For those of you that are a bit incredulous about the phenomenon known as “the bowman’s bulging left bicep” and consider it either pure fiction, dangerous hyperbole, or something only witnessed by generations long ago—let’s consider for a moment the life of Hudson Taylor. For that matter, let’s consider C.T. Studd. Or how about Amy Carmichael, William Booth, and Rees Howells? And while we are doing all this considering maybe we should also throw in some consideration of Charles Spurgeon, John “Praying” Hyde, Leonard Ravenhill, Richard Wurmbrand, and George Müller. And, while we are in such a great “considering groove,” it would seem a waste of a wonderful opportunity, to not also sprinkle in some consideration of Major Ian Thomas, George Whitefield, Oswald Chambers, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Gladys Aylward, Edward Payson, William Carey, D.L. Moody, David Brainerd, John G. Paton, David Livingstone, E.M. Bounds, Evan Roberts, Paris Reidhead, John Wesley, Eric Liddell, John and Betty Stam, R.A. Torrey, Robert Murray McCheyne, Corrie and Betsy ten Boom, Jonathan Goforth, Brother Andrew, and Andrew Murray.
In just these last two hundred years, left biceps have bulged and the Longbow has been pulled before an awestruck multitude. The past two centuries have boasted the magnificence of God in and through the humble lives of obedient men and women of the faith. Each of these men and women, just mentioned, were athletes of a heavenly order—so utterly spectacular that the athletes of the Olympiad are unworthy to even untie their Nikes. In other words, this “majesty” wasn’t just in millennia gone by, but it’s been in the very recent annals of Christian history. Close enough in history’s timeline, in fact, for us to know that God is still in the business of making biceps bulge.
So, now that we’ve diffused all of that latent incredulity, let’s get down to the business of seeing this majesty return.
To do this, we first need to take a step back to get an arial view of how the return of this majesty is actually accomplished in the life of the Church.
These Christian heroes of the faith just mentioned all had one key thing in common. They all understood their own inherent weakness.
I realize that sounds like a rather strange key to strength.
Weakness? Am I serious?
If we want the stuff of old—that triumphant vigor of the faith that once fearlessly effervesced in the hearts and minds of the twice-born—then we need to get back to the basics.
The most basic of basic facts in the Kingdom of Heaven is, “We can’t, only He can!”
To help you understand this most basic fact, think of God as the Almighty Archer and yourself as the Longbow.
Can a Longbow draw itself? Of course, not. But that doesn’t keep us, as human Longbows, from trying.
We are quite comedic creatures, really. When we first catch the vision of the impossible pull of the Longbow, there is a molten stirring of desire that awakens within us as Christians. We crave the real authentic version of the faith and we are tired of the stuffy fluffy version of religious devotion to Christ currently surrounding us like a gelatinous curtain. But, we often go about attempting to fulfill our high calling the wrong way.
By nature, we are self-doers. And this proves a significant problem to us all. Self-doing will never bring the thunder of Heaven back to the stage of time.
Many of us, when we hear the overtures of the return of majesty, grit our teeth, dig down deep inside ourselves, and sprint to pick up our Longbow. We grab ahold of it, purse our lips, growl, and yank at that bowstring with all our might.
This is self-doing. And it’s akin to a little two-year old child running up to Lars the Gentle Giant’s ten foot tall Longbow and attempting to pull the bowstring and actually shoot an arrow. It simply doesn’t work. The child, though well meaning, is not physiologically able to pull off such a feat. The Longbow is huge and the little child is . . . ahem . . . not.
This may offend some of you that have been raised on the motto, “You can do it!” But please hear me out. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying that we, in all our self-doing gusto, are not the ones that make it happen.
We can scour our personal warehouse of strength, talents, abilities, knowledge, wisdom, and resolve. We can get on our fork lift and search the highest shelves in our own personal storehouse of vigor. We can run down the stairs into the deepest cellar of our own grit and determination, but we will not find the supernatural stuff requisite to pull off the job.
After all, the job is termed “impossible” for good reason.
You see, the secret to the bulging left bicep and the return of majesty to the Church of Jesus Christ is not found in our own warehouse of ability. It’s found in His.
When all you know is self-doing, it’s a strange thing to switch to another form of “doing.” But switch you must.
Let’s call it God-doing. The Bible refers to the concept of God-doing as Grace. And this is what the Scriptures tell us is the one and only thing that can pull the bowstring of our lives. This Grace is what saves us. This Grace is what does the work that we ourselves cannot do in our own self-roused strength. This Grace is the Hand of the Almighty Archer reaching into our lives and doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It was this Grace that crushed the head of the ancient Serpent and has set us free from the power of sin’s penalty and control.
