Thursday, September 8, 2011

Francis Havegal: One-to-One Ministry-Extraordinaire!

The last woman in Sharon James’ book is the energetic Frances Ridley Havegal. She was a hymn writer (like last week’s Anne Steele) in 19th century England. Frances excelled in one-to-one ministry! She loved to talk with people about Jesus and took every opportunity to share her faith and challenge others. Frances talked to strangers on holidays, her music students, her friends and family members. She was bold, sometimes uncomfortably confronting, but always motivated by love. She wrote and distributed evangelistic tracts, even giving one to a potential suitor! Like Anne Steele, she was more than content to remain unmarried and was thankful for the extra time and space this gave her. She was a great intellect, very talented at music, loved physical challenges and adventures, and desired to use all of her abilities for the Lord. In her later life, she received over 600 letters each week and used these opportunities to correspond about kingdom issues. Salvation for her friends and acquaintances was always foremost in her mind.

Of all the women in Sharon James’ book, she was by far the healthiest and had the most freedom. What an encouragement it is, that she used her health and freedom to glorify God!

Looking back ….
I’m so thankful for the stories of these four women in Sharon James’ book. Overall, I was struck by each woman’s contentment and joy, which were not dependent on good health, a fulfilling and well-paid career, or a happy family life. Their joy came from knowing God and trusting in the Lord Jesus, dedicating their whole being to serving Him all of their days. They visited the sick, evangelised friends and strangers, helped the poor, supported their husbands or other family members - and none of them ever earned a wage! This is a helpful example in modern times, when we fall into the trap of needing a pay-packet to feel like we’re doing something that’s truly useful or valuable to society.

I was also reminded that nothing really changes in terms of humanity’s temptations and sin. Given today’s obsession with gadgets, we need to be continually encouraged to lift our minds to lofty heights and contemplate eternity. Surprisingly, some of these women testified to that same temptation to revel in ‘empty toys’ and pointless distractions rather than meditation on God’s word. Piano recitals and novels were yesterday’s Facebook and reality TV-shows!

It was good to realise that the churches of previous centuries, just like ours, experienced ebbs and flows of growth and decline, as well as changing emphases on faithful perseverance versus feverish evangelistic efforts. This encourages me not to despair during times of slow growth or fluctuations in focus.

These women were truly inspirational: godly, wise, and persistent in their struggle with sin and their desire to be obedient to God and His Word. This book is very encouraging, but thankfully doesn’t lean towards deifying sinful women! The author illuminates some of their unhelpful tendencies and doesn’t whitewash their sin, so that I didn’t come away feeling guilty that I’m not a perfect Christian like these women. I finished the last page with a prayer that I would learn from each of them - these rescued, Spirit-filled women who by God’s grace knew Him intimately in life, shared in Christ’s suffering, and remained joyful and sacrificial to the end. I can’t wait to meet them in Glory!

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