Nuggets of faith from the astonishing life of John Wesley
In my early years, I attended church, read the Bible, and prayed diligently. And I had faith. I tell people (with tongue in cheek) that while in graduate school I was the only person in the whole physics department who believed in God, except for the janitor!
He and I played ping-pong together, and he said to me “When I look up and see the sun burning away and providing light and heat to the earth, how can I not believe in God?” The physics faculty with their doctor’s degrees looked up at the sun and saw a furnace of nuclear fusion at ten thousand F degrees, with great loops of magnetic plasma shooting out into the sun’s corona at over one million F degrees, but they had no faith to acknowledge the hand of God.
Faith comes alive
Faith in God means believing that God exists. Albert Einstein believed that God exists, perhaps because of his Jewish upbringing. However, Einstein did not believe in a personal God, meaning a God you could have a personal relationship with.
While in graduate school I received a spiritual experience, which for twenty years I had been hoping for. This distinctive personal experience is what some would call a born-again experience. My faith came alive at the age of 26, and my perceptions and priorities changed permanently.
What happened to me was like a Rubik’s cube that flipped from resting on one face to another. However I had never perceived this as an entry into living faith……until I read quite recently the life story of John Wesley.
John Wesley started the Methodist church in England in the 18th century (that’s almost 300 years ago). It’s an astonishing story in a little book that my mother gave me^^, which was printed before 1898! He rode his horse back and forth across England for 50 years, and preached outdoors to crowds which numbered in the thousands (occasionally exceeding ten thousand).
John had always been a student of the Bible, and often read while plodding along on his horse. He preached to members of the Anglican church (if they received him) as well as hardened coal miners. God moved in the hearts of these miners who sometimes fell to the ground and cried out to be saved from their sinful ways. It has been said that John Wesley may have saved the country from an English revolution, at a time when French rioters were guillotining kings and princes and others in power.
Wesley’s spiritual experience
Wesley had entered into a living faith, I was surprised to learn, at least ten years after he had started preaching. While he clearly had faith in all those years, he gained a boost of spiritual experience only after he learned from the Moravians, a church descended from Martin Luther.
The key for Wesley was Luther’s insights on Saint Paul’s teaching that we can only be saved by faith, not by works. Up to this point in his life John Wesley had been focused primarily on works. While preaching all those years, he and his group had been very active in feeding and clothing the poor.…but the missing element was spiritual experience or living faith.
When Wesley found living faith, at a Sunday evening meeting that he did not want to attend, he related that “his heart was strangely warmed”. This experience ignited his ministry, and his works not only continued but expanded.
How can we increase our faith?
Many people have faith at one level or another. In my opinion, living faith is connected with ongoing spiritual experience, and an assurance (you know that you know). It has also been referred to as “heart knowledge versus head knowledge”.
Jesus himself talked of spiritual experience**, and likened it to being “born again”. Although this term threw Nicodemus into a tizzy, it unequivocally points to a birth of new spiritual experience. Jesus also mentioned “living water”, which seems to be an analogy to “living faith”. And that discourse** threw a woman from Samaria into a tizzy!
Living faith starts with grace. Through the grace-gift and the cross-sacrifice, we are saved from our sins and from our worst selves, and we become children of God, loved to the hilt despite our imperfections. We cannot earn this….it is free…..and the realization is mind-bending and liberating and life-changing.
If you desire to enhance your faith, may I suggest (1) being open and childlike (not skeptical) in regard to the things of God, (2) reading about living faith in the Bible**, (3) asking Jesus to reveal more spiritual experience to you (after all He is the one who introduced the born-again subject), and (4) googling on John Wesley to understand how he found living faith.
Post-script for men
It is football season in the USA, and lots of men enjoy watching the college games or the pros. If you have played football in your youth, you will “feel” the game you are watching more than if you have never played the game. You will understand better the patterns of play, and the strategy, and the watching experience will be intensified. I think it’s a similar thing with living faith when you have encountered spiritual experience……you “feel” life differently.
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers….
“……you would have asked Him instead, and He would have given you living water……Jesus answered her, all who drink of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up continually within him unto eternal life.” (John chapter 4, Amplified Bible).
** Gospel of John, chapters 3, 4.
^^ “John Wesley” by Rev. Richard Green (Chas. H. Kelly, London, before 1989).
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