ENDANGERED ASPECTS OF
Prayer, Preaching and Obedience
The three pillars of the church are God’s Word, prayer and faith linked with obedience.
Thousands of martyrs willingly sacrificed their lives rather than disregard these important
tenants of Christianity. The great missionary and revival movements of past centuries were
fueled by those who were faithful to proclaim the Word, to pray and obey.
Jesus taught and preached everywhere he went. He used many parables, but the central
focal point was God’s Word. Jesus also spent plenty of time in prayer. Even when the
throngs gave him little time for rest, he would depart to a mountain or desert place
to pray. He commanded his disciples to preach the Word and also to pray. His final
hours before the crucifixion were spent in prayer while his disciples slept. His
emphasis on obedience (commitment) cannot be overseen.
Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16) and in his writings to the churches,
he underscored the value and importance of preaching, praying and obedience to the faith:
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is
rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord
shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed ? and
how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard ? and how shall they hear
without a preacher ? And how shall they preach, except they be sent ? as it is written,
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad
tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith,
Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by
the word of God. (Romans 10:12-17)
God has made it clear in the Bible that all should be taught the Word; all are to
pray and all are to believe and obey.
FIRST ENDANGERED SPECIES: PRAYING
I am concerned about the lack of true prayer in today’s churches and among
Christians. Prayer meetings are usually the least attended services if they
even exist. There is probably no reliable information on how much time the
average Christian spends in prayer, but some sources claim that as a rule,
the majority of Christians spend no time whatsoever in daily prayer, and
those who do rarely spend more than five or ten minutes per day in prayer.
Even those engaged in full-time ministry have little time for prayer. Pastors
and missionaries often tell people how busy they are and I sometimes wonder
if they are really making excuses for their meager prayer lives.
What is true prayer according to the Bible?
First of all, prayer is conversation
with God. We share our thoughts, feelings and ideas with Him and ask for His
opinions. That is why prayer and Bible reading are inseparable. Someone has
defined prayer as “My stupid stammering before an all-knowing, all-powerful and
understanding God”. This may be the case at times, but I should hope that we
think carefully about what we say to God.
Secondly, prayer includes thanksgiving
and praise. I enjoy hearing my wife and children telling me how much they love
and appreciate me, but it could get pretty boring if that is all I hear,
especially if spoken in the language of Canaan. Many prayers of Christians are
almost completely comprised of worship, praise and thanksgiving. These elements
certainly belong in our prayers, but prayer is much more.
Thirdly, prayer is asking or seeking. We
ask God for wisdom, help, guidance and opportunity to serve. We pray for the
needs of others, whether these be spiritual or physical. In prayer we recognize
our own insufficiency and God’s greatness. Unfortunately, we often pray
selfishly. When I hear some Christians pray, I suspicion that they view God as
the genie in Aladdin’s lamp!
The Bible contains many admonishments
and promises pertaining to prayer. No experience, training or special gifts are
required for praying, yet it is the greatest source of power in the universe! We
often hear people say, “I can not give, but I can at least pray.” Without
questioning the pretext, I would definitely call the conclusion into question.
Praying is the greatest thing we can do!
Prayer is closely associated with the study of God’s Word and obedience. If one
of these aspects is neglected, the other two will also suffer. A person who
doesn’t spend time in the Word will have little time for prayer and serving the
Lord. A person who is not obedient to God, will lose interest in the Word and
prayer. The study of God’s Word “influences” (changes, forms) us; Prayer seeks
God’s intervention and interaction; thus our prayers “influence” God’s working
in and through us. Witnessing, preaching and our obedience “influence” others.
SECOND ENDANGERED SPECIES: PREACHING
During nearly four decades of missionary service in Austria, I have found
that preaching and witnessing are slowly vanishing. Few Christians have taken
notice of this trend, but verbalizing God’s plan of salvation (witnessing and
preaching) has become increasingly rare.
Austrians have an expression which says, “Speech is silver; silence is gold.”
