By J.R. Miller
The process was not easy!
"Jesus looked at him and said--You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas (which means 'Rock')." John 1:42
"You are Simon." That was his name then. "You will be called Cephas." That was what he would become.
This did not mean that Simon's character was changed instantly into the quality which the new name indicated. It meant that this would be his character by and by--when the work of grace in him was finished. The new name was a prophecy of what he was to become--the man that Jesus would make of him. Now he was only Simon--rash, impulsive, self-confident, vain--and therefore weak and unstable.
The process was not easy!
Simon had many hard lessons to learn!
Self-confidence had to be changed into humility.
Impetuosity had to be disciplined into quiet self-control.
Presumption had to be awed and softened into reverence.
Heedlessness had to grow into thoughtfulness.
Rashness had to be subdued into prudence.
Weakness had to be tempered into calm strength.
Thus lesson after lesson did Simon have to learn, each one leading to a deeper humility.
It took a great deal of severe discipline to make him into the strong, firm man of rock, that Jesus set out to produce in him. The price which he had to pay to attain this nobleness of character and this vastness of holy influence--was not too great.
But how about ourselves? It may be quite as hard for some of us to be made into the image of beauty and strength, which the Master has set for us. It may require that we shall pass through experiences of loss, trial, temptation and sorrow.
Life's great lessons are very long, and cannot be learned in a day; nor can they be learned easily. But at whatever cost, they are worth while. It is worth while for the gold to pass through the fire--to be made pure and clean. It is worth while for the gem to endure the hard processes necessary to prepare it for shining in its dazzling splendor. It is worth while for a Christian to submit to whatever severe discipline may be required--to bring out in him the likeness of the Master, and to fit him for noble living and serving.
A threefold cord which cannot be broken!
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven!" Nehemiah 1:4
TEARS were not all. Nehemiah also carried the burden to God in prayer. He did this before he took any step himself for the relief of the suffering, and the advancement of his work. Compassion is Christlike; but tears alone are not enough. This is a lesson we should not forget in our compassion for others: God cares more for them than we do, and His compassion is deeper than ours; we may, therefore, be sure of interest upon His part--when we speak the names of our friends into His ear. Besides, He knows best how to help. We should take the burden to Him first--and then be ready to do whatever He may tell us to do.
The best way for us to help others--usually is to PRAY for them. Of course praying is not all we should do; Nehemiah did not stop with tears and prayers. He gave himself to the work in behalf of his people. He left the luxurious palace, and journeyed away to Jerusalem, and took earnest hold with both hands, giving all his energy and influence to the cause.
Likewise, more than tears and prayers are needed; there is something for us to DO. Many people can weep over distress, and then pray fervently for the relief that is needed--but never DO anything themselves!
Nehemiah's way is better: sympathy, prayer, work.
This makes a threefold cord which cannot be broken!
Only a 'kiss'
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends--if you do what I command. . . . I have called you friends." John 15:13-15
The central fact in every true Christian life, is a personal friendship with Jesus. Men were called to follow Him, to leave all and cleave to Him, to believe on Him, to trust Him, to love Him, to obey Him; and the result was the transformation of their lives into His own beauty! That which alone makes one a Christian, is being a friend of Jesus.
Friendship transforms--we become like those with whom we live in close, intimate relations. Life flows into life, heart and heart are knit together, spirits blend, and the two friends become one.
We have but little to give to Christ; yet it is a comfort to know that our friendship really is precious to Him, and gives Him joy--poor and meager though its best may be. But He has infinite blessings to give to us. The friendship of Jesus includes all other blessings for time and for eternity! If Christ is our friend, all of life is made rich and beautiful to us.
"I have called you friends." No other gift He gives to us--can equal in value, the love and friendship of His heart.
When King Cyrus gave Artabazus, one of his courtiers, a 'gold cup'; he gave Chrysanthus, his favorite, only a 'kiss'. And Artabazus said to Cyrus, "The gold cup you gave me, was not so precious as the kiss you gave Chrysanthus."
No good man's money is ever worth as much as his love. Certainly the greatest honor of this earth, greater than rank or station or wealth--is the friendship of Jesus Christ.
