Watchman Nee

Watchman Nee
1903 – 1972

We arrived home this morning about 1:00 am after a long but peaceful journey.  I will write more about our trip in the days to come, but today I am going to post something I wrote a couple of years ago for George and Hanna Miley's book, Ancient Wells. Watchman Nee is one of my favorite teachers/ mentors/ friends in heaven I look forward to meeting him.  If he had been a Catholic, today would be his feast day - the anniversary of his martyrdom.  This piece is a bit longer than my usual posts, but worth the read for Nee's quotes.  The one at the end always brings me to tears.

In the first half of the twentieth century, God raised up a great witness in China. Nee Shu-tsu was born in 1903 in Foochow, China.  His grandfather was a Congregational minister and his parents were members of the Methodist Church.  Nee, however, did not identify himself as a Christian until he was seventeen years old. Being well acquainted with the gospel, he understood the cost of becoming a disciple of Jesus. It was not until he personally felt God’s call during an evangelistic meeting that he could bring himself to sacrifice a promising academic career. However, once Nee accepted Christ as his savior, he consecrated himself fully to preaching the gospel in China and building up the Church. He put his academic prowess to work immediately, composing his first sermons and pamphlets while he was still a teen.

Watchman Nee never attended seminary.  Instead, he read extensively and grew under the mentorship of an independent British missionary, Miss Margaret Barber.  Miss Barber’s primary influence on Nee was her own deep interior life. She also introduced him to a wealth of spiritual literature spanning a broad spectrum of Christian tradition.  He read the writings of early church fathers, biographies of missionaries, Anabaptist and Reformed theologians, as well as the works of Madame Guyon, a French mystic. These influences blended together, informing Nee’s study of scripture, and shaping his own unique voice as a teacher.

Watchman Nee cherished a vision for the unity of the Church.  He believed that divisions based on ethnicity or small doctrinal differences were an offense to Christ, and he possessed an unusual grace for recognizing the Holy Spirit at work in others, in language and expressions different from his own. 

If you ask a number of believers who have entered upon the normal Christian life how they came by their experience, some will say in this way and others in that. Each stresses his own particular way of entering in and produces Scripture to support his experience; and unhappily many Christians are using their special experiences and their special scriptures to fight other Christians. The fact of the matter is that while Christians may enter into the deeper life by different ways, we need not regard the experiences or doctrines as mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. One thing is certain, that any true experience of value in the sight of God must have been reached by way of a new discovery of the meaning of the person and work of the Lord Jesus.  That is a crucial test and a safe one. (The Normal Christian Life, Chapter 3)

For the Body of Christ to achieve its perfect function in unity, Nee understood that each member must be fully consecrated to God, fully submitted to the role God has chosen for him or her.  Personally, Nee felt called to stay awake in the spiritual darkness of China, alerting people to the coming of Christ.  This is why he chose the English name Watchman. It is also the reason he remained in China during the Cultural Revolution. This decision was an incarnation of his life’s teaching.

The trouble with most Christians today is that they have an insufficient idea of what God is asking of them. How glibly they say: “Lord, I am willing for anything.” Do you know that God is asking of you your very life?  There are cherished ideals, strong wills, precious relationships, much-loved work, that will have to go: so do not give yourself to God unless you mean it. God will take you seriously, even if you did not mean it seriously….

When the Galilean boy brought his bread to the Lord, what did the Lord do with it? He broke it…After you give yourself to the Lord, he begins to break what was offered to him. Everything seems to go wrong, and you protest and find fault with the ways of God. But to stay there is to be no more than just a broken vessel – no good for the world because you have gone too far for the world to use you, and no good for God either because you have not gone far enough for him to use you. You are out of gear with the world, and you have a controversy with God. This is the tragedy of many a Christian.

I am the Lord’s, and now no longer reckon myself to be my own but acknowledge in everything his ownership and authority. That  is the attitude God delights in, and to maintain it is true consecration. I do not consecrate myself to be a missionary or preacher; I consecrate myself to God, to do his will where I am, be it in school, office or kitchen or wherever he may, in his wisdom, send me.

In 1952 the Communists arrested Watchman Nee.  At that time, approximately 400 new churches had been planted as the fruit of his ministry. Nee spent the last twenty years of his life in prison.  He died in confinement in 1972, ever faithful to the Lord.  Nee’s final years cast a haunting, prophetic beauty over the closing words of his great English work, The Normal Christian Life.

Oh to be wasted! It is a blessed thing to be wasted for the Lord. So many who have been prominent in the Christian world know nothing of this.  Many of us have been used to the full – have been used, I would say, too much – but we do not know what it means to be “wasted on God.” We like to be always “on the go”: the Lord would sometimes prefer to have us in prison.  We think in terms of apostolic journeys: God dares to put his greatest ambassadors in chains.