Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 29, 2011


One person can have an extraordinary influence in the lives of others


          On May 16, 1700, in the city of Dresden, the wife of a German nobleman gave birth to a baby boy.  The wealthy parents named their boy Nicholas Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf. They had no idea that little Nicholas would have an extraordinary influence in the world. But he did. That baby boy became one of the most influential Christians of his time.

            Converted at age four, young Nicholas entered into a serious covenant with Christ at an early age. Later, reflecting on his childhood, Zinzendorf wrote, “At age five I was as sure of my faith in Jesus as I was sure that I had five fingers on my right hand.” During his youth he struggled with his mission in life – whether to enter the ministry or fulfill the expectation that he would become a Count. His struggle ended in an art gallery in Düsseldorf.

            He stood for hours contemplating a painting of Christ on the cross by gifted artist Domenico Feti. The painting was titled Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man.  At the bottom of the painting the artist had penned this inscription: “I did this for thee. What hast thou done for me?”

            Zinzendorf felt as though Christ was speaking those words directly to his heart. Stirred deeply, he vowed that day to devote his life to the service of Christ. He began to work with a group of Moravians whom he had allowed to live on his land. The Moravians emphasized personal piety. This contrasted sharply with the state Lutheran Church which had grown to symbolize a largely intellectual faith centered on belief in specific doctrines. Zinzendorf believed in "heart religion," a personal salvation built on the believer’s relationship with Christ.

            In 1727 Zinzendorf left public life and began working zealously with the Moravians. His leadership in Bible studies led soon to an intense experience of renewal often described as the "Moravian Pentecost." During a communion service the group felt the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit uniting them in love for one another. And it was out of his renewal that the Protestant World Mission Movement was born. Under the inspired leadership of Zinzendorf the Moravians began sending out missionaries – first to St. Thomas in the West Indies, then to Africa, America, Russia, and other parts of the world. By the end of Zinzendorf’s life their missionaries were at work from Greenland to South Africa, from one end of the earth to the other.

            Zinzendorf visited America where he worked with German Protestants in Pennsylvania. He is credited with founding the town of Bethlehem where his daughter organized a school that would become Moravian College. His desire to evangelize Native Americans led him to visit several chieftains of Indian tribes.

            Methodists like me are greatly indebted to Count Zinzendorf. He had a profound influence upon John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. The Count’s inner peace and calm assurance inspired the Wesley brothers to trust Christ for salvation and the assurance they had been seeking. 

            The Wesleys influenced thousands of people in England and America during the 18th Century. Charles Wesley’s hymns continue to influence millions of Christian across the world. Before his death in 1788 Charles had written 8,989 hymns, 6500 of which are singable. Some of his songs like “And Can It Be?” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” are among the most popular songs in Christendom.

            A person’s influence is an extraordinary thing to consider. Think, for example, about the old painting of the crucifixion that touched Zinzendorf’s heart in the art museum. The artist, Domenico Feti, would never have finished the painting without the help of a nameless little girl.

            Three hundred years before Zinzendorf was born Feti finished the first sketch of the face of Christ. The story is that he asked the landlady’s little girl to look at his sketch and tell him what she thought it was. She did and said, “It is a good man.”

            Disappointed, the painter destroyed the sketch and after much prayer started over. Again he asked the little girl to tell him what she thought about the face he had painted. This time the girl said it looked like a man who had suffered a lot.

            Again Feti destroyed his sketch. After more prayer he painted the face of Christ a third time. Once more he asked the girl to tell him who it was. The girl looked at the painting for a few minutes, and then fell to her knees, saying, “It is the Lord.”

            Such a story compels me to remember never to underestimate the power of a person’s influence. Even the observation of an unknown little girl made a powerful difference three hundred years later.

            Your influence is one of your most important possessions. Be careful not to waste it. Use it wisely. It can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of others – perhaps for centuries to come.  + + +