The stories of the friendships of Jesus when He was on the earth, need cause no one to sigh, "I wish that I had lived in those days, when Jesus lived among men--that I might have been His friend too--feeling the warmth of His love, my life enriched by contact with His, and my spirit quickened by His love and grace!" The friendships of Jesus, whose stories we read in the New Testament, are only patterns of friendships into which we may now enter--if we are ready to consecrate our life to Him in faithfulness and love.
A good many people have to die--to be appreciated
About that time she became sick and died. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other garments Dorcas had made for them." Acts 9:37,39
A good many people have to die--to be appreciated. They go through the world living quietly, devoted to the interests of those who are dear to them, seeking no recognition. They are merely commonplace people, and so are allowed to love and serve without appreciation.
But one day they are missed from their accustomed place--their work on earth is done--and they are gone! Then the empty place reveals the value of the blessing they have been. In their absence, people learn for the first time--the value of the services they had been accustomed to receive from them.
The bliss of heaven
They will see His face!" Revelation 22:4
John says that in heaven, "we shall be like Christ--for we shall see Him as He is." 1 John 3:2. While we look upon the brightness of our Master's face--its beauty is imprinted upon us! Looking upon Christ--makes us like Him!
Paul teaches the same remarkable truth: "We all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory!" 2 Corinthians 3:18. This transformation is not a heavenly matter alone--it will be completed there, when, all veils removed--we shall look directly into the face of Christ; but it is something for our earthly life too. It begins here, and it goes on, the likeness coming out ever more and more fully and clearly--as we know more and more about Christ.
Companionship with Him, communion with Him, looking into His face--prints upon us His likeness! Every day, if we live as we should--some new line of His beauty comes out on our faces!
One day we shall slip away from these scenes of earth. Our eyes shall be closed on all familiar things. Next moment--O rapture! they will be opened on the unveiled face of Jesus Christ! That is what 'death' will be to you--if you are God's child. You may now dread death--but it is only going to look at your Redeemer's face!
The bliss of heaven will be largely--in being with Christ, in seeing His face, in enjoying His companionship. What bliss it will be in heaven--to look into Christ's face of love--and to have His smile!
To see the face of Christ is also a token of high honor. Not many people are admitted to the presence of an earthly king. Only his favorites and those high in rank have this privilege. But in heaven, all of Christ's servants shall see His face. That is, they shall be admitted to the closest fellowship and shall have all the privileges of intimate friends!
What a blessed moment it will be--when we are ushered into the presence of Christ! No wonder Paul says, "To depart and be with Christ--is very far better!"
How good I am! What fine things I have done!
They will be like dew sent by the Lord." Micah 5:7
The lives of godly people are sometimes compared to the dew. One point of likeness, is the quiet way in which the dew performs its ministry. It falls silently and imperceptibly. It makes no noise. No one hears it dropping. It chooses its time in the night when men are sleeping, when none can see its beautiful work. It covers the leaves with clusters of pearls. It steals into the bosoms of the flowers, and leaves new cupfuls of sweetness there. It pours itself down among the roots of the grasses and tender herbs and plants. It loses itself altogether, and yet it is not lost. For in the morning there is fresh life everywhere, and new beauty. The fields are greener, the gardens are more fragrant, and all nature is clothed in fresh luxuriance!
Is there not in this simile, a suggestion as to the way we should seek to do good in this world? Should we not wish to have our influence felt--while no one thinks of us; rather than that we should be seen and heard and praised? Should we not be willing to lose ourselves in the service of self-forgetful love, as the dew loses itself in the bosom of the rose--caring only that other lives shall be sweeter, happier, and holier--and not that honor shall come to us? We are too anxious, some of us, that our names shall be written in large letters on the things we do, even on what we do for our Master; and are not willing to sink ourselves out of sight--and let Him alone have the praise.
Our Lord's teaching on the subject is very plain. He says: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." That is, they have that which they seek--the applause of men.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." The meaning would seem to be, that we are not to wish people to know of our good deeds, our charities, our self-denials; that we should not seek publicity, when we give money or do good works; indeed, that we are not even to tell ourselves what we have done; that we are not to think about our own good deeds so as to become conscious of them; not to put them down in our diaries and go about complimenting ourselves, throwing bouquets at ourselves, and whispering: "How good I am! What fine things I have done!"
