Recently I saw two joggers pass by on the same street within minutes of each other. The first was a tall, trim young man. His posture was upright and he moved along at a brisk pace. He made running look effortless.
The second man was well into middle age and quite gray-haired. He was shorter and heavier than his younger predecessor. His posture was a bit stooped and he proceeded at a slower pace. Running was obviously a great deal of work for him.
I immediately thought: “Good for both of them!” They’re both making an effort to maintain or improve their health and strength. They’re not allowing themselves to decline.
It’s not hard to see parallels to the Christian life. Maintaining our personal relationship with the Lord, walking in steadfast moral obedience to Him and actively serving Him all require ongoing attention and effort. If we continue to work at the various areas of our Christian life, we’re able (with God’s help) to maintain good spiritual health or even improve it. But if we allow ourselves to become spiritually undisciplined and inactive then naturally our spiritual health and vitality are going to decline.
Committed younger Christians often manifest considerable enthusiasm and exertion in their personal devotion, obedience and service to Jesus. It’s a joy to see them running their spiritual race with such eagerness and discipline.
Faithful older Christians who have been in the spiritual race for a lot of years are an inspiration to watch as well. They may no longer have the high levels of physical energy and emotional intensity that they possessed in younger years. They may need to pace themselves a bit more slowly. But they still have a strong desire and determination to maintain a close personal relationship with the Lord, to honor Him through their habitual obedience and to be useful to Him through their steady service.
To all committed Christians, younger and older, I say, “Good for all of you! Way to maintain good spiritual health and diligence in the various areas of your Christian walk. With God’s gracious, ongoing encouragement and enablement, let’s all continue to do so through the whole course of life’s journey.”
And to any Christians who realize they’ve declined a bit in their spiritual lives, let’s remember that it’s always possible to regain our spiritual health. As would be the case with regaining good physical fitness, so we can renew sound spiritual health by recommitting ourselves to the focuses and disciplines that we know will help to strengthen us spiritually.
One reason I greatly appreciate and enjoy reading historic Christian biography is that it provides numerous examples of outstanding believers who served Jesus faithfully and fervently all through life, in both their younger and older years. We can receive much encouragement and guidance for our own spiritual lives by considering their commendable examples.
Hudson Taylor was the eminent nineteenth century pioneer missionary to inland China. The story of Hudson’s Christian conversion through the prayerful influence of his mother is somewhat well known and quite extraordinary. But that is only part of the story in a broader series of events that comprised God’s gracious and remarkable workings to draw Hudson Taylor to Jesus Christ as his Savior. Here’s the rest of the true story:
Hudson’s parents, James and Amelia Taylor, were devout Methodists in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England. James was an apothecary and an evangelistic preacher. James and Amelia provided their children with a sound homeschool education (which included the study of Latin and French) and were also diligent in teaching them about spiritual matters.
When Hudson was fifteen years old he started working as a junior clerk at one of Barnsley’s banks. The people he worked with were worldly in their outlook and skeptical toward spiritual things. They ridiculed his old-fashioned notions about God, which led him to question his conservative Christian upbringing. Adopting their perspective, he concluded he could live any way he chose, because there was no God to whom he must answer.
At that point, however, the Lord providentially allowed Hudson to develop an infection in his eyes which forced him to resign his position at the bank. He went to work for his father but now was unsettled and unhappy. James Taylor, not knowing about the spiritual struggle raging within Hudson, became irritated at his moodiness. Hudson’s mother, however, was more sensitive to her son’s struggles and began to pray more earnestly for his spiritual welfare.
Several months later, about a month after Hudson’s seventeenth birthday, he had an afternoon free from responsibility and found himself looking for something to read to pass the time. He spotted a small basket of pamphlets in the parlor and searched through them until he found a Gospel tract that looked interesting. Picking it up, he thought, “There will be a story at the beginning, and a sermon or moral at the close. I will take the former and leave the latter for those who like it.” He started reading with “an utterly unconcerned state of mind” about his spiritual condition or his relationship with the Lord.
Unbeknown to him, at that very moment his mother was kneeling in prayer, pleading with God for his salvation. She had gone to visit her sister in Barton-upon-Humber, some fifty miles away, and that afternoon had found herself with little to do. After noon dinner she went to her room where she was determined to remain in prayer for Hudson’s conversion until she felt certain her request had been granted.
As she fervently prayed, Hudson read about a coal miner in Somerset who was dying of tuberculosis. Some Christians visited him and shared the Gospel through a series of Scripture verses. The miner was struck by the Bible’s teaching that Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the cross. When the dying man was told about Christ’s cry of “It is finished!” from the cross, he comprehended its significance with regard to the complete provision that had been made for his own salvation and that day prayed to become a Christian.
As Hudson further pondered that declaration of Jesus from the cross, he asked himself, “What was finished?” Immediately the answer to his own question leaped to mind: “A full and perfect atonement and satisfaction for sin. The debt was paid by the substitute. Christ died for my sins.” Then came the further thought, “If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do?”
Hudson later wrote of that moment: “And with this dawned the joyful conviction, as light was flashed into my soul by the Holy Spirit, that there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on my knees, and accepting this Savior and His salvation, to praise Him evermore.” He immediately knelt down and asked Jesus to become his Savior.
Meanwhile an assurance came to the heart of Hudson’s mother that she no longer needed to continue praying. She began to praise God for the firm conviction, which she was sure was from the Holy Spirit, that her son had been converted. Two weeks later she returned home, and Hudson greeted her at the door, exclaiming, “Mother, I’ve such good news for you!”
“I know, my boy,” his smiling mother responded, throwing her arms around his neck. “I’ve been rejoicing in your news for a fortnight!” Seeing her son’s surprise and perplexity, she added: “It was not from any human source that I learned this. I know when you were converted, and it was in answer to my prayers.”
