THAT literary genius, Robert Louis Stevenson, though hounded by handicaps and pinioned with pain, turned tragedy into triumph. His battle with tuberculosis lasted years; then came the master stroke -- blindness; later came sciatica with such an iron grip that the moving of a muscle was excruciating pain. In this derelict condition, Stevenson, the writer, was ordered to bed, and there the doctor strapped up his right arm to immobilize it. Writing meant agonizing pain. Days later the doctor came, only to be staggered at Stevenson's determination to work. The wellspring within was gushing forth. Then the doctor speculated, "Bitter things will be written and dark shadows of pain translated into verse." How wrong he was! Under this duress, the brilliant author of Treasure Island gave the world the glittering book, A Child's Garden of Verse. When a man can carry Stevenson's load and still sing, he is worthy of any man's admiration.
There is a parallel story in the Christian world. Its hero, too, was handicapped, for he had a close range fight with the tubercular monster. This man polished no literary gems (though he was capable of it), produced no books, wrote no poems, built no church, and founded no society. About two hundred years ago he died. But today he lives, for from his innermost being there is still flowing a challenge to sacrificial and sustained prayer. This giant in the faith is, of course, David Brainerd.
John Wesley caught some heat from Brainerd and urged his brother Charles to see that every minister in Methodism in that day read Brainerd's unmatched diary. Jonathan Edwards unwittingly burned a part of Brainerd's classic record, but the remainder still carried fire. The Brainerd story touched Forbes Robertson of Brighton and moved him to eloquence. Dr. A. J. Gordon of Boston read the tale, trekked to Brainerd's grave in the snow, and there bowed his head. From then on Gordon's ministry was changed. William Carey of England, who was shaken after meditating on the devotion of the zealot, Brainerd, opened the gospel to the Orient. Henry Martyn, also of England (Smith prizeman at twenty-one and senior wrangler of his university), forsook his loved Lydia and went to India after the call of God came to him through reading the life story of our hero, David Brainerd. There in India Martyn completed the first New Testament translation in Arabic. Bishop French and Anthony Groves, John Wilson and George Maxwell Gordon were alike stirred by Brainerd's diary. After these facts, who can deny the profit of "the corn of wheat" that falls into the ground and dies?
Here is my point: If one man could influence the Christian world as this man has done, what would an army like him do? There is no field more unexplored in Christian experience and possibility than this limitless field of prayer. Prayer means care for souls. Prayer means pain. Prayer means privacy, for often the battle is waged alone. Prayer means power. Prayer, Luther said, means "sweat on the soul." Prayer means filling in the sufferings of Christ. We cannot shoot fire-belching jet planes with sling shots nor repulse tanks with bottles; less still can we push back the powers of darkness with mere words. Jude talks of praying "in the Holy Ghost." This praying alone can bring to pass the purpose of a holy God and put to flight the army of alien powers. This praying is no toy soldier's game. This is realism. This is a fight to the death -- no parley with the enemy -- no truce -- no terms -- a fight to the death!
With some accuracy a recent writer portrayed the present, bleak picture of the slow-footed Church. Then to relieve the shadowy story, he grabbed the truth of Joel 2:28, "Afterwards,... I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh," and hailed this truth as a picture of hope.
Indeed, such it is if not divorced from its context, for the whole of Chapter 2 of Joel is the pattern as a handmaid to revival. This is a prescription for a sick church and for a dying world. God is a God of order, and the order is clear in the chapter mentioned. (The peril of all Bible teaching is that we get lopsided and, like Ephraim, get overdone on one side of our understanding and underdone on the other side.) Only they who fulfill God's commands have a full claim on the Lord.
As I see it, believers need a new concerted effort for this crucial hour. For far less worthy causes than this, we can dislocate our programs when it suits us so to do. Do men pass forever from eternal mercy? And is it true that there is no arbitration after the judgment seat of Christ? If you give a positive answer, then is there anything on earth worth more than the power of the Lord moving upon mankind? Though you cannot be the salt of the whole earth nor the light of the whole world, you may season your community and lighten your neighborhood. In the saintly Brainerd's dying moments, he passed on to the Church God's secret for revival in this or any other day. Listen to the pain-gasped word -- travail, t r a v a i 1, t-r-a-v-a-i-l. Let's try it!
Used by permission, and excerpted from MEAT FOR MEN by Leonard Ravenhill, copyright (c) 1961, and published by Bethany House Publishers, a ministry of Bethany Fellowship, Inc. All rights reserved. ISBN 0-87123-362-2. For further information about the missionary outreach of Bethany Fellowship or for a complete listing of Ravenhill titles and others, please contact the publisher at 11300 Hampshire Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55438; ph: (612) 829-2500; FAX: (612) 829-2768.
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