Preachers have been using stories from the life of Rev. George Muller as sermon illustrations for a long time now. Muller was an evangelist and a missionary, but he is most famous for founding and overseeing multiple orphanages and Christian schools in England in the mid-to-late 1800s. Still, while it is estimated that over the course of his lifetime Muller cared for 10,000 orphans and saw 120,000 students educated, the sermon illustrations never focus upon any one orphan or any one student. They focus instead upon Muller’s uncommon faith and the oftentimes virtually miraculous answers he received to his prayers. Muller, you see, was a man who early on in his life made the decision to never borrow money for anything he wanted to start, build, or sustain. If God didn’t provide the means by way of people voluntarily making charitable donations, Muller would pray until God did provide.
In one of the most famous stories from Muller’s life, the children in his orphanage were all sitting down at the breakfast table one morning but there was absolutely nothing for them to eat that day. Muller, in his typical fashion, had the children bow their heads in prayer and led them in a prayer of thanksgiving. No sooner had he finished his prayer than a knock was heard at the door. It was a local baker who had brought enough bread to feed everyone in the orphanage. God had burdened the baker the previous night to get out of bed and bake bread for the orphanage. But the story doesn’t end there. Even as the baker was unloading the bread, a milk man came to the orphanage door. His milk cart had just broken down right in front of the orphanage and all of his milk was going to turn bad if the orphanage couldn’t use it. Such was George Muller’s life.
While I have heard, read, and (yes) used Muller stories many times over the course of my ministry, I recently came across a personal word from him that I didn’t even know existed. It was entitled How I Use My Bible, and it was Muller’s testimony about how he had once made a significant change in his morning schedule. I won’t restate the entire piece here, but I will provide the highlights of it.
Being the great man of prayer he was, Muller would get up very early each morning, dress himself, and immediately enter into a lengthy time of prayer before breakfast. He kept up this daily schedule for over a decade but found himself becoming increasingly frustrated over how long it took him in prayer to enter into what he called “the holy place” with God. He wrote:
I often spent a quarter of an hour on my knees before being conscious of myself as having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often, after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes or a quarter of an hour or even a half hour, I only then began to really pray.
Finally, there came a point where Muller’s frustration led him to try a different approach to his morning schedule. Rather than get up, get dressed, and begin praying, he would get up, get dressed, and begin reading his Bible. This early morning Bible reading, Muller found, made all the difference to his morning quiet time. In his own words, he described his reading process as follows:
I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get a blessing out of it, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for obtaining food for my own soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariable this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession or to thankfulness or to intercession or to supplication, so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.
When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all as I go into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation.
Did you catch what Muller threw there? He got up each day, opened his Bible to a passage — he says he began with the New Testament but I figure that he eventually started reading from the Old Testament as well — and began reading a passage word for word until something in the passage impressed him to say a quick prayer of confession, thankfulness, intercession, or supplication (asking, requesting). Then, having offered the brief prayer, he moved on to the next word, thought, or verse until something else impressed him to offer another quick prayer, whichever type of prayer was in order.
Two things about Muller’s testimony stand out to me. First, the morning prayers of this legendary man of prayer actually sprang from his reading of the Bible. Rather than see Bible reading and prayer as rivals for his time, Muller found a way to combine them into a singular river. Second, his goal in Bible reading each morning was to be nourished himself by way of God’s word, not get sermon material or preaching points. He wanted to be fed spiritually before he ate breakfast to be fed physically.
So what do you think? Will George Muller’s approach to having a daily quiet time with the Lord still work in this modern era? I’m sure it will. I myself am a night owl, not a morning person, but the important thing is the combining of Bible reading and prayer. That, of course, can happen anytime of day. And maybe, just maybe, whenever and wherever we do that combining we’ll start seeing some of those “Muller style” answers to prayer. I know that I sure could use some of those, and my guess is that you could, too.