As part of his preparation for missionary service in China, Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) pursued a course of medical training in London. One of the patients he treated was an avowed atheist who was dying of gangrene. It was Taylor’s daily duty to dress the man’s infected foot.

The ailing individual was vehemently antagonistic toward anything religious. He had not entered a church since his wedding day forty years earlier. Recently when a local minister had visited him, the man spit in the pastor’s face and refused to allow him to speak.

Taylor was deeply concerned about this man’s eternal welfare but at first did not broach spiritual matters with him. Through Taylor’s physical care the patient’s suffering was eased somewhat, and he expressed appreciation to the young medical student.

Eventually Taylor worked up his courage and talked with the man about his grave condition and his need for the Savior and life eternal through Him. The man’s countenance instantly betrayed obvious annoyance. He rolled over in bed with his back toward Taylor and refused to say another word. Future efforts by the would-be evangelist to share a spiritually-beneficial word with his patient elicited similar responses.

Finally one day the earnest Christian could contain himself no longer. As he prepared to leave the dying man’s room, he paused at the doorway then suddenly burst into tears. Crossing to the patient’s bedside, he exclaimed, “My friend, whether you will hear or whether you will forbear, I must deliver my soul. How I wish you would allow me to pray with you.”

The man was completely taken aback and stammered, “W—Well, if it will be a relief to you, then do.” Immediately Taylor fell on his knees and poured out his soul to God in behalf of the individual.

Taylor later recorded: “Then and there, I believe, the Lord wrought a change in his soul. He was never afterwards unwilling to be spoken to and prayed with, and within a few days he definitely accepted Christ as his Savior. Oh, the joy it was to me to see that dear man rejoicing in hope of the glory of God!”

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

Years afterward Taylor reflected further on the incident: “I have often thought since, in connection with this case and the work of God generally, of the words, ‘He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him’ (Psalm 126:6). Perhaps if there were more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire. Sometimes it may be that while we are complaining of the hardness of the hearts of those we are seeking to benefit, the hardness of our own hearts and our own feeble apprehension of the solemn reality of eternal things may be the true cause of our want of success.”

Do we care about the temporal and eternal well-being of our acquaintances who don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? When was the last time we were burdened about, or even wept over, their plight without Him? Perhaps the first thing we need to do to rekindle our evangelistic fervor is to pray for ourselves to have a heart of genuine concern for those without the Savior.

This and many other true incidents (from the lives of various outstanding Christians) modeling how we can bear a fruitful witness for Christ are related in Timeless Stories, published by Christian Focus. An inspiring account of Taylor’s remarkable life and ministry is found in Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China, published by Presbyterian & Reformed (P&R).

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on how Christians can more effectively share the Good News of Jesus with those who need to hear it.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary Slessor with four of her many adopted African children.

Mary Slessor (1848-1915) was a Scottish Presbyterian who served for thirty-eight years as a missionary among the degraded, savage tribes of Calabar (modern southern Nigeria), West Africa. She pioneered in remote, rugged regions that other missionaries and even traders avoided as too dangerous. Mary spread the Gospel of Christ and planted churches and schools in several previously-unreached areas. She influenced a number of tribes to stop their warring and to lay aside their ghastly, pagan practices (such as: killing twins who were commonly thought to be the offspring of demons; forcing suspected wrongdoers to drink poison to prove their innocence; mass killing the wives and slaves of chiefs who died so they could accompany them in the afterlife). Mary adopted and raised several orphan children who otherwise would have been killed or left to perish on their own. She served as a government-appointed judge for Calabar’s large Okoyong region, to help individuals and groups settle their disputes justly.

For Mary, personal prayer and Bible study were absolute necessities, not optional luxuries. Throughout her years of active, sacrificial service, she was strengthened and sustained through constant prayer and the regular study of Scripture.

Of the former she once testified: “My life is one long daily, hourly, record of answered prayer. For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor service, I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I believe God answers prayer. I have proved during long decades while alone, as far as man’s help and presence are concerned, that God answers prayer. It is the very atmosphere in which I live and breathe and have my being, and it makes life glad and free and a million times worth living. … I am sitting alone here on a log among a company of natives. My children, whose very lives are a testimony that God answers prayer, are working round me. Food is scarce just now. We live from hand to mouth. We have not more than will be our breakfast today, but I know we shall be fed, for God answers prayer.”

