Saturday, December 04, 2004

Heaven's Swap Shop

Recently I've been spending some time reading of and from James Hudson Taylor, the famous pioneer missionary to inland China. It's been especially interesting because coming across stories of Hudson Taylor before I'd thought them inspiring yet impractical - almost self-abusive. Re-reading some of those same stories now, along with others and some of his own writings the motivations and reasoning behind those 'destructive' behaviours have not only become clear, but challenging and inspirational.

Perhaps the single most striking lesson that the readings have seared onto my heart is the mystery of Hudson Taylor's deep joy through giving. I say mystery because although I have myself experienced joy in my walk with Christ, when I look at the circumstances and sufferings of the great missionary's own life, I cannot help but believe that the joy of which he speaks is something deeper, greater and more constant that any I have known. Thinking about that makes me curious and as with curiousity and awe, it makes me desirous.

In his 'Retrospect' he writes:

"Having now the twofold object in view of accustoming myself to endure hardness, and of economising in order to be able more largely to assist those amongst whom I spent a good deal of time labouring in the Gospel, I soon found that I could live upon very much less than I had previously thought possible. Butter, milk, and other such luxuries I soon ceased to use; and I found that by living mainly on oatmeal and rice, with occasional variations, a very small sum was sufficient for my needs. In this way I had more than two-thirds of my income available for other purposes; and my experience was that the less I spent on myself and the more I gave away, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become. Unspeakable joy all the day long, and every day, was my happy experience. God, even my God, was a living, bright reality; and all I had to do was joyful service."

Chapter 3, 'A Retrospect', by J. Hudson Taylor

I've been looking a lot at my life recently and last night I wrote down that which I think I've known for quite a while. Somehow I know I will be disappointed if I reach the end of my life and find that I held on to things...anything...instead of trading them in for my Father's heavenly replacement.

I'm coming to the conclusion that God exchanges anything we give Him for something better, or else, He works on that thing - improving and restoring it - later returning it to us, glittering with the intangible blessing of God. Such, I think, are all the gifts that come from God. My mum has a favourite verse, Proverbs 10:22, "The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it." Now it has often seemed to me that the things the Lord asks do bring some pain, however, if we take sorrow as to mean regret, then I think it makes perfect sense. So many times the things I have sought and attained have brought some momentary joy, yet following behind would be regret, or else, I would be forced to some draining or troubling antics in order to maintain the sense of 'joy'. Never have I been able to maintain it indefinitely. The blessings of God however, have brought joy, and that without any awful after-taste.

This, it seems to me, is what Hudson Taylor realised, and what he then sought to pursue. He became dissatisfied with the poor exchange rates the world offered and instead decided to invest in the joy of God with its better returns, albeit higher price per share. God grants salvation to all those who seek it, and blesses us with grace. What we choose to do with that grace is up to us - we can ride it all the way to heaven, or we can give it away, invest it, at a voluntary personal cost, but heavenly return.

For me, I see it as a fountain spring into which we may plunge any and all things that we choose. Upon casting those things into the waters two things are guaranteed, the first is that we will lose that which we throw. The second, is that we will either receive something different - but far better - in return, or we will receive the original thing back only transformed and improved. There is also one condition, we choose ourselves that which we throw and that which we hold on to, but only the Master of the spring has control over that which you receive back.

I want to know the joy of which Hudson Taylor spoke. The joy and presence of God which never left him, and which he received by giving everything away. I leave you with a thought from James Hudson Taylor in his own words,

"It led me to look carefully through my little library to see if there were any books there that were not needed or likely to be of further service, and to examine my small wardrobe, to be quite sure that it contained nothing that I should be sorry to give an account of should the Master come at once. The result was that the library was considerably diminished, to the benefit of some poor neighbors, and to the far greater benefit of my own soul, and that I found I had articles of clothing also which might be put to better advantage in other directions.

It has been very helpful to me from time to time through life, as occasion has served, to act again in a similar way; and I have never gone through my house, from basement to attic, with this object in view, without receiving a great accession of spiritual joy and blessing. I believe we are all in danger of accumulating — it may be from thoughtlessness, or from pressure of occupation — things which would be useful to others, while not needed by ourselves, and the retention of which entails loss of blessing. If the whole resources of the Church of God were well utilized, how much more might be accomplished! How many poor might be fed and naked clothed, and to how many of those as yet unreached the Gospel might be carried! Let me advise this line of things as a constant habit of mind, and a profitable course to be practically adopted whenever circumstances permit."

Chapter 2, 'A Retrospect', by J. Hudson Taylor