An Experimental Fellowship
“The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” —D. L. Moody
The Bible may be one of the best-selling books of all time, but it is a resource that polarises opinion. Some atheists are strongly opposed to it, as they maintain that scripture contains unhelpful, ill-informed, and incorrect teaching that is positively harmful for today’s society. Others take a more disinterested view of it, as they see it as a largely irrelevant piece of literature from a more primitive time, which inevitably contains an eclectic mixture of both good and bad instruction. By contrast, Christians believe the Bible is not only the word of God, but it is completely indispensable for all of humanity.
In truth, of course, many believers find parts of scripture difficult. Some of it is hard to understand or relate to, and the teaching doesn’t always have a lasting or deep impact. One obvious reason for this is that people have busy lives and whilst they often invest a great deal of energy developing their professional skills or taking part in hobbies or leisure activities, they simply don’t spend much time reading the Bible. Another reason is that often Christians only engage with scripture in a fairly surface-level way, like a sportsperson preparing for a contest by training in a manner that provides only limited improvement.
RZIM Chaplain, Tom Tarrants, suggests that people should look to the example of George Müller (1805-1898) for guidance in this area. The latter was an evangelist who achieved fame not only for helping hundreds of thousands of British children in his orphanages and schools, but also for his steadfast faith that the providence of God would meet the considerable needs of his many ventures. Yet he is less known for the life-changing discovery he made in 1841, which lay behind the deep joy and faith that defined and drove his ministry.
Although he had routinely prayed each morning for over a decade, he realized that his mind often wandered and it could take some time before he was conscious of any comfort, encouragement, or humbling of his soul. He eventually came to the conclusion that “the first great and primary business” he needed to attend to was the nourishing of the inner self, so that the soul became “happy in the Lord.”(1) This, he stressed, was far more important than focusing on how to serve or glorify God, because reaching the unconverted, helping others, and improving one’s character or behavior were all dependant on being spiritually nourished and strengthened.
In order to achieve this, he stressed that a believer had to enter an “experimental fellowship with God,” which required reading and meditating on the Bible. This process involved, firstly, asking for the Lord’s blessing upon his scripture and then to meditate on the word “searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.” Asking the Spirit for help in considering God’s word, pondering over it, and applying it to his heart, he almost always found that within a few minutes his soul was “led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication.” In other words, despite not giving himself to prayer, the meditation almost immediately led him to it. By speaking to his Father and friend about the things brought before him in the Bible, he found that he was “comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed.” Furthermore, the process also ensured that the teaching would sink in, rather than disappearing from his mind like water through a pipe.
After he had been doing this for some time, he would move on to the next part of the passage turning it “into prayer for myself or others as the Word led,” whilst continually bearing in mind that the object of the meditation was to gain food for the soul. In doing so, he was able to achieve a “peaceful if not happy state of heart” that he claimed was vital for his ongoing ministry. Indeed, he explained that the blessing he received gave him the “help and strength” to “pass in peace” through the deeper trials of life.
What astonished him most of all about this revelation was that he had not heard about the approach from any believer, whether in print, public ministry, or private conversation. It was as plain to him as anything, that this had been taught to him by God. Furthermore, such was the “immense spiritual profit and refreshment” that he derived from it for over forty years that he “affectionately and solemnly” urged all believers to do the same.
If you find the Bible difficult, or doubt its power, or simply want a new way of reading scripture, then why not try Müller’s approach for yourself? Not only did this “experimental fellowship with God” provide him with a deep happiness in his soul, but it was also the foundation upon which he was able to do some amazing things, often in the face of considerable challenges. After all, as he pointed out, “How different it is when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials and the temptations of the day come upon one.”
Simon Wenham is research coordinator for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Europe.
(1) Quotes taken from G. Müller, Autobiography of George Müller (London, 1906), 152-154.