Catherine Booth: A Life of Relentless Spiritual Passion

Not long ago I gave a short online exhortation about the importance of keeping prayer and time with God as one of the highest priorities in our lives—even if it means that we must get less sleep or skip certain social and leisure activities in order to do so. Many responded enthusiastically to this reminder, but some balked. One woman remarked, "Sometimes we just need to let go of these 'unrealistic spiritual expectations' and take a nap!"

I understood where her objections came from, because I've adopted this same excuse in my own life many times. In a culture that promotes personal comfort and self-indulgence, it's all too easy to let my relationship with Christ fall to the back burner and be lulled into spiritual apathy. For some reason, anytime someone starts talking about having tireless spiritual passion and pursuing Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we are tempted to reason, "Oh, that's completely unrealistic. No one can be that passionate about Christ at all times. If we try, we'll only end up putting unhealthy pressure upon ourselves and getting exhausted. It can't be done."

But Jesus says otherwise. He tells us, "Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching (Luke 12:37)." The word "watching" in this context literally means, "to be roused from sleep, to be awake, to be on the alert."

In Romans 12:1 Paul says, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."

What baffling words. I have often read that verse and wondered, How is it possible to never lose my zeal for God and to always keep my spiritual fervor? Certainly it is possible, or God would not have put it in the Bible!

When I think of Christians from history who have lived out this principle successfully, at the top of the list is Catherine Booth—the co-founder of the Salvation Army—who lived an extraordinary life of ministry in the late 1800s. Her example of relentless, unwavering spiritual passion—even amid the challenges of chronic illness, financial difficulties, child-raising, public criticism and constant travel—never ceases to amaze and inspire me—and remind me that I have no excuse to slide into spiritual apathy.

In Catherine's relatively short lifetime, she made an incredible, world-changing impact for the kingdom of God. 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 and criminals—helping them become transformed by the power of Christ. She supported her husband and helped him establish and grow one of the largest and most powerful Christian forces in history. She was so outward-focused, so tireless in her preaching of the gospel, so relentless in calling the Church to triumphant Christianity that she forever changed millions of lives. And she did all this out of a passionate, thriving, personal walk with Christ that never grew dull or dutiful.

Catherine's relentless spiritual passion impacted the world profoundly. At the end of her life, fifty thousand people gathered to hear her last message, and fifty thousand came to her funeral. These numbers are truly astounding, especially in light of the fact that there were no planes or cars back then to make travel easier!

It's easy to think that a remarkable woman like this only comes along once in every couple of generations, or that there was something especially extraordinary about her that made it possible for her to accomplish such great things for God. But the Bible makes it clear that this kind of tenacity and unwavering faith is available to any of us who will simply believe our God. (See Hebrews 11:4–38 and James 5:17).

God desires to work the same power and triumph in our lives as He did in Catherine Booth's, if we are only willing to make ourselves available to His supernatural transforming power. As I've studied Catherine's life and example, I have noticed several spiritual qualities that marked her life and kept her spiritual fervor alive. I believe they are traits that each and every one of us can personally discover and experience, as we yield our lives to Jesus Christ without reserve.

She Had a Conquering Spirit

Catherine had many serious health challenges for the majority of her life, including tuberculosis, heart trouble, and scoliosis of the spine. She once wrote, "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 calling upon her life, she rose above it, leaning on His strength and trusting that He would sustain her for the tasks before her. One biographer observed, "scores of times she arose from her sickbed to minister to the poor, or preach the gospel to eager, waiting crowds."

She faithfully followed the example of Paul who said, " I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27). Catherine personally took hold of the "more than conquerors" promise of Romans 8:37. She refused to allow physical or emotional weakness to rule her life or have a greater say than the Spirit of God.

Once, when her teenaged daughter was going through an emotional struggle, she wrote to her, "Do not give way to lowness while you are young . . . rise up on the strength of God and resolve to conquer!" This was the attitude Catherine carried throughout her entire life, no matter what struggle or weakness she was faced with. Because Catherine never allowed her own physical weakness to hold her back or become an excuse for mediocrity, she was able to exhort others to have that same "conquering spirit" by leaning upon the supernatural strength of God.

Catherine's life was not easy. She and William raised their eight children while living as itinerant missionaries; having no "settled home" or predictable lifestyle. As pioneers of the Salvationist movement, they faced scorn and criticism from the secular world and from many "comfortable" Christians who did not appreciate their strong stance for Truth. Because they were not sent out by a church or denomination, they had to live on faith, and faced many financial difficulties especially in the early days of their ministry. And yet, because Catherine's security was found in Heaven and not earth, she was never 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, who repined so little under acute pain."

I am deeply convicted by Catherine's example of "enduring hardship as a good solider of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3) and "doing all things without complaining or disputing" (Phil. 2:14). Her tenacious attitude gave her greater strength to face extreme challenges triumphantly, by the grace of God.

