John was the last person you would have expected God to use. But powerfully use him, He did. Growing up in eighteenth century England, from age 11 on John worked on slave ships; the family business. When he wasn’t sailing he was “collecting” slaves on the islands and mainland of the West African coast for sale to visiting traders. Eventually Newton became the captain of his own slave ship. His was a cruel and harsh experience. His skin was roughened by the harsh sea winds and his heart hardened by the life that went with it.
Somewhere, somehow, something changed within John Newton. In addition to reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis in the fray of a particular life-threatening storm, it seems another earlier experience had helped shape the soul of the man who would one day pen the words to “Amazing Grace.”
I’m told that as a boy growing up in the Old Country, John lived next door to a little old lady who became a bit of an adoptive grandmother. He would, on occasion, stop by and visit her. On one of her walls hung a picture he always found quite curious. It was a depiction of the Old Testament character Hagar and her son, Ishmael, when they were banished to the desert by Sarah and Abraham. Over their wearied images was a mysterious Eye peering down at them from the clouded sky. The words underneath the painting were Hagar’s own: “Thou God seest me.” (Gen. 16:13 KJV)
One day while studying the picture, young John asked the elderly woman, “What is this picture about? What does it mean?”
The lady responded, “Well, John, some people would like you to think that this means God is a great big Spy in the sky who is just waiting to catch you doing something wrong, so that he can punish you. As a matter of fact there will probably always be people who want you to believe just that. In fact, the devil himself would like you to believe that. However, it is not so. Such a notion of Him is incorrect. What this picture truly means, you see, is that God loves you so much. . .He cannot take His eyes off of you!”
The Most Important Thing About You?
One of my favorite questions to ask people is this: What is the most important thing about you?
Some say “I think the answer is … what I think about myself. My self-identity is the ‘most important’ thing about me.”
Others, being quite transparent, say, “The answer is what other people think about me. That’s what is most important.” When you consider all of the time and money we spend on fashion and grooming products in order to make ourselves look good and more appealing to others, that answer strikes a chord. I once heard someone say, “We wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought about us … if we knew how SELDOM THEY DID!”
Still the question remains, “What is the most important thing about you?”
How would you answer that question. We’ll continue in my next post. Until then.