"There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, putting aside self, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God." –Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 159.
"God does not call the qualified. He qualifies those whom He has called."
Contemplating this statement from Sabbath afternoon's lesson, I thought of Gladys Aylward. Gladys Aylward was born February 24, 1902, into a working-class family of North London. In her early teens she was employed as a housemaid though her ambition was to become an actress. However, one night, she just happened to attend a religious service. It was a turning point for Gladys. Believing God had a claim on her life she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Not long after her conversion she read an article about China that left a lasting impression. The thought that millions of Chinese had never heard of Jesus greatly troubled her. Gladys became convicted that God was calling her to go to China. For a time, she attended the China Inland Mission but was told she lacked the necessary qualifications. For one thing, she would never be able to master the Chinese language, so they said. Eventually, hearing of a widowed missionary looking for an assistant, Gladys wrote to her and was told, yes, Jeannie Lawson wanted Gladys to come and join her, but Gladys would have to pay her own way. By working extra jobs within a year, she scrimped together enough money to purchase a Trans-Siberian Railway ticket. (It was about half the cost of taking a ship directly to China.)
It was the early 1930s and it was a perilous trip. She was detained in Russia and barely, providentially escaped by seeking asylum on a Japanese boat.
Gladys finally stepped foot in China, but not long after her arrival Mrs. Lawson died. Gladys was on her own. But she wasn't on her own. God wonderfully provided for her. She learned to speak Chinese fluently. She, with the help of Mr. Lu and a cook, operated an inn. They provided an evening meal for the traveling muleteers and then entertained them with bible stories. The local magistrate hired her as a "foot inspector," a job that not only supplemented the meager income from the inn, but also gave her opportunity to witness. Accompanied by two of the magistrate's men Gladys traveled throughout the province decreeing and enforcing the government's mandate outlawing foot binding. She also shared the love of Jesus and told bible stories in each town and village.
This diminutive, 4'10" woman adopted and rescued orphans, led them over mountains to safety during World War II, quelled a prison riot, instituted prison reforms, ministered to the needs of others, and won many diverse souls to Jesus. Ai-weh-deh, her given Chinese name which means virtuous woman, left such an impression on the Confucian magistrate that he became a Christian.
Perhaps one of her more unique experiences was the week spent with 500 Tibetan priests. Gladys had been traveling with a fellow Christian sharing the gospel. The countryside had become increasingly desolate, but still they trudged on. Finally, tired and hungry, not knowing where to turn, they stopped to pray and sing. High on the hillside their singing was heard and they were brought to a lamasery where they were treated like long anticipated visiting dignitaries. For a week they shared the Good News with the receptive and heart-hungry residents. On the last night Aylward was called in for a private meeting with the head lama. After discussing various topics, she got up her courage to ask, "Why did you let me, a foreign woman come into your lamasery? Why did you allow me to speak to your priests?" The following story unfolded.
A licorice herb grew in abundance on the side of the mountains where they lived and every year the lamas collected it to sell in the cities. One year men who took the herbal harvest through a town happened upon a paper and brought it back to the lamasery. Read by all the lamas, it became worn. They then stuck it to the wall where it could be read over and over. What was on the paper? "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Somewhere there was a "God who loved." The head lama instructed the priests that from now on when they went to sell their harvest they were to search for "the God who loves." For five years, they found out nothing. Finally, the man who had been given the piece of paper found a Chinese evangelist who shared with him and his companion and gave them a copy of the gospels.
After relating all of this the head lama continued, "Eagerly they hurried back to the lamasery and we read the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We believed all that they contained, though there was much we could not understand. But one verse seemed of special importance. Christ had said, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,' so obviously one day someone would come to tell us more about this wonderful God. All we had to do was to wait and, when God sent a messenger, to be ready to receive him. For another three years we waited. Then two lamas, out on the hillside gathering sticks, heard someone singing. 'Those are the messengers we are waiting for,' they said." –The Little Woman, by Gladys Aylward as told to Christine Hunter.
There is a longing in every heart that can only be satisfied by the "God who loves." This week's lesson is on the topic of spiritual gifts and when we think of spiritual gifts 1st Corinthians 12 comes to mind. Of course, this chapter is followed by 1st Corinthians 13. Agape must be the motivation for desiring spiritual gifts and chapters 12 and 13 need to be viewed as a unit. Both Ellen White and A. T. Jones address this connection.
"The 12th and 13th chapters of 1st Corinthians should be committed to memory, written in the mind and heart. Through His servant Paul, the Lord has placed before us these subjects for our consideration, and those who have the privilege of being brought together in church capacity will be united, understandingly and intelligently. The figure of the members which compose the body represents the church of God and the relation its members should sustain to one another." –Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases p. 82, 1898.
"The Lord desires me to call the attention of His people to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Read this chapter every day, and from it obtain comfort and strength. Learn from it the value that God places on sanctified, heaven-born love, and let the lesson that it teaches come home to your hearts. Learn that Christlike love is of heavenly birth, and that without it all other qualifications are worthless." –Ellen G. White, Review and Harold, July 21, 1904.