Some time later Hudson picked up and opened a notebook which he thought was his own but which actually belonged to his younger sister Amelia. His eye landed on a single sentence: “I will pray every day for Hudson’s conversion.” From the date that accompanied the journal entry, he realized his sister had been praying daily for his salvation for a month at the time he was converted.
God is still very much in the business of working – sometimes in quite unusual ways – to draw people to saving faith in Jesus. He even does so with some who are drifting from Him and seemingly little concerned about spiritual matters. May we be encouraged by this to redouble our efforts to pray for and witness to those who still need to come to know Christ as their Savior.
If you happen to be one of those individuals who need the Savior, may God graciously lead you to realize that Jesus accomplished everything on the cross to bring about our salvation. And may you trust wholly in Christ as your Savior.
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You can learn much more about Hudson’s life of exceptional Christian faith and service in my book Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China. I think you’ll find (as I certainly have) his outstanding example both instructive and encouraging in your own relationship with and service for the Lord.
Over the course of several decades, George Muller (1805-1898) directed a faith-based ministry that cared for thousands of orphans in Bristol, England. Many were the occasions when Muller and his loyal staff prayed with great faith and urgency for the Lord to supply the pressing needs of their orphanages. Often those prayers were answered in dramatic fashion.
Muller’s right-hand man in his Sunday School ministry to children was John Townsend. Townsend’s young daughter, Abigail, enjoyed visiting Muller at his home. Once while doing so she suddenly declared, “I wish Dod would answer my prayers like He does yours, George Muller.”
“He will,” Muller assured her. Taking her on his knee, he quoted God’s promise: “What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24 KJV). After explaining the meaning of the verse, he asked, “Now, Abbie, what is it you want to ask God for?”
“Some wool,” she responded.
Clasping her hands to pray, Muller instructed her to repeat what he said, “Please, God, send Abbie some wool.”
“Please, Dod, send Abbie some wool,” she repeated in simple faith, then jumped down to go play, assured that the wool would come.
Suddenly the thought came to her that God did not know what kind of wool she wanted. So she ran back to Muller and told him she wanted to pray again. This time he responded, “Not now, dear, I am busy.”
“But I forgot to tell Dod the color I want,” she persisted.
Won over, Muller again lifted her onto his knee and said, “That’s right, be definite, my child. Now tell God what you want.”
“Please, Dod, send it wa-re-gated,” petitioned Abigail, who possessed a large vocabulary but could not pronounce her v’s.
The next day she was overjoyed to receive a package of variegated wool from her Sunday School teacher. The teacher, who was aware of Abigail’s interest in knitting, knew her birthday was coming soon, although she was uncertain of the exact date. God providentially allowed the package to arrive not on her birthday but on just the right day to assure this child that He hears and answers specific prayers.
May we be encouraged to present our requests to God in simple childlike faith. No need, desire or concern is too big or little to bring to Him. He delights to grant trusting, God-dependent prayers that honor Him, both for our blessing and for His glory.
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This is just one of a whole chapter of instructive true stories on various facets of prayer found in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians. If you’re able to read it, I think you’ll find fresh encouragement and guidance for your personal prayer life. I’d love to hear from you if you care to share an important prayer lesson the Lord has taught you along the way.
When Emily Chubbuck married and sailed from the United States to Burma as Mrs. Adoniram Judson in 1846, she immediately assumed the care of Judson’s two young sons by his previous wife, Sarah. (Sarah, like Judson’s first wife, Ann, died of illness after years of faithful missionary service in Burma.) Emily mothered her two young stepsons, Henry and Edward, as affectionately and attentively as though they were her own children.
One night around the time of Edward’s third birthday, Emily heard him call out from a little room where he slept by himself that he was “afraid.” At first she was unable to comfort and reassure him.
Emily had not taught the children to repeat memorized prayers. But she was in the habit of helping the youngsters determine what it was they needed, then having them repeat a prayer after her that addressed their need. So on this occasion she prayed with Edward, kissed him goodnight and left him apparently satisfied.
Here’s her own touching description of what happened next: “Pretty soon, however, I heard him call out, as though in great distress, ‘O, Dod!’ The poor little fellow had not sufficient acquaintance with language to know what to say next. But this up-lifting of the heart evidently relieved him, for in a few minutes after he again called out, ‘O, Dod!’ but in a tone much softened. I stepped to the door but hesitated about entering. In a few minutes he again repeated, ‘O, Dod!’ but in a tone so confiding that I thought I had better go back to my room, and leave him with his Great Protector.”
After hearing nothing further from Edward for some time, Emily at last went and found him on his knees fast asleep. “He never fails now to remind me of asking ‘Dod to tate tare of him,’ if I neglect it,” Emily afterward reported. “And I have never heard him say a word since of being afraid.”
1 Peter 5:7 encourages Christians: “Cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because He cares for you.” Romans 8:26-27 further reveals, even more amazingly, that when we don’t know exactly how to pray concerning matters that are troubling or perplexing us, God’s Spirit intercedes for us with deepest earnestness and complete effectiveness: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
If we’re anxious, fearful, distressed, perplexed or in some other way burdened presently, let’s take our concerns to our loving heavenly Father in prayer with a spirit of childlike dependence and trust. Even if we’re not sure exactly how or what to pray, God’s Spirit will fervently intercede in our behalf, God will see our situation and what’s in our hearts, and He will compassionately come to our aid.
Have you heard of, witnessed or personally experienced an occasion when a child of God faced a situation that was so distressing or confusing that words failed when they tried to pray about it? How did the Lord respond to their unverbalized prayer? I would enjoy hearing about it.