What’s so Amazing About Grace? John Newton’s Story

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

No truer words could have been written, than those penned by John Newton as he was preparing a message for his New Year’s Day sermon on January 1, 1773. It was common for this slave trader turned minister of the gospel, to use his lyrical ‘gift’ in composing hymns and simple songs, usually to the tune of something recognizable. He would then introduce them to the people of his parish, who loved to sing. It was an effective way of teaching the Word of God and Biblical truths, since many couldn’t read a Bible.

However, in his younger years as a sailor and then slave trader, John Newton loved to take the old sea chantey’s and turn them into songs that blasphemed God and usually ridiculed his captains. Often the foul words and expressions he worked into his songs would cause even a sage ol’ sailor to blush! The result was that many a captain would rather get rid of John, then have him on his crew.

So, how in the world does a foul-mouthed, blasphemer ever become a gifted minister of the gospel, capable of writing hymns that have touched hearts for over 250 years?

It’s grace – God’s incredible, undeserved, unmerited favor. You’ve experienced it and so have I!

A STORM AT SEA

John Newton experienced it for the first time on a stormy day in the middle of the North Atlantic. He awoke to screams coming from the deck as huge waves crashed over the ship; sweeping supplies, animals, food and many of the crew overboard. The ship was being torn apart. John helped the captain and what was left of the crew pump, bail and fill every crack and hole they could. Out of desperation he cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us!” Immediately he recognized that he, of all people, did not deserve any help from God. The captain was of the same mind for he was God-fearing and was convinced that John, with all his blaspheming, had brought God’s wrath on them; even calling him a Jonah. Fortunately, John was not thrown overboard, though I’m certain it had crossed the captain’s mind. After a month the ship finally limped its way to the coast of Ireland where, upon arriving, John kissed the ground!

According to the biography, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Aitken, the storm at sea would begin John Newton’s journey of faith. Looking back he wrote, “I began to know there is a God who hears and answers prayer.” He also said, “I was quite freed from the habit of swearing, which seemed to have been deeply rooted in me as a second nature.” However, it would take many more years ‘of dangers, toils and snares’ before his course would be steered away from sin and the slave trade and into ministry.

LOOKING BACK

Twenty-five years after the storm at sea, as he prepared his morning message and wrote the famous hymn to go with it, we can easily see where the words came from.

They came from a heart overflowing with thankfulness as he looked back at where he had been and where he was at that moment. A man who had been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and blessed to overflowing with the love and goodness of God.

I pray you would take a moment and remember where you were before Christ, and where you are now because of His goodness! Then pass that testimony on to someone who is now where you were.

Have you experienced God’s grace? Tell me about it!

George Muller: A Man of Prayer

Are you being asked by God to do something that is beyond your own abilities? You feel you could quite easily just ‘go under’ and this whole ‘stepping out in faith’ might just be for the birds? I know I have.

Life can be extremely challenging at times when we do step out, but the Lord will sustain and equip us to accomplish His purposes. He will not let us drown. The keys are prayer and trusting in His Word.

There is no greater example of this than the life of the Reverend George Muller. Whenever I read his autobiography I cannot help but feel challenged to be consistently in God’s Word and have a more prayer FILLED life, instead of just moments of prayer. A necessity for all of us who don’t want to drown! Even though he had many responsibilities, this was always a priority for him.

As the pastor of a growing church in Bristol, England, George Muller’s life was filled to overflowing with the needs of others and the needs of his own family, for he refused to take a salary. He wanted to rely solely on the Lord. So he became a man of constant, persevering prayer.

Time after time the Lord met his needs. Because of this he wanted to teach his own congregation to trust in God themselves. During this time the Lord put on his heart to start an orphan home because of the huge number of children that roamed the streets of their city. However, he wrote in his autobiography, that the main reason was to encourage the members of his church.

“If I, being a poor man, simply by prayer and faith obtained, without asking any individual, the finances for establishing and then carrying on an orphan home, this might strengthen the faith of the children of God. It would also be a testimony to the unconverted about the reality of the things of God.”

