Chapter 1: the quest for fulfillment

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No More Excuses

If age is not a legitimate excuse, neither can we hide behind the negative comments of fellow Christians. Take Kenneth Taylor for inspiration.

Over thirty million copies of his Living Bible have been sold – literally a thousand times more than most Christian titles. Every publisher in the world would like a stake in such phenomenal success. But the story was once very different.

Taylor used to work for a Christian publishing house. Not even they would touch his manuscript. In desperation, (not to mention faith) he published it himself. Even then, he suffered an entire four-month period without one new order, before sales began to climb.238

If you ever see a publisher with blue ankles, he’s been kicking himself again over that one.

It’s tales like this that keep my pen wriggling.

I long to buoy you by citing the story that snugly fits your circumstance. Alas, there are too many possibilities. I limit myself to two more examples, trusting your imagination to adapt them to your situation.

George Beverly Shea started his celebrated music ministry behind the barn. His music was quarantined. Any closer to civilization seemed to induce an epidemic of earache.239

Gladys Aylward, the now-renowned missionary to China, wasn’t good enough for a missionary society. She was too dull, too old, too common. No one wanted that parlormaid – except the King of kings. Before God had finished, even Hollywood wanted the story.

Though multitudes pronounce the death sentence on our efforts, we believe in resurrection.
When they were young, Glenn Cunningham and Tenley Albright had legs so mutilated that they were told they would never walk again. Cunningham became one of the greatest runners the world has seen. Albright won the world figure-skating championship.

A young man almost won the ten mile swim in the Canadian championships. I see you at the finishing line, laughing at his style. He emerges from the water and you almost choke. This swimming marvel has only one arm.

The sport of hammer-throwing requires two powerful arms. Everyone knows that – except Olympic gold medal list Harold Connolly. One of his arms, broken thirteen times when a child, is barely two-thirds the size of the other.240

You would need the fish fingers of a frozen food factory and the toes of a mutant millipede to count the times these athletes must have been told they would never make it, but they didn’t let up.

The achievements of people who draw solely upon human resources set me on fire. How dare we surrender to barriers that even non-Christians can conquer.a We’re Christ’s champions, empowered from on high. It’s about time the whole world knew it.

Never Give Up

Jeremiah dictated a prophecy to his secretary.b I guess it was lengthy, though able to be read in an hour or so. If the prophet had a hunch it would reach the king, it was probably written ornately with the best writing materials.

It reached the king all right. King Jehoiakim took to it straight away – with a pen knife – and fed the fragments to the fire.c

In destroying the scroll, the king dealt four crushing blows to Jeremiah. First there was rejection. Then there was the loss of the manuscript. It was probably the only copy. I panic whenever I lose a few edits of this book by absent-mindedly putting them through the shredder. (All geniuses have brain-waves, it’s just that my brain waves goodbye and visits another planet.)

The next blow was financial. Living in an era far removed from Jeremiah’s, we might have missed this, but the significance was not lost to Jeremiah. Enough papyrus for one gospel would cost a skilled workman his entire pay for a year.241 The book of Jeremiah, as it appears in our Bible, is twice that length.

Then came the final blow: he had incurred the king’s wrath. Orders were out for his arrest.d

What did Jeremiah do, reeling under rejection, loss and fear? He did what Tyndale did when a shipwreck sent a significant portion of his Bible translation. to the bottom of the sea.242 He did what William Carey did when fire ripped through his print room, reducing his crowning glory – his massive polyglot dictionary, painstakingly prepared grammars and precious translations of the whole Bible – to ashes.243 He did what Gospel singer Ira Sankey did when the sole manuscript of his book, written under the hardship of advancing years, was destroyed. He did what Frances Havergal did when her lengthy music manuscript was burnt at the publisher’s – a nightmare painfully intensified by frail health.244 He laboriously rewrote it. What’s more, he added to it.a

Pondering the enormity of losses these saints suffered is like a knife through my own flesh. Why God would allow such havoc I can hardly imagine. But I know their refusal to let tragedy beat them, their dogged determination to do it all again, and their resistance to Satan’s whisperings that God was against them, is a profound inspiration; an enduring testimony to the strength of God’s people.