Yes, without God's love, implanted in our hearts, our qualifications are of no use to God in furthering His kingdom. What amazing things God desires to do in and through us if we will only respond to His drawing and allow Him to lay our glory in the dust! What is needed is an appreciation and heart understanding of agape.When we understand the true connection of the body to the Head, when each member is fully submitted to the Head, disunity will cease to be seen in the body. Intense longing to share God's love will compel us, and the Holy Spirit will empower and direct.
A. T. Jones wrote a series entitled, "Receive the Holy Spirit." He wrote 26 articles and I would encourage a reading of each and every one of them. These articles contain truth that is extremely timely. You can find the whole series online. I'll share from a few of his articles that are especially applicable to our Sabbath School lesson. The added emphasis is that of the author, A. T. Jones.
Chapter 15 "The Spirit is Bestowed; the Gifts are Imparted" – "The gifts of the Spirit are, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues, teaching, exhortation, helping, governing, evangelists, pastors,—"distributing to each one individually as He wills" (1 Corinthians 12:11).
The purpose in the impartation of these gifts is thus declared: "He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the EQUIPPING (PERFECTING) OF THE SAINTS" (Ephesians 4:11, 12).
When the object of the gift of the Holy Spirit is the perfecting [equipping] of the receivers of the gift, and when the means of accomplishing this object is the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it is perfectly plain that both the gift and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not an end, but only means to an end; and that end, the perfecting [equipping] of the believers.
Then what must the one great thought of all who have received, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the impartation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit received? — Only perfection, perfection, PERFECTION, — nothing but perfection in Christ Jesus.
Therefore in this "time of the latter rain," in this day of the giving of the Holy Spirit, in this time of the receiving of the Holy Spirit, every one who will set his whole heart, yield his whole thought, to being brought to perfection in Christ Jesus, and will surrender himself to the working of the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit may accomplish God's purpose upon him, can freely receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. "Ask, and it will be given to you." "Receive the Holy Spirit." "Be filled with the Spirit." –A. T. Jones, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 11, 1898.
Chapter 16 "The Greatest Gift: Keeping the Commandments" – "We are commanded to "desire spiritual gifts" (1 Corinthians 14:1), and to "earnestly desire the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31).
These spiritual gifts are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are imparted by the Spirit to those who have received the Holy Spirit.
The sole object of these gifts is the perfecting of the saints, — the bringing to perfection the believers in Jesus.
Christian perfection is manifested in "love, which is the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:14). This is the love [agape] of God; "for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5:3).
So entirely is it true that love is the sole object of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that though I had the gift of tongues in such measure that I could "speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). And this is the love of God, "for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments."
So entirely is it true that love is the sole object of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that "though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (v. 2). And this is the love of God; "for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments."
So entirely is it true that the sole object of the gifts of the Spirit is love, that though I had these gifts in such measure that I were to "bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing" (v. 3). And this is the love of God; "for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments."
Thus is it entirely true, and the evidence is overwhelming, that the keeping of the commandments of God is the sole object of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And thus it is demonstrated that the keeping of the commandments of God is the greatest gift that can possibly be bestowed upon men.
Do you desire to keep the commandments of God? If you do, then earnestly "desire spiritual gifts;" for without these you never can become a true keeper of the commandments of God.
Do you desire really to keep the commandments of God? If you do, then "earnestly desire the best gifts;" for only by the gifts of the Spirit can you ever be a keeper of the commandments.
"Ask, and it will be given to you." "Receive the Holy Spirit." "Be filled with the Spirit." "Earnestly desire the best gifts." –A. T. Jones, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 25, 1898.
For a practical application and appreciation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we go to the book of Acts. A. T. Jones notes that the book of Acts begins and ends with the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is recognized and received throughout the book. "He is ever and everywhere recognized as being present as witness, counselor, and guide." ……. The message of God today is, "Receive the Holy Spirit." But the Holy Spirit is to be received only for service; only for guidance into a deeper, more thorough, and more stable experience; only unto sanctification: never for self-gratification. And in this time the book of Acts should be carefully, diligently, and reverently studied, that we may know the way of the Spirit in His wonderful working." –A. T. Jones, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 13, 1898.
The head lama told Gladys, "Christ had said, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,' so obviously one day someone would come to tell us more, about this wonderful God. All we had to do was to wait and, when God sent a messenger, to be ready to receive him." – The Little Woman, by Gladys Aylward as told to Christine Hunter.
God's character of love, revealed in His holy law and the gospel, has been maligned and misunderstood. We have been entrusted with a most precious message. Many are longing and waiting to hear this message. The world desperately needs this message! We are also told that the power of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, awaits our demand and reception.
"This promised blessing, claimed by faith, brings all other blessings in its train. It is given according to the riches of the grace of Christ, and He is ready to supply every soul according to the capacity to receive." –Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 672.
May we, by God's grace, humble our hearts and fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, equipped and empowered for service. We want to see God's character of love exalted, to proclaim by our lives and testimony, the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.