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George Mueller: Displaying the Glory of God through Prayer
The Five Stages of His Life:
|1.||1805–1825||Birth to conversion|
|2.||1825–1835||Conversion to entrance on his life work|
|3.||1835–1875||His chief life’s work|
|4.||1875–1892||Time of his “missionary tours”|
|5.||1892–1898||Close of his life|
George Mueller was born in 1805 and lived most of the 19th Century. He died at the age of 92, in 1898.
He was, what we would say in modern terms, quite eccentric. I say that because he seemed to me to never simply conform to the traditions set by the church of his day. He would be convinced or convicted of something he would read in Scripture and basically say out loud: Hey, that ain’t the way we do it at church. One of us is wrong, and it ain’t Scripture. He would then study hard to discover whatever doctrine or practice or truth he had come across and clarified it’s meaning in his life and in the life of the church. Or, he would change the practice – often to the dismay of those around him.
George wasn’t raised in a Christian Home. His only experience with church was the once or twice a year his family went. His mother passed away when he was 14. It seems she didn’t have much of an influence on him because he doesn’t mention her, except to note her death. His father, I suppose because of the boys’ situation with their sick mother, never seemed to discipline his sons. And so it seems they ran wild in the streets. George’s personal testimony was that he was actually out and about the city, half-drunk the night his mother passed. And remember, he was only 14 years old. Pierson: The night when his mother lay dying, her boy of fourteen was reeling through the streets, drunk; and even her death failed to arrest his wicked course or to arouse his sleeping conscience. At the age of 16, Pierson records: This boy of sixteen was already a liar and thief, swindler and drunkard, accomplished only in crime, companion of convicted felons and himself, in a felon’s cell. That’s right. At the age of 16, he was on his way to prison. Had it not been for the intervention of his father, he might have ended up there.
George’s early life was filled with images of being a prodigal son. He wasn’t poor, but he wasn’t as rich as he made himself out to be. He was living the life of a prodigal son, pretending to be rich, but running off without paying his bills. He would eventually be caught and thrown in Jail. His dad came to the rescue, sending money and paying off his debts – which, of course, got him out of prison.
George wanted to win his father’s favor back – and did so by deceiving him. George would study hard enough to make his dad think he was a good kid, working hard at Math, German, French, and Latin. And he did excel in these areas. It was as if they came easy to him and he could spend more time in his wickedness. He was such a good liar that he fooled his dad, his teachers and other men in administrative duties at the school.
Those times would be short-lived. George would live his life in a very public way as to please his father and teachers. Then, his lies would pile up to the place where he would get caught. Or, he’d run out of money and be exposed as a liar and a thief. The only time George felt guilt or remorse was when twice a year he went to church and took the communion. He would feel so guilty, that he would promise to reform his behavior – but it never stuck.
There is one story about how he had wasted away his money and was not going to make his payments. Pierson again: It is hard to believe this young man of twenty could lie without a blush and with the air of perfect candor. When dissipation dragged him into the mire of debt, and his allowance would not help him out, he resorted again to the most ingenious devices of falsehood. He pretended that the money wasted in riotous living had been stolen by violence, and, to carry out the deception he studied the part of an actor. Forcing the locks of his trunk and guitar-case, he ran into the director’s room half-dressed and feigning fright, declaring that he was the victim of a robbery, and excited such pity that friends made up a purse to cover his supposed losses.
Suspicion by the director at his school caused George to walk a fine line, but he did lose the trust of the director. Indeed, his charade was uncovered and he was deeply humiliated.
Something may have been happening in George’s heart here because just before this time, he had been sick. Like, he was stuck in his room for three months – 13 weeks. He was in dire need during this illness, and the director’s wife had actually taken care of him when he couldn’t take care of himself. His embarrassment over being found out to be a liar and a cheat made it impossible to even look at her. It seems he did have a conscience after all.
