Do you have goals, aspirations, and areas of your life you look forward to strengthening in 2018? As we lace up our shoes to continue running the race set before us, Leslie shares about the inspiring life of Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, who left a sterling legacy that was intent on loving God with her entire life. Reject the notion that Catherine-esque Christian living is a thing of the past, and discover key characteristics like serving in spite of physical challenges and responding cheerfully in every situation and circumstance that you can begin incorporating into your daily lifestyle. Be encouraged through her life that proclaims that you, too, can cultivate vibrant, heroic life through the enabling grace of God!
Leslie Ludy: Hey, everyone! It’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages. Today we’re going to talk about another great woman of the Christian faith, Catherine Booth. I’ve been so impacted in studying her life and reading some of her writings. One of the things that really has impacted me about her is that she simply would not settle for mediocrity. She was constantly giving everything she could possibly give to live a poured out life for Jesus Christ, and she had such incredible boldness to speak truth, even when it was difficult for her. She was truly a spiritual athlete, and she’s been a huge inspiration to me.
An Overview of Catherine’s Inspiring Life & Legacy
Leslie Ludy: If you don’t know much about Catherine Booth, she was the co-founder of the Salvation Army, which was probably the largest Christian organization for reaching the poor and the vulnerable that has ever been in all of history. It’s really incredible to study the history of the Salvation Army. They were very evangelistic, and they were very outreach-oriented to the poor and the needy. One of the things that impacts me so much about Catherine Booth is that she never settled for mediocrity, like I said. I remember one time giving an exhortation online about how important it is to keep prayer and time with God as one of the highest priorities of our lives, even if it means getting less sleep or skipping certain social and leisure activities in order to make Him our highest priority. Now that seems like a simple principle, and a lot of people responded enthusiastically to this reminder, but some people really balked at it. I remember one woman who commented, “Sometimes we just need to let go of these ‘unrealistic spiritual expectations’ and go take a nap.” This attitude of, “Hey, that’s just unrealistic! We can’t live with that kind of spiritual fire all of the time. We need to let go of all of those expectations.”
That is such a common attitude in modern Christianity, and for some reason any time someone starts talking about having tireless spiritual passion and pursuing Christ with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength it’s so tempting to reason, Oh, that’s just unrealistic. No one can be that passionate about Christ at all times; if we try, we’ll only be putting unhealthy pressure on ourselves and getting exhausted.
But Jesus says the opposite. He says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching” (Luk. 12:37). And the word “watching” there actually means “to be roused from sleep, to be awake, to be on the alert.”
One of my favorite quotes from Catherine Booth is something that she wrote to her daughter when her daughter was a young woman and struggling spiritually with something. She said, “Do not give way to lowness while you are young. Rise up on the strength of God and resolve to conquer.” That is really the way that Catherine Booth lived her life, but there are very few Christian women who are willing to live with that attitude, especially today in a culture that promotes laziness and self-indulgence. It’s easy to adopt a lackadaisical mindset towards our relationship with God. So many Christians have accepted mediocrity and spiritual dullness as normal. We often don’t believe there can be something more to the Christian life than going through the motions out of duty or obligation. Very few of us really possess lasting spiritual passion. Most of us aren’t trying to pursue it because we don’t think it’s really possible to find it.
Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (NIV). That verse describes Catherine Booth’s life so well and probably the thing that most inspires me about her. Now those are baffling words from Scripture! I have always read that verse and wondered, How is it possible to never loose zeal for God and to always keep your spiritual fervor? Well it must be possible or God wouldn’t have put it in the Bible! I think Catherine Booth exemplified what this verse is talking about. She had relentless, unwavering spiritual passion even amid the challenges of having chronic illness, financial difficulties, child raising, constant travel, and a very public and high-pressure ministry.
Here is a short overview of what she accomplished for God’s Kingdom in her relatively short lifetime. She nurtured her eight children and raised them as faithful soldiers of the cross. She used her gift of writing and speaking to awaken the Church of England from its spiritual stupor. She visited the poor, saved the lives of sick children, and brought the Gospel to many alcoholics, recovering prostitutes, and other people who were really in the depths of despair. She helped them become transformed by the power of Christ. She worked alongside her husband, served him, and helped him establish and grow one of the largest and most powerful Christian ministries in history. She was so outward-focused, tireless in her preaching of the Gospel, and relentless in calling the church to triumphant Christianity that she literally changed the lives of millions of people! At the end of her life, 50,000 people came to hear her last message and 50,000 people came to her funeral. Now those numbers are astounding! That would be an incredible amount even in today’s world when you can travel by plane, car, and bus, but back then, they didn’t even have an easy way of traveling, but 50,000 people came to her funeral. That’s the kind of impact that she made!