If this is true, there is plenty of silver in circulation, but Christians
seem to be infatuated with gold! When the Apostle James wrote about all
the terrible things our tongue is capable of, he was certainly not suggesting
that we disobey God! We are commanded to preach the gospel and be witnesses
of Christ. The shelves in my office are full of Bibles and other books, my
filing cabinet is filled with sermons and many more are stored on my computer;
but unless the Word is shared with others, it produces no fruit. Seed must be
planted in order to bring fruit.
The devil is very much aware of the power of speech and he makes good use of
it. The infamous Austrian politician Adolf Hitler captivated beer-hall audiences
with his rhetoric. Another Austrian politician of our times, whose name also
begins with “H” and ends with “R”, does the same today. When Joerg Haider gives
one of his populist speeches, he always draws a crowd. We prefer driving into
the country to enjoy the scenery which helped make “Sound of Music” the all-time
box office hit. But there is still a bunch of Austrians that would rather sit in
a smoke-filled hall sipping beer and listening to a man whose main contribution
to society may be providing the framework for a sequel to “Sound of Music”.
It is tragic that many or perhaps most evangelical Christians who have much to
say about politics, sports, TV shows and even religion, neglect to verbalize
God’s Word in a world that desperately needs to hear it.
When we arrived in Austria back in 1964, nearly all churches conducted at
least one evangelistic campaign or outreach per year. Most older church members
are the fruit of these efforts. A number of Christian organizations in Austria
were dedicated to evangelistic preaching. Word of Life, Janz Team, Neues Leben,
Bible Scripture Union, Operation Mobilization, Church on Wheels and other groups
worked together with churches and missionaries in order to reach Austrians with
the gospel. Although films, literature and other means were also implemented,
the verbal proclamation of God’s Word was the primary means of sharing the
gospel with both individuals and groups.
Billy Graham’s “Euro-70” campaign marked the beginning of a new era of evangelism
which uses technical innovation. Television cameras projected the Graham Crusade
in Dortmund, Germany per cable hookup into scores of theaters, churches and public
halls all over Europe and even behind the Iron Curtain. Similar campaigns, such as
“Pro Christ” followed. During the seventies, the once popular tent meetings faded
into oblivion as new methods of evangelism emerged. Coffee Bars, Tea Rooms and
Gospel Concerts became increasingly popular.
The decade of the eighties introduced other unique methods of evangelism.
Christian psychologists or marriage counselors began to conduct public seminars
on themes of interest. A gardening specialist presents elaborate multi-projector
slide shows on organic gardening. He sells Bibles and other Christian books along
with seed and his own books. I have shown a multimedia show about the Amish of
Pennsylvania at least fifty times throughout Austria. “Women’s Breakfasts” are
also quite popular. Although these new methods of evangelism are legitimate and
even necessary in a culture where the average person is repulsed by anything that
smells of religion, we need to do some serious thinking about the effectiveness
of our evangelistic efforts. Is there no longer room for preaching the gospel
to the lost?
What these new methods have in common, is the fact that the preaching of the
Word is kept to a minimum. Evangelism used to mean preaching the Word. Older
believers remember the familiar pose of Billy Graham holding his Bible in the
air and saying, “The Bible says...”. Some of today’s evangelism is destitute
of any kind of preaching and contains a bare minimum of God’s Word in any form.
A Bible is seldom seen, let alone preached from. Generally, there is no prayer
or any mention of a church. One tends to avoid anything that might ring of religion
or betray an evangelistic motive behind the program. Evangelistic meetings in
which the preaching of the Word is the central point of focus have become rare.
I could count all such meetings in Austria during the past few years on one hand.
Most evangelistic events commemorating the 1000th birthday of Austria
(“Ostarrichi” 1996) contained little direct preaching of the gospel.
Fritz Meier, of the Every Home Crusade, is to my knowledge the last Austrian
evangelist and he is well past retirement age. Furthermore, I know of no Christian
organization in Austria today, which makes the verbal proclamation of the gospel
through witnessing or preaching its primary objective. Every Home Crusade, “Neues
Leben”, Operation Mobilization und Bible Scripture Union are still effectively
spreading the gospel, but mostly in nonverbal forms. Open Air Campaigners comes
closest, but even here, sketchboards are used to hold attention and the message
is also “sketchy”.
