A year after converting to Christ, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a Member of Parliament, sensed a call on his life that would keep him in politics. He wrote, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners (morals).” A decade later he reiterated the conviction about racial injustice: “The grand object of my parliamentary existence is the abolition of the slave trade...before this grand cause all others dwindle in my eyes.”
Wilberforce would need this strong sense of divine call, for the battle for racial justice consumed almost forty-six years of his life (1787-1833). Eleven times the House of Commons defeated his motion to end the slave trade. Opponents threatened his life. Men who he thought were good friends severed ties with him. Political pressure to back down escalated, threatening his re-elections. If they abolished slavery, West Indian assemblies announced they would declare independence from Britain and federate with the United States.
One stimulant to Wilberforce's persistence came from Pastor John Newton, himself a former slave trader. He reinforced Wilberforce's own belief that God wanted him to pursue this cause at all costs. He told Wilberforce, “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.” Newton urged him to stay in public life as a context for carrying out his calling. Another contemporary, John Wesley, told him in a letter, “Unless God raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of man and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you.”
His passionate speeches, rooted in Biblical values, gradually eroded resistance. Twenty years after his first motion, a majority voted for abolition, resulting in a torrent of tears streaming down Wilberforce's face. Yet that vote ended the slave trade, not slavery itself. He fought twenty-six more years before Parliament voted in 1833 to outlaw slave ownership in all British colonies. The vote occurred three days before Wilberforce died.
What can we learn from Wilberforce? That resilience depends on remembering God's call to a particular cause or ministry. Remembering God put us where we are instills persistence and minimizes the likelihood that we'll quit.
If you're currently tempted to bail out of a difficult situation, remember who put you there, and why.
This story is taken from Terry Powell’s book, Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants (Chapter titled, “Playing Back God’s Call”).