By J.R. Miller
If we were directing the affairs of our own lives
We often think we could do better--if we were directing the affairs of our own lives. We think we could get more happiness and greater good out of life--if things were in our hands. We would at once eliminate all that is painful and unpleasant in our lot. We would have only prosperities, with no adversities; only joys, with no sorrows. We would exclude all pain and trouble from our life. Our days would all be sunny, with blue skies--and no clouds or storms. Our paths would all be soft and easy, and strewn with flowers--without thorns or any rough places. Would we not be happier--if we could direct our own affairs, and leave out the painful, the bitter, the adverse, and the sorrowful?
So most of us would probably say at first, before we have thought of the question deeply and looked on to the end. But really the greatest misfortune that could come to us in this world--would be to have the direction of the affairs, and the shaping of the experiences of our lives, put into our own hands!
We have no wisdom to know what is best for ourselves. Today is not all of life--there is a long future, perhaps many years in this world, and then immortality hereafter. What would give us greatest pleasure today--might work us harm in days to come. Present gratification might cost us untold loss and hurt in the future.
We want pleasure, plenty, and prosperity--but perhaps we need pain, self-denial, and the giving up of things that we greatly prize.
We shrink from suffering, from sacrifice, from struggle--but perhaps these are the very experiences which will do the most good for us, which will best mature our Christian graces, which will fit us for the largest service to God and man.
We should always remember that the object of living here, is not merely to have present comfort, to get along with the least trouble, to gather the most we can of the world's treasures, to win the brightest fame. We are here to grow into the beauty of Christ, and to do the portion of God's will that belongs to us!
There is something wonderfully inspiring in the thought, that God has a plan and a purpose for our lives, for each life. We do not come drifting into this world--and do not drift through it like waves on the ocean. We are sent from God, each one of us with a divine plan for his life--something God wants us to do, some place He wants us to fill. All through our lives we are in the hands of God, who chooses our place and orders our circumstances, and makes all things work together for our good--and His glory.
It is the highest honor that could be conferred upon us, to occupy such a place in the thought of God. We cannot doubt that His way for us is better than ours, since He is infinitely wiser than we are, and loves us so. It may be painful and hard--but in the pain and the hardness, there is blessing.
Of course we may not know all the reasons there are in the divine mind, for the pains and sufferings that come into our lives, or what God's design for us in these trials is. Yet without discovering any reasons at all, however, we may still trust God, who loves us with an infinite love--and whose wisdom also is infinite!
When we get to heaven, we shall know that God has made no mistake in anything He has done for us, however He may have broken into our plans--and spoiled our pleasant dreams!
It should be reason for measureless gratitude, that our lives are not in our own poor feeble hands--but in the hands of our infinitely wise and loving Father!
My times are in Your hands!" Psalm 31:15
You are absolutely beautiful, my Beloved; there is no flaw in You!" Song of Songs 4:7
Plato expressed a desire that the moral law might become a living personage, that men seeing it thus incarnate, might be charmed by its beauty. Plato's wish was fulfilled in Jesus Christ! The holiness and the beauty of the divine law were revealed in Him. The Beatitudes contain an outline of the ideal life--but the Beatitudes are only a transcript of the life of Christ Himself! What He taught about love--was but His own love stated in a course of living lessons for His friends to learn. When He said that we should be patient, gentle, thoughtful, forgiving, and kind--He was only saying, "Follow Me!"
If we could gather from the most godly people who ever have lived, the little fragments of lovely character which have blossomed out in each, and bring all these fragments into one personality--we would have the beauty of Jesus Christ! In one person you find gentleness, in another meekness, in another purity of heart, in another humility, in another kindness, in another patience. But in the holiest of men, there are only two or three qualities of ideal beauty--along with much that is stained and blemished, mingled with these qualities. In Christ, however, all that is excellent is found, with no flaw!
You are absolutely beautiful, my Beloved; there is no flaw in You!" Song of Songs 4:7
The test of amusements
Lovers of pleasure--rather than lovers of God" 2 Timothy 3:4
Is the love of pleasure growing upon you, gaining the power and the ascendency over you? Is it dulling the keenness of your zest for spiritual pleasures? Is it making Bible-study, prayer, communion with Christ, meditation upon holy themes--less sweet enjoyments than before? Is it making your hunger for righteousness, for God--less intense? Is it interfering with the comfort and blessing you used to find in worship services, or in Christian work?
