The floor heaved upwards as if a giant casually juggled it among other common objects. In this case, it was a giant—a giant succession of waves crashing down on the ship, tossing it back and forth from one hand to another. A loud crack came from the main mast as it split under the pressure of the wind. The sails were shredded by the unrelenting gales. The same force that was meant to deliver them to their destination was now driving them toward destruction.
He was overwhelmed with terror by the chaos of the moment. He had joined the trip as a missionary, seeking to reach remote tribes in the newly settled lands. But he also hoped to reach his own soul. Though an ordained pastor in the Church of England, he constantly battled doubts about the sincerity of his faith. The attacks of the enemy upon his heart often left him crumpled and in tears. Before departing on the journey, he told his mentor “My chief motive in leaving Britain is the hope of saving my own soul.” And now he thought his life might end at any moment if the struggling ship was torn apart.
A familiar sound began to rise through the overwhelming noise of the storm. It was so out of place, he wondered if he might be slipping into a state of angelic delusion. Its intensity grew and there could be no doubt—music was too central to his upbringing.
“Is that singing?” He asked the captain.
“Yes. It is the Moravians.”
“Why is it so loud?”
“Every one of them is singing. Even the children. They are all remaining calm.”
The realization of the contrast struck harder than the blows of the storm. Here he was: missionary, pastor, even official chaplain of the ship, and yet mere children faced the storm with calm confidence he’d never seen.
The storm passed, but he was still shaken. He sought out the Moravians to learn from them. The Moravians were a people group from central Europe that had developed a strong burden for missions. They shared with him of their belief that it “was an ordinary part of the Christian experience to enjoy a firm knowledge of one’s acceptance before God.” But John had no such confidence, and he longed for this simple, sincere sense of assurance.
He continued on to the mission field, which was at many levels a failure: very little spiritual fruit among the natives, a failed courtship, and a lingering dispute with the local governor, and little progress with his own soul. When he left almost two years later he reflected, “I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.”
For years afterward, he continued to wrestle with doubts, suffering attacks from the devil at many turns. But at the encouragement of a mentor, he kept preaching, knowing God would continue to meet him along the way.
I Peter 5:10 says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
John Wesley eventually found the assurance and comfort he sought. It was through the struggle, the prayers of others, the comfort of God’s word, and the testimony of others that shared this struggle, like Martin Luther, that he found relief from his suffering. He remembered the night everything changed:
About a quarter before nine, while [the speaker] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
God would use the preaching of John Wesley to awaken a revival across the English speaking world. His work to revive the church would lead to the founding of the Methodist church and other denominations. Though he wrestled with his doubts and fears, he didn’t give up, and God carried him through the suffering.
What are some ways you have endured suffering and temptation? What are some prayers, Bible verses, or friends that have helped encourage you along the way?
God, we thank you that we can endure sufferings because of your promise to strengthen and establish those who follow you. Help us to continue to seek you in the midst of challenges and to trust that you will guide us to the comfort we need in the moment.
Hand Motions Video
Quotes in this devotion taken from The Rise of Evangelicalism by Mark A. Noll, InterVarsity Press, 2003.