Most evangelistic events are musical concerts with plenty of wattage, in both
sound and light. Texts are frequently in English and the gospel message is so
well camouflaged that even I hardly recognize it. This method of evangelism is
so attractive and popular that admissions are frequently collected and applauding
audiences demand at least one encore.
“All Things to all Men”
One could argue that more people will listen to a homeopathic gospel than to
the undiluted Word of God, but I seriously doubt that this was what the Apostle
Paul meant when he said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all
means save some.” Paul also said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the
Jew first, and also to the Greek..” Paul was “compelled to preach”, but this
is not typical of evangelistic efforts today.
Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not an enemy of new and modern methods
of evangelism. I taught a course on “Packaging the Gospel” in our Bible
Institute. I personally use multimedia presentations, give lectures on Church
History, do „Chalk Talks“ and use the internet in order to reach the lost for
Christ. Before Christmas we set up a tent and invite the public to dip candles.
While they wait for the candle to harden, we share the message of Jesus Christ,
whose birth we celebrate. There are good reasons why we need to package the
gospel for the world. Jesus used parables and stories almost exclusively,
but when the Word of God plays only a marginal role in the church and in
evangelism, this should give cause for grave concern.
From Word to Worship
For decades, many of our evangelical churches were weak on praise and worship.
The emphasis was on “doing” rather than “being”; on man’s accomplishments rather
than on God’s unique attributes. Along came the charismatics, who reintroduced
praise and worship. They grew while mainstream evangelical churches criticized.
Eventually, evangelical Christians learned that worship and praise belong in
our church services. The course correction was needed, but in many churches
today, we can witness an over-reaction. Worship leaders and musicians are
more important than pastors, teachers and spiritual counselors in many churches.
The investment of time and money is rapidly shifting from ministry of the
Word to the ministry of worship.
Music is Great, but not Indispensable
It must be understood that certain elements of missions are of utmost importance
and dare not be neglected, while other matters are secondary or even trivial.
We enjoy times of worship and praise ourselves. My wife and I like to sing, play
instruments and listen to cassettes or CDs in our home and car. Music is a great
and important ministry in the church and an effective tool in evangelism. People
can be saved or blessed in Christian concerts too, but it is not the music which
convicts of sin and brings salvation. Although music played a role in both the
Old and New Testaments, I believe it is safe to say that music is not absolutely
indispensable in churches and in evangelism. We cannot say that about God’s Word.
There are only two references in the New Testament, which encourage Christians
to make music. Both are closely associated with the teaching of God’s Word.
Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit,
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and
making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things
unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting
yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:17-21)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and
admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing
with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)
Let There be “Lite”
“Lite” is not only a popular term in the grocery store, but it has also
come to characterize the daily spiritual diet of many Christians. If they
have any personal devotions at all, it is likely to come from a simple
devotional calendar. Sunday church services include numerous choruses,
announcements, special numbers and sometimes spontaneous testimonies.
The “sermon” is frequently a single elaborated thought of the pastor
or speaker, which may or may not be derived from God’s Word. In extreme
cases, a verse or two is read from a modern paraphrased Bible, which
serves as a springboard for ideas which are hardly associated with the
text. There is little spiritual nourishment in such “fast-food sermons”.
I have preached in several churches recently, in which the preliminaries
(if you can call them that) lasted more than an hour and a half. When I
was finally called upon to bring the message, people were already
looking at their watches. Under such circumstances, it is important
that one make the message short and illustrate it well.
Some would argue that Bible teaching takes place in home Bible study
groups. My experience has been that churches with easy-to-digest worship
services lean toward small groups which are also heavy on fellowship - small
talk over coffee, tea and cake, but light on biblical teaching.
The Main Thing, is that the Main Thing is the Main Thing
I worked several years in an art gallery and among other duties, I made
hand-carved and gold-leaf frames for old masterpieces. It was important
that the frame fit the period and style painting, but it was not to
distract from the painting. A frame should enhance and draw attention
to the picture.