What started as a means of encouraging the saints grew, over the years, from one smalla1-ashleydown-home4 orphan home to five large orphanages providing food, shelter, education and spiritual training to over 18,000 children over a period of 117 years. Everything provided for by prayer, with God then moving on the hearts of believers! George Muller had many opportunities to be overwhelmed with the task God had given him, but he also knew the keys: prayer and trusting in the promises of God.

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”       Luke 18:1

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”   Ephesians 6:18

I think his autobiography should be a must read for every believer, at least once a year!

Acting or Speaking in Public: Two Habits to Avoid

Are you being asked to speak in front of people? Perhaps it’s to share your testimony or a message in church; act in the Christmas or Easter play or just recite scripture? Are you nervous? When people are nervous they tend to speak very quickly. NOT a good idea! You may speak quickly just to get it over with – or, perhaps, you think people won’t be interested in what you have to say. You should never underestimate the power and influence your words can have and what God will do through them.

Then there are others who are so familiarwithwhattheyaresayingthattheyrushthroughitlikearunawaytrain! enunciating-stewardessThis is also NOT a good idea. Think of an airline attendant explaining how to properly do up your seat belt; where the emergency doors are and how to make sure your oxygen mask is on before you put it on your screaming child. I often have a difficult time understanding that whole schpeel because they say it so fast. However, this is important information, but how many of us pay attention to it?

What if the next time you have to announce something in your church, read a scripture, share a testimony or perform a drama, you take a moment to breathe? Take a nice deep breath and let it out slooooowly. Then pray, asking the Holy Spirit to help you be a clear communicator, so that whatever you have to share would be heard and received by your audience (whoever that may be). Then slow down and enunciate your words so that people can understand and care about what you are saying.

Another habit people develop is what I call a ‘lazy mouth’. Are you a mumbler? Many of us are. We just get a little lazy about using our mouth to speak. Sounds silly, I know, but try the following exercise and see if you might have developed this habit.

Exercise:

Say this tongue twister 3 x’s quickly, “Unique New York.” How did you do? I bet not so well. That’s because you barely opened your mouth when you tried it and you spoke too fast.

Now do it again. This time place a pencil horizontally between your teeth. Speak around the pencil, slowly and clearly 3 x’s.

Now take the pencil out of your mouth and say “Unique New York” 3 x’s again, taking your time. See how easy it was because you slowed down and used your mouth.

So the next time you are to act, recite or speak to a group, remember to slooooww down, take a deep breath, use that mouth of yours and believe that God wants to use what you have to say.

Being an Effective Communicator

Work on having an expressive voice

We’ve all heard them. The speaker who was so boring to listen to that you had to prop your eyes open with toothpicks. Their voice so uninteresting that you found yourself distracted by thoughts of whether you had turned the light off in the bathroom before you left home. It wasn’t that the content was boring. It was just how it was being delivered.

The key to having a voice that is interesting to listen to is expression. It’s the difference between lulling your audience to sleep or keeping them on the edge of their seats. Having an expressive voice involves energy, emotion and inflection.

Energy: It Keeps an Audience Alive

In my years of working with audiences I have noticed that they feed off my energy. If I’m feeling tired my voice becomes dull and tired and so does my audience. But if my voice is infused with energy, it flows through the room and into the listeners. It’s as if they’re all sipping on a good cup of coffee, without the caffeine! This energy also helps with the projection of your voice, making it strong and interesting to listen to.

Emotion: Don’t Keep it Bottled Up

An expressive voice is one that is able to tap into some kind of emotion. An actor needs to convey the emotion of his dialogue, whether it’s one tinged with sadness, disbelief, outrage or humor. In the same way you need to communicate to the audience that you care about your topic. This happens through the quality of your voice. Is there a heartbeat behind those words? Showing emotion causes the audience to believe in and care about what you are sharing. However, too much emotion makes people uncomfortable. You will need to find a balance.

