received his call.b
Scripture outlines the qualities God looks for when choosing people for the ministries of elder, bishop, deacon and widow.c Prominence is given to moral attributes. The ‘defiled and unbelieving’, says Scripture, are unfit for any kind of service.d It is the person who walks in a manner ‘worthy of the Lord’ who is ‘fruitful in every good work’.e Everyone who cleanses himself ‘will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.’f
Joseph was so straight God made him a ruler. As humor, that might be weak, but as a truth it is powerful.
If the stench of self is contaminating our efforts, it’s no wonder success treats us as if we have B.O. Ministry without morality is ministry without God. It’s as useless as a meal without food offered to a starving world.
Anyone unwilling to be rid of sin, has not only no ministry, but no place in the kingdom.g It is that serious. If you fail to grasp this, you fail.
We’ve felt the sickening thud as Christian superstars crash. If a man in the pew falls, few hear of it and the damage is contained. Satan gains more by bringing down key people. If we can barely survive on the fringe, dare we approach the vortex of Satan’s fury? If our act is sometimes unseemly, dare we move into the spotlight?
Future service may bring us under the relentless eye of the public. Now is the time to shed ourselves of everything not Christlike. Any attempt to delay this purging may embarrass both us and the Lord. The time already passed is more than sufficient for acting like the godless.a
Ministries wrecked on the rocks of greed and lust have sent shock waves around the globe. God has allowed ravaging publicity that the whole world may fear. And we dare not imagine there are only a few sins God hates. Any lack of self-control is likely to cause wait problems.
The following, though an arbitrary example in an ocean of possibilities, should suffice to warn us from the treacherous rocks lurking beneath the inviting waters of moral compromise.
Perhaps you have heard the expression, ‘speaking evangelastically’. You know I love a laugh, but I can’t smile at God’s people telling lies in the name of Christ. This is serious. Dishonesty is sin.
Each time an exaggeration is brought to light, a cloud of skepticism darkens the real work of Christ. New Christians can be so shaken as to endanger their spiritual walk.
Christian exaggerators are under enormous pressure to protect their deception. With their every struggle they sink lower.
We all want to tell of our triumphs rather than our defeats. It is easy to imagine such selective truth-telling magnifies God. Yet even this distortion could have dire results, pushing sensitive believers into despair because their lives do not approach the synthetic success stories they hear.
But who has the courage to be totally honest? To bear the pain of righteous living requires divine strength. Now is the moment to seek it. Why not pray this instant?
After years of intense experience and prayer for young people dominated by powerful addictions, David Wilkerson found the three-pronged weapon for crushing the power of besetting sin.262 It is so thoroughly Scriptural and so workable that thousands, probably millions, of us have received this revelation independently. Not only does it work, it applies to every area of spiritual life I can think of. Here is my version:
1. Desperately want God’s best (in this case, victory over temptation).
2. Be convinced that your resources are woefully inadequate. Recognize that if it were up to you, you would never make it. Cease struggling.
3. Know that because of his incomprehensible, unstoppable, Calvary-proven love, his rock-solid commitment to his word and his white hot yearning to be glorified in you, the Most High will miraculously intervene in your life, giving you total victory. Against this knowledge, Satan is helpless. He can do nothing but bluff. Giving in to temptation is like handing over your valuables to a fierce-looking weakling brandishing a cardboard gun. Christians are never overpowered by temptation, we simply surrender before discovering that temptation’s pull is hopelessly out-matched by the power of the invincible God who dwells within us.
Reading about this weapon will deliver you no more than reading a cookbook will feed you. As God’s gladiator you must clasp that weapon and do battle in the power of the risen Lord.
ccEvery few years new movements sweep the Christian world, emphasizing particular biblical truths. God may well be in many of these but, sadly, it seems that for every truth rediscovered, another slips from our grasp. When I compare myself and other present day Christians with past generations, what shames me most is that few of us ache for righteousness. We might fast for a supernatural experience, but for holiness . . .? The power previous generations craved was power over sin – habits, selfishness, anger, covetousness, lust – not power over circumstances. For many of us, the miraculous – power over nature – is the ultimate. Power over our own nature languishes low on our priorities.
‘It is not great talents God blesses, wrote Robert Murray McCheyne, so much as great likenesses to Jesus.’ McCheyne spoke with authority. He lived just thirty years – only a dozen as a Christian – yet after more than a century this Scottish pastor is still revered. A holy minister, he believed, is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.263
God has a goal for your life. It’s bigger than ministry. It is a goal so vast that everything that touches you works toward it.a God’s goal is that you become Christ-like.b