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Not long ago I gave a short exhortation about the importance of keeping prayer and time with God as one of the highest priorities in our lives — even if it means that we must get less sleep or skip certain social and leisure activities in order to do so. Many responded enthusiastically to this reminder, but some balked. One woman remarked, “Sometimes we just need to let go of these ‘unrealistic spiritual expectations’ and take a nap!”
This attitude is common in modern Christianity. For some reason, anytime someone starts talking about having tireless spiritual passion and pursuing Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we are tempted to reason, Oh, that’s completely unrealistic. No one can be that passionate about Christ at all times. If we try, we’ll only end up putting unhealthy pressure upon ourselves and getting exhausted. It can’t be done.
But Jesus says otherwise. He tells us, “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching" (Lk. 12:37). The word “watching” in this context literally means, “to be roused from sleep, to be awake, to be on the alert.”
In a culture that so heavily promotes laziness and self-indulgence, many of us have adopted a lackadaisical mindset toward our relationship with Christ. Countless Christians today have accepted mediocrity and spiritual dullness as the norm. We often don’t even believe there can be something more to the Christian life than simply “going through the motions” out of duty or obligation. Few of us possess any lasting spiritual passion. And most of us aren’t even pursuing it, because we don’t think it is really possible to ever find it.
In Romans 12:1 Paul says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
What baffling words. I have often read that verse and wondered, “How is it possible to never lose my zeal for God and to always keep my spiritual fervor?” Certainly, it is possible, or God would not have put it in the Bible!
When I think of Christian women who have lived out this command successfully, I immediately remember the amazing life of Catherine Booth — the co-founder of the Salvation Army — who lived in the late 1800’s. Her example of relentless, unwavering spiritual passion, even amid the challenges of chronic illness, financial difficulties, child-raising, and constant trial, never ceases to amaze and inspire me. Here is just a short overview of what she accomplished for God’s Kingdom in her relatively short lifetime: She nurtured her eight children and raised them as faithful soldiers of the Cross. She used her gift of writing and speaking to awaken the church of England from its spiritual stupor. She visited the poor, saved the lives of sick children, and brought the Gospel to many drunkards — helping them become transformed by the power of Christ. She supported her husband and helped him establish and grow one of the largest and most powerful Christian forces in history. She was so outward-focused, so tireless in her preaching the of Gospel, so relentless in calling the Church to triumphant Christianity that she forever changed millions of lives. At the end of her life, fifty thousand people gathered to hear her last message, and fifty thousand came to her funeral. (I find these numbers astounding in light of the fact that there were no planes or cars back then to make travel easier!)
It’s easy to think that a remarkable woman like Catherine Booth only comes along once in every couple of generations, or that there was something especially extraordinary about her that made it possible for her to accomplish such great things for God. But the Bible makes it clear that this kind of tenacity and unwavering faith is available to any of us who will simply believe our God. (See Hebrews 11:4-38 and James 5:17.) God desires to work the same power and triumph in our lives as He did in Catherine Booth’s, if we are only willing to make ourselves available to His supernatural transforming power.
As I’ve studied Catherine’s life and example, I have noticed several spiritual qualities that marked her life and kept her spiritual fervor thriving. I believe they are traits that each and every one of us can personally discover and experience. (After all, we serve the same God that Catherine Booth served!) Here are the godly characteristics about her life that stand out most to me:
Catherine had many serious health challenges for the majority of her life, including tuberculosis, heart trouble, and scoliosis of the spine. She said, “I can scarcely remember a day of my life which has been free from pain.” And yet, rather than allowing her weakness to limit her ability to fulfill God’s calling upon her life, she rose above it, leaning on His strength and trusting that He would sustain her for the tasks before her. It was said of her that “scores of times she arose from her sickbed to minister to the poor, or preach the Gospel to eager, waiting crowds.” She faithfully followed the example of Paul who said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Catherine personally took hold of the “more than conquerors” promise of Romans 8:37. She refused to allow physical or emotional weakness to rule her life or have a greater say than the Spirit of God. Once, when her young adult daughter was going through an emotional struggle, she wrote to her, “Do not give way to lowness while you are young … rise up on the strength of God and resolve to conquer!” Because Catherine never allowed her own physical weakness to hold her back or become an excuse for mediocrity, she was able to exhort others to have that same “conquering spirit” by leaning upon the supernatural strength of God.
Catherine’s life was certainly not easy. She and William raised their eight children while living as itinerant missionaries; having no “settled home” or predictable lifestyle. As pioneers of the Salvationist movement, they faced scorn and criticism from many “comfortable” Christians who did not appreciate their strong stance for truth. Because they were not sent out by a church or denomination, they had to live on faith and faced many financial difficulties especially in the early days of their ministry. Personally, I would find it extremely challenging to raise eight children while traveling constantly, let alone carrying the weights of ministry and being the object of public ridicule! (Not to mention living with illness and constant pain.) And yet, because Catherine’s security was found in Heaven and not earth, she was never moved or shaken by any of these difficulties. It was said of her that “There have been few persons in the history of mankind who met affliction with so much fortitude, who repined so little under acute pain.”
I am deeply convicted by Catherine’s example of “enduring hardship as a good solider of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3) and “doing all things without complaining or disputing” (Phil. 2:14). Her incorrigibly cheerful attitude gave her greater strength to face extreme challenges triumphantly, by the grace of God.
Many women today believe it is impossible to raise godly children and also be active in ministry and leading others to Christ. But Catherine’s life proves otherwise. Though she led countless thousands to Christ, wrote books that awakened the slumbering church, and personally rescued the dying and impoverished, she always gave her very best to her family. It was said of her that, “She never neglected her children’s spiritual welfare. She counseled them, watched with wisdom over their spiritual development, education, and courtships, and taught them that it is not so much what one does as how much one loves, for love, she said, is the fulfilling of the law. Each of her eight children grew up to become leaders in world-changing Christian work, and two of her sons-in-law adopted the last name “Booth” out of their deep love and respect for Catherine and William’s Christian example. To be truly excellent at both family and ministry requires supernatural grace. This frail but tenacious woman leaned wholeheartedly upon the Spirit and the strength of God to do what could never be done in human strength.
She once wrote about some of her earliest experiences in proclaiming the Gospel to the lost, as a young wife and mother in England. Walking in a poor district of the town, she saw poverty, pain, and abuse, and her heart ached to bring light into the midst of the darkness. She began to pray for God’s Spirit to guide her steps and make her an instrument of the Gospel among the poor, and especially among those who were enslaved to alcohol. She writes,
I observed a woman standing on the adjoining doorstep with a jug in her hand. My Divine Teacher said, “speak to that woman.” After a momentary struggle, I introduced myself to her and invited her [to the church service]. She answered, “I can’t go to chapel, I am kept at home by a drunken husband.” I asked if I might come in and see her husband. “No” she said. “He is drunk; you could do nothing with him, and he will only abuse you.” I replied, “I am not afraid; he will not hurt me.” I followed her up the stairs. I felt strong now in the Lord and in the power of His might, and as safe as a babe in the arms of its mother. I realized I was in the path of obedience, and I feared no evil.
I found a fine, intelligent man, about forty, sitting almost double in a chair, with a jug by his side, out of which he had been drinking. I leaned on my Heavenly Guide for strength and wisdom, love and power and He gave me all I needed. He silenced the demon, strong drink, and quickened the man’s perceptions to receive my words. As I began to talk to him, with my heart full of sympathy, he gradually raised himself in his chair, and listened with a surprised and half-vacant stare. I spoke to him of his present deplorable condition, of the folly and wickedness of his course, of the interest of his wife and children, until he was fully aroused from the stupor in which I found him. I read to him the parable of the Prodigal Son, while the tears ran down his face like rain. I then prayed as the Spirit gave me utterance, and left, promising to call the next day.
From that time I commenced a systematic course of house-to-house visitation, devoting two evenings per week to the work. The Lord so blessed my efforts that in a few weeks I succeeded in getting ten drunkards to abandon their soul-destroying habits and to meet me once a week for reading the Scriptures and for prayer” (*William and Catherine by Trevor Yaxley, p 98-99).
Catherine’s decision to ask big things of her Lord and stand upon the promise that “all things are possible with God” caused her to have a courage unlike most other women. She spoke boldly and unapologetically against the self-indulgent, mediocre Christianity so common in her country. “It will be a happy day for England,” she once observed, “when Christian ladies transfer their attention from poodles and terriers to destitute and starving children.” She reminded women that living for pleasure and filling their days with eating, drinking, dressing, riding, and sight-seeing left no time to serve God. They were too occupied with self, she said, to develop spiritual resources. She did not care if people approved of her. She did not try to please the crowds. She spoke what needed to be spoken, whether it made her popular or not. And ironically, because she was willing to take these risks for God’s glory, her message spread around the world like wildfire.
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For many years, I have been asking God to work each of these spiritual qualities deeper within my own life. Whenever I am tempted to accept mediocrity or come up with reasons for why I cannot passionately pursue Jesus Christ and triumphantly fulfill the tasks He’s placed in front of me, Catherine’s testimony puts me to shame - in a good way. Her life reminds me never to settle for less than “the impossible life” that God has called me to and propels me to “rise up on the strength of God and resolve to conquer!”
Whenever you find yourself growing a bit lax in your spiritual life, or feeling like you are facing too many challenges to go after God with all of your might and strength, I encourage you to remember the example of this simple woman who kept her spiritual fire aflame against incredible odds. In light of her story, we have no excuses for accepting mediocrity. Catherine Booth’s example urges us to “leave it all on the field,” by His grace, and for His glory!
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