This article was published in the May to August 2017 issue of Rapport magazine.
Mark and Joanna Williamson look at four inspirational stories
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, …’ (Hebrews 12:1–2)
These verses remind us that we live in the midst of an incredible, ongoing, centuries-old story of God. No matter how immersed we become with our own lives, we’re part of a bigger movement that’s been going for thousands of years. It’s called the story of God, and it has an incredible cast of characters we can learn from. Consider just four people …
William Wilberforce: leader of the abolition campaign
William Wilberforce’s twenty-year campaign to abolish the slave trade ranks as one of the greatest humanitarian movements of all time. He and a small group of friends had their eyes opened to the shocking brutality and injustice of the trade, took on the prevailing financial system and economic wisdom of the day, and won a great victory for justice, human rights, and the cause of freedom.
But Wilberforce and his friends achieved far more than this one victory. They also created a safe haven for former slaves in Sierra Leone, they successfully campaigned for the right to set up schools and send missionaries to India, and they provided free school education for many at home in England. They founded the Church Mission Society, the Bible Society, and a magazine called The Christian Observer, enabling them to send Bibles, missionaries, and their ideals to America, Africa, Asia and Australia.
Motivated by their Christian faith, this group of friends, known to later generations as the Clapham Sect, tirelessly worked to further the Kingdom at home and abroad, dedicating themselves to education, justice and evangelism. Politicians, businessmen, writers, clergy, lawyers and poets, they worked together on a series of measures that transformed the world and created the guiding spirit for the Victorian age.
Through it all, Wilberforce, friend of Prime Ministers and correspondent with Russian Tsars and US Presidents, managed to remain humble and grateful. He walked through the corridors of power, but played out his life in front of the audience of One. His story has much to teach us in the modern world.
Amy Carmichael: missionary to India
Amy Carmichael lived a life of incredible obedience to God. After a clear call from God to offer her life to missions she went for a brief time to Japan, and then settled in the remote part of southern India where she spent her remaining 55 years. She began saving children from a terrible practice of temple prostitution. Over time she rescued thousands of girls and boys.
By faith in God and with strategic leadership skills she transformed the desert area of the Tinnevelly district into a thriving village full of children. She led what became known as the Dohnavur Fellowship through the turbulent times of the First and Second World Wars. And even when confined to a bed of suffering for the last twenty years of her life, she continued to supervise the work of the ever-growing Fellowship, writing books, poems and songs, and training leaders.
To those seeking vision, Amy’s story brings reassurance that vision, though it tarries, will come true. To those struggling to be faithful in the ordinary, Amy brings words of challenge to embrace each day, no matter how grey, and use it for the glory of God. To those who are experiencing opposition in their work for God, Amy’s story brings courage. To those worried about finances Amy’s story speaks words of comfort about God’s great provision. To those who suffer and are ill, her words are healing and refreshing. To leaders it brings the challenge that being spiritual does not mean we cannot be strategic. To churches it brings an incredible story of God building His Kingdom through the lives of ordinary individuals.
John Wesley: founder of the Methodist Church
John Wesley is one of the most remarkable church leaders ever to have ministered in these islands. He had a profound impact across the nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales … quite possibly no other figure in our history has touched so many lives and seen so much fruit for the Kingdom.
Wesley’s ministry around Britain and Ireland lasted 53 years. During that time he planted over 500 churches and saw over 140,000 people come to faith. He founded the Methodist Church, preached scriptural holiness and salvation to hundreds of thousands of people, and his ministry helped bring renewal to an established church that had become dry, deist and devoid of missionary zeal. Many historians even credit the Great Awakening that Wesley spearheaded as being a key factor in why Britain did not suffer the same sort of bloody revolution and tearing apart of society that France experienced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
But for all his accomplishments, Wesley remained a flawed character. His missionary work in America ended after three years in complete failure, and his marriage broke down due to neglect and suspicion on both sides. Perhaps it’s because of these failures that his successes become all the more remarkable.
Wesley’s life teaches us that failure is never the end of a story; God can always use us (perhaps He can best use us) even when we reach failure and the end of our selves. And He can use all of ourselves, despite our flaws, to bring glory to Him and further His Kingdom. Wesley gives us a glimpse of just how much one life that is utterly dedicated to God can accomplish, no matter what we might think of ourselves.
Hudson Taylor: missionary to China
Hudson Taylor had an uncommon passion for the lost people of China. He loved them through all the sinfulness and moral decadence he encountered, through all their poverty and superstitions. He loved them all his life, and he loved them with all he had. He always worked and ministered in the midst of difficulties, never apart from them. Life was hard, finances were low, health was weak … and yet despite all this he was used by God to turn thousands in China to Jesus, and the efforts of his work are still giving fruit now.
It was uncommon in the 19th century to send missionaries to China … but he did the uncommon thing and went there. To be successful in life we must be willing to be, do and tackle uncommon things in the face of pressure to be common.
Are you an uncommon person? Are you longing for more of God in your life? For more of the miraculous? Keep in step with other uncommon people. Learn from the giants of church history. Choose one to read about; Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, or any one of the many others who have gone before us. Learn from their lives. Who knows what God may do through you …
On this topic at Lee Abbey Devon:
Mon 2 to Fri 6 October 2017
with Mark and Joanna Williamson
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Their stories inspire and challenge us to run our Christian race with perseverance and hope. During this retreat we will look at four remarkable lives used by God: Amy Carmichael, John Wesley, Hudson Taylor and William Wilberforce. We will explore their writings and journal entries. We will reflect on how they discerned their calling, continued to deepen their relationship with God, overcame obstacles and remained faithful.