If so, there is only one thing to do--hasten to return to God, cut off the pleasure which is imperiling the soul, and find in Christ the joy which the world cannot give, and which ever enhances the life. We must test all our pleasures and amusements by this rule--Are they helping us to grow into Christ-likeness and spiritual beauty?
The ruined handkerchief
We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
It is one of the wonders of divine love, that God will take even our blemishes and sins, when we truly repent of them and give them into His hands--and make them blessings to us in some way.
A friend once showed Ruskin a costly handkerchief, on which a blot of ink had been made. "Nothing can be done with that!" the friend said, thinking that the handkerchief was now ruined and worthless. Ruskin carried it away with him and after a time sent it back to his friend. In a most skillful and artistic way--he had made a fine design on the handkerchief, using the blot as its foundation. Instead of being ruined, the handkerchief was made far more beautiful and valuable.
Just so, God takes the flaws and blots and stains upon our lives, the disfiguring blemishes, when we commit them to Him, and by His marvelous grace--changes them into strength and beauty of character!
David's grievous sin, was not only forgiven--but was made a transforming power in his life.
Peter's pitiful fall, became a step upward through his Lord's forgiveness and gentle dealing. Peter never would have become the man he afterward became--if he had not denied his Lord, and then repented and been restored.
There is one thing always to be remembered. Paul tells us that we become more than conquerors in all life's trials, dangers, struggles, temptations, and sorrows--only "through Him who loved us." Without Christ--we must be defeated. There is only one secret that can turn evil into good, pain into blessing--that is the love of Christ. There is only one Hand which can take the blotted life--and transform it into beauty.
It is not easy for us to learn this lesson
If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Luke 9:23-24
Only as we learn to die to self--do we become like Christ.
Human nature seeks all for self--and none for Christ. Becoming a Christian is the taking of Christ into the life--in the place of self. Then all is changed. Life has a new center, a new aim. Christ comes first. His plan for our lives is accepted, instead of our own. It is no more what we would like to do--but "What does the Master want us to do?" It is no longer the pressing of our own will--but "May Your will, not mine, be done."
This is the foundation of all Christian living--the dying of self--and the growing of Christ in the heart. So long as there remains any self-will, any unsubmission, any spirit of disobedience, any unconquered self, asserting its authority against the will of Christ--just so long, is our consecration incomplete.
This law of the dying of SELF, and the magnifying of Christ--is the only way to true usefulness. Not until self has been renounced, is anyone ready for true Christian service. While we are thinking how this or that will affect us, whether it will pay us to make this sacrifice or that self-denial; while we are consulting our own ease, our own comfort, our own interest or advantage in any form--we have not yet learned fully what the love of Christ means.
This law of the dying of SELF, and the magnifying of Christ--is the secret of Christian peace. When Christ is small, and SELF is large--life cannot be deeply restful. Everything annoys us. We grow impatient of whatever breaks our comfort. We grieve over little trials. We find causes for discontent in merest trifles. We resent whatever would hinder or oppose us. There is no blue sky in the 'picture', of which SELF is the center!
But when SELF decreases, and Christ increases--then the life of friction and worry is changed into quietness and peace. When the glory of Christ streams over this little, cramped, fretted, broken life of ours--peace comes, and the love of Christ brightens every spot and sweetens all bitterness. Trials are easy to bear, when self is small--and Christ is large.
This lesson has its very practical bearing on all our common, every-day life. Naturally, we want to have our own way. We like to carry out our own plans and ambitions. We are apt to feel, too, that we have failed in life, when we cannot realize these hopes. But this is the world's standard! The successful worldling is the one who is able to master all life's circumstances, and make them serve him.
But the greatest thing possible in any life--is to have the divine plan for it fulfilled--even though it thwarts every human hope and dashes away every earthly dream. It is not easy for us to learn this lesson--that God's ways are always better for us than our own!
We make our little plans and begin to carry them out. We think we have all things arranged for our greatest happiness and our best good. Then God's plan breaks in upon ours--and we look down through our tears upon the shattered fragments of our fine plans! All seems wreck, loss, and disaster! But no--it is only God's larger, wiser, better plan--displacing our little, imperfect, shortsighted one!