She normally did her personal Bible reading first thing in the morning, as soon as there was enough daylight. Numerous times over the years she read carefully and patiently through the Bible. She would not move on to a new chapter until she was satisfied she had thoroughly considered the previous one; sometimes she spent three days in a single chapter before proceeding to the next. As she read she underlined key words and phrases. She packed the margins of nearly every page in her Bible with handwritten observations and applications from the text of Scripture: “God is never behind time”; “If you play with temptation do not expect God will deliver you”; “We must see and know Christ before we can teach”; “The smallest things are as absolutely necessary as the great things”; “Blessed the man or woman who is able to serve cheerfully in the second rank—a big test”.

The Gospel of John was her favorite Bible book. She also had a special interest in the opening books of Scripture because they depicted moral and social conditions similar to what she dealt with in Calabar. Notations such as “a chapter of Calabar history” or “this happens in Okoyong every day” were common in those books. Each time she read through God’s Word she did so using a different Bible. In this way she found that new thoughts came to her when, as the years passed, she returned repeatedly to previously-considered Scripture passages.

Sometimes we Christians who live and serve in more comfortable, less strenuous settings and circumstances fail to sense the need we have for ongoing, regular personal prayer and Bible study. We ignore Scripture’s many admonitions and encouraging examples to pray (Luke 5:16; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thes. 5:17) and study God’s Word (Josh. 1:8; Psa. 1:2; Acts 2:42; Eph. 6:17) regularly and diligently. We delude ourselves into thinking that we’re getting by alright without those routine disciplines. As a result, we rob ourselves of two primary sources of daily spiritual guidance, strength, encouragement and blessing that God has provided for us. In time we discover that we’re not getting along as well as we thought we were without them.

If we’ve become slack in those basic spiritual disciplines, let’s allow Mary Slessor’s example to motivate us to get back to practicing them regularly. You can learn much more about and from Mary Slessor in my book Women of Faith and Courage. And I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the benefits of regular prayer and Scripture study.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Wise Stewardship of Time

Eminent Christians of the past used their time scrupulously. They took seriously the admonition of Ephesians 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

When just nineteen years of age, Jonathan Edwards recorded seventy personal “Resolutions” by which he wished and sought to order his life. He prefaced the list with an appropriate, God-dependent statement: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him, by His grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.”

As might be expected, his first resolution was to do all to the glory of God. Significantly, the very next determination had to do with the proper use of all his time: “Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.”

David Brainerd’s personal Diary and ministry Journal contain dozens of references to his conscientious use of time. Here are a few of those:

“A seasonable steady performance of secret duties in their proper hours, and a careful improvement of all time, filling up every hour with some profitable labour, either of heart, head, or hands, are excellent means of spiritual peace and boldness before God.”

“I find it is impossible to enjoy peace and tranquility of mind without a careful improvement of time. This is really an imitation of God and Christ Jesus: ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,’ says our Lord (John 5:17). But still, if we would be like God, we must see that we fill up our time for Him.”

After a day of traveling on horseback: “Had little freedom in mediation while riding, which was a grief and burden to me. O that I could fill up all my time for God, whether in the house or by the way!”

“O how precious is time; and how it pains me to see it slide away, while I do so very little to any good purpose! O that God would make me more fruitful and spiritual!”

Three weeks before his death from tuberculosis: “… and now, in my illness, while I am full of pain and distress from day to day, all the comfort I have is in being able to do some little char (small piece of work) for God; either by something that I say, or by writing, or some other way.”

The very first Sunday Adoniram Judson began holding public preaching services in Burma (modern Myanmar), he also adopted a set of eight personal “rules” by which to live. The second regulation was, “Never spend a moment in mere idleness.” Seven and a half years later he “re-adopted” those rules and drafted an additional set of “minor rules” (some of which related to the disciplined use of time) to further regulate his conduct.

Less than five months after that, following the sudden, unexpected death of his wife, Ann, from illness, he “revised and re-adopted all the above rules, particularly the second of the first class” (i.e., the one that stated, “Never spend a moment in mere idleness”). He added on that latter occasion, “God grant me grace to keep the above rules, and ever live to his glory, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”

Such examples challenge us to be conscientious stewards of the precious resource of time that God has entrusted to us. Doing so will keep us from wasting countless hours in activities and pursuits of no spiritual and eternal value. Instead, we will seek to invest every hour of life—whether working, studying, serving, spending time with family and friends, or simply recreating and resting—in ways that please God and that show we’re seeking to live all of life for the Lord and to His glory. If we’re wise and disciplined in the use of our time, we will find that we have sufficient time to carry out all the appropriate and necessary activities and responsibilities of life, including actively serving and devotionally pursuing Jesus Christ.

