Recently while seeking God’s direction about quite a significant ministry decision in my own life, I was encouraged by going back and reviewing some of the specific details of how the Lord led George Muller into his great orphan ministry. Perhaps the rehearsal of those wonderful developments in Muller’s life will help provide you with some encouragement and guidance for those times when you find yourself seeking God’s direction about ministry-related matters or other important decisions in life.
Muller moved to Bristol, England, in 1832 at age twenty-six. There he co-pastored two congregations with his good friend and fellow minister Henry Craik. As part of his ministry, Muller taught Bible classes for destitute children and older people. He became greatly concerned for the spiritual and material needs of the many orphans he saw on the streets of Bristol. At that time in the whole of England there were only a dozen small orphanages—eight of those in London and none nearby Bristol.
Muller was acquainted with the work of German Professor A. H. Franke who over a century earlier had established large orphan houses in Germany. On November 20, 1835, Muller came across a biography on Franke. That evening and in the days to follow Muller wrote in his personal journal:
“I have frequently, for a long time, thought of laboring in a similar way, though it might be on a much smaller scale; not to imitate Franke, but in reliance upon the Lord. May God make it plain! November 21: Today I have had it very much impressed on my heart, no longer merely to think about the establishment of an orphan house, but actually to set about it, and I have been very much in prayer respecting it, in order to ascertain the Lord’s mind. November 23 [after receiving even more financial support for his ministries than he had requested in prayer]: This has been a great encouragement to me, and has still more stirred me up to think and pray about the establishment of an orphan house. November 25: I have been again much in prayer yesterday and today about the orphan house, and am more and more convinced that it is of God. May He in mercy guide me!”
In the days to follow Muller continued to spend many hours praying about the possible orphan ministry. He also repeatedly examined his own motives to make sure he was not thinking of pursuing this course out of a desire to gain glory for himself. Muller had a sincere desire to minister to the material and spiritual needs of orphans, and to help them grow up to become positive assets to society. But above all, as he would later write: “The first and primary object of the work was that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without anyone being asked by me or my fellow laborers, whereby it may be seen that God is FAITHFUL STILL and HEARS PRAYER STILL.”
A public meeting was announced for December 9, at which Muller planned to lay out his thoughts to any who might have interest in supporting the venture. Four nights before that meeting, while reading his Bible, he was struck by the words of Psalm 81:10: “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Muller afterward related: “I was led to apply this scripture to the orphan house, and ask the Lord for premises, 1,000 pounds and suitable individuals to take care of the children.” From that time on, this biblical text became one of Muller’s key guiding verses, being added to three other scriptures he habitually sought to live by—Matthew 6:25-26; 7:7; John 14:13-14.
At the December 9 public meeting Muller made it clear that the envisioned orphan ministry would only be established if God provided the means and suitable individuals to carry it out. He added: “I have been led more and more to think that the matter may be of Him. Now, if so, he can influence His people in any part of the world … to entrust me … with the means.”
Intentionally, no public offering was received at that meeting. But immediately afterwards ten shillings (equaling half a pound) were given to him, and a lady volunteered to be part of the work. The next morning a report of the meeting was shared with the press. An immediate and marked response followed the publication of the news article. One couple promptly wrote to offer themselves and all their furniture for the service of the orphan house. Other donations continued pouring in over the course of the next few days: silverware, dishes, kitchen utensils, table cloths, bed linens, yards of cloth and financial contributions. Other adults volunteered their services.
Even with all the affirmative guidance he received, Muller still had periodic misgivings and needed God’s continued confirmation. On December 17, eight days after the public meeting, he confided to his diary: “I was rather cast down last evening and this morning about the matter, questioning whether I ought to be engaged in this way, and was led to ask the Lord to give me some further encouragement.” That same day God graciously brought in a number of other material donations plus news of a 100 pound gift (worth 500 dollars) that was on its way.
At the end of December Muller announced his intention to open the orphan house in April of the following year, 1836. But by the beginning of February, though he had publicized his willingness to receive applications for children to live at the orphanage, not a single application had been received. While Muller had prayed about every detail of his plans and all the necessities for the orphan ministry, up to this point he always assumed there would be plenty of applicants. He had never actually asked God to send children. He therefore spent an entire evening praying for applications, and the very next day the first was received.
Muller’s first orphan house, for girls ages seven and up, opened that April. A second orphanage, for boys and girls under seven years of age, opened the end of November. Thirty orphans were cared for at each house. By the end of 1836 over 1,000 pounds had been provided for the fledgling orphan ministry, along with other necessary material supplies and all required staffing.
Muller’s example reminds us of some important principles with regard to seeking and following God’s guidance: (1) Bathe our endeavors and decisions in much prayer; (2) Make sure our motives are right—to bring glory to God and benefit to others, not to gain attention or honor for ourselves; (3) Look for confirmation of our plans through the positive outworking of circumstances and the affirming support of other people; (4) Lay hold of and exercise scriptural principles that can strengthen us in our endeavors; (5) We shouldn’t be too surprised if we sometimes have doubts and need additional encouragement from the Lord; (6) Don’t forget to ask God to bless us in all the specific ways that are needed, including basic blessings that we might tend to take for granted; (7) Be sure, as Muller did, to recount God’s many blessings and to heartily praise Him for them.
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This account of George Muller’s establishing his orphan ministry, as well as many other incidents from his life, can be found in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus). The details of this account were primarily drawn from two excellent Muller biographies: Roger Steer’s George Muller, Delighted in God! (Christian Focus); Basil Miller’s George Muller, Man of Faith and Miracles (Bethany House). Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie