John and Betty Stam – as relative newlyweds, still in their twenties and having served as missionaries in China for only a couple of years – were martyred on December 8, 1934. In the weeks leading up to the eightieth anniversary of their deaths, I’m presenting a few of the outstanding features of their devoted service to Christ.
Both John and Betty were careful to maintain devotional closeness to the Lord. John in particular learned and modeled a vital lesson about the importance of cultivating a devotional relationship with Christ in order to strengthen one’s service of Him.
When John arrived at Moody Bible Institute (1929) he immediately joined so many early morning and evening prayer groups that he found it difficult to have his own personal devotions. Soon he started drying up spiritually. So he established and carefully maintained the habit of rising at 5 a.m. daily for personal prayer and Bible study. In order to do this he needed to be involved in fewer prayer groups, though he continued to faithfully participate in a few select prayer meetings. As a result of this change, he found his spiritual vitality renewed.
During language school in Anking, China, he deeply desired and fought to maintain devotional closeness with God. This is revealed by entries in his personal journal at that time (1932):
“Oct. 28 – Oh, that I may stay close to the Lord. It is so easy to live on the past or just in hope of the future.”
“Nov. 2 – Am succeeding in having some blessed times with the Word, the Lord enabling me to spend 1 and ½ hours or more each day in my devotions.”
“Nov. 4 – May the Lord keep me, with all this busyness, very close to Him.”
“Nov. 12 – Gave my testimony tonight. It’s rather late and I’ve not yet had all my time with the Lord. It’s getting to be a bit of a fight to keep time out for Him. Oh, to know Him better.”
One of John’s fellow students at language school testified: “John was the backbone, humanly speaking, of the spiritual life at Anking that winter. He seemed to know Christ more intimately, more practically than the rest of us. When I was discouraged, he helped me to find the joy of the Lord. John’s spirituality was radiant and contagious. He seemed to be always in touch with the source of power, even our Lord Himself.”
Veteran missionary George Birch, who welcomed John to his first mission station, related: “How clearly I remember the day John arrived at Suancheng. I met him at the launch. As we proceeded in the sampan [a small boat used in shallow water] the conversation soon turned to the things of God, for John lived with God and loved to talk of the things that were filling his heart. On our first itineration together we had to walk all one day in the rain and mud, but John’s ardor was in no way dampened. That trip, and all our trips together, were a blessing to me, for John’s mind was a mine of wealth in the knowledge of God. He truly was mighty in the Scriptures, full of zeal to make Christ known and full of love to the lost souls around him.”
When John and George went out on a ministry itineration, they devoted the morning to personal study and prayer and the afternoon and evening to visiting the people and having meetings. In a letter to his relatives, John revealed: “George Birch evolved that plan, and I must say I like it better than rushing out in the a.m. without a good time for prayer and Bible study. One does sometimes get to feeling like a dry well, and we need to drink lots from the wells of God if we are to have water for others.”
Regular, meaningful time spent in fellowship with God in His Word and prayer is indispensable to fruitful service for Him. Without that we are less attuned to spiritual matters and less sensitive to ministry opportunities the Lord has for us. But with such healthy communion our hearts and heads are full of the things of God, and we have much fresh spiritual food and drink to share with others for their benefit and for the glory of Christ.
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My book John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs provides a full account of the Stams’ personal relationship with the Lord and their faithful service of Him. Their examples encourage us to serve the Lord out of the overflow of a verdant devotional relationship with Him.
Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie