By Dr. Brian Arnold
Great figures in history are not hard to come by--every era has several. But it is exceedingly rare to have one figure that stands apart from the rest for millennia. Augustine of Hippo is one such man. Born in Thagaste (modern day Souk Ahras, Algeria) in ad 354, he had a devout Christian mother, Monica, though his father, Patrick, was a pagan. Although Monica prayed earnestly for her son, the young Augustine was too enticed by the pleasures of this world to give serious thought to the faith of his mother. His father worked hard to secure for him a top-notch education in rhetoric, where his talents were quickly noticed.
He left North Africa as a young man to further his education and to become a tutor to wealthy children of Roman aristocracy. During this time he was on his own quest for truth and he fell in and out of a number of different schools of thought, never finding anything that quite satisfied his hunger for truth. He eventually made his way to Milan where he encountered Ambrose, the bishop there. Augustine said of Ambrose, "At that time his gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of your corn, the joy of your oil, and the sober intoxication of your wine" (Confessions 5.13). He had never heard such eloquent preaching that captivated his mind and heart. Plus, Ambrose was the first person he had ever met who read silently! (Confessions 6.3). Augustine wrestled with the truths Ambrose preached, but he was still unconverted. Sometime later, racked with guilt over sins, Augustine found himself with tear-filled eyes longing for the new birth. It was then that he heard the voice of a child repeating the words, "Tolle, Lege" ("Take up and read"). He interpreted this as a sign from God and went at once to Paul's epistles, which were open in his room, and he read the first words he saw: "Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Rom 13:14, ESV). In that moment Augustine, by most accounts the most significant Christian outside of the New Testament, was born again at age 32. Reflecting on this moment years later, he rightly concluded, "You converted me to Yourself" (Confessions 8.12), recognizing that converting power belongs to the Lord.
For the rest of Augustine's story, download the free September/October edition of RTM Magazine.
Because we're lazy we want to shove everything off onto God and say, "Whatever will be will be." It is because of this laziness that many of us who believe in God's sovereignty can easily become fatalists. We blame "God's will" for circumstances that are really the results of our own failures or laziness rather than taking the advice of Augustine, "Pray like everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you." That is the confession of a man who believed strongly in the sovereignty of God.
There are some Christians content just to crawl into heaven by the skin of their teeth so that they will not have to roll up their sleeves and go to work exerting themselves and sacrificing where it's painful. Therefore they lie upon a couch called Christian fatalism and call it resting in the sovereignty of God. That is displeasing to the Lord and not the biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
Ravi Zacharias tells an illustration of this in his book, The Grand Weaver. It's an illustration about a sari. A sari is a long garment, a long piece of cloth beautifully decorated in rich colors that Hindu women will wrap around themselves. It goes from the shoulder down to the knees and wraps around. Zacharias says:
Some years ago, I was visiting a place known for making the best wedding saris in the world--saris rich in gold and silver threads, resplendent with an array of colors. I expected to see some elaborate system of machines that would boggle the mind. Not so! Each sari was made individually by a father and son team. The father sat above the son on a platform, surrounded by several spools of thread that he would gather into his fingers. The son did just one thing. At a nod from his father, he would move the shuttle from one side to the other and back again. This would be repeated for hundreds of hours, till a magnificent pattern began to emerge. The son had the easy task--just to move at the father's nod. All along, the father had the design in his mind and brought the right threads together.
Could you do what the son did, pulling the shuttle right to left and then left to right? Of course you could. Even a monkey could do that. You just move the shuttle from right to left at the father's nod.
But could you do what the Father did? Could you weave the threads in a way to create a masterful artistic design that someone would pay hundreds of dollars for?
God is designing your life like a woven tapestry of beauty and He looks at you and nods through His word, prayer, the brothers and sisters in the church, and circumstances. You are to respond to His nod. At the end of your life as you stand before God you will say, "But for Your grace, oh Lord, I would have never made it here!" and God, your Father, will look at you and say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant."
That's how God and His sovereignty works. He doesn't bypass you. He doesn't eliminate you. He's very much involved in your life but you have to work in submission to Him.
Does it seem that the year is passing faster than last year? Here it is September and we are anticipating autumn with its different hues and colors. I recently read an article that scientifically proved the theory that the older we get, time seems to pass more quickly. There is a reason why time speeds up as we age. The older the person, the less he or she experiences as new. Our minds are designed to conserve energy; therefore, the more predictable life is, the less we tune in. It is a biological efficiency so we can use our brainpower on things that really matter.
But such resourcefulness has a price tag--the more time is considered uneventful and not paid attention to, the faster time seems to travel. Why? Because the brain doesn't register the insignificant moments in the vivid memory bank. Hence, the last five years seem to have disappeared more rapidly than the previous five years.
What, then, can be done to make time seem to slow down? Slow down and be awed by God, His activities, and His creation. Don't take for granted what God does. His love should never become routine, although it is routine. It should never be taken for granted, even though we must take for granted that it will continue. Don't allow the grace of God to be common in spite of the fact we commonly need grace as we need oxygen.
I don't think about breathing. I simply mindlessly breathe. But now that I'm writing about breathing I am so thankful to God for lungs and for the richly nutrient air they inhale. In much the same way, we must take the time to thank God for all His tender kindnesses and live them as if they are new.
That is one of the purposes of RTM Magazine. We share with you stories of God's kindnesses in the lives of His people so that you will stop and experience His goodness to you. In so doing, time will be more significant and vivid. Breathe in God's love as you read.
Read more: RTM Magazine.
What happens when...
A pastor's son in London realizes he's not a Christian?
A musician takes the Gospel into the music scene?
The church discovers its greatest need?
RTM goes to Africa?
A Hindu scholar in India is converted?
Find out in the September/October issue of RTM Magazine.
The September/October RTM Magazine is now available for download in the Apple Newsstand for iPads and in the Google Play Store for Android devices. Access the free magazine by clicking here.
As always, this magazine is designed to equip, encourage, and challenge Christ followers around the world to a greater pursuit of the Gospel, who is Jesus Christ.
If you or someone you know have been blessed by the magazine, please take a moment to let us know or to share the magazine on your social media profiles or in your church.
And please continue with us in prayer as we seek the God of the harvest to revive and redeem His people.
By Whitt Madden
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church. (Colossians 1:24)
Over the last few weeks, I've shared with our Sunday school class that it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the words rejoice and suffering being in the same sentence. In fact, I feel like I fumbled through the whole class trying to unpack the weighty truth behind this passage in Colossians.
Websters 1828 Dictionary defines rejoice this way:
To experience joy and gladness in a high degree, to be exhilarated with lively and pleasurable sensations.
Seems to be the complete opposite of suffering doesn't it? Yet Paul said that he was able to rejoice in his sufferings for the sake of the church. Rejoicing is a physical expression of joy and something that radiates to people around you. You can't fake joy. It's either there or it isn't. Rejoicing is an expression of that joy.
To think that he could rejoice in suffering is a clear indication of the fruit of the Spirit (joy), which is independent of his circumstances. Only a Spirit-controlled life can rejoice in suffering.
Over the past week I was reminded of the life of missionary Helen Roseveare and her testimony of rejoicing in suffering.
Helen was British medical doctor serving in the 1960s in Zaire, Africa. She was the only doctor in the area and her team was ministering to almost half a million people. One day while driving to a meeting, her supervisor spoke to her about the possibilities of success as a missionary and he told her the following:
"If you think you have come to the mission field because you are a little better than others, or as the cream of your church, or because of your medical degree, or for the service you can render the African church, or even for the souls you may see saved, you will fail. Remember, the Lord has only one purpose ultimately for each one of us, to make us more like Jesus. He is interested in your relationships with Himself. Let Him take you and mold you as He will; all the rest will take its rightful place."
In 1964, revolution overwhelmed the country and Helen and the medical team were thrown in prison and for five and for a half months they endured unbelievable torture.
On the night she was to be executed, one of her students came to her defense and was severely beaten. His body was kicked about like a football and he was left for dead. Helen was sick, frightened, and alone.
Speaking about this in her Urbana 1976 address, she recalled, "I wasn't praying. I was beyond praying. Someone back home was praying earnestly for me. If I'd prayed any prayer it would have been, 'My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?' And suddenly, there was God. I didn't see a vision, I didn't hear a voice, I just knew with every ounce of my being that God was actually, vitally there. God in all His majesty and power. He stretched out His arms to me. He surrounded me with His love and He seemed to whisper to me, 'Twenty years ago, you asked Me for the privilege of being a missionary. This is it. Don't you want it?'
"Fantastic, the privilege of being identified with our Savior. As I was driven down the short corridor of my home, it was as though He clearly said to me, 'These are not your sufferings. They're not beating you. These are My sufferings. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.' And an enormous relief swept through me.
"One word became unbelievably clear, and that word was privilege. He didn't take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with Him, for Him, in Him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privileged of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of His suffering."
Helen said at that moment she understood her identification and union with Christ, and that they were altogether elevated by her suffering. She was able to in that moment rejoice. She recalled the words of her Bible teacher during her last night at Cambridge University before she graduated as he quoted Philippians 3:10.
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death."
He said to her, "Tonight you've entered into the first part of the verse, 'That I may know Him.' This is only the beginning, and there's a long journey ahead. My prayer for you is that you will go on through the verse to know 'the power of His resurrection' and also, God willing, one day perhaps, 'the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death'.
She had no idea on that night of joy how literally these words would be lived out in her life in the years ahead.