George’s dad thought the best thing for George would be to go to seminary. If he were to study for the ministry, that might cause him to be a better man. The added
Isn’t it funny (odd) how people who don’t know Christ, see Christians as good people? Like as a comparison, we see or meet or hear about a Mormon family. They’re basically good people – that’s stereotypical of us. Lost people might send their kids to a Christian School or send them to church in hopes that their kid might learn something about morals and ethics? This was the case for Mr. Mueller, George’s dad. But he wasn’t the only one. George later wrote that in his Divinity School there were some 900 students and he figured only one in a hundred knew Christ. Pierson, in his autobiography of Mueller, writes: Formalism displaced pure and undefiled religion. George was wrapped up in this group, learning the ins and outs of legalism and piety, without the changed heart. Consider this: he was even allowed to preach, and he had never even met the Savior. He owned some 300 books, but not a one was Scripture.
- George was invited to a Bible Study and just felt compelled to go. It was a community group that met on Saturday nights at some guys home. Never before had he experienced anything like this. There were four main parts to the gathering: singing, praying, reading the Word of God and reading a printed sermon. Preaching without an ordination was basically outlawed. So, these guys would get someone’s printed sermon and read through it. George was caught off guard and knocked for a loop. These guys sang with such passion. And, then when it came time to pray – this one brother near him just fell on his knees and began this impassioned plea like nothing Mueller had ever heard of before.
- George went home, but couldn’t stop thinking about this gathering. He himself fell to his knees to pray. Something happened to him that evening. He would never be the same. God’s peace fell on that young man and changed him. He doesn’t remember the prayer he prayed, but he knows that God heard him. He did not weep dramatically over his sins and come to Christ in a wave of despondency, but rather his conversion was simple, sweet and peaceful.
- He could not wait until the next Saturday night to be gathered with these men again.
Here we see an event that would characterize his entire Christian life: prayer. Sure, written prayers are good, but for someone to fall on their knees and petition the throne of God with passion and fervor is moving. George loved the personal side of walking and talking with God. We will see that this is what drove his faith and how he desired to teach others to have faith in God, too.
Do you know that is why he built orphanages? He writes in his own Biography: The three chief reasons for establishing an Orphan-House are 1. That God may be glorified, should He be pleased to furnish me with the means, in its being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him; and that thus the faith of His children may be strengthened. 2. The spiritual welfare of fatherless and motherless children. 3. Their temporal welfare.
#1 – he wanted his congregation and the orphans and the community to see that we’re supposed to trust God for everything in our lives. He knew of no better way than to live that out. #2 – he wanted the orphans to be saved and discipled. #3 – and lastly, that their physical needs would be met.
I’ve just got to stop and ask us about why we do what we do. Are we trusting God to provide for our missionaries? I’m sure you’ll say yes. But, are we daily approaching the Throne of Grace to seek God’s mercy and grace for the temporal needs of our missionaries? I have to admit that I don’t. I’m comfortable. I’m not hungry or thirsty or cold.
George’s first pastorate came by way of filling a vacant pulpit. They liked him so much they asked him to stay. His first sermon was written and practiced, reviewed and rehearsed. The day came to preach and all went well. They asked him to stay and preach again the afternoon. But he was in deep trouble. He didn’t have another sermon. He began to pray and ask God for help. He could not rely on his wit and cunning to get out of this. He entered the pulpit without a script, but a hope that God would guide. It went better than the morning sermon! This prayer thing is pretty cool! He decided from then on, that he would prepare to preach as he should, but never would he preach again without being prayed up!
They asked George to stay on as their pastor and he agreed. But, he made it clear that evangelism would be the most important part of his ministry and that his congregation shouldn’t expect him to be a regular kind pastor. I don’t get the idea that he felt he would be there for a long time. His heart just wasn’t in it (pastor). He had a heart for missions.
He had applied to be a missionary with the famous London Missionary Society. But, after a couple of months, he didn’t like the way they ran things and withdrew his application. That sounds bad (he didn’t like the way they ran things)– but it really wasn’t. I’d say it was just a difference of philosophy in missions. For example, he didn’t like having to answer to someone who knew nothing of what was going on in that country. And, that sounds like he was rebellious. But he wasn’t. He felt the great need to He didn’t want to go only where they decided but rather wanted to follow the Spirit’s guiding.
It was about this time that he courted a sweet, young Christian. Their relationship grew and he was getting serious about her, but she wasn’t getting serious about missions. He found himself praying less and serving less and reading his Bible less. There was something about her that drew him away from the very calling he had surrendered to follow. After wrestling with this issue, he knew that he needed to give up the girl and keep the calling. And so he did. Evidently, it broke his heart, for he was madly in love with her. But, he knew it was what he needed to do.