Inflection: To Pause or Not to Pause

The dictionary definition of inflection is “the grammatical variation of words or the modulation of the voice”. Consider, for a moment, a roller coaster ride. Can you imagine one that only stayed level the whole way? How boring would that be? What makes a roller coaster worth the ride is the variation of heart-stopping heights, twists and turns, as well as the level ground it travels on. Think of your voice in this way. Sometimes you need to pause for effect; get louder for emphasis; or quieter to make a point.

Exercise: Go on and give it a try!

Say the line below with the following emotions: anger, sadness, excitement, pleading, nervousness. Remember to vary how you say it by raising or softening your voice, pausing between words and stressing a certain word. Change it up with each emotion.

“Is all of that really necessary?”

Now to sound really bored you would say it again but as flat and dull as possible without any inflection or emotion.

“Is all of this really necessary?”

Now, never do that again!

So make the most of your voice and remember that how you say something is as important as what you say.

Finding Your Purpose: The Story of Gladys Aylward

Have you ever wondered what your purpose is? I think everyone should ask God this question. “Lord, what have you purposed me for?”

Now, if your kitchen is anything like mine you probably have a drawer for your cooking utensils. I’m betting its not crammed full of just wooden spoons or whisks. You probably have an assortment; each one having a a specific purpose for which it was created. You wouldn’t grab a flipper to clean out the mayonnaise jar because you know a spatula would do a much better job.

If we humans have created things to fulfill a certain purpose, in order for tasks to be accomplished more effectively and efficiently, than it stands to reason that God created people to fulfill certain purposes, as well.

“The Lord has made everything for his own purposes.” Proverbs 16:4 (NLT)

Gladys Aylward, who left school when she was fourteen, merely thought her purpose was to love God, go to church on Sundays and work as a house cleaner the other six days of the week. She never saw herself as anyone but ordinary. However, her Heavenly Father saw much, much more than that. He saw someone that he had purposed for something special. At a revival meeting in London, England in 1924, God called this ordinary woman to the mission field of China!

FAILING

After feeling God’s ‘unction’ Gladys took the next logical step. She enrolled in the China Inland Mission Training Center; the one started by Hudson Taylor, famous missionary to China. Gladys studied hard but failed all the exams. They informed her she wasn’t suited to being a missionary! Gladys was so discouraged, yet the call of God did not leave her heart.

Her work ethic, desire to serve others and her love for God was something the Lord was pleased with. Despite all kinds of obstacles and setbacks Gladys did go to China, traveling by almost every mode of transportation possible in the 1930’s. Once there the Lord used her to help start an inn for muleteers, where the gospel was shared by telling Bible stories. She became a foot inspector during the time that foot binding became forbidden, sharing the gospel in every village she visited. Because the Lord was with her she was able to stop a prison riot, which also helped change the deplorable conditions in the prison. She took in orphans and during WWII rescued 94 by taking them over the mountains to safety.

“I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China…I don’t know who it was…it must have been a man…a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing…and God looked down…and saw Gladys Aylward…and God said – “Well, she’s willing.”    Gladys Aylward

ARE WE LISTENING TO LIES?

I think she was his first choice. Unfortunately though, many Christians listen to the lies in their head and hearts. Lies like: I don’t have what it takes; I’m not as spiritual as so and so, I’m just too busy or what can I do?

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:10 (NIV)

I know I would have given up many times in what God has called me to if it weren’t for the example of Gladys Aylward. I can’t keep telling her story and not follow God’s purpose for myself. Her story has helped countless people see that if he can use someone as ordinary as Gladys to accomplish his purposes, he can use anyone. And God isn’t calling everyone to a foreign mission field. It may be to write that book the Lord put on your heart. Or reach out to your neighbors, seniors’ home, prison, high school or even lead a Bible study.

I for one, don’t want to be that utensil that sits in the bottom of the drawer, never being used. Hopefully you don’t either.