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D.L. Moody and the Higher Christian Life

D.L. Moody and the Higher Christian Life

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“What Am I Missing?”

As believers living in the Laodicean church age (Rev. 3:14-22), we often look back and marvel at the extraordinary lives of our Biblical heroes and spiritual giants who have gone before us.  We see them in Scripture, read their biographies, watch movies about their lives, study their teachings, and aspire to experience the intimacy and devotion they had with God that allowed them to do great things.  Yet, for many of us, there seems to be a sad disconnect between the vibrant, Spirit-filled experiences we admire in these heroes of the faith and the comparatively subdued, lackluster, and lukewarm reality of our own spiritual lives.  And try as we may, we can’t seem to put our finger on why.

We find ourselves wondering, “Why does my spiritual life feel so different from theirs?  Where is the promised power they exhibited that is so lacking in my own life?”  Or, in essence, “Is this what Jesus meant when He talked about the abundant life in Him?  I sure hope not.  And if so, is there something I’m missing?”  These questions are not uncommon, and they point to a deeper longing within our hearts— a desire to experience the fullness of life in Christ we see so graphically portrayed in the lives of these spiritual giants that is clearly missing in most of the church today.

This brings us to the encouraging part of our dilemma, which is finally recognizing this longing comes from Him.  It is a God-given desire to know Him more and to experience the closeness and intimacy with God that is our promised birthright as one of His children.  This unfilled longing is your invitation to pursue what has been referred to as the “Higher Christian life”— a life characterized by a profound, transformative relationship with Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  And the door to this “abundant life” (John 10:10) Jesus promised is opened by your surrender to Him.  It is really that simple.

Time For Self-Reflection

As you begin this journey of embracing the Higher Christian life, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions about your own spiritual experience:

   Have you ever felt a deep desire for more of God’s presence in your life?
   Do you long to experience the joy, peace, and power that seem to characterize the lives of the spiritual heroes you admire?
   And have you ever wondered what it would be like to live a life fully surrendered to and empowered by the Holy Spirit?

If you can relate to these questions, great— you’re in good company.  The desire for a deeper, more intimate relationship with God is a common thread woven throughout the lives of countless believers throughout the ages.

Glimpses of the Higher Christian Life

To better understand what the Higher Christian life entails, over the next few days, we will look at the lives of a few well-known spiritual giants who exemplified this way of living and their personal experiences with surrendering to the Holy Spirit that marked a dramatic change in their lives.  I think these should prove to be not only instructive, but also encouraging.

We shall begin with Dwight L. Moody, more commonly known as D.L. Moody.

D.L. Moody

For those of you who may not be familiar with D.L. Moody, he was an American evangelist who founded the Moody Church in Chicago, the Moody Bible Institute (which still functions today), and the Pacific Garden Mission (I listen to their radio broadcasts weekly, and have for over thirty years).  It is estimated that over a million people came to Christ under his powerful and passionate preaching in both the United Kingdom and across America.  And, on a personal note, he is also one of my spiritual heroes.

Moody’s life-altering encounter with the Holy Spirit came in 1871, years after his transition to full-time evangelism, and it marked a significant turning point in his ministry.  It seems in Chicago, there were two godly women, Mrs. Sara Cooke, and her friend Mrs. Hawxhurst, who attended Moody’s meetings and had a burden on their hearts for the Holy Spirit to fill D.L. Moody.  And so, faithfully, they prayed to that end.  The lesson for us is never to underestimate the truth found in James 5:16 about the power of prayer.  Read it for yourself.

In his own words, Moody described the impact these two women had on his life:

“I can myself go back almost twelve years and remember two holy women who used to come to my meetings.  It was delightful to see them there, for when I began to preach I could tell by the expression of their faces they were praying for me.  At the close of the Sabbath evening services they would say to me, ‘We have been praying for you.’  I said, ‘Why don’t you pray for the people?’  They answered, ‘You need power.’  ‘I need power,’ I said to myself, ‘Why, I thought I had power.’  I had a large Sabbath school, and the largest congregation in Chicago.

“There were some conversions at that time, and I was in a sense satisfied.  But right along these two godly women kept praying for me, and their earnest talk about ‘the anointing for special service’ set me thinking.  I asked them to come and talk with me, and we got down on our knees.  They poured out their hearts, that I might receive the anointing of the Holy Ghost.  And there came a great hunger in my soul.  I knew not what it was. I began to cry as never before.  The hunger increased.  I really felt that I did not want to live any longer if I could not have this power for service.  I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit.”1

Then, in 1871, came the Chicago fire, in which one-third of the city was destroyed, and over 100,000 were left homeless.  With his preaching hall in ruins and so much of the city in need, Moody traveled east to solicit funds.  It was in New York that God finally answered the prayer that changed Moody’s life— the same prayer that can change yours.

We’ll let Moody describe it in his own words:

“My heart was not in the work of begging. I could not appeal (for funds to help the hurting in Chicago) I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit.  Well, one day, in the city of New York— oh, what a day!— I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name.  Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years.  I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.

“I went to preaching again.  The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted.  I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world— it would be as the small dust of the balance.”2

This powerful encounter with God’s love and the infilling of the Holy Spirit completely transformed Moody’s ministry.  Instead of relying on natural charisma and a determined work ethic, Moody began to preach, yielding and surrendering to the Holy Spirit.  His ministry became characterized by a deep reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit, and he often emphasized the necessity of being filled with the Spirit when we spoke.  Here are just a few examples:

“I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts.  But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God.  We must be emptied before we can be filled.”3

And just how important was this experience with the Holy Spirit?  Moody is pretty clear:

“I would rather have the Spirit of God rest upon me for five minutes than to have the assurance that I would get to be with Him when I die.”4

Moody also spoke of the importance of surrender, but he did so in typical Moody fashion:

“I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him, when he is full already with something else.  Before we pray that God would fill us, I believe we ought to pray that He would empty us.”5

And finally, Moody revealed the desire and motivation that drove him to seek more than what the church of his day deemed satisfactory and to never settle for something less.  Moody was driven to love more, know more, experience more, be used more by Christ, leave nothing on the table, and make his life count.  And we would do well to emulate this same conviction in our own lives.  This is also one of my favorite quotes:

“The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.  With God’s help, I aim to be that man.”6

This, in the words of D.L. Moody, is the essence of total surrender to Him.

“I Aim to be That Man”

As we consider Moody’s testimony, may we be encouraged to earnestly seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our own lives by trusting that God desires to reveal Himself to us and empower us for His service, just as He did for D.L. Moody and countless other spiritual giants throughout history.  When it comes to seeking the Higher Christian Life, let us “aim to be that man.”

If it is true there may be more to this life with Christ than what we are currently experiencing, then join me as we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

He is calling and waiting.  How will you respond?

Next:  We will look at the life of Andrew Murray and how God has blessed untold thousands through a simple man surrendered to Him.


1. Edman, V. Raymond. They Found the Secret: Twenty Lives That Reveal a Touch of Eternity (Clarion Classic) (p. 101). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. W.R. Moody, The Life of D.L. Moody (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900), 149.

3. D.L. Moody, Secret Power, or the Secret of Success in Christian Life and Work (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1881), 28.

4. D.L. Moody, quoted in A.T. Pierson, The Life and Labors of D.L. Moody (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1900), 92.

5. D.L. Moody, quoted in R.A. Torrey, Why God Used D.L. Moody (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1923), 44.

6. W.R. Moody, The Life of D.L. Moody, 441.

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