A Man after God’s Own Heart
An undivided heart is essential to be all you can be in Christ. This is not just due to the fact that conflicted loyalties will make following Jesus harder. You will also often not even be able to even see the Lord’s path for you when you are torn between allegiances. Yearning after other loves caused you to think differently than if you were following Jesus alone. It acts like blinders on a plow horse forcing you to focus in one direction only and not see anything but the ordinary choices.
I wrote about this issue in my last post, Is Divided Loyalty Destroying Your Christian Life?. Yet, you still may be struggling with this idea and how it applies. This is where you can look to the great cloud of witnesses for encouragement and understanding. These are the mature and faithful Christians throughout history who went before you and lived exemplary lives in Christ. They were regular people, just like you and I, who walked out their faith in extraordinary ways. The message from Hebrews 12 is if they can do it, you can too. The Scottish pastor, John Harper is one such example. He may not be a household name, but his life demonstrated what dedication to Jesus looks like. He chose Jesus first above everything else, even in the most difficult circumstances.
God’s Beauty in Disaster
In 1912, Harper was invited to come to America and preach for weeks at D.L. Moody’s church. There was a great revival in progress at the time and the Moody Church was heavily involved. It seemed like an open door to help the cause of Christ and Harper was excited to get to Chicago and see God work. His mission must have seemed so clear. Yet, tragedy dramatically intervened.
Harper set out with his beloved 6 year old daughter for America. Unfortunately, he chose to travel on the HMS Titanic, which ran into serious trouble on the voyage. The passengers were ordered to abandon ship after the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink into the freezing North Atlantic. Harper quickly realized that many aboard would not survive the crisis. Yet, Harper and his daughter safely reached one of the lifeboats with space for them both. The way seemed open to escape the doomed liner and carry out the plan to get to Chicago.
What do you think John Harper did once he reached the lifeboats? What was the sensible thing? What would go through your mind? If you stood on the deck of a sinking ship, would you consider anything but getting on the boat and floating away? What would be your framework for looking at the whole situation, if you are truthful? It is in answering these questions that you can see the destructive impact of a heart torn between loyalties. You can only truly serve one master.
Logic would tell you the only choice to be made in Harper’s situation was between safety on the boat and freezing to death once you hit the water. Surviving the ordeal is obviously a good outcome to be pursued. Death is clearly the worst option to be avoided at all costs. Reason would add in the fact that you are needed by your daughter and by the people in Chicago. Emotion would also favor staying with your beloved daughter. Most people would not ever consider anything other than trying to their hardest to save themselves. John Harper was not like most people because his view on the disaster was shaped by Jesus alone. He was entirely committed to serve Christ his Lord even in the midst of this terrible situation. He saw things drastically different as a result.
A Glorious Opportunity
The decks of the Titanic were where his true mission from the Lord was revealed and it was glorious. They were changed from a place to be feared and escaped to one to be embraced and rejoiced over. Since he was a servant of Jesus, Harper saw that he was given a great privilege. He had on the sinking ship the last chance to reach unsaved people with the Gospel before they faced eternal judgment. The real crisis was trying to pull them from the doorstep of the fires of hell into the perfection of heaven. The true tragedy would be them not hearing about the Lord when they most desperately needed it.
Harper could only see this truth, though, since he valued and trusted Jesus above everything else…including his own life.
Harper’s love of Jesus compelled him to first put his little daughter safely into the life boat and entrust her care to the Lord. As a father myself, this seems like a risky or foolish decision. I also know how incredibly hard it had to be for him. Yet, Harper knew that the Lord loved his daughter even more and better than he did. She was safe under the watchful eyes of his Master, Jesus. There as no need for Harper’s love of his daughter to conflict with that of God.
Harper refused to get on the boat himself. He insisted an unsaved person take his seat. He reasoned that since an eternity of joy and peace was certain for him at death, it made no sense to preserve himself while those without Christ faced everlasting judgment. He also gave away his life vest to another non-believer for the same reason. Harper was trying to buy them time to get saved by paying with his life. He then searched the decks of the doomed liner for any unsaved person desperately trying to get the Gospel to these perfect strangers before they went into the water.
Denying Your Life to Find It
Are you seeing John Harper’s dedication to Christ? Do you see how it changed his perspective and choices entirely? He refused to let his family attachment, anxiety, career goals, fear, pride, or even his desire for life conflict lead him away from his focus on Jesus and His Kingdom. Nothing was more important to him.
Harper’s work continued even after the ship went down. One of the survivors later described Harper drifting up near him as they both clung to debris in the frigid water. The man was astounded to hear Harper call out to him not asking about rescue or help, but whether he was assured of his salvation. When the man answered that he did not believe in God, Harper began to yell out the Gospel to him through the dark night before the current pulled him away. Harper later drifted back, finished explaining the Gospel, and led the man in prayer of salvation. The man last saw Harper praising Jesus and begging other survivors to call on Jesus before the night closed around him. Harper did not survive the disaster, but the man spent years telling others about this single minded evangelist. Great pressure was brought to bear on John Harper that night in the middle of the ocean. His response revealed just how gloriously dedicated he was to Jesus.
How about you?
No, I am not saying you need to give up a seat in a life boat, be Scottish, or die in the North Atlantic to serve Jesus. That was John Harper’s call alone. Yet, Jesus has a unique path set out for your life He is calling you to follow. It is wonderful and filled with opportunities to build His kingdom and bring Him glory. In order for you to walk it to its fullest, it also requires you to sort out your priorities. Your love of Jesus must be above all other things in order for you to thrive and see Jesus’ glory. You cannot hold onto your life and not lose it. It is only in losing your life that you truly find it.