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on how Christians can and should appropriately use their time for the Lord.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Many a prominent Christian servant of the past has had a number of biographies written about him or her. These various accounts of the same person’s life and ministry were written with different purposes and audiences in mind.

To follow are descriptions of four main types of historic Christian biography. Being aware of these different types will help us select biographies that are best suited to our own interests and purposes in reading about an individual.

1. General Survey: This type of Christian biography provides an introductory overview of the highlights of an individual’s life and service. Such general survey biographies are generally shorter in length and are geared for a broad, popular-level audience. Some biographical series produced by publishers – such as Barbour’s Heroes of the Faith series and Bethany’s Men and Women of Faith series – fit into this category. Survey biographies have appeal and benefit not only for adults but also for teens and “tweeners.”

2. Comprehensive: A comprehensive biography presents a more thorough and complete account of its subject. Comprehensive biographies include much material that cannot be included in briefer biographical surveys. Though not as extensive as exhaustive works (see next paragraph), comprehensive biographies consider all the significant events of an individual’s life as well as many of his or her primary perspectives on life and ministry.

These more comprehensive biographies tend to be of medium length. While still having a good degree of popular appeal, they are intended for more serious biography readers who want to dig in deeper and learn more about a particular person. This is the type of biography written by some of my favorite biographers, including Arnold Dallimore, John Pollock and Roger Steer. Christian Focus Publications has produced a number of such biographies, including those in its History Makers series (among them my own books on David Brainerd and Adoniram Judson (forthcoming in July).

3. Exhaustive/Academic: Exhaustive biographies seek to provide a detailed record of virtually all the known events of a person’s life. These volumes are researched and documented to the nth degree. Consequently they are normally very long. Exhaustive biographies are aimed at a smaller, more academically-oriented readership. A number of publishers who pride themselves in producing works of a more scholarly nature offer this type of biography. While an exhaustive biography provides a wealth of information about an individual, the sheer volume of material being presented sometimes causes the overall storyline of a person’s life to move along somewhat laboriously. It can prove rather daunting to plod through such a mass of information. Exhaustive biographies sometimes make exhausting reading! 😉

4. Youth and Children: Through the years many historic Christian biographies have been produced for younger children and middle-school-age youth. In addition to Barbour’s Heroes of the Faith series already mentioned, YWAM’s Christian Heroes: Then & Now series and Christian Focus’s Trailblazer series (under its CF4Kids imprint) are examples of these. Christian biographies for youth and children fall under the General Survey category discussed above.

In beginning to get acquainted with a renowned Christian of the past, adults may choose to start with a general survey biography. Or they may read a more comprehensive account of a person’s life (either to begin with or as a follow-up to an introductory treatment) in order to gain a fuller understanding of and greater benefit from that person’s life-story. If we find ourselves becoming deeply interested in an individual’s life, we can always tackle another comprehensive or even an exhaustive biography about him or her.

I would enjoy hearing from you about the kinds of historic Christian biographies you enjoy reading and how they benefit you.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Mom & Daughter“I have been reminded of your sincere faith,” the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Later in that same letter, Paul wrote of Timothy, “… from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (See 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15.)

Timothy had the tremendous blessing of being raised by a godly mother (and grandmother) who taught him the Scriptures from the time he was a little child. (Acts 16:1 seems to indicate that his father was not a believer.) Through the Scriptures Timothy was taught, he gained the knowledge that eventually led him to salvation through personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Countless committed Christian moms since then have played a key role in leading their children to saving faith in Christ. One such woman was Charles Spurgeon’s mother, Eliza. Every Sunday evening she gathered her children around the table, read the Bible and explained it to them verse by verse.

Then she prayed, and her children never forgot the words of some of those prayers. Once she prayed: “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance they perish, and my soul must bear swift witness against them at the Day of Judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.”

“That thought of my mother’s bearing swift witness against me pierced my conscience,” Charles Spurgeon recollected as an adult. “How can I ever forget when she bowed her knee and, with her arms about my neck, prayed, ‘Oh, that my son may live before Thee!’”

