John Wesley had a heart which ached to be in tune with God’s heart, but throughout the first part of his life and career, Wesley struggled to make that happen. Wesley tried his best to live a holy life, and was very methodical about it, which is why he and his followers later came to be called Methodists. While at Oxford University, Wesley — along with his brother Charles and others — was so dedicated to attempting to live a spiritual life that other students at the university made fun of them by nicknaming them the “Holy Club.” Yet despite all that Wesley did outwardly, there was still a void inside him. He went to America as a missionary to the Indians, thinking to fill the void that way.

As Wesley’s ship crossed the Atlantic, it encountered a powerful storm which tossed the ship around to the point that Wesley feared he would lose his life. Among the other passengers onboard was a group of Moravian Christians, who like Wesley were on their way to evangelize in the New World. During the storm these Moravians faced death with a quiet fearlessness, singing and praying as the weather and the sea raged. Wesley was both impressed and humiliated. In the face of death, the Moravians demonstrated a deep, calm assurance that Wesley hadn’t found despite his all his religious efforts.

The ship did land safely at Savannah, Georgia and while Wesley tried to evangelize the native Americans he also probed for the source of the Moravians’ inner peace. One day, the Moravian leader asked Wesley: “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

Wesley was stunned by the question and replied that he knew that Jesus was the Savior of the world. The Moravian leader countered by asking if Wesley knew that Jesus had saved him.

It wasn’t until years later, back in London, that Wesley understood. While attending a Moravian Bible study in Aldersgate Street one night, Wesley listened as Martin Luther’s introduction to the Book of Romans was read aloud. Wesley wrote that later that as he listened, he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” It was the witness of the Holy Spirit Wesley had longed for, the assurance of his salvation. Up to that point Wesley had spent a great deal of time and energy trying to do what God wanted, but not even all his spiritual disciplines had brought him inner peace. Outward compliance is not what God wants. He wants our heart to beat in tune with His.

I asked my pastor, “If Wesley was not truly assured of his salvation up until the Aldersgate meetings, then what the heck was he doing all that time?” My pastor’s reply was that Wesley was being slowly transformed into the man God needed him to be. It was meeting the Moravians that catalyzed Wesley, and allowed the Holy Spirit to do its work in Him.

I feel sometimes that I am waiting to meet my own Moravians. I have known the Lord for a long time, and practiced some regular spiritual disciplines. I’ve spent a good portion of my life as a Christian in full-time service to Jesus, yet like Wesley I know that there is a greater level of service I can and should reach. As I work through my graduate studies, perhaps I too need a catalyst to spur my transformation into a greater servant of the Christ.