It is true, that God really thinks about our lives--and has a purpose of His own for them, a place He would have us fill, a work He would have us do. It seems when we think of it, that this is scarcely possible--that each one of the lives of His countless children--should be personally and individually thought about by the Father. Yet we know that this is true of the least and lowliest of believers. Surely if God cares enough for us to make a plan for our life, a heavenly plan--it must be better than any plan of ours could be! It is a high honor, therefore, for His plan to take the place of ours, whatever the cost and the pain may be to us!
We begin to be like Christ
I am among you as one who serves." Luke 22:27
He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him." John 13:4-5
Serving is not an easy lesson to learn. But it is a lesson we must learn--if ever we would become like our Master. He did not come to be served--but to serve. He served to the uttermost, just as He loved to the uttermost. Anything that needed to be done for another, He did as naturally and as simply as He breathed. He loved people, and was interested in them, and was ready always to be helpful to them. It never mattered what the service was, whether it was the saving of a soul, the curing of a grievous sickness, or the giving of a cup of water--He did the least as graciously and as divinely, as the greatest.
The washing of feet was the lowliest service any man could do for another. It was the work of the lowliest slave. Yet Jesus without hesitation, did this service for His own disciples. Thus He taught them that nothing anyone may ever need to have done--is unfit for the whitest hands. We begin to be like Christ--only when we begin to love others enough to serve them.
There is no surer test of the genuineness of Christian life, than in this matter of serving others. When we see the Son of God washing His disciples' feet--no service is too menial for us to do. A king may do the lowliest kindness to the poorest peasant in his realm, and his honor will only be enhanced by it.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet--you also should wash one another's feet." John 13:14
The highest attainment in Christian life
Do this in remembrance of Me." 1 Corinthians 11:25
The secret of all the noble heroisms of the Church, has been passionate love for Jesus!
The Lord's Supper was intended to keep Christ always vividly in remembrance. We are to think of Him, when we have the sacred memorials of His love in our hands, reminding us of what He did to redeem us. But we are to think of Him just as devoutly, when we are away from the sacred table--in the midst of worldly tasks and circumstances.
If we always remember Christ, it will keep us faithful in our loyalty--as true to Him out on the streets, and when we are tempted and tried--as when we are at His feet in prayer.
Remembering Christ, will transform us into His likeness. Our thoughts are the builders, which rear the temple of our character. If we think of unclean things--our lives will become unclean. If we think of earthly things--we will grow earthly. If we think of Christ, if thoughts of Him are in our mind and heart continually, we will be changed, moment by moment, into His beauty!
The highest attainment in Christian life--is to always remember Christ, never to forget Him, to keep His blessed face ever before us. Then we shall never lose His peace out of our hearts. Then we shall never fail Him in any duty or struggle. Then we shall never be lonely, for remembering Christ will keep us ever conscious of His gracious presence.
Any moment we may be stricken down!
Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in You." Psalm 143:9
Each day is full of dangers--dangers we cannot see, and from which we cannot protect ourselves. Disease lurks in the air we breathe, and hides in the water we drink, or in the food we eat. Along the street where we walk, on the railway over which we ride--there are perils. Any moment we may be stricken down! There may be enemies who are plotting against us, conspiring to do us harm.
There are certainly spiritual enemies, who are seeking to destroy us! The sunniest day is full of them. No African jungle is so full of savage and blood-thirsty wild beasts--as the common days in our lives are full of spiritual enemies and perils. These dangers are unseen--and hence cannot protect ourselves. "Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy! He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour!" 1 Peter 5:8
What, then, can we do? As we go out in the morning we can offer this prayer, "Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in You." We can thus put our frail, imperiled lives--into the hands of our almighty God!
"Cast your burden upon the Lord--and He shall sustain you." Psalm 55:22. We are not promised that our prayers shall take the perils and temptations out of our day. It is not thus, that God usually helps. We are bidden to cast our burden upon the Lord--but we are not told that He will lift it away from us. The promise is that we shall be sustained and strengthened in bearing it.
