The name George Muller is familiar to most Christians who have attended church for many years and have listened to hundreds of sermons in their lifetime. A German by birth, George Muller founded and operated an orphanage in Bristol, England in the 19th century. He kept a meticulous journal detailing his life and ministry. Buried in this exhaustive record are countless anecdotes that have been frequently employed as sermon illustrations to both argue for and encourage in the minds of listeners the idea that God answers prayer.
Over the course of a ministry that lasted nearly seven decades (Muller lived into his 90’s) the orphanage at Ashley Down in Bristol housed, clothed, fed, and educated ten thousand children who would otherwise have been left destitute. During all of these years, the orphanage operated without an endowment, government aid, or a single public request for funds. George Muller determined that he would trust God alone and pray for the needs of the orphans.
It was not a specific promise from God found in Scripture that formed the foundation of Muller’s faith and prayers. His trust rested on something revealed in the Bible about God’s own Person. Psalm 68:5 calls God “a father of the fatherless.” Muller saw this as part of God’s identity. He considered it one of the names of the Almighty. Muller believed that prayers should not only claim the promises of God, but also plead His names and attributes. Psalm 9:10 says, “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.” Muller wrote, “By the help of God, this shall be my argument before Him, respecting the orphans, in the hour of need. He is their Father, and therefore has pledged Himself, as it were, to provide for them; and I have only to remind Him of the need of these poor children in order to have it supplied.”
And so the record shows that day after day, year after year, God the Father never once failed to provide for the children in the orphanage in Bristol.
How expansive would be the church’s praying and the answers to those prayers if we would learn the lesson George Muller learned, and petition God to be in our lives what He has revealed Himself to be in His inspired word!
Many of the stories of God’s timely provision in Muller’s experience might be described as miraculous. But it is not the individual incidents that provide the true marvel. George Muller was determined that God not be honored and memorialized in his own experience by a single occurrence or a few occasions of answered prayer. A single answer to prayer, however striking, could be perceived by some as a coincidence. His ambition was greater than this. He wanted the composite testimony of his entire life to demonstrate the reality of a prayer-answering God. It is surprising to realize that his life’s goal was not to care for orphans. As noble as this was, it was a secondary aim. Muller’s primary mission was to testify to the world that “it is safe to trust God’s word… that prayer offered in faith, trusting His promise and the intercession of His dear Son, is never offered in vain.” (Pierson, p. 364)
Apparently, this aspiration of a sustained testimony to the God Who answers prayer was attained. For instance, in 1863, while Muller was still alive, his decades-long example of faith inspired J. Hudson Taylor to emulate him. Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, determined that it would be a faith ministry like Muller’s. The stories of God’s timely provision for Taylor’s mission are in many ways as amazing as those in Muller’s own experience.
Still today, after a century and a half, every time Muller’s experiences are read or used as a sermon illustration Christians world-wide are told not so much about the quality of Muller’s faith as they are told of the reality of his prayer-answering God.