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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Vital Importance of Setting the Bar High

Jan 31, 2018

It is a truism in life that you tend to become like those who hang around with. If you spend most of your time, say, associating with violent criminals and rather nasty and scurrilous lowlife, chances are good you will gravitate toward that kind of life yourself.

This is true of Christians as well. If you surround yourself with rather ho-hum, compromised, immature, or worldly believers, you will likely not easily rise above all that. Part of the reason for this is that you simply think of those you fellowship with as being the benchmark.

Athlete compete in paul vault

They live rather lackadaisical and half-hearted Christian lives, so you come to expect that as being the norm. But if you start associating with on-fire, dedicated, sold-out and committed Christians, you get a new vision: you see that you can be so much more in Christ and for Christ.

This also can happen with your reading habits. Let me offer a case in point. I received a Christian biography in the mail yesterday so I dutifully read it last night. It was an inspiring account of an inspiring man. I refer to the well-known Bible teacher and Christian leader Derek Prince.

The book in question was Derek Prince: A Biography by Stephen Mansfield (Derek Prince Ministries, 2005.) It was quite a moving read, and as so often happens when I read such inspiring stories, it made me spiritually discontented. I wanted more – more of God and less of myself.

I am not here offering a review of this biography, but I do want to share a few points that stood out for me. Very briefly, and most importantly, we learn here some of the essential traits and habits of this amazing Christian. His devotion to prayer and fasting, his commitment to the Word of God, and his determination to obey God at all costs were some of the major reasons for his remarkable ministry.

You cannot help reading stories like this without comparing – or contrasting – yourself to such great saints. You see how little you pray or fast, or seek to put God first. You see that you can be so much more for Christ, and that for far too long you have settled for second best.

Another notable feature of his life that got my attention is how lonely he so often felt – even when happily married. Hmm, does this sound familiar? It should: often the lives of great men and women of God are characterised by a sense of being alone. I have often remarked on this. See for example this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/09/11/prophets-who-stand-alone/

Also worth highlighting is his non-Christian background and how it was used when he found Christ. He was a Cambridge don who excelled in philosophy, but when he became a Christian at age 25 he decided against an academic career and spent the rest of his life in full time Christian ministry, after a stint in the military.

His sharp mind made him a terrific Bible teacher, and he helped to ground many Pentecostals and charismatics who had little time for reading, learning, and study. His many books and teaching tapes have helped millions of believers of all theological stripes, even years after his death in 2003.

Something else that got my attention was the fact that although he was a terrific father to his own eight adopted children, and a spiritual father to millions, his own father was quite difficult. He not only never allowed Derek to call him “Dad” or “Father” but he never told his son that he loved him.

Derek cannot recall receiving any love or affection or warmth from his father – not even a hug or being able to sit on his lap. This was a heartbreaking part of his childhood, yet God is obviously in the change business, since Derek became known as a loving man who taught so many about loving Christian relationships and family life.

Another notable feature of Prince was his longstanding love for Israel. He had lived there for some years, and met his wife there. He believed strongly in the importance of the Jewish people, and said that he believed the British Empire collapsed because Britain turned its back on the Jews. He also saw early on that Britain would likely become the first Western nation to fall to Islam.

He always had the big picture in mind, and saw the importance of God’s heart for the nations. He was a keen advocate of prayer and intercession for the nations, and his book Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting (1973) was an important book on all this.

Given that I have been reading a lot lately about another great character of history, Winston Churchill, the biography made this interesting observation about him. Billy Graham had held a crusade in London in 1954, one which Prince eagerly threw himself into supporting.

It was a remarkable time indeed. For over three months the arena was filled each night, with more than two million attending, and tens of thousands of commitments made to Christ. Churchill actually heard the evangelist, and in a private meeting with him he said, “I do not see much hope for the future unless it is the hope you are talking about young man. We must have a return to God.”

I mentioned in my title the need to set the bar high. That is a figure of speech based on the world of sport in which athletes seek to perform their best by jumping higher, pole-vaulting higher, lifting heavier weights, etc. They do not want to settle for the ordinary – they aim only for the best.

That is how we should be operating as Christians. And one way I have found to make this a reality is to surround myself with great saints. While we can do this with Christians we personally know, another great way we can do this is to read about them. Thus the value of Christian biographies and autobiographies.

When we read about past and present men and women of God who do not settle for the ordinary, but seek, with God’s grace, only the best, we get inspired to do the same. We too want to raise the bar higher. As we hang around these mighty men and women of God – even just by reading about them – we are challenged, we are inspired, we are uplifted, and we are energised.

That certainly happened to me last night as I read about the life of Prince. Like all believers, he was not perfect, and he had his faults. Perhaps most notable was the Shepherding Movement which he and the “Florida Five” established and promoted.

He admitted it started with good intentions and godly impetus, but it got off the rails big time. He confessed that he and the other leaders in this movement had allowed selfish ambition to get the better of them, and it was clearly one of the black marks in his overall ministry.

