A Lesson from Samuel M. Zwemer

John ArmstrongSpirituality

The apostle Paul had some amazing encounters with the Lord, encounters that are beyond our imagination. He met Jesus directly on the road to Damascus and heard his voice. He also says that he was "caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2). I can't even imagine the glories this man knew this side of his departure from life on this side of eternity. This is why Paul writes of his having learned to live with weakness (2 Corinthians) after he pled with God three times to remove his (physical) trial.

But Paul also knew what it was to suffer and to be opposed by others, especially through the attacks of Christians. I reflected on this with a long-time friend over lunch last week as we shared about Brother Yun's time with me and my blogs about him.

Zwemerbook My friend shared a story with me that I did not previously know. It was about the great missionary to the Middle East, Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952). Zwemer, like me, was a Reformed Church minister. He was born in western Michigan of Dutch immigrant parents and his life was shaped by the very same theology that has shaped mine. But Zwemer was a visionary and a man of action. He organized a mission to Muslims and profoundly impacted other missionaries and organizations. Some believe he was the greatest missionary to the Muslim world ever. He left an immensely valuable legacy. He was that rare combination of both scholar and visionary.

Zwemer lost two children while serving on the mission field. He buried them side-by-side. My friend told me that on their tombstone is this saying: "Do Not Trust a Leader Who Walks Without a Limp."

Again and again I have discovered this very lesson. God calls us to suffer and thus to learn to trust him. None of us does this without having profound brokenness worked into our experience day-in and day-out. I have learned to look for the "broken" leaders, not for the successful ones.

I believe Samuel Zwemer understood this well and by putting it on the grave markers of his two children demonstrated it profoundly.  He understood what we all need to know about those we listen to and follow? How much like Jesus are these men or women we respect? Do they know his power in real weakness? Do they have a limp?