God knew that the human life could only be mastered and properly pulled by His Almighty Hand. So, in the Garden of Eden when we partook of that forbidden fruit and subsequently departed from the Almighty Archer, suddenly our lives could no longer wield the arrows of love, faith, and obedience they were created to send forth. They could no longer hit the intended target, for no hand on this earth was strong enough to pull back such a bowstring. And the Great Bowyer (The One who constructs the Longbows) wove a simple principle into His design of the Longbow. That is: the Longbow is simply incapable of pulling itself. Such is the limitation of its design. Self-doing won’t cut it. Only God-doing will work.
God, being the only means by which a Longbow can be pulled, humbled Himself and became a Longbow. Such is the great and bewildering mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ—God in the skin of a man. God become the chosen war weapon of Heaven. And, to the amazement of all the onlooking heavens, Jesus Christ, though God, yielded Himself unto His Father, the Master Bowman, and for the first time since Adam’s failure in the Garden, the Longbow was pulled. This is God-doing. And this is what saves us. And this is also what enables us.
And in this amazing picture of God-doing, the great secret of the Christian life was revealed. For the Christian man or woman is a unique sort of athlete. We, as believers, are not the work of our own efforts, determination, discipline, and study. We are a result of Another’s work, Another’s fitness, Another’s endurance, Another’s power, Another’s knowledge of the game, and Another’s training regiment.
The principle of earthly athleticism is “practice makes perfect”—while the principle of heavenly athleticism is “His work makes us perfect.” And it’s this Work, this Grace of Jesus that makes for athletic Saints—men and women able to pull the bowstring and do with their lives that which would otherwise be impossible.
For years of my life I esteemed the fact that Jesus drew the Longbow and shot through the Devil at the Cross. I believed this fact, but this fact didn’t truly alter me. For when I went to live out my Christianity, I was no stronger than the God-forsaking man next door. I meant well, but I couldn’t do well.
Hudson Taylor, the famed Christian missionary to inland China, and the namesake for my firstborn son, struggled with the same perplexing dilemma. He esteemed Christ’s pull of the Longbow and went into all the world to tell about it, but struggled to know how his own life was to prove a similar athletic pattern of His beloved Forerunner.
Hudson Taylor’s story of transformation has had a great impact upon my own personal life. For Hudson Taylor ached for an answer to this weighty question—“Can my life demonstrate God’s Life?” He prayed. He fasted. He cried out to God for an answer. And, in the end, he found something golden. The golden Truth had been there all along and was embarrassingly obvious once he finally grasped it in his spiritual grip. It was an idea. An idea of Christ being his Life—His all in all. And it was this heavenly idea that shaped him into a man that altered the history of nations. And, so, in seeing Hudson’s discovery, I too, as a young man, set out to find this secret of strength and authentic Christian action in the Person of Christ. And my life has never been the same. The epic vision was awakened in me—the craving for the return of majesty began to stir within.
When Hudson Taylor was discovering this grand Truth, he was already a missionary. His life was already devoted to the service of his King. However, a new pair of glasses seemed to supernaturally set itself upon the bridge of his nose. And suddenly he could see.
He exclaimed, “It was resting in Jesus now, and letting Him do the work—which makes all the difference.”
How simple a discovery it was. And yet, how profound. Like a Longbow finally recognizing that it can’t pull itself, but if it yields to the Hand of the Archer, the bow can and will be pulled.
In the classic Christian biography of Taylor’s life, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, it mentions the dramatic impact this transformation had upon his life:
“Whenever he (Hudson Taylor) spoke in meetings after that, a new power seemed to flow from him, and in the practical things of life a new peace possessed him. Troubles did not worry him as before. He cast everything on God in a new way, and gave more time to prayer.”
Taylor referred to this profound occurrence in his life as “The Exchanged Life.” He realized that he needed to give up his own life, lay it down, surrender it—and receive the Life of God in its place. And so he did just that. He gave his life to Jesus Christ—lock, stock, and barrel. And then he unlocked the door of his life, body, mind, will, emotions, future, hopes and dreams and invited the Holy Spirit of God to come inside.
What Hudson Taylor did was what all of us must do. And this is how the bulging left bicep will return to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Remember the most basic of principles in the Christian life?
We can’t, only He can!
What Hudson Taylor found is not special or unique to him. It’s the common treasure of the people of faith. In fact, it’s the gift that every one of us MUST receive and exercise in our daily lives. The supernatural demonstration of heavenly strength that Hudson Taylor modeled in and through his life, marriage, and ministry was not something meant only for his life. It’s intended to be enjoyed by each and every one of us.
This means that the very same vigor that Hudson Taylor demonstrated can and must once again usher forth in this earth. Likewise, the courage of C.T. Studd, the fearlessness of William Booth, and the faith of George Müller are all available to those who simply believe. It’s bewildering, but the love of Betsy ten Boom, the fortitude of Gladys Aylward, and the bravery of Esther Ahn Kim are there for the taking. And God longs for these heavenly attributes to return to this earth full force and undiluted. He’s simply needing a Body to deposit these extraordinary attributes into. And that Body is us, His Church.
Just think . . . He wants to be our Life!