But to read about the amazing activities he was involved in for some six decades of ministry is incredibly inspiring and uplifting. It really does help to set the bar high – much higher than many of us can imagine. Whether you grab this book, or any number of other challenging biographies about other saints, please start reading.

Once you start learning about the amazing lives of some of these men and women, you will forever be unsatisfied with anything less. Mediocrity and lukewarm Christianity just will not cut it anymore. The bar will be set much higher. And that is something we all need to constantly be engaged in.

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7 Responses to The Vital Importance of Setting the Bar High

  • Thank you for another insightful and timely article, Bill. The topic is a good follow-up to your previous article about the immature young people in the United States. The unsaved are not the only guilty ones, as I pointed out in my reply to your article about immaturity. It is beyond sad that professing Christian families have contributed to the problem by making few demands of their children and by setting very low standards for their behavior in regard to respect, tolerance, work ethic, and sense of responsibility.

  • The Shepherding Movement mentioned in your article is interesting in these days of “control freakery”. According to some commentators, this unscriptural movement hasn’t died away completely, it has merely been reformed and revamped, and may be coming to a church near you!

    Is there enough spiritual discernment around these days to detect this (and other) false teaching?

    Also interesting is the observation from Derek Prince that Britain would likely be the first western nation to fall to Islam. I was reading recently about the Islamic practice of “Taqlid” – which is akin to having a collar put round your neck and led by another. Taqlid has been described as a kind of “group think”.

    Both sound like blind obedience to another person resulting in enslaved people. Apparently, the five Reformation Solas (or Solae) are not sufficient for modern man!

  • I first became aware of Derek Prince in Jerusalem in 1973 when I was caught up in a move of God among a group of Jewish hippies. One girl with no previous exposure to Christianity had an encounter with God and was referred to Derek Price Ministries in Jerusalem. As a result a number of others became believers and I became part of their group for some 5 months until after the end of the Yom Kippur war. It was an experience of a lifetime during which I was baptised in water, the Spirit and learn’t to prophecy with the group. We were involved in meetings in an old stone building on the Street of the Prophets near the orthodox quarter and the Damascus gate. The former partner of the girl, led worship on the piano and organ that was heavenly. He also had no previous exposure to Christianity and had been involved with orthodox Judaism, along with other things. During that time we were taught concerning deliverance by a couple associated with Derek Prince. A bookshop attached to the meeting place had a wide range of books and tapes by Derek Prince and other recognised teachers of that era. I soaked up this material.
    When I returned to Sydney in early 1974 I sought out a church operating at the same level and found one advertised in the Sydney morning Herald (conservative at the time).
    This Church was pioneered by a group from New Zealand and it was all that I had hoped for. Several years later it became part of the Shepherding Movement. Here I must depart from so much I have read about the Shepherding Movement. I was part of this Movement until it came to a sad end in 1989. Both my wife and I cannot speak to highly of the years spent in the Movement. We attended their Bible College in Vancouver and were involve in outreach for 3 years. The leadership was of the highest caliber and the teaching orthodox. We were well trained in world view and secular humanism. Families and relationships were solid and we had a school where the children were taught conventional subjects without evolution and politically correct ideas of the time. The worship services were wonderful and family orientated. We long to see a return to church life like we experienced over all those years.
    I acknowledge the failings of the movement but the material I have read concerning the Movement does not correspond to our experience.

  • Methinks Derek Prince is a bit like Daniel, where he confessed the sins of the nation as his own.

    We were also in the shepherding movement and from what I could see and experience, the problem was with the second and third generation leaders that did not understand or execute the vision in its purity. This is of course typical of spiritual movements.

    My admiration for Derek and indeed Ern Baxter are undiminished to this day.
    I agree with Bradford that there was something special that was touched upon with this movement.
    The pear shaped side of it was dealt with by Ken Blue in his book.
    Sadly there are still those who want to throw their weight around, and be bossy.

  • Derek Prince is one of the few, if any, Christians who taught on curses and cursing. Jesus of course used a curse on the fig tree and the’ woes’ on the pharisees are as close to a curse as you can get. Remember reading [don’t know where] the Russian orthodox Church, pronounced a curse on the communist government. It took a while but seemed to work! Maybe this is a legitimate tool the church has neglected?

  • If readers want easily accessible material from Prince, his organisation broadcasts daily (M-F) 15- and 30-minute capsules of his recorded radio teaching, usually in a weekly or fortnightly series. I subscribe to the 15-minute podcast. Search for Derek Prince Legacy Radio on iTunes etc.

  • As a Bible teacher, Derek Prince was so very clear in the way he presented profound truth in a way that was easy to understand. He did not waste his words. While working as an announcer with Radio Rhema in Christchurch in the 1980’s, I often put to air his daily radio program, “Today With Derek Prince”, a ten minute daily program which over the week, followed a particular theme. He did not waste time with small talk, even when my wife and I saw him speak in Christchurch, he did not spend any time, waffling about superfluous matters. He came on the platform, and introduced his message immediately, and spoke (from memory) for about ninety minutes, every sentence filled with clarity and insight relating to his message. He was a remarkable man.

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