Ministry in Ireland (IV)

Mrs. Eileen Paisley, Dr. Ian Paisley, and Me

On Wednesday, September 12, Paul Thompson and I had a private, two-and-one-half hour lunch with Dr. Ian and Eileen Paisley, now both of the House of Lords (hence their official titles are Lord Bannside and Baronness Paisley). At first, it was a rather surreal experience as the Paisleys pulled up with their security guards, but what a delightful time we had. Dr. Paisley, now 86 and feeble (last February he nearly died in the hospital), came across as being open, honest, thoughtful, spiritual, and humorous. His wife is quite a lady as well—like her husband, she also has served in Parliament, is an author, and articulates well and in detail their past experiences.

While Dr. Paisley was still enjoying his fish and chips, he willingly answered some questions I prepared for him. Here they are together with his answers:

1. After many decades of experience in ministry, what two major pieces of advice would you give a theological student who is about to enter a lifetime of ministry?

Know your Scriptures and be a man of prayer. These are the two most important things in the ministry. If ministers are strong in the Scriptures and strong at the throne of grace, well, they are nearly in heaven already.

2. In the midst of an incredibly busy life, how does one manage to stay close to God in terms of personal experiential fellowship with Him and His Son by His Spirit?

You must not let anything break into your personal prayer and devotional life. The first book I reached for all my life is the Bible. As a minister and a politician, it is essential to be grounded in the Scriptures well since you’re engaging in spiritual warfare. You need to be instructed from the book, and you must remain on speaking terms with the Lord.

Communion with God, as you well know, is a scarce thing today. The prayers of many Christians are far too shallow, and mostly selfish. We need to rise above these things as leaders.

Another important thing to maintain is family worship. We kept up family worship from our earliest days. We all prayed together on our knees and the Lord has blessed that for ourselves and for our children. Our one son is now a minister and the other is in Parliament.

3. You have been a major leader in both the ecclesiastical and political spheres. In terms of exercising leadership in these spheres, do you see any difference between them? Are the same skills needed in both?

In both professions it is all about getting your orders from above and obeying them. No one in public life should leave home in the morning prayerless and careless. Leaders must remember that they are constantly going out into deep combat, so they need to know God’s will and then do it.

4. You and I have a common love—great Christian books. You have a great and a tremendous library which you are presently opening up as a reading room so that others can greatly benefit from the tens of thousands of books you have collected over a lifetime. What has your library meant to you throughout your life? What two books have most impacted your thinking? What is your favorite book? 

Let me say first that in homiletics and church history and the exposition of Scriptures, we have been left a great treasury. Through books in your hands, you can benefit greatly from godly men who were guided by God and spoke with God. A minister or even a lay Christian who doesn’t unlock this treasury, is a poor man.

Second, the big problem of many Christians today is that they don’t read the books they should read. They read largely trash. They could better burn most of those books.

Third, it is important for ministers not to become merely the echo of what they have read. But ministers do need to know what others have said. Our big problem today is that television has destroyed the nation in terms of reading and study. Another big problem is that people are not consistent in their Bible reading. They act as if when they do read that they are obliging God, but don’t realize that God is actually obliging you by giving you His word.

Finally, in terms of books that have transformed me, the first book that touched me deeply as a child was Pilgrim’s Progress. It is amazing that in Bunyan’s own day some did not want him to publish it—and actually warned him not to do so, but it is pure gold. As for a second book, I would just like to say that all of the Puritan works as a whole have greatly impacted me. The Puritans are the finest of the wheat. If a man owns Puritan writings, he has all the finest of the wheat and doesn’t need much else. These great Puritan works, when brought together, make a superb treasury when all brought together.

(In the next post I will share the rest of my conversation with Dr. Paisley.)

Consider Christ in Affliction (VI): The Prayers of Christ

When we consider Christ in affliction, we can find peace by resting in His saving work, and by following His godly example.

Consider the prayers of Christ. How often He set time apart on earth to pray to His Father, especially in hours of need! How continually He prays in heaven for all His church! How effectual all His prayers are!

You, too, ought to make more use of prayer, especially in combating spiritual depression under afflictions. Bring all your needs steadily to your praying High Priest. Be assured He hears your every whisper.

And when you grow drowsy or sloppy in prayer, pray aloud. Or write down your prayers. Or find a quiet place to walk in the fresh air to pray. Just don’t stop praying. Conversation with God through Christ is the antidote that wards off spiritual depression in the thick of affliction.