This is an insightful test of our lives. Are we willing to be as the dew--to steal abroad in the darkness, carrying blessings to men's doors, blessings that shall enrich the lives of others and do them good--and then steal away again before those we have helped or blessed awaken, to know what hand it was that brought the gift? Are we willing to work for others . . .
without human praise,
Are we content to have our lives poured out like the dew--to bless the world and make it more fruitful--and yet remain hidden away ourselves? Is it enough for us to see the fruits of our toil and sacrifice--in others' spiritual growth, and deeper happiness; yet never hear our names spoken in praise or honor--perhaps even hearing others praised for things we have done?
If you go about doing good in simple ways, in gentle kindnesses, not thinking of reward, not dreaming of praise, not hoping for any return--you are enshrining your name where it will have immortal honor! Our lesson teaches us that this is the way we are to live--if we are followers of Christ!
There is no habit that we should more sedulously form
What place should prayer have in a Christian's life? Should we pray little or much? Should we confine our praying to certain days--Sundays, for example; or to certain hours or moments of our days--mornings, for example? Should we pray only about certain things, certain affairs, certain portions of our life? Are there things we have no permission to take to God in prayer? Should we pray only in certain places--in our accustomed room at home, or in places 'set apart for divine worship'? Is there any place, where we may not pray?
There is a verse of Paul's which seems to answer all these questions. "Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5:17. That means, pray always and everywhere. There is nothing we may not take to God in prayer--asking for His help. There is no hour of the day when we may not turn to God--and find Him ready to hear and bless us. The gates of prayer are never shut!
To pray without ceasing--is to do everything with prayer. This does not mean that every piece of work we undertake, must be begun with a 'formal act' of prayer--stopping, kneeling down, and offering a spoken petition. To pray without ceasing is--to have the heart always in converse with God. It is to live so near to God--that we can talk with Him wherever we go--and seek His help, His wisdom, His guidance. God is our Father, with infinite love in His heart for us, ready and eager to help us and bless us in every way!
True prayer is not a matter of times and places. Wherever we go--we are with God. Whatever we are doing--our hearts may go out to Him. "Prayer is the Christian's vital breath--the Christian's native air!"
There is no habit that we should more sedulously form, than that of talking with God about everything we do. We are often told that we should begin every day with prayer. That is very needful and beautiful. The first face our eyes see in the morning--should be Christ's! His too, should be the first voice we hear; and to Him, our first words should be spoken! Ten minutes in the morning, yes, two minutes, spent really with Christ, will change all our day for us.
It is often said that we should 'count that day lost' in which no kindness is done, no deed of love to anyone, no help given. But sadder far--is a day without prayer! It is a day without God, without heaven's light shining into it--a day unblessed! That morning you forget to pray--is a sad morning for you!
We should form the habit of praying at every step, as we go along through the day. That was part of Paul's meaning when he said, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed--do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." He would have us include every word we speak--as well as every deed we do. Think what it would mean to have every word that passes our lips winged and blessed with prayer--always to breathe a little prayer before we speak, and as we speak. This would put heavenly sweetness into all our speech! It would make all our words kindly, loving, inspiring words--words that would edify and minister grace to those who hear. We can scarcely think of one using bitter words, backbiting words, unholy words--if his heart is always full of prayer; if he has trained himself to always pray before he speaks.
But we are to do all our deeds, also, in the name of the Lord Jesus. That means that we should do everything for Him, to please Him. If we could get this lesson learned, if we would really pray without ceasing--how beautiful our lives would be! How well we would do all our work!
Only think of a man in business doing all his day's business in a spirit of prayer--breathing a little prayer as he makes a bargain, as he writes a business letter, as he talks with other men. Think of a woman amid her household cares--taking everything to God for His blessing, for His approval, for His direction. These are not by any means, impossible suppositions. Indeed, this is the way a Christian is to live, should always live--doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus!
In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 4:6
Pray at all times and on every occasion." Ephesians 6:18
It is well for us to learn this lesson--to take everything to God in prayer, to pray as we go from task to task. We may form the habit of putting up little 'sentence prayers' continually. When you feel an inclination to speak bitterly, or to answer sharply; when you have been stung by another's speech or act; when you are tempted to refuse a request for help, to do some selfish thing, to pass by a human need, to speak an untruth--lift up your heart in the prayer, "Jesus, help me to do Your will." Or if you meet a sudden temptation and are in danger of being swept away, look up and cry, "Jesus, save me!" We do not know what we miss--by leaving God out of so much of our life!
