«Desiring God DESIRING GOD JOHN PIPER DESIRING GOD published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc. © 1986, 1996, 2003 by Desiring God Foundation ...»
A worldly lady once thought she would have a little fun at Mr. Hyde’s expense. So she asked, “Don’t you think, Mr. Hyde, that a lady who dances can go to heaven?” He looked at her with a smile and said quietly, “I do not see how a lady can go to heaven unless she dances.” Then he dwelt on the joy of sin forgiven.28 Samuel Zwemer, famous for his missionary work among the Muslims, gives a stirring witness to the joy of sacrifice. In 1897 he and his wife and two daughters sailed to the Persian Gulf to work among the Muslims of Bahrein. Their evangelism was largely fruitless. The temperatures soared regularly to 107 “in the coolest part of the verandah.” In July 1904 both the daughters, ages four and seven, died within eight days of each other. Nevertheless, fifty years later Zwemer looked back on this period and wrote, “The sheer joy of it all comes back. Gladly would I do it all over again.”29 In the end, the reason Jesus rebukes us for a self-pitying spirit of sacrifice is
26. Cited in Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1983), 237.
Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon was born in 1840 in Virginia and sailed for China as a Baptist missionary in 1873. She is known not only for her pioneering work in China, but also for mobilizing the women of the Southern Baptist Church for the missionary cause.
27. Cited in Tucker, ibid., 239. For a wonderful biography of Carmichael, see Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 1987).
28. E. G. Carre, Praying Hyde (South Plainfield, N. J.: Bridge, n. d.), 66.
29. Cited in Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 277.
that He aims to be glorified in the great missionary enterprise. And the way He aims to be glorified is by keeping Himself in the role of benefactor and keeping us in the role of beneficiaries. He never intends for the patient and the physician to reverse roles. Even if we are called to be missionaries, we remain invalids in Christ’s sanatorium. We are still in need of a good physician. We are still dependent on Him to do the humanly impossible in us and through us. We may sacrifice other things to enter Christ’s hospital, but we are there for our spiritual health—not to pay back a debt to the doctor!
An analogy for understanding how to live the Christian life without being a legalist is to think of ourselves as being sick and needing a doctor’s help in order to get well. Men begin life with a disposition so inclined to evil that Jesus called them “children of hell” (Matthew 23:15).... In Mark 2:17 and elsewhere Jesus likened Himself to a doctor with the task of healing a man’s sins; He received the name “Jesus” because it was His mission to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The moment we turn from loving things in this world to bank our hope on God and His promises summed up in Jesus Christ, Jesus takes us, as it were, into His clinic to heal us of our hellish dispositions.… True faith means not only being confident that one’s sins are forgiven but also means believing God’s promises that we will have a happy future though eternity. Or, to revert to the metaphor of medicine and the clinic, we must entrust out sick selves to Christ as the Great Physician, with confidence that He will work until our hellishness is transformed into godliness.
[One] implication to be drawn from the doctor analogy is that while he will prescribe certain general instructions for all his patients to follow, he will also make up individual health regimens for the particular needs
of each patient. For example, he may direct some to leave their homeland to go to proclaim the Gospel in a foreign land. There is great temptation in such circumstances for people to revert to the legalism of thinking that they are being heroes for God because they are leaving their homeland to endure the rigors of living in a foreign land [this was Peter’s problem]. Those who are dedicated to do hard jobs for God must remind themselves that these rigors are simply for their health. As these difficulties help them become more like Christ, they will sing a song of praise to God, and as a result “many will see it and fear and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3). People who regard themselves as invalids rather than heroes will make excellent missionaries.30
EXPECTING FIRST, THEN ATTEMPTINGWilliam Carey, at first glance, may appear to be an exception to the idea that missionaries should see their ministry as God’s treatment for their spiritual disease of sin. On Wednesday, May 31, 1792, he preached his famous sermon from Isaiah 54:2–3 (“Enlarge the place of your tent...”), in which his most famous dictum was pronounced: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Is this the way an invalid talks about his relationship with his physician-therapist?
Yes! Emphatically, yes! If a therapist says to a partially paralyzed invalid, “Hold on to me and stand up out of your chair,” the invalid must first trust the therapist and “expect great help.” Mary Drewery’s interpretation of Carey’s
motto surely accords with his intention:
Once he was convinced of his missionary call, Carey put his complete faith in God to guide him and to supply all his needs. “Expect great things from God” had been the first part of his command at the Association Meeting in Nottingham in 1792. Though the expectations were not always met in the form or at the time Carey anticipated, nonetheless, he would claim that the help did always come to an everDaniel Fuller, Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1980), 117–9.
increasing extent. Thus he was able to “achieve great things for God.” The blessings were not a reward for work done; they were a prerequisite for carrying out the work.31 Confirmation of this interpretation from Carey himself is found in the words he requested on his tombstone, as we have seen: “A wretched, poor and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fall.” This is a perfect description of an invalid and his kind and loving physician-therapist. It was true in life (“Expect great things from God”), and it was true in death (“On Thy kind arms I fall”).
Frequently those who were wakeful in the little house at the Chinkiang might hear, at two or three in the morning, the soft refrain of Mr.
Taylor’s favorite hymn [“Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art...”]. He had learned that for him, only one life was possible— just that blessed life of resting and rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances, while He dealt with the difficulties, inward and outward, great and small.32 It almost goes without saying that every therapy is painful: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This is what Jesus meant when He said our hundredfold benefit in mission therapy would be
31. Mary Drewery, William Carey, A Biography (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1978), 157.
32. Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody, n. d., orig. 1932), 209.
Consistently, he once answered an admirer’s praise with these words: “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me” (201ff.). His son comments that he would have been fully in accord with Andrew Murray, who wrote, “Take time to read His Word as in His presence, that from it you may know what He asks of you and what He promises you. Let the Word create around you, create within you a holy atmosphere, a holy heavenly light, in which your soul will be refreshed and strengthened for the work of daily life” (236).
“with persecutions” (Mark 10:30). No naïveté here. For some, the therapy includes even death, for the clinic bridges heaven and earth: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you…and some of you they will put to death.… But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:12, 16, 18–19).
CALLING DEATH SWEET NAMESThis is why martyr missionaries have often called death sweet names. “Though we have but a hard breakfast, yet we shall have a good dinner, we shall very soon be in heaven.”33 The faithful missionary invalid is promised a hundredfold improvement in this life, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
Missionaries are not heroes who can boast in great sacrifice for God. They are true Christian Hedonists. They know that the battle cry of Christian Hedonism is missions. They have discovered a hundred times more joy and satisfaction in a life devoted to Christ and the gospel than in a life devoted to frivolous comforts and pleasures and worldly advancements. And they have taken to heart the rebuke of Jesus: Beware of a self-pitying spirit of sacrifice! Missions is gain! Hundredfold gain!
SUMMARY EXHORTATIONAND These, then, are two great incentives from Jesus to become a World Christian and to dedicate yourself to the cause of Frontier Missions as we begin the twenty-first century.
1. Every impossibility with men is possible with God (Mark 10:27). The conversion of hardened sinners will be the work of God and will accord with His sovereign plan. We need not fear or fret over our weakness. The battle is the Lord’s, and He will give the victory.
2. Christ promises to work for us and to be for us so much that when our missionary life is over, we will not be able to say we’ve sacrificed anything (Mark 10:29–30). When we follow His missionary prescription, we discover that even
33. Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964, orig.
the painful side effects work to improve our condition. Our spiritual health, our joy, improves a hundredfold. And when we die, we do not die. We gain eternal life.
I do not appeal to you to screw up your courage and sacrifice for Christ. I appeal to you to renounce all you have to obtain life that satisfies your deepest longings. I appeal to you to count all things as rubbish for the surpassing value of standing in service of the King of kings. I appeal to you to take off your storebought rags and put on the garments of God’s ambassadors. I promise you persecutions and privations—but “remember the joy”! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
On January 8, 1956, five Auca Indians of Ecuador killed Jim Elliot and his four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Auca tribe of sixty people. Four young wives lost husbands and nine children lost their fathers. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that the world called it a nightmare of tragedy. Then she added, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second
clause in Jim Elliot’s credo:
SITTING FEET SUFFERING SAINTAT THE OF A I have never been the same since sitting at the feet of Richard Wurmbrand. It was literally at his feet. He took off his shoes and sat in a chair on the slightly raised platform at Grace Baptist Church in south Minneapolis. (I learned later it had to do with damage to his feet during the torture he had received in a Romanian prison.) Before him—and below him—sat about a dozen pastors. He spoke of suffering. Again and again he said that Jesus “chose” suffering. He chose it. It did not merely happen to him. He chose it: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). He asked us if we would choose suffering for the sake of Christ.
Wurmbrand died in 2001. But his impact continues. His devotional book,
Reaching Toward the Heights, introduces him like this:
Richard Wurmbrand is an evangelical Lutheran pastor of Jewish origin who was born in 1909 in Romania. When the Communists seized his native land in 1945, he became the leader in the underground church.
In 1948 he and his wife, Sabina, were arrested, and he served fourteen years in Red Prisons, including three years in solitary confinement in a subterranean cell, never seeing the sun, the stars, or flowers. He saw no
one except his guards and torturers. Christian friends in Norway purchased his freedom for $10,000 in 1964.1
HOW BEAUTIFUL IS SACRIFICE?
One of the stories he tells is about a Cistercian abbot who was interviewed on Italian television. The interviewer was especially interested in the Cistercian tradition of living in silence and solitude. So he asked the abbot, “And what if you were to realize at the end of your life that atheism is true—that there is no God?
Tell me, what if that were true?” The Abbot replied, “Holiness, silence, and sacrifice are beautiful in themselves, even without promise of reward. I still will have used my life well.” Few glimpses into the meaning of life have had a greater impact on my contemplations about suffering. The first impact of the abbot’s response was a superficial, romantic surge of glory. But then something stuck. It did not sit well. Something was wrong. At first I could not figure it out. Then I turned to the great Christian sufferer, the apostle Paul, and was stunned by the gulf between him and the abbot.
Paul’s answer to the interviewer’s question was utterly contrary to the abbot’s answer. The interviewer had asked, “What if your way of life turns out to be based on a falsehood, and there is no God?” The abbot’s answer in essence was, “It was a good and noble life anyway.” Paul gave his answer in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” This is the exact opposite of the abbot’s answer.