For one who was to become the world’s foremost evangelist of his generation, Dwight Moody’s first attempts at testifying concerning his newfound Christian faith were inauspicious indeed. About a month after his Christian conversion at age eighteen, he applied for membership in the Mount Vernon Congregational Church of Boston. When he appeared before the examination committee, he was doubtless intimidated and, consequently, could not think and express himself clearly. Edward Kimball, the Sunday School teacher who had led Moody to faith in Christ, provided a colorful description of what transpired on that occasion:
He could not tell what it was to be a Christian; had no idea of what Christ had done for him. And with the utmost encouragement … he could answer but haltingly, chiefly in monosyllables, and then only when the question was the simplest, and its answer was obvious. I remember the chief question and its answer—the longest answer he gave:
“Mr. Moody, what has Christ done for us all—for you—which entitles Him to our love?”
“I don’t know. I think Christ has done a good deal for us. But I don’t think of anything in particular, as I know of.”
In all, I think the committee … seldom met an applicant … who seemed more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of gospel truth, still less to fill any sphere of public or extended usefulness.
As a result, the committee deferred recommending Moody for membership on that occasion. Instead, three committee members were appointed to follow-up with him by explaining to him more clearly the way of God. About ten months later Moody met with the committee again and, having given a more satisfactory representation of his personal Christian beliefs and understanding, was approved for church membership.
When Moody made his first attempts as a young believer at testifying or exhorting at church prayer meetings, his spiritual understanding was so limited and his grammar so poor that his fellow believers discouraged him from sharing further. One deacon tersely told him, “Young man, you can serve the Lord better by keeping still.”
When Moody continued right on with his testifying, the church’s pastor, Dr. Edward Kirk, took him aside after a prayer meeting. Moody saw the minister blush and knew he had something difficult to communicate to him. The good doctor hesitated then hung his head. “Say on,” the young man prodded straightforwardly.
“I have no doubt but that the Lord has converted you,” the pastor began, then uncharacteristically stammered, “but ah, ah, ah, don’t you think you could serve the Lord by keeping silent?”
A few months later, in the fall of 1856, Moody moved to Chicago. There he joined the Plymouth Congregational Church and at once hired a pew which he determined to fill with visitors every Sunday. He invited young men from their boarding-houses, off street corners or even out of saloons to attend church with him. Soon he was renting and filling four pews each Sunday with his guests.
He soon discovered a little mission on North Wells Street that had an afternoon Sunday School work. When he announced to the superintendent his desire to teach a class he was told they already had sixteen teachers but only twelve students. Moody persisted and was informed his services would be welcome if he could provide his own class. The following Sunday he arrived with a train of eighteen dirty, ragged and barefooted little “hoodlums.”
“That was the happiest Sunday I have ever known,” he afterward testified. “I had found out what my mission was.”
Moody soon started a Sunday School of his own, and within a few short years 1,500 children per week were attending! He directed the vibrant outreach ministries of the Chicago YMCA and started a thriving, evangelistic church in the city. Eventually he went on to become the world’s most prominent evangelist of that day, holding major evangelistic crusades in cities throughout America and Britain. Millions attended his crusades and untold thousands were brought to faith in Christ through his ministry.
Moody serves as an outstanding reminder that some of the least-promising servants of Christ go on to develop into some of His most devoted and fruitful human instruments. Rather than quickly writing off not-so-promising individuals, we should encourage them to discover how God has gifted them and to cultivate their full potential in serving Him. If we ourselves have encountered some discouraging feedback to our initial efforts to serve Jesus, we shouldn’t give up. Rather, we should continue prayerfully seeking the Lord’s guidance as to how He would have us to serve Him. As we faithfully, actively do so, He will lead us into avenues of service where He can significantly use us.
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This true story about Dwight Moody and a number of other narratives that help encourage and guide us in our service of Christ can be found in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians.
Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie