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"Faith's Persistency" by T. Austin Sparks
"Waste" by Watchman Nee
"A Table in the Wilderness" by Watchman Nee
"Just Content to be a Son" by George H. Warnock

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Faith's Persistency

by T. Austin Sparks

Reading: (1 Kings 18:41-44 NAS) "Now Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower." So Ahab went up to eat and drink. But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth, and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." So he went up and looked and said, "There is nothing." And he said, "Go back" seven times. And it came about at the seventh time, that he said, "Behold, a cloud as small as a man's hand is coming up from the sea." And he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, 'Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.'""

Two of the major elements in the spiritual life and experience of God's people are the seemingly slow and hidden ways of God and the demand for persistent faith in His servants. As to the former, you will know quite well how much there is in the Bible about it. Again and again you will find the psalmist crying out because of God's seeming delay or indifference. Whole psalms are given up to this very problem, and also in other parts of Scripture we encounter the same phenomenon.

In our own spiritual experience we often find that not least of our trials is the fact that God seems so slow to respond, so inexplicable in His ways; sometimes it would appear that He is careless or indifferent. This is a common experience, even among the greatest and most devoted of God's servants. It is not an experience confined to novices; in fact perhaps they know little of it, but throughout the centuries even the most outstanding of God's servants have been confronted by this problem of the slow response of the Lord. It sometimes looks to His people as though He were unhurried to the point of being tardy, and that just when their needs were most acute.

Faith's Importance

In this short passage our attention is also drawn to the second point, namely the demand for persistent faith. It might be thought that the most critical moment on Mount Carmel was when the prophets of Baal had exhausted themselves in vain prayers and had to give way to Elijah with his water-saturated altar and his simple, dignified appeal to Israel's God. This was indeed, a breathless moment and the high point of the story the great miracle when fire fell from heaven; but supposing that had been the end! For we must remember that the country had been suffering from three years of intense drought, and if life were to be sustained it was not fire that they wanted but water. What they needed was rain, and plenty of it. Wonderful and emotional as the burning sacrifice must have been, there could be no new hope if the rain did not come.

Now the Lord knew how critical their condition was and might have been expected to act, now that the people had repudiated Baal and committed their case to Him. When the crowd shouted, "The Lord, he is God" the reformation seemed to be complete, and the natural sequel should surely have been clouds, rain clouds, and water pouring down on a thirsty land.

Yet no rain came. Elijah was quite assured in his own heart, and he unhesitatingly told Ahab that it was coming. Nevertheless he did not relax at all but went higher up on this mountain of crisis, put his head between his knees, and set himself to pray the issue through. The reference in James' letter tells us that "he prayed earnestly" or 'he prayed with prayer,' implying that something more than ordinary prayer was needed on such an occasion; it seemed to call for concentration and persistency. There was no sign of rain. God seemed so slow at this time of crisis. How can we explain His apparent lack of response?

For my part I think that this has a close connection with the anonymous servant, giving us all a lesson concerning service. This man not only is given no name but there is no mention of where he came from. Until this experience on Mount Carmel it seems from the narrative that Elijah was alone. After this he was dismissed at Beer-sheba, and later it was Elisha who served Elijah as a servant. The anonymous servant is just mentioned in this episode and then passes off the scene, but not before he had helped to illustrate to us one of the principle features of service to God, which is persistency. The battle had been fought through: it seemed that a mighty victory had been obtained; and yet--still no rain!

Faith's Disappointments

This provides a very serious warning against anything in the nature of complacency. Even after we have poured ourselves out and been assured that we have succeeded, we must beware of letting go too soon. The principle or spirit of service surely demands a real persistence of faith. You will not find any servant of God of account or true value in the Bible who did not have developed in him this persistence of faith. We can see it in the case of this man, and strangely enough this was the very test put to the next servant, Elisha, whose real life's work started the day when Elijah was taken up to heaven. That was the time when Elijah said to Elisha, "Tarry here...the Lord hath sent me as far as Bethel" (2 Kings 2:2). The same suggestion was repeated stage by stage, "Tarry here...Tarry here...," but Elisha would not agree to do so, his response being. "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." At last the whole matter was gathered up into this one issue, so that Elijah promised Elisha "If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee"--a double portion of the Spirit for service was consequent upon this exercise of persistency.

Now, to return to Carmel, there was no doubt that Elijah's faith had produced a remarkable answer from God. The fire had fallen. We might think that he would have been perfectly justified in telling himself that all he now had to do was to see God working the whole matter out. He could have folded his arms, or taken his ease, while God did the rest. If you had gone successfully through an ordeal like Elijah's, seen such a tremendous victory and had an inner assurance that the end was reached, would you not have been inclined to sit back a bit and just watch events? Elijah, however, did nothing of the sort; he went higher up into the mountain to get closer to God. "Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel"--to pray. He knew that his business was not finished yet, and was determined to see the matter right through.

At this point, our attention is drawn to the servant. He, too, must go up still higher, for there was something more to be done if the rain were to come. He was told to look toward the sea, the direction from which it would come. He looked and saw nothing, so he came back again to his master and reported, "There is nothing!" After all that spiritual battle, after all that prayer, that exhausting ordeal of laying hold of God and seeing the fire fall, was it possible that, after all, the skies were as closed as ever? "There is nothing!" Many of us have had to pass through similar experiences--we may be doing so just now--and we find it to be a most painful anticlimax. This is a moment of great peril for our faith, to have battled so far and expected so much, only to be disappointed to find a complete lack of any evidence of God's working.

What can you do? Well, one of two things. The first is to conclude that after all the whole thing has been an illusion, and to give way to the paralysis of despair because of the seeming unresponsiveness of God. The alternative is to keep going--if necessary seven times. There was nothing the first time, so the servant must go and look again. There is nothing! And yet a third time, but still a third time "There is nothing!" The man had to go a fourth time, but there was still no vestige of an answer. I try to imagine the tone of his voice as he returned the fifth and the sixth time, and think that he may even have added a few comments. 'What is the good of it all?' he might have questioned--'there is nothing!' It would have been natural enough if he had remonstrated, "I do not see the use of going right up there again; I am tired of continually coming back to report just nothing.' In any case he was sent a seventh time, just once more; this time he was able to report a tiny cloud. That was little enough in all conscience, to find that all there was to be seen in the expanse of the sky was just one little cloud the size of a man's hand. It is surprising that God went so far in pressing this matter of faith's persistency. Whether there is any significance in the number seven is of little importance, but certainly there had to be the full continuance in faith until at last the situation broke. The little cloud was only a token, but it was enough to Elijah who immediately warned Ahab to prepare for a deluge. Faith is the title deeds of things unseen, and accepts the token for the whole. It was right to do so, for soon the heavens were full of clouds.

Faith's Victory

I think that this makes the message plain. It is so easy to make a big start, with a good deal of noise and activity and high expectations of something big which we think God is going to do, and then to lose heart because of disappointments and delays. Our prayers are apt to wane and our energy and enthusiasms to decline just because God seems to be unresponsive. What is He doing? He is making a servant; to Him this is more important than the actual service which is being done. Such a servant has to learn that the Lord is more concerned about His own name than we are, and knows best how to vindicate it.

"The Lord, he is God." The Lord had to make that clear a second time, not only in the fire, but in the water, in the rain; not only in the judgment but in the mercy; not only in the death but in the resurrection life. His delays, His hiddenness, His seeming indifference, are all the testing means by which He develops true faith in His servants, and works something of His own Spirit into their very constitution. It was easy for Him to send the rain; what was more difficult but infinitely more worthwhile was to enable His servant to go on watching and praying for the full seven times, never despairing, never doubting, never giving up. In the end there was no lack of rain. But it came as the result of a second battle. First there was the battle with Baal, and then the battle with unbelief; the outside battle and the battle inside. It is on the last inward battle that the whole issue depends. Full victory comes as a result of faith's persistency.


by Watchman Nee

Reading: (Mark 14:3-9 NAS) "And while He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted? "For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. "For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me. "She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. "And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her.""

The Lord has ordained that the story of Mary anointing Him with the costly ointment should always accompany the preaching of the gospel. We know the story well. Judging by the story in connection with her brother's resurrection, we know that the family was not an especially wealthy one. The sisters had to work in the house themselves, and one of them, Mary, had an alabaster box with three hundred pence worth of ointment in it, and with a stroke she broke it and poured the whole of that costly nard upon the head of the Lord. According to human reasoning it was altogether too much, even for the Lord. That is why Judas took the lead with the other disciples in thinking that Mary was wasting something (John 12:4-5).

Now we come to the word which the Lord wants to emphasize at this time, the word waste. What is waste? Waste simply means giving too much. If a shilling will do and you give a pound, it is waste. If two ounces will do and you give a kilogram, it is a waste. A waste means that you give something too much for something too little. A waste means that the one who is receiving the something is not worth so much. Yet we are dealing here with something the Lord said was to go out with the gospel, wherever the gospel should be preached. With the preaching of the gospel the Lord is out to have a result that corresponds with Mary's action here: that is, for people to come out and "waste" themselves on Him. That is what He is after.

Now we must look at the question from two angles, that of Judas, and that of the other disciple. They all thought it to be a waste. To Judas, who had never called our Lord the Lord, everything that was poured upon Him was waste. Even water would have been waste. To the world, the service of the Lord, and our giving of ourselves to Him is pure waste. "Such and such a man would have made good in the world if he were not a Christian," is a sentiment that is frequently expressed. For anyone with natural talents to be a Christian, to serve the Lord, is deemed to be pure waste.

So thought Judas, "We could manage better with the money; we could give it to charity; we could do some social service, we could help people in a more practical way. Why pour it down at the feet of Jesus? As to yourself, can you not find a better employment of your life?" That is what Judas was thinking, and that is what the world is thinking. It is too much to give yourself to the Lord! But no! When once our eyes have been opened to the worth of the Lord, nothing is too good for Him.

But it is upon the reaction of the other disciples that I want most to dwell; for they affect us more than does Judas. We do not mind very much what the world is saying, but we do mind what those other disciples are saying who ought to have understood, yet did not. We mark that they said the same thing as Judas; and not only so, but they were moved to indignation, saying, "To what purpose is this waste...?"

Now here is the whole question of waste, and of what the Lord is after. Today, even amongst Christians, there can be found much of that spirit that wants to give as little as possible to the Lord, and yet to get as much as possible from Him. The prevailing thought today is of being used, as though that were the one thing that mattered. That my little rubber band should be stretched to the very limit seems all important. But this is not the Lord's mind. The Lord wants us to be used, yes; but what He is after is that we pour all we have, ourselves, to Him, and if that be all, that is enough. It is not a question of whether the poor have been helped or not, but of whether the Lord has been satisfied. The question is not one of working for Him, my friends, but of service to Him, of ministering to the Lord. That is what He is after; that I should give Him my all, even though people should say, 'You are doing nothing!' My service to the Lord is to please Him. There is many a meeting we might take, many a convention at which we might speak, many a campaign in which we might share, but this is not the first consideration. That my usefulness should be brought to the full is not what the Lord is after, but His concern is rather with my position at His feet and my anointing of His head. What I have as an alabaster box, the most precious thing, my whole life. I give it all up to the Lord. It seems as if it is a waste, but that is what He is after.

May I tell you something? One thing some of us have come to learn is that in the divine service the principle of "waste" is the principle of power, whereas the principle of "usefulness" is the very principle of scattering. The real usefulness in the hand of the Lord is "waste." The more you think you could do, the more you employ your gifts to the very limit--and perhaps beyond the limit--that you will find to be the principle of the world, and not the principle of the Lord. I knew a sister in the Lord, now in His presence, who was very greatly used of Him. But my first concern about her was that she did not seem to be being used. Every time I said to myself. Why did she not get out and take some meetings, get somewhere, do something? It was a waste to live in a small village without anything happening. Sometimes when I went to see her, I almost shouted at her: "No one knows the Lord as you do. You know the Book in a most living way. Do you not see the need all around you? Why don't you do something? It is a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of money, a waste of everything, just sitting here and doing nothing!" But she was the one who helped me most of all., The highest thing is not just to be moving about. I do not mean to say that we are going to do nothing, but the first thing is the Lord Himself, not the work. That is what He is after.

So the Lord said, "Why trouble ye her? She has wrought a good work as to Me. The poor you will always have, but you cannot always have Me." The whole point is, What am I going to do to the Lord today? Did those other women who came with their spices to the tomb succeed in anointing the Lord's body? No! He was risen. Only one succeeded, Mary, who anointed Him beforehand. It seems as if man will say I am wasting my time--but Lord, nothing is too good for Thee! He is worthy to be served. He is worthy for me just to be His prisoner. He is worthy for me just to live for Him. Let others say what they will. Have our eyes been opened to see that working for the poor, working for the benefit of the world, working for the eternal welfare of the sinner, as things in themselves, are not to be compared with the work we do to the Lord, with our being just for Him. What is your estimate of the Lord?

Then the Lord said, "She hath done what she could." It means that Mary had given her all. That was all she could do, no more; and she did it. The Lord will not be satisfied with anything less. The whole point is a life really laid down at the feet of the Lord, and that in view of His death, His burial; that is, in view of a future day. Then it was His burial, now it is His crowning day that is in view. He will be acclaimed by all in that day, but how precious, far more precious to Him it is that we should anoint Him now; not with any material oil, but with that which is deepest and, maybe, hard for us to break. The Lord get anointing from us today!

Further, the Lord said, "Wherever the gospel shall be preached, this story shall be told." Why? Because the gospel is meant to produce this. The gospel is not primarily for the satisfaction of sinners. The gospel is preached that everything may be to the satisfaction of the Son of God. Not to sinners first of all, though, praise God, sinners will be satisfied. But supremely it is Christ who must find satisfaction through its preaching.

Once more let me repeat. The whole question for us is simply this: It seems that I am giving too much for too little. That is waste. Others appear to far better advantage than I, though they have given up none of the things that I have. As for me, I seem to meet with all the difficulties. Continual trial and suffering is what comes my way. Now, am I not wasting my time? If I consecrate myself enough for the blessing, but not enough for the trouble; if I consecrate myself enough for the Lord to use me, but not enough for the Lord to shut me up, it will be all right! Are we not found thinking thus at times? But the principle of waste is that which satisfies the heart of the Lord Jesus. You can get something for yourself out of your consecration, but often real satisfaction can only come to the heart of your Lord when you seem to be "wasting" yourself on the Lord, giving too much and getting nothing back for yourself.

O friends, what are we after? Are we after mere usefulness, as those disciples were? They wanted to make every penny of that three hundred pence go to its full length. They wanted to be used themselves. If only we can please Him, surely that should be enough.

Now the breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odor, with the sweetest odor. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness. The odor which filled the house that day still fills the Church; Mary's fragrance never passes away.

Friends, we cannot produce impressions of God upon others, impart the sense of the presence of God, without the breaking of everything, even the most precious things, at the feet of the Lord Jesus. The Lord would have us here, not first of all to preach or to do work for Him, but to create hunger in others. No true work will begin in any life apart from a sense of need. We cannot inject that into others, we cannot drive people to be hungry for God. Such hunger can be created only by those whose lives convey vital impressions of Him.

Oh, to be wasted! It is a blessed thing to be wasted for the Lord. So many of us who have been prominent in the Christian world know nothing of this. Many of us have been used to the full--have been used, I would say, too much--but we do know what it means to be wasted on God. We like to be always "on the go": the Lord would sometimes prefer to have us in prison. We think in terms of apostolic journeys: God dares to put His greatest ambassadors in chains. "But thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savor of his knowledge in every place" (2 Corinthians 2:14).

"A Table in the Wilderness,"

by Watchman Nee

David served in one generation, his own. He could not serve in two! Where today we seek to perpetuate our work by setting up an organization or society or system, the Old Testament saints served their own day and passed on. This is an important principle of life. Wheat is sown, grows, ears, is reaped, and then the whole plant, even to the root, is plowed out. God's work is spiritual to the point of having no earthly roots, no smell of earth on it at all. Men pass on, but the Lord remains. Everything to do with the Church must be up-to-date and living, meeting the present--one could never even say the passing--needs of the hour. Never must it become fixed, earth-bound static. God Himself takes away His workers, but He gives others. Our work suffers, but His never does. Nothing touches Him. He is still God.

Just Content To Be A Son

Poem by George H. Warnock

Excerpted from FEED MY SHEEP

Just Content to be a son
With no ambition to succeed
In realms of earth, and have no need
Of popularity's acclaim
Or purchase for myself a name.
In serving Christ; for He must be
The Lord throughout eternity,
To see His face and hear His voice
And do His bidding is my choice.

Just content to be a son
A son of God without a home
To stay or go to wait or roam
Hither and yon without a plan
Led of the Spirit, not of man
I'll have no moment of praise
But I'll have peace in God's own ways.
And though I tread this earthly sod,
I walk with Him, I live in God.

Just content to be a son
Misunderstood and yet I know
The path I take shall overflow
With life abundant and with grace
I only need to run the race.
With patience, waiting, seeing Him
Hearing the still small voice within,
If others want the earth to quake.
I'll hear His voice when I awake.
Just content to be a son,
No words to say, but what He says,
No work to do, but what He does,
No fear or worry, anxious care.
I live with Him, His yoke I share.
No name to make, He writes His own.
Upon the heart's pure glistening stone.
No life to live, I lay it down
I'll share His Cross, and live again.

Used with permission granted by World Challenge, P. O. Box 260, Lindale, TX 75771 USA.

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