Charles’s father, John, was a clerk in a coal merchant’s office in Colchester, England. John also pastored a church in Tollesbury, a village nine miles from the town where he worked and lived with his family. Once, while on his way to a preaching engagement, John became convicted that he was caring for the spiritual needs of other people while neglecting those of his own family. So he returned home.

Finding no one downstairs, he ascended the stairs and overheard the sound of earnest prayer. Quietly listening outside a bedroom door, he discovered that his wife was fervently interceding for her children, especially for Charles, her strong-willed firstborn son.

That very son later testified, “My father felt that he might safely go about his Master’s business while his dear wife was caring for the spiritual interests of the boys and girls at home.”

Christian parents today (moms and dads) should be just as serious and careful about teaching their children the truths of God’s Word and about leading them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Such conscientious efforts on the part of earnest Christian parents will bring incalculable blessings and benefits to their children in this life and throughout eternity!

The above true story about the Spurgeons and a number of other family-related incidents are found in the first chapter of my book Timeless Stories. We would enjoy hearing from you about other consecrated Christian parents who had a powerful spiritual impact on their children’s lives.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

My enthusiasm for historic Christian biography ignited my final semester of seminary. Though I had a couple thousand pages of assigned reading to do for my classes, I got distracted by two fascinating Christian biographies that I could hardly put down until I had finished them. In the twenty-seven years since then I’ve read hundreds of such biographies. Here are several ways in which I appreciate and benefit from them:

1. Historic biographies provide enjoyable and engaging reading as they relate the life-stories of outstanding Christians of the past. We’re drawn into the narrative of an individual’s life. Once we’ve started, we’re eager to see where the true story will lead and how it will turn out. Some people’s lives are so full of noteworthy developments and amazing events that their biographies rival fast-paced novels in terms of interest. Yet their life-stories have the superior benefit of being entirely true.

2. Through Christian biography we’re introduced to some of the most important and remarkable ambassadors of Christ who have ever lived. These individuals had books written about them because their lives were truly outstanding. Some of them were spiritual giants who were used of God to significantly shape and advance Christ’s kingdom work in their country and/or another part of the world in their generation. The written accounts of their lives and ministries have impacted and profited untold thousands of believers since then.

3. The examples of these notable Christian servants inspire and encourage us in various areas of spiritual life and service. To name but a few of many such areas, they motivate us to higher heights in:

  • Cultivating a deeper devotional relationship with the Lord.
  • Developing a Christlike character and perspective.
  • Serving with singular focus and tireless exertion to help fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission and advance His kingdom.
  • Resolutely enduring discouragements, hardships, sacrifices and even persecution.
  • Having a heart of concern for the lost as well as for other hurting, needy people.
  • Balancing ministry and family demands.

At times their examples expose our own spiritual mediocrity and convict us of our low-level commitment. But they also hearten us to correct our shortcomings and to rededicate ourselves to serving the Lord in an earnest, worthy fashion.

4. To be sure, great Christians of the past were very real people who, like ourselves, had personal weaknesses, struggles and flaws. Part of the benefit of considering their lives is seeing how they addressed and were able to overcome their own faults. They reassure us that the Lord is able to use in significant ways imperfect individuals who nonetheless continue to pursue and serve Him with wholehearted consecration.

5. Their examples also remind us that God greatly blesses and uses believers of widely differing backgrounds, temperaments and abilities. This encourages us to faithfully serve the Lord to the best of our ability, using the unique background, personality, gifts and opportunities He has given us.

6. Christian biography provides us with a treasure trove of interesting and instructive anecdotes to share in our formal teaching opportunities and informal conversations. Adults and children enjoy and profit from these worthwhile illustrations.

7. Historic biography helps us understand and evaluate contemporary Christianity more fully and accurately. We learn how certain beliefs, practices and emphases developed in the Church. We come to realize that many of our present opportunities and accomplishments have been built on the insights, exertions and sacrifices of exceptional individuals who helped prepare the way before us. In the face of endless, transient issues and trends that confront and sometimes distract the modern Church, we are aided in keeping a clear focus on the primary emphases and priorities that strong evangelical Christians have maintained throughout the centuries.

We would enjoy hearing the ways in which you appreciate and benefit from historic Christian biography. Leave your comment below.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie