I’ve always appreciated someone who could turn a phrase. My now-in-heaven friend T. S. Mooney was known for always being able to summarize his thoughts in a matter of a few words. He taught a boys’ Bible class in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, for fifty years. When I asked him on one occasion, “What are you seeking to do with these boys?” he said, “It is my purpose that every boy would have a Bible in his hand, a Savior in his heart, and a purpose in his life.” No mistaking it. Absolute clarity.
Such apt phrases have registered with me all my life—and over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of them! Indeed, my files overflow with sayings I wanted to be sure to remember. There are a special few, however, that I keep within easy reach, written in the flyleaf of my Bible.
As we face the prospect of another new year, whether we’re jaded and disillusioned, full of excitement and anticipation, or just grateful that 2020 is in the rearview mirror, I’d like to share a handful of these collected phrases with you—words of wisdom that have helped me run my race and may help you too as you turn the page to 2021.
1) “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”1 —C. T. Studd
The missionary C. T. Studd came from a distinguished, almost noble background. His father was a multimillionaire, and Studd inherited the largest part of his father’s fortune. He went to Cambridge University and played cricket for England. He had exceptional ability both on the athletic field and in his field of study as an undergraduate.
But along the journey of his life, Jesus Christ arrested him. C. T. Studd understood that he was unworthy of God, that he was unfit for heaven, and that he was unable to rectify his condition. Turning his life over to the Lord Jesus Christ, he determined in those early days this foundational, biblical truth: if Jesus Christ is worth serving, He is worth serving well.
When we think of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, that He would “bare our sins in his own body on the tree,”2 then we can understand why Paul says to us, “I appeal to you …, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”3 There’s no saying what God might choose to do with a life that is wholly yielded to Him.
2) “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” —Isaiah 66:2
How we think, and specifically how we think about ourselves, is important. Some of us have pinheads and need to be reminded that God’s love for us is wonderful, that He has plans and purposes for us all. But for most of us, the problem is not the “pinhead syndrome” but the “fathead syndrome.” Frankly, most of us think a little too much of ourselves.
Can I tell you how to amount to virtually nothing for God? Think of yourself more highly than you ought.4 One of the greatest detriments to usefulness in God’s kingdom is a proud heart. King Uzziah (who you can read about in 2 Chronicles 26) was greatly used by God. He was a tremendous leader, did awesome things, and built up Judah’s kingdom. But the Bible’s record of him is ultimately this: “When he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.”
Humility is the very seedbed in which all of God’s graces and gifts grow to maturity. That’s why Peter writes to the scattered Christians of his day, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”6 So let’s resist the temptation to push ourselves to the front of the queue, to rush to the head of the parade, to take for ourselves the key seat—for such a man or woman, the Lord tells us, is not the one to whom He looks.
3) If our prayer is meager, it is because we believe it to be supplemental and not fundamental.
If you’re like me, there’s little in your spiritual pilgrimage that you’d rather hide than how infrequently you pray. We may be keen to pray in the late hours of the evening, when we resolve that we’ll arise before dawn and finally conquer this matter of prayer. But our desires and designs unfortunately don’t always yield our doing.
I confess that prayer is one of the hardest habits for me, both in life and in ministry. Yet prayer is also a key area of our relationship with our heavenly Father—and the Evil One knows this. He knows that the weaponry that our commander-in-chief, Jesus, has given to us is prayer and the ministry of the Word of God. Therefore, he aims to call in question the veracity and sufficiency of God’s Word. He strives to undermine our conviction that we should come before God and cry out, “Abba, Father!” seeking His help in every part of our journey.
If we pray only when we feel like it, we won’t pray very much at all. We must resist that temptation. When I talk more than I pray, when I study more than I seek God’s help, when I’m tempted to think that when I’m on my feet I’m more useful than when I’m on my knees, I’m on the wrong side of this equation.
4) “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” —Proverbs 18:22
I mention this because relationships are vital, and they’re seldom neutral. There are friends in whose company it’s easy to be good, and there are friends (and they’re not really friends) in whose company it’s easy to be bad. This is particularly true when it comes to relationships with the opposite sex.
Not all of us will be granted the privilege of marriage. Some of us will be blessed with the gift of singleness. But for those of us whom God will call, or has already called, to marriage, we’d do well to remember that no relationship in all of life is capable of instilling greater joy when lived within the parameters that God has established, or greater pain when God’s law is violated.
Many of us will witness tragedies in marriage this year. May we resolve not to be among them. Let’s set our moral compasses now, take the high ground, go for the gold, and live for Christ. God’s Word encourages us, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”7
5) More spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than through success and laughter.
In Hebrews 12, when the writer calls us to reflect on the heroes of the faith, he describes them in odd terms to modern ears: as those who were nameless, who were sawn in two, who were buried alive, who suffered great tragedy, and yet whose testimonies encourage us to look unto Jesus and to finish the race.8
This is not to say that we should wish pain and suffering upon anyone. But our temptation will always be to run away from the things that shape us. As a Puritan writer once said, in shunning trials we miss blessings. James similarly writes, “Count it all joy … when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”9
When the sun shines all the time, you end up with a desert. You cannot have lovely vegetation without the rain. The past year has brought each of us experiences that crushed us, bruised us, and disheartened us. We must count on facing more. That’s life. But when they come, we have the opportunity to seize them not as trials and enemies from the Evil One but as the provision of our heavenly Father. In the thorns as well as in the roses, God is unfolding the scroll of His plan and His purpose for our lives, this year as in every year, so that we might become all that He intends.
Adapted from the sermon Notes from the Flyleaf of My Bible by Alistair Begg
1 Norman Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete and Pioneer (1933; repr., Harrisburg, PA: Evangelical Press, 1943), 145.
2 1 Peter 2:24 (KJV).
3 Rom. 12:1 (ESV).
4 See Rom. 12:3.
5 2 Chron. 26:16 (ESV).
6 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV).
7 Ps. 84:11 (ESV).
8 See Heb. 11:35–12:3.
9 James 1:2–4 (ESV).
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