There are some trends in evangelical thinking that delight me; others create concern. I am still shocked by how quickly fads come, cause immense fascination and euphoria, and then disappear like a vapour.
How much evangelical energy is wasted on these is beyond calculation. But, since I have been a Christian, I have noticed a diminishing interest in — in fact, almost an antagonism towards — such challenging concepts as the Bible’s teaching on sacrificial Christian living.
We expect comfortable homes near the finest schools in the best areas; we insist on our right to play whatever games we prefer, go on exotic holidays and indulge our whims. But it is as if we turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the practical challenges of the Word of God.
Yet, when I read missionary biographies, I am reminded that missionary heroes of previous centuries were characterised by a separation from the cares of this world, the love of things and the deceitfulness of riches.
They lived lives of sacrifice that defied losses, setbacks and difficulties. Hudson Taylor, the nineteenth-century missionary to China, said, ‘I enjoyed the luxury of having few things to care for’. And many of the best educated in the land joined him in China, laying down their lives in the cause of proclaiming the gospel.
In the same period of history, the finest men and women from the UK and USA went to Africa, knowing that in six months they would almost certainly die of disease.
David Livingstone said, ‘I will place no value on anything I have or may possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ. If anything will advance the interests of that kingdom, it shall be given away or kept only as by giving or keeping it I shall promote the glory of him to whom I owe all my hopes in time and eternity’.
But today, for whatever reason, sacrifice for Christians has almost become a forgotten teaching in the West.
The life of King David provides an illustration of the willingness of a child of God to give all to the Lord (2 Samuel 23:8-17). David was with his mighty men, but his fortunes were low. He was hiding in a cave of Adullam, as the Philistine garrison held Bethlehem.
His thoughts went back to the past. He sighed, ‘Oh that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate’.
Hearing this, three of David’s mighty men broke through the Philistine garrison, took some water and brought it to David. The actions that followed from David’s natural desires were spiritual. He was overwhelmed with gratitude, but shrank from a selfish use of the water.
It seemed to him that the water was dyed with the blood of men. He resolved to sacrifice the longed-for water to the Lord. He offered to the Lord what was too precious for his own use and, as he did, the water became even more precious (just like the woman with the alabaster box of ointment that she poured over Jesus’ feet).
The water of Bethlehem became sweeter to David as he poured it out than if he had greedily gulped it down.
From these actions, we can draw a clear scriptural principle. After all, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac to God; Moses chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time; David said, ‘I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God, with that which costs me nothing’ (2 Samuel 24:24).
The psalmist said, ‘I will not enter my house or go to my bed; I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob’ (Psalm 132:3-5); and Jesus said, ‘He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:35).
We are urged, ‘Therefore, let us go forth to him, outside the camp, bearing his reproach’ (Hebrews 13:13). A Christianity which costs nothing accomplishes nothing.
As a Christian, do I obey what the Lord, who bought me, asks of me? I have only one life and I want to give it up to the Lord. As Amy Carmichael said, ‘Nothing is too precious for Jesus’.
Just a few miles from my home is the village of Arthington, where a century ago millionaire Richard Arthington lived. He was a Cambridge graduate who loved the Lord. He gave his fortune to Baptist missions, on the condition that it was used in pioneer evangelism within 25 years.
He lived in a single room, cooked his own meals and lived frugally for the Lord’s sake. He wrote: ‘Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ’.
Such an attitude is not often found in our evangelical world today. Instead, we are all rather drawn to a ‘prosperity gospel’! Do I obey Jesus? Or has my Christianity sacrificed sacrifice?
The author is an itinerant evangelist and a member of the Association of Evangelists