Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2012
One of the greatest novels ever is Les Miserables , written in 1862, by Victor Hugo. The novel is about the condition of the poor, imprisoned, and the “wretched” in France during that period. It is a story of law versus grace and the triumph of mercy. The novel was later very effectively adapted to stage and screen.
Long before Victor Hugo saw and wrote of the plight of the needy, another man looked out of his window and saw a distressing sight, and decided to do something that affected millions of children and adults. What he did continues to make a powerful impact even to this day. His name was Robert Raikes, and I want to tell you about him.
My friend Dr. Michael Peters has recently gathered and edited material on the life of Robert Raikes and released a book: Robert Raikes: the Founder of Sunday School 1780. Victor Hugo became very famous for his work; Raikes is not famous, though it is likely that he did more to affect millions than did Hugo (not to diminish Hugo).
Raikes was a printer, not a writer, in Gloucester, England. He was a successful businessman, well-dressed, and had a place in upper-society.
Like France 80 years later, England had its “wretches”… poor children of the street whose parents were scarcely able to provide for or instruct their offspring. The upper-class generally accepted their condition as impossible to change and sought to ignore these “wastes” of humanity.
Consequently, vast numbers of these children were destined to wind up in criminal or debtors prison.
One day, Raikes was in his office and looked out his window and saw these wretches, heard their foul language, and decided to do something which made him unpopular in Gloucester; he began what became known as the Sunday School Movement. His actions, like all true leaders, cut across “mainstream” opinion and, at personal cost, changed the lives of millions. His own pastor frowned upon his efforts; the city paid him no honor.
Robert Raikes died in 1811 at the age of 75. By the time of his death, there were many thousands of Sunday Schools across England and elsewhere. He was honored by such men as William Wilberforce, great in his own right as a political leader and abolitionist.
When I heard this story, I was glad that Raikes’ office had widows. Of course, in those days before air conditioning, a room would have windows. But Raikes not only let the light in, he let the light out. Windows should be a two-way blessing.
As I meditated on windows, I was reminded that heaven has windows. They opened a flood upon the earth (see Genesis 7:11) and caused the flood to cease (see Genesis 8:2). Malachi 3:10 promises that God will open the “windows of heaven” and pour out an abundant blessing if we bring to Him all our tithes.
Now, I realize that these verses are referring to windows in a metaphorical sense. Heaven needs no physical windows. But what I am saying is also metaphorical; I assume that we all have windows in our homes and offices. The question is, do we see and hear what is “out there”?
Do many of us, in effect, live in windowless cubicles?
Life Without Windows
How would we characterize a life without windows? It would be a life so focused on our own world that we could not see the real world around us. It would be a life shut in from our surroundings, deaf to the sounds, and blind to the sights. It is a world we can walk through daily and not see it, only our own destination. It would be a world where little or no light came in and none went out. It is a world where one loses a sense of time and purpose beyond the moment. It would be a world of repetition and mind-numbing monotony.
A world without windows becomes a world where one’s reality is, in effect, unreality. We will become oblivious to the conditions and changes around us, until finally the “peasants” tear our house down as they did in the French Revolution. That did not happen in England because some lives had windows. People like Robert Raikes saw the light and gave it to the children.
Churches Without Windows
The vast majority of the Churches see the world, at least, in a measure. But as individuals. Many rely on institutions to deal with the world. Institutions often become occupied with self-perpetualization in windowless rooms. The resources remain inside more than flowing out. There are. Of course, exceptions. Even when institutions do a great job. We can be robbed of our own personal sensitivity to what is around us and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Great institutions usually begin with great people who are sensitive-who have windows in their souls. But generations later may be led by those who only maintain some memory and resist letting the light in or out.
Psalm 36:9 says, “In Your light we see light.” When the Lord shines into our hearts, we see the light and we send the light. Raikes saw the light in His light. When churches and other institutions are visited by “the light of the world”, they become light to the world, not only as group, but as individuals.
Worldview is often thought of in philosophical terms. How do we see the world? Do we see it as creation? Do we believe in creation laws? Do we believe in absolute truth? Do we believe in human accountability to our Creator?
Another question is, does how we view the world really matter? Is one worldview as good as another? That is the multicultural, post-modern worldview.
How we view God, the world, individuals, or government matters a lot! Raikes’s worldview required that he act upon what he saw. His worldview was that humanity was accountable to the Creator, so in spite of insults, he worked in prisons and with children of the street. Wilberforce’s worldview was that slaves were human and slavery was wrong, therefore he was the prime mover in removing slavery and slave trading from England. His friend, John Newton, a former slave trader, came to Christ and gave us the famous hymn “Amazing Grace”.
A worldview of biblical principles has given to us universities, hospitals, and a host of beneficial results, not to mention strong families, churches, and worldwide missions. A post-modern worldview gives no such results, only irresponsibility, self-centeredness, and windowless rooms.
Open the Curtains
I live in a nice neighborhood. Behind our home is an Indian family. She is a laboratory biologist, and he is a cardiologist. Down the street is a Muslim family. African Americans live nearby. I pastor one African American pastor who works with newly released prisoners. This is not the world I grew up in! India was “way over there.” Islam was too. Now it is all here.
My daughter is in Costa Rica as are seven of my grandchildren. Growing up, I doubt I could have found it on a map. The Lord has forced me to “open the curtains” from my windows and look outside.
One of my granddaughters is very interested in stopping sex slave trafficking and writes a blog about the evil effects of human slavery that is growing among us. We need new “Robert Raikes” and “William Wilberforces”. One of my friends recently asked, “Is Church a noun or a verb? What is it with you?”
Find the Door
Jesus said, “I am the door.” He also said that His sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out (see John 10:3-7). If we know His voice, we go out and then Church becomes a “verb”.
Each year, we meet with 250 leaders and friends in Gatlinburg, TN. I’ve been blessed with the quality of ministries that, like Raikes and Wilberforce, see windows. And, having seen the light, they have found the door. From Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as well as here at home, they have gone out and borne fruit. I am so encouraged by them.
I urge you to look out of your window, not as a mere duty, but as a grand opportunity for you and those that you touch. Our goal is not fame, but simply to hear the Shepherd ‘s voice, the One Who died for the sins of the world; His voice will cause us to see the world around us and go out to meet it with the Gospel.
For more information about Dr. Michael Peters’ book, contact: Pleasant Ward, PO Box 428, Enumclaw,WA 98022.
Scripture Reference: Genesis 7:11, Genesis 8:2, Malachi 3:10, Psalm 36:9, John 10:3-7
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.