Lessons from the book Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior
As kids, we believed that we could change the world. We wanted to fly to the moon, write novels, and save people from burning houses, but then we grew up and discovered just how much time living takes. No one told us about the hours involved in keeping the boss happy, the bills paid, and the pile of dirty shirts washed.
Even if we could free up some hours every week to change the world, its problems are overwhelming — sex trafficking, ISIS, the twenty-five million North Koreans cut off from the gospel. We can start to doubt whether our lives will actually make a difference and, when that happens, we need to meet Hannah More.
Since Hannah died in 1833, our best venue for meeting her is Karen Swallow Prior’s book, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, which introduces us to the unlikely woman who helped end the slave trade in Great Britain. Not only that, Hannah fought for female education, lobbied against animal cruelty, and taught a nation to read.
How did Hannah, a single woman without wealth, family status, or access to Parliament leave her mark on the British Isles? She believed in a God who cared about the world and worked through his children to change it. Hannah’s life reveals five facts about God that we need to grasp if we want to make a difference in our world:
1. God uses unlikely people, like you and me.
Born as a middle-class girl in 1745, Hannah was destined for sitting rooms, kitchens, and nurseries. Men held the power in 18th Century Great Britain: inheriting estates, receiving educations, and holding seats in Parliament. Hannah’s best chance at changing the world, it seemed, was to marry above her station and raise capable sons, but Hannah never married. God, though, loves to use unlikely people for his best work, so to his list of unlikelies — an idol worshipper named Abram, a Christian-killer named Saul, a peasant girl named Mary — he added Hannah More.
What makes you an unlikely candidate for changing the world? If God can use an unmarried, middle-class woman to change 18th Century England, he can use you.
2. God uses our unique passions and giftedness.
Hannah loved words and penned her first poem at the age of four. She wrote personal letters to convince influential friends of the evils of slavery. She composed poems and stories to jar the popular imagination into action against slavery. She produced essays on the female mind, the education of the poor, and the state of politics, but also wrote fictional pamphlets for the newly literate masses, weaving together entertainment, morality, and public health principles. Hannah captured the imagination of the nation, guiding them away from empty spirituality, animal cruelty, and slavery.
What has God made you passionate about? Science-fiction, marine biology, cooking for friends? If God could use fiction to end the slave trade, he can use the passions he gave you.
3. God uses disappointment to get us to places we would never go.
Hannah’s life, from one perspective, was a series of disappointments. Her father cancelled her math and history lessons when she advanced beyond a girl’s normal education. Her fiancé postponed their wedding three time before Hannah finally ended their six year engagement, leaving her too old for marriage. She battled poor health that kept her out of society for periods at a time. Hannah, though, allowed these roadblocks to redirect her attention. She taught at a school for girls. She wrote extensively. When she retreated from London to the countryside, she focused her attentions on the educating the country poor, whom the upper class believed were born for labor.
What disappointments have blocked your path? God didn’t waste Hannah’s shattered dreams and illnesses, and he won’t waste yours, either.
4. God uses friendships to generate impact.
Hannah was lifelong friends with William Wilberforce, known for helping to end the slave trade. She was part of a group of friends called the Clapham Sect, which in addition to Wilberforce included other members of Parliament, clergy, writers, and influential businessmen, all of whom believed that the Christian faith could change the world. These friends worked together to reform England: to raise the standard of living among the poor, increase the quality of faith among the religious, and outlaw cruelty against humans and animals. Together, the Clapham friends accomplished more than they could have alone.
What friendships has God given you? God’s best work happens in community, and it’s our job to cultivate friendships that can address the needs around us, and not just our own.
5. God uses hard labor and silent years to germinate his work.
Hannah worked and wrote for over forty years, laboring for the emancipation of slaves in England. The bill was finally passed two months before her death. Neither she nor Wilberforce expected it to take that long. They spent decades fighting against the odds and facing personal attacks and discouragement, but they never gave up.
What setbacks have you faced as you’ve tried to change the world? If you’ve been delayed a month, a year, or a decade, remember Hannah More and keep working.
God wants to use us, but he may do it differently than we planned. To keep from getting discouraged, we should remember Hannah More and that God uses unlikely people, their passions and discouragements, their friendships and years of hard work. We may not fly to the moon, write a novel, or save people from burning houses, but our world, country, and neighbors are hurting. God wants to bring life and healing to them, and he plans to use us.
photo by Kara Applei