It’s really easy to think, Well, Catherine Booth, that type of woman, she’s unusual. A woman like that is unusually gifted; she only comes along once every few generations. There’s something really extraordinary about her. She had special skills that made it possible for her to accomplish these great things for God. But the Bible says that this kind of tenacity and unwavering faith is available to any of us who will simply believe our God. He desires to work the same power and triumph in our lives as He did in Catherine Booth’s if we are willing to make ourselves available to His transforming power.
Characteristics of a Spiritual Athlete
Leslie Ludy: As I’ve studied Catherine Booth’s life and her example, I’ve noticed a lot of spiritual qualities that kept her spiritual passion alive. I think these are traits that each of us can discover and experience because we serve the same God that Catherine Booth served. Let me share some of the characteristics that stand out the most to me.
1. Cultivate a Conquering Spirit
Leslie Ludy: First of all, she did not allow weakness to rule in her life. She had many serious health challenges for the majority of her life like tuberculosis, heart trouble, and even scoliosis of the spine. She said once, “I can scarcely remember a day of my life which has been free from pain.” And yet, rather than allowing her weakness to limit her ability to fulfill God’s call upon her life, she rose above it. She leaned on His strength and trusted that He would sustain her for the tasks before her. It was said of her that, “Scores of times she arose from her sick bed to minister to the poor, or preach the Gospel to eager, waiting crowds.“
She faithfully followed that example of Paul that we’ve talked about in other podcasts, when he said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Catherine personally took hold of the “more than conquerors” promise of Romans 8:37. She did not allow physical or emotional weakness to rule her life or have a greater say than the Spirit of God. As we see in that quote that she wrote to her young daughter, “Do not give way to lowness; rise up on the strength of God and resolve to conquer.” So many of us as women just accept weakness, emotional problems, and physical problems and allow those things to rule our lives and have more power over us than the power of God. But Catherine never allowed her own physical weakness to hold her back or be an excuse for any kind of mediocrity. She was able to exhort others to have that same conquering spirit that we see in Scripture because she was living it out herself through the supernatural enabling power of God.
2. Endure Hardship Like a Soldier
Leslie Ludy: Another quality that I see in her life is that she didn’t complain. The Bible says that we are to do everything without complaining or arguing (see Philippians 2:14), but very few of us are willing to take that command to heart and live that out. We feel like we have the right to complain when things aren’t going well for us.
Catherine did not complain. Her life was definitely not easy. She and her husband raised their eight children while they were living as a itinerant missionaries. They had no settled home or predictable lifestyle. As pioneers of the Salvationist Movement, they faced scorn and criticism, and, oftentimes, that criticism came from the comfortable Christians in that day who didn’t appreciate their strong stance for truth. They weren’t sent out by a church or denomination, so they had to live on faith, and they faced many financial difficulties, especially in the early days of their ministry.
Personally, I think I would find it so challenging to raise eight children while traveling constantly, let alone carrying the weights of ministry, being the object of public ridicule, and living with illness and constant pain. And yet, because Catherine’s security was found in Heaven and not earth, she wasn’t moved or shaken by any of these difficulties. It was said of her that, “There have been few persons in the history of mankind who met affliction with so much fortitude.”
I am deeply convicted by Catherine Booth’s example of enduring hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ and doing all things without complaining and disputing (see 2 Timothy 2:3). Her incorrigibly cheerful attitude gave her greater strength to face extreme challenges triumphantly by the grace of God.
3. Balance the Roles God Has Given You by His Grace
Leslie Ludy: Another quality that I observe in Catherine Booth’s example is that she was excellent at both motherhood and ministry. Many women today believe that it’s actually impossible to raise godly children while being active in ministry and leading others to Christ. But her life proves otherwise. She led countless thousands to Christ, wrote books that awakened the slumbering church, and personally rescued the dying and the impoverished, but she always gave the very best to her family.
In her biography it said, “She never neglected her children’s spiritual welfare. She counseled them, watched with wisdom over their spiritual development, education, and courtships, and taught them that it is not so much what one does as how much one loves, for love, she said, is the fulfilling of the law.”
