A few years ago, I wrote an extended piece on the life of George Muller.  I have used this piece in various settings, so many of you may have already seen it, but I wanted to post it again this week to expose it to a broader audience.  In my life, I have never been so moved by the life of a historical figure as I was by George Muller.  I will post another chapter of this paper each day this week.  Let me know what you think!  NOTE:  If you are looking for a great biography about Muller, A.T. Pierson’s “George Muller of Bristol” is outstanding, and a key source in the preparation of this paper.

Day Two:  Recognizing Our Need

It is a known fact of life that people do not normally call out for help unless they are in need.  Indeed, it is not until a fire is burning before the fire department is called, and it is not until the nose is sneezing before the doctor’s visit is scheduled.  One possible exception to this axiom might be noted in the case of small children.  Often a child will call upon their parent for help, even when they have yet to try something.  For instance, a small child may be fully capable of climbing down out of their own chair, but have grown accustomed to having their Mom or Dad lift them down, and therefore have drawn the habit of asking for help in all things.  As it relates to the spiritual life and the prayerfulness or prayerlessness of believers, this principle also holds true . . . and the life lesson of George Muller underscores its point.  In his life it is both the needy circumstances that he faced and his child-like dependence[1] upon the Father that caused Muller to spend many an hour in prayer.

All of us spend our lives in a perpetual state of need before our heavenly Father, but few of us have as acute a sense of that need as George Muller did.  Wanting his life to be fully dependent upon God, he removed all possible earthly crutches that he might be tempted to rely upon so that daily he would be faced with the possibility that if God did not provide, he would not survive.  Being an educated man from a well off family, Muller brought many material possessions with him as he entered into the ministry.  However, it was early on in his days in school at Halle that he became acquainted with a well off dentist named Mr. Groves who gave up his job to move his family to Persia to be a missionary, trusting only in God for their provision.  Groves example impacted Muller greatly and challenged him to also live a life of similar faith[2].  As he entered into marriage, Muller and his wife sold all their earthly possessions except the clothes on their back so that they would have to be totally dependent upon God for all their needs[3].  The Muller’s did not stop there, however, as they also liquidated their entire savings and gave it to the poor.  By removing all the resources at their disposal, the Muller’s became fully dependent upon His resources, and that drove them to their knees to pray.  Of this dependence, Muller wrote in his journal, “If we formerly had no certain income, so now have we none.  We have to look to God for everything in connection with the work, of which often, however, the pecuniary necessities are the smallest matter; but to Him we are enabled to look and therefore it is, that we are not disappointed.”[4] When you do not have food in the cupboard or means of income, it causes you to be in need and then to trust God for your provision.  How many times do people sit down and thank God for the provision of the meal they are eating, without really truly trusting that God is the one who provided for them?  For George Muller, this was not a problem.  Since he lived his life with all his material needs relying upon the provision of God, the meeting of each material need was seen as a sovereign act of love from the all powerful God.  Biographer A.T. Pierson writes concerning Muller’s life, “For months, if not years, together and at several periods in the work, supplies were furnished only from month to month, week to week, day to day, hour to hour!  Faith was thus kept in lively exercise and under perpetual training.”[5]

Even Muller’s choice of life mission in the construction of the orphan houses at Ashley Down in Bristol was a testimony to the premise that our recognition of need precedes our dependence in prayer.  Muller wrote in his journal concerning the orphan houses that “the first and primary object of the work was (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact, that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need only by prayer and faith without anyone being asked by me or my fellow laborers whereby it may be seen, that God is faithful still, and hears prayers still.”[6] The very nature of orphan work thus appealed to Muller because it would put him in a situation of great need . . . trusting God for all things.

The fact that Muller and his wife had taken the oath of poverty helped to publicly showcase this connection even more as Pierson writes, “The cost of the houses built on Ashely Down (the orphan houses that Muller built) might have staggered a man of large capital, but his poor man only cried and the Lord helped him.”[7] Further, Muller decided early on in his ministry that he would not carry over a balance or keep a savings account in his ministry so that he would always be in a position to trust God for all the necessary resources each day.[8]

Indeed the running of the orphanage proved to be an operation that accumulated many daily needs, and provided many opportunities to trust God in prayer for tangible things.  It was the empty coffers that led Muller and his staff to hit their knees in prayer on many occasions.  On more than one occasion, Muller and his staff would have hundreds of mouths to feed, and no money or bread to feed them with.  In each case, the response was not to quit or to panic, but to pray, and ask God for His provision.[9] On one occasion in September 1838, Muller wrote of his need and prayers, “Though for about seven years, our funds have been so exhausted that it has been comparatively a rare case that there have been means in hand to meet the necessities of the orphans for three days together, yet I have been only once tried in spirit, and that was on September 18, 1838, when for the first time the Lord seemed not to regard our prayer.  But when He did not send help at that time, and I saw that it was only for the trial of our faith, and not because He had forsaken the work, that we were brought so low, my soul was strengthened and encouraged.”[10] It seems that to Muller, even the slow response of God was merely a magnifying glass to reveal more need that led to more prayer!  The material needs that Muller had became even more intense as his ministry at the orphanage grew, and the greater the needs, the greater the need to pray.[11] Muller began to even welcome times of difficulty as invitations to pray as Pierson writes, “Fluctuations in income and apparent prosperity did not take George Muller by surprise.  He expected them, for if there were no crises and critical emergencies how could there be critical deliverances?”[12]

Though from an outsiders perspective physical needs seemed to be the primary agent God used to lead Muller to pray, there were other needs that led Muller to his knees.  In 1871-72, Muller and his staff sensed the spiritual “deadness” of the children in the orphanage, and that led them to pray intensely for revival in their orphan houses.[13] Difficult times of plague and illness led Muller to pray for protection for the children and workers from disease.[14] Some might have wondered why Muller did not pray for disease and difficulty to never enter into their lives, however, that would be to deny the very things that lead us to pray.  Muller wrote in his journal that the trials of life were but intersections to turn our hearts to God.

The connection of the recognition of our need to spending time in prayer is clearly seen from the life of George Muller.  In fact, it seems from Muller’s teaching and practice that a primary purpose for prayer is to bring our supplications before the Lord.  With that as a primary purpose, the more needs, the more prayer.  Muller recorded more than 50 particular requests that he would bring before the Lord each day in prayer.[15] This connection of recognition of our need to spending time in prayer is a key one for our lives as well.  As an earlier quote from Muller indicates, not all people are called to give up all their possessions or to run an orphanage, yet all people are called to trust God for great things.  An abandonment of our human resources merely magnifies, not creates, our constant and perpetual needs before our Savior.  Whatever the lifestyle choice and ministry we are a part of, we all should learn from Muller to take time to survey our needs, then bring them before Him in prayer.

[1] J. Hudson Taylor has said that the spiritual maturation of a Christian is just the opposite of the physical maturation of humanity.  Physically, we move from the cradle to independence.  Spiritually, we move from independence to the cradle.  Of George Muller, A.T. Pierson writes, “George Muller was never so really, truly, fully a little child in all his relations to his Father, as when in the ninety-third year of his age.”  Pierson, 43.

[2] Ibid, 55.

[3] Ibid, 72.

[4] Muller Answers to Prayer, 91.

[5] Pierson, 81.

[6] Muller, 10.

[7] Pierson, 305.

[8] Ibid, 159.

[9] Muller Answers to Prayer, 53.

[10] George Muller Release the Power of Prayer (New Kensington, PA:  Whitaker House 1999), 52-53.

[11] Pierson, 222-223.

[12] Ibid, 272.

[13] Muller Answers to Prayer, 71.

[14] Ibid, 53.

[15] Muller Answers to Prayer, 99.

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