We need the burden! It is God's gift to us, and has a blessing in it, which we cannot afford to miss. Prayer does not take our trials away--but it puts our life into the hands of God--so that in His keeping, we shall be kept from harm while we pass through our trials. It brings God's grace into our heart--to preserve us from falling into sin; and God's strength into our life--that we may be victorious over our enemies.
Not to pray as we go into the day's dangers and trials--is to meet them without the help of Christ, and surely to suffer hurt, and possibly to fall into sin!
He is especially kind to the lambs
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep!" John 10:11
The shepherd is a favorite Scriptural picture of the divine love and care. In the Old Testament, the twenty-third Psalm gathers the whole wonderful truth in exquisite lines which are dear to both young and old, wherever the Bible is known. Then in the New Testament, when our Lord would give His friends the sweetest revealings of His heart toward them, and tell them what they are to Him, and what He would be to them--He says, "I am the Good Shepherd."
The earthly shepherd lives with his sheep. If they are out in the storm, or exposed to any danger--he is with them. Likewise, Christ lives with His people--in all their afflictions, and all their storms. He enters into closest relations with them.
The earthly shepherd knows his sheep. He has a name for each one--and calls them all by their names. Christ knows each one of His friends, and has intimate personal knowledge of each one. He knows the best in us--and also the worst. He knows our faults, our sins, our wanderings. Yet, knowing us as we are--He loves us still, and never wearies of us!
The earthly shepherd is most gentle with his sheep. He does not drive them--but goes before them and leads them. When they need rest on the way, he makes them lie down, and chooses for their resting-place, not the dusty road--but green pastures. He is especially kind to the lambs, gathers them in his arms and carries them in his bosom. All this is an exquisite picture of the gentleness of our Good Shepherd, in His care of His sheep. He is thoughtful toward the weak. He loves the 'lambs' and makes room for them in His bosom. Whatever the need is, there is something in the heart of Christ which meets its craving, and supplies its lack.
The earthly shepherd defends his flock in all danger. Often he has to risk his own safety, even his life, in protecting his sheep. Just so, the Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep. Christ's sheep are absolutely safe in His keeping. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish--ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:28. Then at last He will bring His own all safely home, "and they shall become one flock, one Shepherd."
Earth's broken things
This man welcomes sinners--and eats with them!" Luke 15:2
I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you!" Matthew 21:31
Christ is building His kingdom with earth's broken things.
Men want only the strong, the successful, the victorious, the unbroken--in building their kingdoms. But God is the God of the broken, the unsuccessful, of those who have failed. Heaven is filling with earth's broken lives, and there is no 'bruised reed' which Christ cannot take and restore to glorious blessedness and beauty. He can take the life crushed by pain or sorrow--and make it into a harp whose music shall be all praise. He can lift earth's saddest failure--up to heaven's glory!
Better to rot in prison!
How can I do this great wickedness--and sin against God!" Genesis 39:9
After hearing his wife's story, Potiphar was furious! He took Joseph and threw him into the prison!" Genesis 39:19-20
Sometimes it costs very dearly--to be true to God. Joseph lay now in a dungeon. But his loss through doing right, was nothing in comparison with what he would have lost--had he done the wickedness to which he was tempted. His prison gloom, deep as it was--was as noonday, compared with what would have been the darkness of his soul under the blight of evil, and the bitterness of remorse. The chains that hung upon him in his dungeon, were but like feathers--in comparison with the heavy chains which would have bound his soul, had he yielded to the temptation. Though in a prison, his feet hurt by the fetters--he was a free man because his conscience was free, and his heart was pure!
No fear of consequences should ever drive us to do a wrong thing.
It is better to suffer any loss, any cost, any sacrifice--than be eaten up by remorse!
Better be hurled down from a high place for doing right--than win worldly honor by doing wrong.
Better lose our right hand--than lose our purity of soul.
Better to rot in prison--than to sin against God!
It was the prayer of a young queen, which she wrote with a diamond point on her castle window, "Keep me pure; make others great." That is the lesson of Joseph's victory over temptation; dishonor, loss, dungeon, death--anything before sin!
The two birds
Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty." Job 5:17
He is not happy at the time, at least, in the world's way. No affliction for the present seems to be joyous--but grievous. No one enjoys having troubles, sufferings, trials, sorrows. Therefore this statement made by Eliphaz appears very strange to some people. They cannot understand it. It is contrary to all their thoughts of happiness.
