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Mueller’s Primary Business

George Mueller, truly a man fully dedicated to Christ and tremendously blessed of God, penned these words in his autobiography, describing what he found to be his “first great and primary business” was:

While I was staying at Nailsworth, it pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, irrespective of human instrumentality, as far as I know, the benefit of which I have not lost, though now…more than forty years have since passed away.

The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.

Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as a habitual thing, to give myself to prayer, after having dressed in the morning. Now I saw, that the most improtant thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental, communion with the Lord. I began therefore, to meditate on the New Testamnet, from the beginning, early in the morning.

The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God; searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that through I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.

When thus I have been for awhile making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it; but stilll continually keeping before me, that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation. The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart. Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that which, very soon after, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man.

The difference between my former practice and my present one is this. Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the time. At all events I almost invariably began with prayer…But what was the result? I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour on my knees, before being conscious to myself of having dervied comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began really to pray.

I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with God, I speak to my Father, and to my Friend (vile though I am, and unworthy of it!) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word.

If often now astonishes me that I did not sooner see this. In no book did I ever read about it. No public ministry ever brought the matter before me. No private intercourse with a brother stirred me up to this matter. And yet now, since God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything, that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for his inner man.

As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as every one must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man: not prayer, but the Word of God: and here again not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and appplying it to our hearts…

I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am counscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow-believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I had ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different 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!

Knowing the Scriptures

Jesus answered and said to them, “You are wrong, because you neither know the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  Matthew 22:29 ESV

This is one of those famous verses that I had read dozens of times and thought, “Yea, they didn’t know the Bible or the power of God.”

Wait.

Think.

Jesus was talking to Saducees.  All of them had been raised Jewish, had studied the Scriptures since childhood, held high positions within the Jewish religion of the time.  Some of them probably had entire books of the Scriptures memorized.  In the sense of the word that we usually use “know” in, they KNEW the Scriptures, much better than I do.

So, what was Jesus meaning when He said these scholars didn’t know the focus of their life’s study?

What does it mean to know the scriptures?

The old maxim goes “the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible.”  Simply put, if we are unsure what a passage in the Bible means, our first response should not be “I think…” or “I believe…” or “what makes sense to me is…” or “What speaks to me is…” or even “This very wise man wrote…”  What our first response needs to be is “What does the Bible say about this?”

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  This passage explains what theologians call illumination—the reality that although we may have great intellectual knowledge of the Bible, to overcome the innate distortions and darkness of our fallen souls, to truly know and understand the truth of Scripture requires the Holy Spirit’s work in our minds.

Jesus spoke to this inability to understand without the Holy Spirit’s work in his conversation with Nicodemus.  Jesus asked him, “Are you a teacher in Israel and yet do not understand these things?”

When speaking to the disciples in Matthew 13 Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:  You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”  Jesus clearly refers to being able to understand the spiritual truth of His teachings as being a gift, a gift from God. (see a related article on illumination here.)

Another aspect of being able to “know” the Scriptures is what I would term experiental knowledge, that is, knowledge that can only be gained through actually experiencing the truth described.  The old testament often uses the term “know” as in “Adam knew his wife”—which doesn’t mean he knew facts about her, it means he intimately knew her through sexual experience.  Paul in Philipians 3 talks about giving up everything to know Christ, the fellowship of His sufferings, and the power of His resurrection.  You can feel the passion, almost agony, in Paul’s voice as he wants to know God in such a deeper way than any mass of facts could take him.

There are things about the nature and power of God that can only be appropriated to our minds and hearts through humbly and obediently walking with Him.  Charlie Peacock captured it well in his song Experience:

We can only possess what we experience
Truth to be understood must be lived
We can only possess what we experience

There is a difference, a qualitative difference
Between what I know as fact
And what I know as truth
It stands as a great divide
To separate my thinking
From when I’m thinking foolishly
And when I’ve understood

The facts of theology can be altogether cold
Though true in every way
They alone can’t change me
Truth is creative, transforming and alive
It’s truth that keeps me hum
ble, saved and set free

We can only possess what we experience
We can only possess what we experience

Straight up honesty, that’s my obligation
That’s the point when I obey the truth without hesitation
When faith gains consent
Of my stubborn will
And makes the irreversible commitment real
To the Jesus of my journey
To the Christ of crucifixion
Resurrection and redemption
To the Father of mercy
To the God of all comfort.

Then and only then, then and only then,
Then and only then, truth begins its
Saving and illuminating work within the heart
And not a moment sooner, not one moment sooner
And not a moment sooner, not one moment sooner

We can only possess what we experience
We can only possess what we experience
Truth to be understood must be lived
We can only possess what we experience

If there be no sympathy
There can be no understanding
You must surrender to a truth
To really understand it
We can only possess what we experience
Truth to be understood must be lived
We can only possess what we experience.