A prayerless affliction is like an open sore, ripe for infection; a prayerful affliction is like an open sore, ripe for the balm of Gilead—the healing ointment of Jesus’ blood. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

The Legacy of My God-Fearing Mother (I)

My dear mother, Johanna Beeke, aged 92, passed on into the presence of her Savior, at 3:45 a.m. on July 23, 2012. Though words seem hollow right now, I have tried to write a little of the tremendous legacy she left us five children and our spouses. Some of this material I used for leading her funeral on July 28. Afterwards, I preached on John 14:1–3, the text that the Lord used to grant her some spiritual liberty in the early years of her conversion. The following day, July 29, I preached a follow-up sermon to the flock I serve in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Psalm 17:15, which is available on

Over the next several posts I will try to communicate the legacy of godliness my mother left behind.

1. Prayerful—that would have to be the first descriptive word. In terms of consistently coming to the throne of grace, pleading for God’s mercy, Mother was the best prayer warrior I have ever known. When our parents had their 50th anniversary, and we all decided to thank each of them for one thing without telling each other what we would say, that we all thanked Mother for praying for us. We all could feel as we grew up that she was praying earnestly for each of us. When we would get up in the morning, you would walk by the living room on the way to the kitchen to get breakfast, you would furtively glance into the living room, there to see through the shadows Mother on her knees. You felt that that prayer place was a sacred place of communion with God, where Mother did business with heaven on our behalf.

Once, as a young teenager, I recall vividly a certain occasion in which I was about to watch something with a friend that was not edifying. Just before I indulged in desensitizing my conscience, however, it was as if I saw Mother on her knees before me. The power of that image in my mind was such that, even though I was not saved, I told my friend I couldn’t watch what he wanted to watch.

Often Mother would pray at great length. Once I called Dad from Grand Rapids and said, “Do you mind if I come down to visit this evening, as I don’t have any obligations?” “That would be fine,” he said. “Can I just speak with Mother for a moment?” I said. “Well,” he hesitated, “she’s praying right now.” “Never mind then,” I said, “I will talk with her when I come.” When I arrived at our parents’ home 50 miles later, only my Dad greeted me. “Where’s Mother?” I asked. “She’s still praying,” he said.

I remember Dad telling me 26 years ago when I was still in New Jersey how Mother had prayed for us far more than we ever knew. Dad told me at that time in a very tender moment that she normally spent two hours on her knees every day. Most of that time was spent no doubt in praying for us as children. When she was in spiritual darkness, she once said to me, “Perhaps my soul would be in a better condition if I would have prayed as much for myself as I have prayed for you.”

I also remember overhearing a conversation at a church gathering, where an elder approached Dad to ask him, “What was the secret of your child-rearing since all of your children have come to know the Lord?” I will never forget his answer: “The grace of God and their mother’s prayers,” he said.

But you didn’t hear about that from Mother herself. When she turned 85 I asked her, “Mother, if you could live your life all over again, what would you do differently?” “Oh dear,” she said, “I would pray more.” That answer was so convicting—and enlightening. I have long noticed that the more we as believers are graced with God’s particular graces, the more we will feel how little we have of those very graces.

Mother’s prayers also encircled her dear grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great grandchild—all 128 of them. She loved them all, and prayed for them all. When she thought about how large our family had become, she was amazed at God’s grace. She would often say near the end when she was very forgetful and would seem surprised on every occasion when we told her how large the family as: “Can you beat that? And then to think that I was an only child!” Oh, how shall we ever realize the magnitude of the covenant mercies of our God that have been bequeathed to us through a praying mother!

I thank God that by His grace, He gave us a praying mother.

How to Pray for Mozambique

As I visited with the people of Mozambique, I realized that ministering in a place like Nampula can be overwhelming. The needs are so great, the perils so many, the challenges so daunting, and the opportunities so abundant, that one scarcely knows where to begin.

How can we pray for our brothers and fellow soldiers of the Lord? Here are just a few of the issues in the Mozambican church:

1. Animism. It’s everywhere: in the mosque, in the church. Back country farmers and principled leaders in the government resort to the witch doctors for manipulation of the spirits believed to control everything. If a child gets sick, if the garden doesn’t produce, if one is fired from his job, he seeks out the witch doctor to find out who has cursed him or what spirit is displeased with him.

Animism runs rampant in the church, despite all the preaching against it. Members of the church are pressured by family members to participate in ceremonies honoring the dead. If a believer or one of his family members falls ill, the extended family “guilts” him into going to the witch doctor, accusing him of not caring for the well-being of his family. Worst of all is the pastor who preaches against witchcraft but whose words hold no more weight than the amulet he wears, given him by the witchdoctor to protect him from illness.