She Was Excellent at Both Motherhood and Ministry

Many women believe it is impossible to raise godly children and also have an effective outward ministry. But Catherine's life proves otherwise. Though she led countless thousands to Christ, wrote books that awakened the slumbering church, and personally rescued the dying and impoverished, she always gave her very best to her family. Throughout my motherhood journey, Catherine's example has encouraged me that by God's grace, it is possible to raise my children well while serving the kingdom of God.

Someone once observed, "Catherine 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."

Each of Catherine's children grew up to become leaders in world-changing Christian work, and two of her sons-in-law adopted the last name "Booth" out of their deep love and respect for Catherine and William's Christian example.

To be excellent at both family and ministry requires supernatural grace and Heavenly wisdom. This frail but tenacious woman leaned wholeheartedly upon the Spirit and the strength of God to do what could never be done in human strength. Because Catherine knew where her true source of strength came from, she was built into a Proverbs 31 woman.

She Became a Fool for Christ

When Catherine was a young pastor's wife and mother of four small children, she felt God nudging her out of her comfort zone and asking her to speak boldly about her faith. Her husband, William, had frequently asked her to join him in sharing the gospel at the revival meetings he led, but she had always been afraid of the very idea. Then one day, just as William was finishing a message to over a thousand people, Catherine felt an incredible burden to get up on the platform and share something that God had laid on her heart. Such a step was completely outside of Catherine's comfort zone. She later described the experience,

I felt I would sooner die than to [speak publicly]. And then the devil said, “Besides, you are not prepared to speak. You will look like a fool, and have nothing to say.”

He made a mistake. He overdid himself for once. It was that word which settled it. I said, “Ah that is just the point. I have never yet been willing to be a fool for Christ. Now I will be one.” I got up—God only knows how—and if any mortal ever did hang on the arm of Omnipotence, I did. I felt as if I were clinging to some human arm—yet it was a Divine arm—to hold me.”

Catherine confessed to the people that she had been living in disobedience to God by being too timid to share the message of Christ publicly. She repented of her sin in front of everyone, and offered her life for God to use in any way He might choose - even if it meant sharing the gospel when she felt uncomfortable or fearful. She later recalled how the people responded,

There was more weeping in the chapel that day than ever there had been before. Many dated a renewal in righteousness from that very moment, and began a life of devotion and consecration to God. That honest confession, coming out and testifying the truth, did what twenty years talk would never have done.

Catherine was willing to go where most Christian women refused to go, and do things that most would never consider doing. Several nights a week, whether sick or healthy, she went to the slums of London’s East End—where poverty, crime and alcoholism reigned—and spoke boldly to the destitute about the power of the gospel to change their lives. When her husband William asked her to speak at many of his revival meetings, she agreed - not because she craved public attention or recognition, but rather because God had burdened her heart for lost souls, and she was willing to rise above her fear and timidity that they might hear the truth.

She exhorted other Christian women to do the same:

Will you be encouraged, my sister? Never mind trembling. I trembled. Never mind your heart beating. Mine beat nearly through. Never mind how weak you are. I have gone many a time from the bed to the pulpit, and back from the pulpit to bed. It is not by human power, wisdom, might or strength, it is by my Spirit, says the Lord. He loves to use the weak things, that the excellency of God may be seen. If your neighbors were sick of some devastating plague, and you could go and help them, would you not do it? Would you say, ‘I am a woman, I cannot go?’ Oh, you would say, ‘Let me go, like Miss Nightingale did to the sick and wounded soldiers. Let me go. And these are not the bodies, but the souls. They are dying. They are going to an eternal death. Will you not rise up?

Catherine's decision to become a "fool for Christ" caused her to have courage unlike most other women. She did not care if people approved of her. She did not try to please the crowds. She spoke what needed to be spoken, whether it made her popular or not. And amazingly, because she was willing to take these risks for God's glory, her spiritual passion spread around the world like wildfire and countless souls came to know Christ.

For many years, I have been asking God to work each of these spiritual qualities deeper within my own life. Whenever I am tempted to accept mediocrity or come up with reasons for why I cannot passionately pursue Jesus Christ and triumphantly fulfill the tasks He's placed in front of me, Catherine's testimony 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 are tempted to become apathetic in your walk with Christ or lax in your pursuit of lost souls, I encourage you to remember the example of this frail but mighty woman who kept her spiritual fire aflame against incredible odds. Her example reminds us that we have no excuses for accepting mediocrity.

Like Catherine Booth, may we remember that this life is but a fleeting breath and that every moment should be lived by God's grace, and for His glory!

Sources:

Great Women of the Christian FaithEdith Deen
The Best of Catherine BoothKindle Edition
William and Catherine, A New Biography—Trevor Yaxley

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About the Author

Leslie Ludy

Leslie Ludy

Leslie Ludy is a bestselling author and speaker with a passion for helping women become set-apart for Christ. She and her husband Eric have published more than twenty books with well over a million copies in print and translations in over a dozen languages, including When God Writes Your Love Story, Authentic Beauty, and Set Apart Femininity. Her newest book, The Set-Apart Woman, was released in 2015. Eric and Leslie live in Windsor, Colorado with their six precious kiddos. 

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