Monday, February 26, 2024

The Life and Legacy of Henry Blackaby


In the spirit of a John the Baptizer he came. And like a prophet, he sometimes ruffled religious feathers and did not fit into the spirit of the age. He made his own trail, and the Lord opened the way before him.

Henry Blackaby, this modest, unassuming preacher became a great tool in the hand of the Lord. In my opinion, in the last 25-50 years of Southern Baptist life, I believe four men had the greatest significance, and all in very different ways. Charles Stanley, Paige Patterson, Albert Mohler, and Canadian-born Henry Blackaby all shaped Baptists in deep and varying forms.

The prophet Elijah introduced himself in light of his relationship with the Most High God: "As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand . . ." ( 1 Kings 18:15 ESV). 

Henry learned to stand before the Lord. As he did, people became small and his God loomed large. Consequently, he often did not fit into religious cookie cutters, he cared nothing for denominational politics, an d he avoided manipulation and slick-looking machinations. Unafraid of controversy and unwilling to pander to popularity, he sought to be an authentic representative of the God before whom he walked.

Calling people to repent of their sins and half-hearted devotion, he taught of a real, personal, and practical love-relationship with Jesus Christ. Henry experienced the deep waters of intercessory prayer, revival and spiritual awakening, and a closeness to the Spirit of God.

Charles Stanley once said that he knew no one who had been as used of God to orient Southern Baptist preachers to the Holy Spirit as much as Ms. Bertha Smith - the last several decades of her life. After experiencing tremendous moves of the Spirit of God in China, Bertha sensed a commission from God upon her missionary retirement to "go home and tell" - spending the rest of her life testifying of genuine revival and spiritual awakening and of the place of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. 

It has been my theory for years that, when Ms. Bertha died in 1988, the spiritual mantle of orienting Baptists to the work of the Holy Spirit then transferred to Henry Blackaby, whose infamous study, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, was first published by Lifeway in 1990. The workbook sold more than 8 million copies in more than 75 languages. At one point, it was estimated that 1/2 of the students entering Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said they sensed a call to go to seminary while studying Experiencing God.

The power of Blackaby's influence flowed out of his intimacy with the Lord. I heard H. B. London, head of Focus on the Family's ministry to pastors at the time, interview Blackaby years ago. London asked him how he, a busy pastor, learned to spend time alone with God.

Blackaby shared that as a young pastor, he often hurried through his devotional time - until the day the Lord gave him an arresting word. He said the Lord whispered to him, "Henry, you are rushing Me." Henry repented, and from then on, he ordered his life so that he could spend unhurried time in His Presence.

The Blackaby grandchildren stand at his funeral

Henry believed God was able and ready to speak to and guide the believer individually - and he taught countless others how to walk in that reality. He was a man who walked by faith, trusting in the Lord's promises - and showed the way for others to do likewise.

One of his most common teachings was of the "crisis of faith." He wrote, "When God invites you to join Him in His work, He has a God-sized assignment for you. You will quickly realize you cannot do what He is asking on your own. If God doesn't help you, you will fail. This is the crisis of belief when you must decide whether to believe God for what He wants to do through you" (EG Unit 7 Day 1).

My wife and I have gone through more copies of his EG workbooks than I can remember - all the way back to the original 1990 black and orange cover one from the Baptist Sunday School Board. The original video recordings of him standing in front of a huge orange paper-board, making marks with a big black marker, are in my opinion the richest ones he ever recorded. In his typical, unassuming way, he simply gave testimony of his Lord. My wife and I enjoyed sitting at his feet in 1999 at Ridgecrest Conference Center at the North American Mission Board's "On Mission" summer conference. 

In a world of skinny jeans, smoke screens, and political correctness, how desperately our world and culture needs more leaders like Henry Blackaby.

See Richard Blackaby's article, "Why Is It So Difficult to Believe God Speaks?"

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