Every one of her eight children grew up to become leaders in the world-changing work of the Salvation Army, and two of her sons-in-law actually adopted the last name of Booth out of their deep love and respect for Catherine and William’s example.
To truly be excellent at both family and ministry does require God’s grace, and yet, this frail but tenacious woman leaned whole-heartedly upon God’s Spirit and found the strength to do what couldn’t be done in human strength – be excellent in motherhood and excellent in ministry.
4. Take Risks for God
Leslie Ludy: Another amazing thing about Catherine Booth is that she took risks for God. She didn’t stay in her comfort zone. She once wrote about some of her earliest experiences in proclaiming the Gospel to the lost when she was a young wife and mother living in England. She walked through a poor district of her town and saw poverty, pain, and abuse. Her heart ached to bring light into the midst of that darkness. She began to pray for God’s Spirit to guide her steps and make her an instrument of the Gospel among the poor and especially among those who were enslaved to alcohol. She wrote about one of her first experiences:
I observed a woman standing on a doorstep with a jug in her hand. My Divine Teacher said, “Speak to that woman.” After a momentary struggle, I introduced myself to her and invited her [to the church service]. She said, “I can’t go to the chapel, I am kept at home by a drunken husband.” I asked if I could come in and see her husband. “No.” She said, “He is drunk; you could do nothing with him, and he will only abuse you.” I replied, “I am not afraid; he will not hurt me.” I followed her up the steps. I felt strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, and as safe as a babe in the arms of its mother. I realized I was in the path of obedience, and I feared no evil.”
She then tells the story of beginning to talk to this man and witnessed to him. She said:
He gradually raised himself in his chair and listened with a surprised and half-vacant stare. I spoke to him of his present, deplorable condition, of the folly and wickedness of his course, of the interest of his wife and children until he fully aroused from the stupor in which I found him. I read him the parable of the Prodigal Son while tears ran down his face like rain. Then I prayed as the Spirit gave me utterance, and left, promising to call the next day.
And then she wrote:
From that time I commenced a systematic course of house-to-house visitation devoting two evenings per week to the work. The Lord so blessed my efforts, that in a few weeks, I succeeded in getting ten drunkards to abandon their soul-destroying habits and meet once a week for reading the Scriptures and for prayer.
That is pretty amazing for a timid woman who was just simply a wife and a mother but willing to go into the slums and proclaim the Gospel to the lost. Her decision to get out of her comfort zone, ask big things of God, and stand upon the promise that with God all things are possible caused her to have a supernatural courage. She spoke boldly and unapologetically to the self-indulgent, mediocre Christianity that was so common in her country.
One time she wrote, “It will be a happy day for England when Christian ladies transfer their attention from poodles and terriers to destitute and starving children.” She really didn’t mince words! She reminded women that living for pleasure and filling their days with eating, drinking, dressing, riding, and sightseeing left no time leftover to serve God. They were too occupied with self to develop spiritual resources. She really didn’t care if people approved of her. She did not try to please the crowds. She said what needed to be spoken, whether it made her popular or not. And ironically, because she was wiling to take risks for God’s glory, her message spread around the world like wildfire.
Catherine Booth: A Challenge to our Souls
Leslie Ludy: When I read Catherine’s example, I ask God to work each of these spiritual qualities deeper in my own life. Whenever I am tempted to accept mediocrity or come up with reasons why I can’t passionately pursue Jesus Christ and triumphantly fulfill the task that He has placed in front of me, Catherine’s testimony and example truly puts me to shame in a good way. Her life reminds me never to settle for less than the impossible life that God has called me to and propels me to rise up on the strength of God and resolve to conquer.
Whenever you find yourself growing a little bit lax in your spiritual life or feeling like you’re facing too many challenges to go after God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, I encourage you to remember the example of this amazing woman who kept her spiritual fire aflame against incredible odds. In light of her story, we really have no excuses for accepting mediocrity. Catherine Booth urges us to leave it all on the field for His glory and by His grace.
Leslie Ludy: I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. If you would like to go deeper into what it means to live a victorious Christian life, a set apart life that is truly consecrated for Jesus Christ, gain victory over sin, and grow in true intimacy with Christ, I encourage you to visit our website: www.setapart.org. Consider subscribing to our magazine, which is a beautiful, bi-monthly resource that will deepen your relationship with Christ, challenge you in your faith, and draw you closer to Him with every page that you read. I pray you have a blessed and Christ-centered week!