Hailed as the forerunner of Protestant missionary glory, the missionary pioneers’ hero, the Bible translators’ inspiration, William Carey founded several schools, translated Scripture into forty-four languages and dialects, established missions in India, Burma and Bhutan, was appointed professor of Oriental languages by the Governor-general and became an authority on Indian agriculture and horticulture. Yet he reached these heights not on the wings of genius, but on plodding feet; not by bursts of inspiration but by a determined, daily slog. It was as a plodder that Carey wanted to be remembered. ‘To this,’ insisted the great achiever, ‘I owe everything.’ When he headed for India, his wife had refused to go, his church resisted the move, and his parents thought he was mad. He plodded on. In India he was lonely, poverty-stricken and spiritually barren. When his son died, Carey was too ill to bury him and so friendless he almost despaired of finding anyone to assist in the burial. He plodded on. For the first seven years, there was not one convert. He was strongly opposed by governmental and commercial authorities. He had coerced his wife to join him, but she became mentally deranged and grew progressively worse. He plodded on. He had left for India, having failed as a farm laborer, a shoemaker, a school-teacher, a preacher, a husband and a father, but the old trail blazer left for heaven a master of plodding.245

Our spiritual forebears can so motivate us that the furnace they endured can harden the steel in our own spines. Let’s look at a few and see if it works.

Though he died before the Reformation, Luther honored Savonarola with the title of Protestant martyr. Savonarola preached, pouring out his soul to congregations of less than twenty-five. The impact could hardly have been less had even those few stayed away. It slowly dawned with heart-crushing certainty that whatever gifts he had, preaching was not one of them. He reverted to teaching convent novices. Later, he again thought he should face the daunting task that had so devastated him. Again his preaching made little impression. He continued, and in time the great Duomo cathedral was so incapable of containing the eager throngs flocking to hear him that queues regularly formed in the middle of the night, waiting for hours for the doors to open.246

Clarence Jones’ dream of a South American Christian radio station was known in his local church as ‘Jones’s folly’. Hurt, but not defeated, he invested in an exploratory trip to South America, praying for the Lord to do ‘great and mighty things’. Instead, heaven slammed doors in his face. He courted government officials in Venezuela, then Columbia, then Panama, then Cuba. All refused him.

He returned home in agony to acquaintances who continued to laugh, and to a wife who was secretly elated about the failure. Finally, it got too much. He decided to chuck his family and local Christians by joining the navy. The navy rejected him too.

Eventually he met a missionary couple who claimed that Ecuador was the place to go. He had no sooner received the necessary government clearances than he learned from officials and radio engineers that the site was utterly unsuitable for radio. The mountains and proximity to the equator were insurmountable obstacles to acceptable transmission. Yet it seemed God’s leading, so ‘Jones’s folly’ continued.

In 1931 his 250-watt transmitter in a sheep shed beamed its first message. Many missionaries were strongly opposed to the whole idea of Christian radio, but people were at least curious. That day, every radio in the country was tuned in. That’s right; all thirteen.

Donations fell off due to the Depression. In the entire year of 1932, he received less than a thousand dollars. In 1933 the bank through which he operated folded. Then the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle, the mainstay of his mission’s support, went bankrupt. As he staggered on, it began to be said that you could hear the sounds of his station from behind doors displaying Protestants Not Welcome signs.

In 1940 he expanded to a 10,000 watt transmitter and started receiving letters from New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Russia . . .. Contrary to expert opinion, he had located on one of the best spots for radio transmission on the entire planet. He later moved up to half a million watts and ‘Jones’s folly’ became one of the Christian wonders of the world.247

‘It seems as though everything I do is wrong,’ cried Gladys Aylward in a letter from China.248 Great men and women of God often long to quit, but they wobble on.a When they are hit, they bounce – like flat footballs usually, but enough to stay in the game. After a while they are pumped up again and their erratic zigzag course resumes that vaguely goalward trajectory that sends angelic cheer-leaders wild.

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