George Müller (or Mueller, as he is more commonly known) was a mighty man of God that was born in Prussia, and ultimately served God in Bristol, England, as well as all around the world. I do not know of a person in the last 1500 years that was more of a giant of faith – or prayer – than Müller. This was a man who founded a ministry that cared for over 10000 orphans in his life, established over 100 schools, and supported hundreds of missionaries – ALL without ever asking for offerings, or soliciting money. Müller believed in living by faith, and ONLY making his needs known to God in quiet prayer. His extensive journals record the asking – and answering – of thousands of specific prayers.
Once you read even a little about Müller, you will realize that he was a man of great faith, who often prayed and called others to a lifestyle of prayer. Thus it was astonishing to me when I found out that he actually spent years and years struggling in prayer, finding little joy and energy in its practice. Happily, he found that meditating on the Word of God was a surprisingly powerful – and encouraging – way to enter into prayer, a discovery that he writes extensively about below.
I’ve seen this section of Müller’s journals before, it is oft quoted by writers like John Piper (among others). Usually, however, the part where Müller discusses walking (hiking?) and meditating in prayer is omitted, which is unfortunate. Apparently Müller’s practice was to begin most mornings walking and hiking in meditation, rather than simply kneeling. He found this practice to be invigorating for his health AND his spirit, and highly recommended it. How did that practice benefit him? Müller, lived to the ripe old age of 92, and was still vigorously involved in ministry in his latter years. In fact, he embarked on a 17 year series of mission trips – to over two dozen countries – when he turned 70, traveling by boat and train. He even visited and evangelized in 18 countries AFTER he turned 80! Keep in mind that this was in the late 1800s – before airplanes, air conditioning, and comfortable travel! How did he meditate, pray and exercise at the same time? He used a giant print New Testament! Read on for more details:
Now I saw, that the most important thing I had to do was, to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the word of God? whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious word, was, to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication: so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for awhile making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it; but still continually keeping before me, that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation. The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.
Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that, which either very soon after, or at a later time, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man. With this mode I have likewise combined the being out in the open air for an hour, an hour and a half, or two hours before breakfast, walking about in the fields, and in the summer sitting for a little on the stiles, if I find it too much to walk all the time.* I find it very beneficial to my health to walk thus for meditation before breakfast, and am now so in the habit of using the time for that purpose, that when I get into the open air, I generally take out a New Testament of good sized type, which I carry with me for that purpose, besides my Bible: and I find that I can profitably spend my time in the open air, which formerly was not the case, for want of habit. I used to consider the time spent in walking a loss, but now I find it very profitable, not only to my body, but also to my soul.
The walking out before breakfast is of course not necessarily connected with this matter, and every one has to judge according to his strength and other circumstances.—The difference, then, between my former practice and my present one is this. Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the time. At all events I almost invariably began with prayer, except when I felt my soul to be more than usually barren, in which case I read the word of God for food, or for refreshment, or for a revival and renewal of my inner man, before I gave myself to prayer. But what was the result. I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour on my knees, before being conscious to myself of having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often, after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began really to pray. I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with God, I speak to my Father, and to my Friend (vile though I am, and unworthy of it!) about the things that he has brought before me in his precious word.
It often now astonishes me that I did not sooner see this point. In no book did I ever read about it. No public ministry ever brought the matter before me. No private intercourse with a brother stirred me up to this matter. And yet now, since God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as any thing, that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is, to obtain food for his inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food; and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning; so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as every one must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and here again not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.
When we pray, we speak to God. Now, prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking, a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season, therefore, when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed, is, after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us. We may therefore profitably meditate, with God’s blessing, though we are ever so weak spiritually; nay, the weaker we are, the more we need meditation for the strengthening of our inner man.
There is thus far less to be feared from wandering of mind, than if we give ourselves to prayer, without having had previously time for meditation.—I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow-believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways, than I had ever had before; and after having now above eighteen years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it.—In addition to this, I generally read after family prayer larger portions of the word of God, when I still pursue my practice of reading regularly onward in the Holy Scriptures, sometimes in the New Testament and sometimes in the Old, and for more than thirty years I have proved the blessedness of it. I take also either then or at other parts of the day, time more especially for prayer.
How different, when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!
Source: George Müller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller, vol. 1 (London: J. Nisbet & Co., 1860), 405–408.