Yes, the opportunity for missions was on his mind, but serving where God had planted him was his desire.
It was during this time that a few women came to him to discuss this newfangled idea of Believer’s Baptism. He answered honestly he didn’t understand the doctrine, but only knew that the church didn’t practice it. One of the women there, I guess a bit more forward than the others, chided him. They were looking to him for answers and he didn’t know what Scripture taught on the issue.
So, he dove in headfirst – and his heart followed. It seemed to him that the New Testament clearly taught this doctrine of Believer’s Baptism. And, even when there seemed to be contradictions or diversion, he believed the Bible was only clarifying this issue. And so, in October of 1830, at the church where he was the pastor, he was baptized by immersion.
In his studies, he came across a passage about the cost of two sparrows. He knew he’d read something about their cost before, but it was different. Let me show you:
Matthew 10.29 – 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luke 12.6 – 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Ok, so the cost is doubled, but you get another sparrow thrown in. The value of the sparrow is so little – really, of no worth. It can simply be thrown in with the others because it isn’t worth anything. Basically, you get that one for free! But, you are of more value than that worthless bird. If it falls out of the nest and to the ground, God knows. But, you are of such value to the Father that he not only counts the birds, but he also counts every hair on your head.
George was so moved to think of God’s concern and care for him, that he desired to live no longer at the payment of the church, but to simply let God know of his needs and desires and to go from there. He had been receiving a stipend of $50 a year. But, those who tithed were given pews and places of prominence. He wanted the gospel to be free from that burden. So, a box was set up so that people could drop in their money without any notice to who was giving. He trusted God would provide. Yes, some folks didn’t like it and left. But, the church grew nonetheless.
Believe it or not, it was at this time that George took a wife: Ms. Mary Groves. They would spend the next 39 years together before she passed away. She would give him four children. However, two were stillborn. Lydia, their only child to live into adulthood was just shy of turning three when her little brother, Elijah, died at 15 months.
George and Mary shared a wonderful life together. It appears from his notes that they loved each other so very much. At her funeral, where he preached the message, he wrote:
Were we happy? Verily we were. With every year our happiness increased more and more. I never saw my beloved wife at any time, when I met her unexpectedly anywhere in Bristol, without being delighted so to do. I never met her even in the Orphan Houses, without my heart being delighted so to do. Day by day, as we met in our dressing room, at the Orphan Houses, to wash our hands before dinner and tea, I was delighted to meet her, and she was equally pleased to see me. Thousands of times I told her—“My darling, I never saw you at any time, since you became my wife, without my being delighted to see you.”
She was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and George suspected the worst. He recorded in his notes: My heart was nigh to be broken on account of the depth of my affection.”
At this stage of his life, he had seen God miraculously answer thousands upon thousands of prayers for his welfare and the welfare of his orphans. So he prayed to the God who had provided for him in all of those prayers before to spare his wife. This is what he wrote about the answer to that prayer: Twenty minutes after four, Lord’s Day, February 6, 1870, Mary died. “I fell on my knees and thanked God for her release, and for having taken her to Himself, and asked the Lord to help and support us.”
Often times we believers assume God’s answers are yes and no – or yes, no and wait. But, the answers of God are often much more profound, if we’ll just listen. I’m wondering if we, as believers, focus too much on ourselves in our prayers. We ‘make much of us’ in our prayers. The answers we receive from God might make more sense to us if we were praying to make much of him. Listen to Mueller’s own words of his attitude in prayer:
The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84.11). Now, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received grace, we are partakers of grace, and to all such he will give glory also. I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says.
George Mueller was 64 years old when his wife Mary died. More than 40 years a believer and his theology was so very strong. All of what he has declared comes from taking God at his word. Taking God at his word. How could he do this?
Over his life, Mueller read the Bible from cover to cover over 200 times. It is said that in the last years of his life, he was reading through the Bible 4 times a year. He knew God’s Word. In this paragraph about losing his wife, we find fresh hanging fruit, ripe for us to pick.
- I am in myself a poor worthless sinner.
- I have been saved by the blood of Christ.
- I do not live in sin, but walk uprightly before God.
- God will do what is good for her and God will do what is good for me. If it is good for her and for me, to be restored, she will be restored again. If it is not good for her and it is not good for me, then she won’t be restored.