Of course the word 'happy' is not used here in the world's sense. The world's happiness is the pleasure that comes from the things that happen. It depends on personal comfort, on prosperous circumstances, on kindly and congenial conditions. When these are taken away--the world's happiness is destroyed.
But the word happy, here means blessed--and the statement is that blessing comes to him who receives God's correction. To correct, is to set right--that which has been wrong. Surely if a man is going in the wrong way, and God turns his feet back and sets him in the right way--a blessing has come to the man!
Afflictions are 'God's corrections'. They come always with a purpose of love in them. God never afflicts one of His children, without meaning His child's good in some way. So blessing is always intended by God. It is usually afterward that people begin to see and to understand the good that God sent them in their trial. "You do not understand what I am now doing" said Jesus, "but you shall understand hereafter." "No chastening seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." So when we have troubles and afflictions, we may know that God wants to do us good in some way through them.
Since this is so, Job was exhorted by Eliphaz, "Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty." God chastens us to bless us--to do us good. He chastens us because He loves us.
He is not a true parent, who sees his children doing wrong, and yet fails to correct them for fear he may hurt their feelings. He ought to think of their higher good, and chasten them now--to profit them afterward.
This is the way our heavenly Father works. He never loves us better--than when He is correcting us. Therefore we ought not to despise this chastening. We ought not to murmur or complain when God does not give us our own way--but checks us, lays His afflictive hand upon us, and sends trouble upon us! We ought to have such faith in God--that we shall submit quietly, confidently, and sweetly to his will--even when it brings a heavy cross into our life.
A great many people need to pause at this line--and learn it. They do not treat God's chastening with reverence. Sometimes they are crushed by it, and refuse to look up into God's face with submission and love. Sometimes they grow bitter against God and say hard things of Him! We ought to reverence God's chastening; we ought to listen to the voice that speaks to us in our grief or pain.
The way in which God brings blessing through chastening, is emphasized: "For He wounds--but He also binds up; He strikes--but His hands also heal." Job 5:18. God never smites with both hands at once! When one hand is laid upon us in affliction--the other hand is reached out to help, to uphold, to heal.
Sometimes there is a trouble in a man's body which requires the surgeon's knife. There must be amputation, or cutting away, or cutting into. In such a case the skillful surgeon does not hesitate. He thinks far more of his patient's health for the future--than of his comfort at present. So he uses his knife--that he may cure disease, or save life. He wounds--to heal. He makes sore--that he may bind up. It is just so in all afflictions which God sends. He chastens--that He may deliver from the power of temptation. He hurts the body--that he may save the soul. He takes away earthly property--that He may give true, heavenly riches.
One writer tells of two birds and how they acted when caught and put into a cage. One, a 'starling', flew violently against the wire walls of its prison, in unavailing efforts to escape--only battering and bruising its own wings. The other bird, a 'canary', perched itself on the bar and began to pour forth bursts of sweet song, from its little throat. We know which bird was the wiser and happier.
Some people are like the starling--when they are in any trouble, they chafe and fret and complain and give way to wretchedness! The result is, they only hurt themselves, make themselves more miserable, and do not in any sense lessen their trouble. It is wiser always, as well as more pleasing to God, for us to bear our trials patiently, singing songs of faith and love--rather than crying out in rebellion and discontent.
Job wanted to get near to God in his great trouble; he cried, "Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" He felt sure that that would be the best and safest place for him to be. We ought not to lose this lesson. When trouble is upon us--the true thing for us to do, is to flee to God! Some people, in their affliction and sorrow--flee away from God. Thus they lose their joy and peace, missing the comfort which they would get if only they kept near to Him. The right way to respond, is to try to find the way to God's very presence. He is the only safe refuge, when the storms of trouble break upon us. The first thing always, in any time of trouble--is to find God and hide away in His bosom, as a child runs to the mother in alarm, or as the little bird flies to its nest. To find God--is to be safe!
God is our truest and best friend! He is our Father--we need never fear to go to Him. He gives heed unto our cries. He loves us. All His omnipotence is on our side. No mother's heart was ever so full of love for her child--as is the heart of God for us, His children!