We often wonder . . .
why we fail,
why so little comes of our efforts,
why we do not get along better with people,
why we are not happy,
why joy is so lacking in our experience,
why we are so easily fretted and vexed,
why we are so discontented,
why we fall so easily into surliness and bad temper.
It is because we cease to pray!
It is impossible to tell of the blessing of such a spirit and habit of prayer. Those who have not learned to "pray without ceasing" have no conception of what they are missing. If we all had learned this lesson--what a company of overcoming Christians we would be! The world would have little power over us--we would tread it under our feet! We would be strong--where now we are so weak. We would be victorious over temptation, where now we fail so sadly. If you knew that Christ was always actually walking with you--how strong you would be! There is no lesson we need to take more to heart--than this lesson of unceasing prayer! All the best things of Christian living--are the fruit of silent meditation.
Life is not easy for any of us. We can live nobly, purely, Christly--only by being much with Christ! We will rob ourselves of Divine blessing, of beauty of character, of power in service--if we fail to make room in all our busy days--for quiet retreats from the noise and strife, where we may sit at Christ's feet--to hear His words, and lie on His bosom that we may absorb His spirit, to prepare us for the toil of the day!
Afterwards you will understand
He got up from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, and poured water into a basin. Then He began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel He had around Him." John 13:4-5
"What I am doing, you do not understand now--but afterwards you will understand." John 13:7
At this time Peter did not know why the Messiah he really needed--was a Messiah with basin and towel. He was thinking of a Messiah with throne and crown and scepter and earthly pomp! He did not understand it--until after the blood of Calvary had been shed. Christ referred to these days by "afterwards."
This saying of Christ, however, may be used in a much wider sense. There are a great many things that He does, which at the time we cannot understand; yet in due time--all of them will become clear. As they appear to us, while we are passing through them, they are unfinished acts; when the work is completed--it will appear beautiful. This is especially true of many mysterious providences in our lives. One time Jacob thought and said, "All these things are against me!" But he lived to see that the very things which he thought were against him--were really all working together for his good.
So it is always, in the providences of God with His own people. "We know that all things work together for good, to those who love God."
The back side of a tapestry appears to be a mystery of tangle and confusion--but there is a beautiful picture on the other side. Just so--we are looking at our lives, largely on the back side. We cannot see the Master's plan--until 'afterwards'.
It is only a heathen lodging-place!
Parents are the custodians of their children's lives. If they would meet their responsibility and be able to look God and their children in the face at the judgment, they must make their homes as nearly 'gardens of Eden' as possible.
The way to save your children from the temptations of the streets--is to make your home so bright, so sweet, so beautiful, so happy, so full of love, joy and prayer--that the streets will have no attractiveness for them--no power to win them away. "Do not be overcome by evil--but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21
The place of the home-life among the influences which mold and shape character, is supreme in its importance. Our children are given to us in tender infancy--to teach them and train them for holy, worthy, beautiful living.
It is not enough to have an opulent house to live in! It is not enough to have fine foods, and luxurious furniture, and expensive entertainments! Most of the world's worthiest men and women, those who have blessed the world the most--were brought up in plain homes, without any luxury!
It is the tone of the home-life, that is important. We should make it pure, elevating, refining, inspiring. The books we bring in, the papers and magazines, the guests we have at our tables and admit to our firesides, the home conversation, the pictures we hang on our walls--all these are educational. As in everything, LOVE is the great master-secret of home happiness.
The religious influences are also vitally important. In that first 'garden home', the Lord came and went as a familiar friend. Christ must be our guest--if our home is to be a fit place either for our children or for ourselves. If there is no sincere prayer in it, it is not a true home at all--it is only a heathen lodging-place!
How can we make 'new Edens' of our homes? What are some of the secrets of home happiness? I might gather them all into one word and say--CHRIST! If we have Christ as our guest--our home will be happy! He must be welcomed into all our life. He must be in each heart. He must sit at our tables and mingle with us in all our family interaction. Christ can bless our home, only through the lives of those who make the home circle.
Make your home so sweet, so heavenly, with love and prayer and song and holy living--that all through it, there shall be the fragrance of the heart of Christ!