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A Simple Vow That Can Change the World

Your children, grandchildren and those you spiritually mentor, will have heard a hundred sermons and may have forgotten every one. But a simple, four-word sentence just could be the rock that re-directs the river of their life.

For as long as young Count Zinzendorf could remember he had a heart to live for God. Born into a noble Prussian family in the 1700’s, Zinzendorf’s family had his comfortable life of law all planned out for him, so they sent him off to Halle Academy, a boarding school in Germany. But, while other students lived to excel at sports and academics, he regularly gathered students to pray and seek God for the will to live radically and boldly.

His obvious love for God and devotion to prayer galvanized this pampered student body to live with greater kindness. The mistreatment of younger students all but ceased. Lonely, homesick students were comforted instead of ridiculed. The school was transformed!

At the end of his time at Halle, Zinzendorf and five of his privileged friends decided to do what millions of young people dream of today – they decided to start a band! But this band was to be of a radically different sort.

Two years after graduation, on a cold winter’s night, they gathered at an inn from all over Germany. They all knew what they were about to do. They had written and spoke to each other about this moment for years. The vow they were about to take was not an impetuous promise made in a moment of youthful enthusiasm. This vow would change their lives. Praying for Fire In the glow of the tavern’s fireplace, Zinzendorf rose and held out a gold ring. “Brothers, we know why we are here. Tomorrow we make our covenant, but tonight we will pray.” They prayed for a bonfire of holiness, in their lives, for a greater love for people, and for the gospel to be brought to the peoples and tribes still ignorant of the love of Jesus.

The next day, believing that faith, even as small as a mustard seed, if lived out could change them and thus change their world; they made their vow to begin a new order – The Honorable Order of the Mustard Seed. Inscribed on the inside of each of their rings was this rule that would govern their lives:

“None Live For Themselves”

To give teeth to that lofty pledge, they further committed themselves to live by three additional rules of life, significant principles which would also govern their lives: 1.  Be true to Christ. 2.  Be kind to all people. 3.  Send the Gospel to the world.

These amazing young men had managed to reduce the teachings of Jesus – “To love God, love your neighbor ‘and’ go into all the world” into the essence what it means to actually follow Jesus. But, more importantly they had vowed their lives to live it out. That day in 1718, these teenage boys, but spiritual men, unleashed a movement which:

  1. Turned into a powerful movement of prayer where its members prayed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for ninety-nine years!

  2. Led to a dramatic visitation of the Holy Spirit in 1727, which became know as the “Moravian Pentecost” and tens of thousands eventually came to faith!

  3. Was pivotal in the transformation of John Wesley from a broken man into one of the most powerful evangelists the world has ever seen!

  4. Fostered a major worldwide missions movement, which brought the gospel to millions in unreached nations. Some of these early missionaries even offered to sell themselves into slavery to reach slaves in the West Indies!

But, these men and the tens of thousands who followed them, daring to live for Christ, did not set out to change the world. They set out, to change themselves!

Tolstoy once said, “Everyone thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.”

A rule of life is not about organizing movements – it’s about organizing the heart and the will of an individual, you and me, to live with such a focused intentionality that our lives are shaped around it. It’s a rock that can re-direct the river of your life.

An Easter Challenge The central story of Easter is that God “so loved the world…” Jesus didn’t live (and die) for himself, but for the sins of the world.

So this Easter, as you gather for your family meal, think about reading the history of “the vow.” Then challenge your family to pray about taking the vow. I’d urge them to pray about it for at least a week. Please don’t put any pressure on them. Making a vow to God is serious thing. But if they do, urge them to have the vow engraved on the inside of a ring. I’d also recommend they put these words where they can see them often, on their Facebook page, the screen saver of their phone or in the front of their Bible.

None Live for Themselves

Eight years ago, I took the vow, as have others in our family. I have those four words inscribed on the inside of my wedding ring. I only wished I consistently lived them out. But, they do express the desire of my heart.

I’d highly recommend that you read and give your family this wonderful book, where I first learned about the vow, The Vision of the Vow, by Pete Greig. It is inspiring!

How following Jesus works in real life.

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