A common problem in churches and missions today, is that many Christians
seem to misunderstand or even ignore Christ’s missionary call. He didn’t
say that we should try to attract, impress, entertain or trick the lost
into the kingdom. He sent his disciples out to proclaim the Word, into the
highways and byways, checking the hedges, markets or other places where we
might find the lost. He sends us into both villages and cities, in our
homelands and unto the end of the world (chronologically, geographically
or both). Lest we have the wrong impression of what awaits us, Jesus
said, “I send you forth as lambs among the wolves.” On the other hand,
Jesus promised that He would personally accompany us - a “no-lose” situation!
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, there is a pretty good chance of turning
a few wolves into sheep, as was demonstrated by the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
Not a few Christian leaders seem to place more value on methods, public
acclamation, psychology and culture than on the power of God’s Word.
God promised that His Word would “not return to Him void, but accomplish
His purposes” (Isa. 55:11). In other words, when I speak God’s Word, it
will not be ineffective, but rather accomplish whatever God pleases,
effectively carrying out His purposes! What God says should be the criteria
for our methodology. What wicked men think of us and of God should have
little influence on our mandate.
The de-emphasis of the Word in evangelism and the church should give us
cause for alarm. I certainly don’t want to generalize or even contend
that most evangelical churches have taken this route, but it is definitely
a trend which has affected many churches, including some which have
traditionally been strong contenders of the faith. I will leave it up
to my readers to assess the situation in their own churches. What role
does the teaching of God’s Word play in the children and youth ministries;
or in the ladies missionary circle and men’s breakfasts; in evangelism?
Cause and Effect
If church members are not particularly interested in the preaching of
God’s Word, they could hardly be expected to share it with the lost. If
they don’t like fellow Christians to “meddle” in their own personal lives,
they would not be likely to witness to the lost.
Christian missionary organizations thrive on gifts from believers, so these
too tend to cater to the wishes, tastes and desires of the churched. For
this reason little effective evangelistic literature is available. In
order to sell, it must appeal to the Christians who pay for it.
I spent two years encouraging and helping Austrian churches set up websites.
I repeatedly stressed the value of this medium in reaching the lost for
Christ. A few churches eventually published websites advertising their
regular services, but they were designed to appeal to the membership.
There were few if any elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ or features
that might speak to unbelievers. In surfing American church sites, I find
the same to be true.
Who Says, “They Won't Listen”?
I am not convinced that the lost are any more allergic to the clear
teaching of scriptures than most believers. Sin is the main problem among
believers and unbelievers. The best medicine for sinners in either camp
is a healthy dose of biblical preaching and teaching.
During the seventies, we operated a youth center in Linz. One summer, the
center was open six nights a week, but this proved to be too much for us,
so we went to Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. On two nights, we had
activities, refreshments and entertainment such as concerts, films or
special events. The third night was reserved for in-depth Bible study.
This soon became the most popular evening - not just for Christian youth,
but even for kids off the street, some of them drug addicts!
At the same time, Bible teachers from Klaus Castle, operated by the Torch
Bearers, conducted weekly Bible studies in the YMCA which were attended
regularly by 50-100 youth. I can hear someone saying, “But that was back
in the seventies! Times have changed!” Yes, times have changed, but not
people or the Word.
Recently, I had an experience which showed me that young Austrians who
never darken the door of a church are still willing to listen to the gospel.
A woman who came to me for help because of an alcohol problem received
news that her 24-year-old son had died. After a night of drinking, he
choked on his own vomit. The distraught mother called and asked if I
would speak at his funeral, which was to be conducted by a Catholic
priest. I agreed under the condition that the priest allowed it. He
was obviously not excited about the idea, but said that anyone can speak
at the grave side.
In addition to about fifty relatives, over a hundred of the youth’s friends
attended the funeral. Most of their lives centered around disco dancing,
drugs and alcohol. These youth seldom if ever attended church and for the
most part, had nothing good to say about religion. The names of divinity
are merely swear words and church the subject of jokes. I was interested
to note that nearly all of these young people went through the ritual of
crossing themselves at the appropriate times and moving their lips when
the congregation chanted the Lord’s Prayer and “Hail Mary” during Mass and
the processional to the cemetery. What they had learned as children had not
One youth set up a powerful “boom box” and played loud rock music while
the casket was being lowered into the grave, but the undertaker was able
to persuade him to turn it off while I talked. I had prayed much about
this opportunity the night before. I knew that I only had a few minutes
to speak to a hostile audience.
I began by saying that five of the last six funerals I attended in Austria
were of young people under 30. One of these was a drug addict, killed by an
overdose. A 21-year-old youth had shot himself after the girl he was living
with left him for someone else. A third and fourth were killed in automobile
accidents. The others were children that died in infancy. In each case
friends and loved ones asked how a loving God could allow a person to die
at such a tender young age.
I then told of a young man who was executed for crimes that he never
committed. His own father could easily have prevented the murder of his
son, but did nothing to prevent it. Interestingly enough, no one asked
why God allowed such a thing to happen, for God himself was that Father.
No one asks the question “why?” because the Bible clearly states that
Jesus came into the world for that very purpose.
I then said that the occasion of this funeral should cause each one
present to consider the real meaning and purpose of life. We cannot
blame God for allowing bad experiences, without giving him credit for
the good things we enjoy. If we ask why God allowed this young man to
die, then it is only fair to ask Him why He allows us to live. The answer
to that question is also given in the Bible. Life only has purpose when
lived for Jesus Christ. If someone present should repent and turn from his
godless ways to follow Christ, then the death of this young man was not
When I was finished speaking, the radio-recorder remained silent as did
the youth. The undertaker invited all present to a meal in an adjoining
restaurant at the expense of the family. Nearly all the young people
remained, but very few ate. I had good opportunities to share with some
of them in more depth and to my amazement, they were very receptive.
“Light”, not “Lite”
Light, regardless of how small and insignificant it may seem to us,
is powerful enough to dispel the greatest darkness – if it isn’t hidden
under a bushel. Many churches serve as bushels rather than lighthouses.
Although Christians readily agree that the Bible is of primary importance
for Church and missions, deeds speak much louder than words. Materialism,
comfort and entertainment obviously rate higher. With “evangelism lite”
and “fast food churches”, who needs Bible training? It is no wonder that
an increasing number of Austrian churches have found that they can get
along quite well without trained pastors and teachers. And with no need
for these, enrollment has dropped dramatically in Bible training institutions.
Untrained and unskilled workers can land a job at McDonalds. They can make
and sell hamburgers as well as anyone with a doctorate in culinary arts
(if there is such a thing). But we are called to build the Lord’s church.
A carpenter who thinks he can save time, energy and money by doing away
with the tedious job of sharpening his tools, is seriously misguided.
There is no dearth of potential students in Austria. Christian concerts
and youth rallies are attended by more young people than ever. The problem
lies with church members and especially with church leaders, who fail to
recognize the real problem and seek God’s cure.
THIRD ENDANGERED SPECIES: OBEDIENCE
The founder of Word of Life, Jack Wyrtzen, made some anonymous poet famous by frequently quoting his words:
Only one life; ‘twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
I was converted in 1956, but even before that, I often said that I wished I had
a dozen lives to live, so I could do all the things I wanted to do in life. Architect,
building contractor, inventor, mechanic, welder, farmer, boat builder, musician and
artist – these were only a few of my interests. Following my conversion, I took the
above mentioned ditty to heart. I wasted no time enrolling in a Bible college to
prepare for whatever the Lord wanted to do with my life. I wanted to obey! Looking
back over nearly four decades of ministry, I can say that as a missionary, I did
most of the things I had dreamed of doing as a youth. Some invest in things and
have them only as long as they live, but we invested in people who will be with us
for eternity! Incidentally, we also have so many "things" that we don't know where
to put them all!
Obedience is Learned
Kids don’t need to be taught to do wrong. Obedience, however, must be
learned. Even the sinless Christ learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8). It is
no sin to trip and fall when learning to walk, or to make a grammatical
mistake when learning to talk, or to bend a nail when helping in the
carpenter shop. These belong to the learning process and Jesus went
through this just like we do.
I was anything but a good student in High School, but God changed my
attitude towards learning after I became a Christian. I had to work 20
to 40 hours a week next to my studies during Bible College, but I still
spent lots of time in the library doing extra work. I often got disgusted
with fellow students who signed up only for those classes which were easy
or required. Once, I asked a roommate if he was seeking the least
education for his money. His reply left me speechless; “Sure, I want to
get paid for working, not pay for it!” The price for that piece of paper
called a diploma was around $15,000 in 1962, and the school wasn’t even accredited!
Upon our arrival in Austria, we promptly enrolled in two language schools
simultaneously. In order to expedite the learning process, we also hired a
Germanics student in the University to give us private tutoring. If we were
going to be obedient to God’s commission, we needed to learn the German
language. We can learn from our critics and even from enemies of the gospel.
My critics taught me good German and I can only blame myself for the bad German.
After eight years of grammar school, four years of High School, four years
of college, two years of language study and four more decades of learning
in ministry, I am still not educated. I am presently devouring books on
church history and there is much more that I would like to learn. But I hope
and pray that learning does not become an obsession or end in itself, but
that it rather leads to obedience.
Obedience is Expressed in Propagation
I have already mentioned the importance of witnessing and preaching, but
the gospel can be propagated in other ways as well.
A German invented the printing press and another one translated the Bible
into German and had it printed. For a dozen years, I operated a mission print
shop, producing tons of literature for Austria and Eastern Europe. My verbal
output was multiplied many times over, but printing multiplies the potential
of the tongue both positively and negatively. You don’t make a single mistake
in the printing business; you make thousands or even millions of them! But
there is no denying the fact, that Christian literature has had a powerful
impact on this world.
Other means of propagating are through radio and TV. Today we also have Internet.
No Christian rejects printed literature because of all the pornography, yet
there are some who argue against the use of internet for evangelism because
others use it for evil purposes. In 1999, I was among the 2 % of those over
sixty, who were linked to the web. Today, senior citizens are the fastest
growing group getting online. Most of them are just consumers, but I am a
producer, managing several websites and helping churches to get on line.
Obedience is Hard Work
The farmer who has the cleanest and sweetest smelling barn, probably has no
cows. The most hated person in the workplace is the one who does too much. He
or she is a threat to less motivated workers and sometimes even makes the boss
Many Christians seem to believe that the surest way of avoiding mistakes is to
make the biggest mistake of all: do nothing! If we are attempting to obey God,
He is very gracious when we make mistakes. A farmer might criticize the sower
of Matthew 13. He wasted lots of good seed by spreading it or at least allowing
it to fall along the highway, on rocks or among thorns. But did the Lord scold
him for that? No! He simply said that sooner or later, he found good soil and
it produced fruit.
We too have seemingly wasted a lot of time, money and effort in our 38 years
of missionary work, but we have also seen fruit. Our first church planting
project in 1966 would have exhausted most senior pastors. In addition to preaching
and conducting three weekly Bible studies, there were children and youth meetings,
visitation and evangelistic outreach. Shoveling tons of snow and coal in winter
and cutting hay for our rabbits in summer were welcome diversions! From all the
coal we shoveled and rabbits we fed, not much is left of our hard work today.
But the church is now self supporting, self propagating and even supports missionaries
in other lands.
We could say the same about our youth ministry in the city of Linz. We reported in
1972, that at least 40 youths had accepted Christ during the summer months. Today,
only a dozen of those are still following the Lord. One is a pastor, another
teaches in a Bible college and others serve their churches in one way or another.
Our print shop produced countless thousands of tracts, invitations, posters,
leaflets and even books. Only the Lord knows how much of this produced eternal
fruit. Some of the literature was smuggled into Eastern Europe and I recently
met a man who helped distribute it on the other side of the Iron Curtain. His
moving story alone, made our printing ministry worth the effort.
