“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me . . .” John Newton is famous today for writing the hymn that begins with those words. The humility expressed in “Amazing Grace” was no show.
A fellow clergyman, Thomas Scott, mocked Newton’s conservative views. Yet Newton remained polite. A couple of Scott’s parishioners had fallen deathly ill. Scott knew of their illness, but since they didn’t ask him to visit, he didn’t. Newton, however, visited the couple several times. When Scott heard about this situation, he realized that whatever he thought of Newton’s doctrine, Newton acted more like a pastor than Scott did. Scott eventually became fond of Newton and even converted to Newton’s conservative views.
For decades, Newton persevered in loving people this way. He knew exactly what he had been. He called himself not only a wretch but also a great blasphemer. Yet Newton also knew that Jesus had changed everything for him. Newton’s gratitude motivated him to love others.
These are some of the things I learned about Newton when I read The Roots of Endurance by John Piper. In this book, Piper overviews the lives of Newton and two of his contemporaries.
Charles Simeon, also a pastor, served the same local church for more than fifty years, despite strong opposition at times. The parishioners boycotted him. More than once, he was intentionally locked out of the church facility during a scheduled service time. But Simeon persevered.
William Wilberforce served in British parliament and worked relentlessly for the end of slavery despite the disagreement of fellow politicians, numerous setbacks, and later poor health. He wanted to outlaw the trading of slaves. When he succeeded, he worked to outlaw owning slaves. Success came a few days before his death.
Piper believes the secret of these three men was delight: “Delight in the Christ of the cross, not just dutiful endurance, was essential for all three of these men” (34). They persevered through opposition and hardship because they kept their minds on Jesus and found their happiness in Him.
As I thought about this secret to perseverance, I wondered how I could intentionally delight in Jesus. I remembered a skit I’d seen in our church several years ago. It was a simple skit, set entirely to music, about Jesus as the Great Rescuer. Watching that skit made me want to weep as my mind traveled over the things Jesus had rescued me from. In that moment, I was delighting in Christ.
Sometimes when we sing in church, I imagine scenes in my mind. When we sing about God being holy, I picture the throne of God (described in Isaiah) or Jesus shining brighter than the sun (Revelation). In those moments, I am delighting in Christ.
Imagination, creativity—these things help me in worship. I realize not everyone is like me, but for those of you who are, maybe one of these ideas will refresh your delight in Jesus:
- Read the Gospels with yourself as a character in the scenes. Imagine what you would have seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and thought as you encountered Jesus.
- Watch a movie or live drama that reenacts Jesus’ time on earth.
- Celebrate Jesus with your own worship song, poem, dance, visual art, or other creative expression.
- Tell or write the story of what Jesus has done for you.
The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce by John Piper. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002.
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