- Conclusion: My heart is at rest. I am satisfied with God.
These are some strong principles to live by. We are sinners, but God has saved us from our sin through faith in his Son, Jesus, who died for our sin. We no longer walk in sin, but by faith in Him. We know God is good. We’re taught this from when we’re little. How many of you learned the following: God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.
If we truly believe God is good, then we should be at rest in Him and his conclusions. This means knowing that God is sovereign over all our affairs – over every breath we take.
George Mueller had seen God’s goodness in his life over and over again. It was a truth that guided him. I feel positive that you guys have heard of Mueller’s prayers for the orphans? Time and Time is recorded of needs and George would tell no one, but only God. And in every instance, God provided. Every instance.
George would be up and about his work as a pastor. Word would be sent that no food was available to feed the orphans. George would pray. Word would come back that food or money came. Someone would knock on the door and say: Pastor, God just laid it on my heart to give you this money this morning. So, I came over as quickly as I could. Or, the orphanage would send word: Pastor, the milkman stopped by this morning and said he had some extra milk that didn’t sale and gave it to the orphans. Added to that, the baker stopped by and said he had some leftover bread that no one purchased. It was going to go bad, but he remembered the orphans and brought it over.
One story goes that George got word of no food for the orphans. He had prayed, but no answer. He decided to walk over to the orphanage to be with his children and on the way he passed a member of his church. The man asked about the orphans, but George didn’t share about the need. He had made the commitment to only tell God and let God provide. They made small talk for a few minutes and then went there separate ways. But they didn’t get too far apart, before the member called out, ran back and handed his pastor some money. Pastor, use this for the orphans.
When Mueller started his Orphan Homes, there were just over 3,000 orphans living in orphanages in England. More than 10,000 orphans lived in prison. At his death, over 100,000 orphans were being cared for in orphanages. Mueller alone had established 5 Orphan Homes that cared for 2,050 orphans. Over his lifetime, he had cared for 10,024 orphans. And, never once did he ask any human to meet their needs. In all of his needs to run those orphanages for all of those little kids, he only laid his requests before God. And for 70 years, God provided all of it.
Do you remember me mentioning at the beginning of my message the purposes in establishing Orphan homes? The three chief reasons for establishing an Orphan-House are: 1. That God may be glorified, should He be pleased to furnish me with the means, in its being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him; and that thus the faith of His children may be strengthened. 2. The spiritual welfare of fatherless and motherless children. 3. Their temporal welfare.
His main purpose was God’s glory in teaching others to trust God in everything.
George’s later years:
At the age of 66, George married again to Susannah Sangar.
From the age of 70-87, George would serve as a missionary. He traveled to 42 different countries to take the gospel to the lost. Did you catch that? 70 years old; 42 different countries. Wikipedia has his mission trips listed in a table for easy reference. What a great example for us!
I wonder who among us sits here today planning to waste the golden years of their lives on frivolity? Who here plans to take the blessings of retirement and like a prodigal, lavishly waste it upon themselves? Might God be calling you to flourish in the latter part of your life? Might God be calling you into his service? I know many feel called to be right here. But can you see yourself living a few more years, maybe 10-15-20 more years? Then, do you see yourself standing before God and giving account for the tremendous blessings upon your life? And when asked what you did with those blessings – how would you respond? God, I took all you gave me and I… You fill in the blank.
George served on the mission field for 17 years and stepped aside from Travel at the age of 87. He continued pastoring his church until his death in 1895. He led his Wednesday evening prayer service on March 9, 1898. He went home and went to bed. That next morning, March 10, 1898, when he was brought his morning coffee, he found lying on the floor next to his bed. He had died some time earlier that morning or late that last night. Lydia (George’s daughter) died in 1890, at the age of 57. George was 85 years old. Susannah (his 2nd wife) died in 1895 when George was 90 years old. He preached her funeral, too. His brother and father had died back in 1838 and 1840 (respectively) when Mueller was in his 30’s. George had outlived all of his family. 1805-1898 – almost the entire 19th Century. In all of his ministry and mission endeavors (his pastorate, his orphanages, his mission trips), he never went into debt for any of it. God provided for everything through prayer alone.
Indeed, George fulfilled his goal in displaying the glory of God through prayer.