Lessons from the Life of Robert Wilder

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller is currently serving among the unreached in Asia with his wife and children.

Defining Moments

He was shy, weak, and small—rather squirrelly, actually. He even thought that “the missionary call cannot be completed because public speaking is impossible.” Yet, Robert Parmelee Wilder was the founder of the Student Volunteer Movement in America.

He went on to initiate student movements in England, Norway, Italy, and had a career as a missionary in India. Robert Wilder knew that the Cross demanded all or nothing—and he gave his all for the “evangelization of the world in this generation.”

Robert was the son of missionaries to Hindus, growing up as the only white face in a sea of Marathi South Indians in the 1870’s. One day, a cobra coiled itself under the piano in the Wilder home and Robert’s father asked a servant to help kill the snake. The old man didn’t budge.

The elder Wilder crushed the head with his own slippered foot. When asked why he didn’t help, the servant replied, “How do I know, perhaps my grandfather was in the snake.”

On hearing the spiritual condition and beliefs of this Hindu man, Robert Wilder decided that he must also serve in India as a missionary.

This was a defining moment for Robert’s calling. He could look back to this one event and know for sure that God had called him to India. Is there a time or moment you can look back to as a starting point for the drive that is in you?

Why are you doing what you are doing right now? Is it because of a destiny marker like this one? Or are you simply following the pattern of the world?

Robert would later complete studies at Princeton, travel all over the United States, live in England, Italy and Norway before making it back to India decades later. But he never forgot his calling.

Take some time now to remember God’s call on your life. Can you see where you are on His timeline?

What’s Your Power Source?

In the fall of 1883, Robert attended a conference of seminary students in which Dr. A.J. Gordon spoke words that would guide Robert Wilder for the rest of his life.

In his presentation, Dr. Gordon shared how he was twenty years in the ministry before he fully yielded himself to the inspiration and control of the Holy Spirit. He said his preaching was like a bow and arrow where the results depend entirely on the strength of the archer.

But after giving himself to the Spirit, his effort in declaring the gospel was more like using a rifle. Wilder then asked Gordon if he too must wait twenty years before laying aside his bow and arrow and taking up the rifle. Gordon smiled and replied, “God is ready to give you the power of His Spirit as soon as you are ready to obey Him.”

Consider your source. Are you going about your work—God’s work—under your own power? Or are you connected to the inspiration and control of the Holy Spirit? Robert had been afraid of public speaking but later people begged to hear more of him.

This kind of work only comes from being connected to the Source. Spend some time yielding yourself to the Holy Spirit’s power. Let Him be your strength and the drive behind your life’s message.

Spending Time in His Presence

The following is from Robert Wilder’s diary while he served in India near the turn of the century:

“Before me was a pile of unanswered letters. In front of me was the manuscript…which should be posted that day for publication…an engagement to preach that evening…the night had been one of broken sleep…Weary in body, distracted in mind I knew not which way to turn…Just in the moment of despair there was a knock at the door and a voice said “It is the time for communion.”

I replied,

“This morning must be an exception. There are three days’ work to be done before sunset…you know I must be practical.”

Just then the door shut, and the speaker vanished. Something prompted me to see who it was, at first I thought it was a fellow missionary…As I reached the door I found the retreating form was that of the Lord. I laid hold of him and brought him back, and when the door was locked and we were alone, he placed the pierced hand on my brow and gently smoothing out the furrows he said,

“Thou art troubled and cumbered about much serving, but one thing is needful.”

Words cannot describe the tender rebuke and exhortation which flowed from his lips…Oh how my heart burned as he opened to me the Scriptures and how the load was lifted as he took it upon his own shoulders. It was an hour in the heavenlies.

What is filling your day today? What conflicts, tasks, conversations, burdens, opportunities are weighing on your soul? The Lord is knocking on your door and telling you it is time for communion.

It is time to hold firmly to the hand of Jesus, to let Him take on your burdens and let Him speak on your behalf, to spend time with Him in the heavenlies. Don’t miss a single opportunity to be in the manifest presence of our Savior.

From the life of Robert Wilder, founder of the Student Volunteer Movement in 1886, we pause to remember our calling, to consider our source, and to experience Jesus.

We wait on God to move us toward our calling. We seek the inspiration and control of the Holy Spirit. We long for time with Jesus in the “heavenlies” of devotion and experience.

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