The Bible Institute we founded in 1984, has had many ups and downs. We have
lost track of many graduates, but a good number are serving the Lord with
great blessing. We know of some who are pastors, missionaries and mission
leaders. Two are magazine editors and another established a Christian publishing
house. Obedience is hard work, but it pays eternal dividends!
True Obedience is Voluntary
When people ask me what my life's verse is, I have to blush. For some time
after my conversion, I kept looking for a new "life verse." As a kid, I always
had one, "Jesus wept," but I felt that I needed to have a more meaningful verse.
Then one day, I realized that my mind kept going back to a little known verse that
had been very helpful in numerous difficult circumstances or when I was having
difficulty understanding God and His Word. The Holy Spirit kept bringing John 7:17
to my mind: If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether
it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. Jesus was actually answering his
critics, but I adopted that obscure verse as my life verse. Two small words,
"IF" and "DO" are the keys that unlock the door to God's truth. When I honestly
seek to subject my will to his will, I can rest assured that God will not admonish
me. It also works in reverse. If I seek to avoid doing what does not please God,
I can have his peace about it. The verse has become even more meaningful to me
in this "selfie" age!I often feel frustrated that I don’t get half as much done
as I intend to do.
I crashed in the fall of 1995. They call it a mid-life crises, but I was 58 then
and I doubt if I’ll live to be 116! People keep telling me, “Don’t do so much!”
On the other hand, the same people keep finding more for me to do.
During the eighties, Christian friends told me I was wasting my time trying
to generate interest in establishing an Austrian Bible Institute. Four such
schools had already failed and I should have known better, for I was personally
involved in three of the failed projects. But God gave me a burden for training
Austrians, so I kept planning, praying and wanting. The Austrian Bible
Institute opened in 1984 with me serving as Business Manager, which means
I was responsible for raising money to pay the bills. When people saw the
problems and difficulties I had to face, they often said, “Well, you asked
for it!” They were right too, but I have never resented asking!
I always liked working with youth and when one of the Bible Institute students
shared his burden for beginning an organization to establish junior youth
clubs in Austria, I volunteered my full support. We established the “ABÖJ”
(an organization similar to AWANA) in 1987 and within ten years, we counted
sixty local clubs and 500 trained workers in Austria. The work has now expanded
into 17 European nations. Obedience is voluntary, but it can also be rewarding
and even fun!
In secular work, people only do what they get paid to do, but when we obey
Christ, we are always looking for things to do. That usually costs money, however.
Although we refrained from making debts, we were repeatedly amazed at how God
provided! When we obeyed God, people would ask, “Can I help you?” or “Can you
use this money?” If we didn’t have needs at the time, the question usually put
us on a guilt trip and we felt we should start another project!
Before we departed for Austria in 1964, I was offered a lucrative job in New
York City, making and gold-leafing custom frames for museums and wealthy art
collectors. Do you think I would be happy there today, had I accepted? After
arriving in Austria, Mattel Corporation wanted me to set up franchises
throughout Europe for the distribution of their Frisbies, Barbie Dolls,
Matchbox Cars and Hula Hoops. Can you imagine what a hectic life that would
have been? In 1982, I was asked to take on a monstrous printing project
involving 10 million Dollars over a period of ten years. Money was available
for anything I needed and equipment worth half a million would belong to me
at the completion of the project. I turned these offers down because we knew
where the Lord wanted us and what He wanted us to do. We would not have been
happy anywhere else with all the money in the world.
I have raised lots of money - well over half a million Dollars for various
mission projects; a print shop, Bible Institute, refugee aid etc., but God’s
blessings are not always material. He makes us happy with what we have.
It pains me to see Christian young people investing their time and talents
in occupations for the sole purpose of getting money. I can only call on
them to pray and study God’s Word in the hopes that they will learn obedience.
There is nothing better for anyone than prayer, proclaiming God’s Word and obedience!
I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Ralph V. Harvey, 1999