2. Crisis in the family. The African family is in shambles. (Americans have no cause to boast here either.) Men are not responsible for their own offspring but for their sisters’ children. City life has eroded traditional African morality. Immorality in the city is rampant. The church needs strong male leaders who exercise loving leadership. African wives frequently complain that their husbands abuse their authority over them. I am told that there are few, if any, sermons on a husband’s Christ-like love and care for the wife as the Savior cherishes the church.

3. The need for Christian wives. A Christian wife is hard to find here in northern Mozambique. Women are the guardians of tradition in the matriarchal Makua society. The older generation is very conservative of their African ways while the younger generation of “liberated” women doesn’t have time for Christ as they pursue the things of this world. The church needs biblical-grounded women who can read and understand the Word for themselves and can thus better support their husbands in their ministries.

4. The content of public worship. The beauty of African worship is its joy and celebration. But how much of it is directed to the Lord and how much is merely celebration for the sake of forgetting the hardships of life? The church service is comprised of session after session of congregational song and choral performances. Reading of Scripture, preaching of the Word, and instruction in the faith are neglected.

Moreover, the preaching of the gospel was suppressed for centuries under the Roman Catholic Portuguese colonial government then actively persecuted by decades of communist rule. The result is a weakened evangelical church that sometimes preaches a works-oriented salvation in keeping with Roman Catholic and Muslim influences that dominated the country for so long.

5. The supremacy of the Word as the rule of faith and life. Ignorance of Bible doctrine, and in particular, the requirements of God’s law, leaves many in darkness. Many profess to have turned to God but have not as yet turned away from idols. The church needs to promote faithful adherence to the standards of faith and holiness set forth in the scriptures without compromise. But, as with the rest of Christendom, African Christianity is often beset with compromise. Example: It is wrong to lie, but some lies are actually socially expected because it is not polite to contradict another person.

Pray for Mozambique! And hope that they are praying for us.

Tribute to a Praying Mother

This month was bittersweet; it ended with the loss of our dear mother, Johanna Beeke, at the ripe age of 92, after a lengthy illness and many tearful goodbyes. As a family, we experienced in the loss of our dear mother that “man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets” (Eccl. 12:5). A huge empty place has been left behind in our family.

Our mother died in faith, with dignity, in Christ. We lost a praying mother, but we have not lost her prayers. Matthew Henry said of parents that they could far better leave behind for their children a treasury of prayers than a treasury of gold and silver. We have been blessed in this way as children more than almost anyone else we know on this earth. What a treasury is laid up in store for us in the prayers of our dear mother and father! And what responsibility is now ours! The legacy, the heritage, the mantle is now passed on to us.

The testimonies of many who came to the visiting hours the evening of July 27 and the following day about my mother were humbling, encouraging, and sometimes tear-producing all at once. On Saturday, I conducted the funeral for my dear mother, preaching on John 14:1–3, the first text that the Lord made very special to her after he had begun to work savingly in her soul. It was difficult at the beginning to contain my emotions, but as the text unfolded before me, the Lord gave an increasing measure of liberty. How bittersweet that hour was!

Before the funeral, my brother Jim spoke to the family. My mother, who had been an only child, had five children, thirty-five grandchildren, ninety-two great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild—133 in all! Though a number of the great-grandchildren were not able to be present, the family gathering was still sizable. I spoke at the graveside from Revelation 21:5, followed by my oldest brother John, who also thanked various people, and closed with prayer, after which we sang Psalter 203 (Ps. 73), and then fellowshipped at the NRC Christian School in Kalamazoo.

The following morning I preached at Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Hudsonville, and in the evening at our own church, on Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”

Throughout the month of July—perhaps the busiest month of my life—I have felt the sustaining hand of God in an unusual way. He enabled me to preach thirty times on three continents, with about 25,000 in attendance in all. To Him be all the praise and the glory! May eternity reveal the fruit.  I now look forward to a much more calm and restful August in Grand Rapids, the Lord willing.

We’ll miss our dear mother’s sweet smile, her kindness, her godliness. We’ll miss caring for her. Dad used to often say to us, “You will never be able to repay all that your mother has done for you.” By God’s grace, we count it an honor as a family that we could repay a little, so that through 24/7 care in recent years she could stay in her own home until the end, which was always her desire. But now, how shall we begrudge her her place at our dear father’s side singing praise to the Triune God without any infirmity? She is now in the church triumphant forever! Soli Deo Gloria!

May God prepare us all to meet Him clothed in the white-robe righteousness of Immanuel. Dear friend, if Christ were to send His angel of death to harvest you today, would it be eternally well with your soul? Are you resting for this life and a better in Christ’s righteousness alone?