By J.R. Miller
Life's highest and best lesson
We read that Joseph bore himself so congenially, and did his work so well, and was so capable, so true, so trustworthy--that Potiphar "left all that he owned under Joseph's care; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate." Genesis 39:6. Joseph would never have won such a success--if he had given up to discouragement, if he had brooded over his wrongs, if he had sulked and complained, if he had spent his time in vain regrets or in vindictive feelings. We should learn the lesson, and it is worth learning--for it is life's highest and best lesson.
The problem of life, is to keep the heart warm and kindly--amid all injustice and wrong; to keep the spirit brave and cheerful--in the midst of all that is hard in life's circumstances and conditions; to be true, and right, and strong--in all moral purpose and deed, however others may act toward us.
Our inner life should not be affected by our external experiences. Right is right, no matter what others around us may do. We must be true--no matter if all the world is false--even false to us. We must be unselfish and loving--though even our nearest friends prove selfish and cruel to us. We must keep our spirit strong, cheerful and hopeful--though adversities and misfortunes seem to leave us nothing of the fruit of all our labors.
In a word, we are to live victoriously, truly, nobly, sweetly, cheerfully, joyfully--in spite of whatever may be uncongenial in our condition!
This is the lesson of all Christian life. We should not let the outside darkness into our soul. We should seek to be delivered from all morbidness and all unwholesomeness. We should not allow anything to crush us.
Remember, your task in living--is to keep sweet, to keep your heart gentle, brave, strong, loving, full of hope--under the worst that the years can bring you of injustice, hardship, suffering, and trial.
A memento of divine affection
Cast your burden upon the Lord--and He shall sustain you." Psalm 55:22
This privilege is a very precious one. We all have our burden. No matter how happy anyone is--he is bearing some weight of care, or sorrow, or responsibility. Continually we find our load too heavy for our own unaided strength. We feel that we cannot carry it without help. Human love comes up close beside us, willing, if it were possible, to take the burden from our shoulder, and carry it for us. But this is not possible. "Every man must bear his own burden." Most of life's loads, are not transferable.
Take pain, for instance. No tenderest, truest love--can bear our pain for us, or even bear any smallest part of it.
Or take sorrow. As close as human friendship may come to us when our heart is breaking with grief--it cannot take from us any least portion of the anguish we suffer, as we meet bereavement.
Or take struggle with temptation. We can get no human help in it, and must pass through the struggle alone.
It will be noticed, too, that God Himself does not promise to bear our burden for us. So much is it an essential and inseparable part of our life--that even divine love will not relieve us of its weight.
The teaching from all this, is that we cannot hope to have our life-burden lifted off. Help cannot come to us, in the way of relief. The prayer to be freed from the load, cannot be answered. The assurance is--not that the Lord will take away our burden when we cast it upon Him, lifting it away from our shoulder. It is, instead, a promise that while we bear our burden, whatever it may be--that the Lord will sustain us. "Cast your burden upon the Lord--and He shall sustain you." He will give us strength to continue faithful, to go on with our doing of His will, unimpeded, unhindered, by the pressure of the load we must carry.
An alternative rendering of this verse is, "Cast your gift upon the Lord--and He shall sustain you." Thus we see, that our burden is a gift of God to us! At once the thing, which a moment ago seemed so oppressive in its weight, so unlovely in its form--is hallowed and transformed! We had thought it to be an evil--whose effect upon us could be only hurtful, hindering our growth, marring our happiness. But now we see that it is another of God's blessings, not evil--but good, designed not to hurt us, nor to impede our progress--but to help us onward!
A gift from a human friend, is a token and pledge of their love for us. In like manner, God sent this gift to us--because He loves us. It is a memento of divine affection. It may be hard for us to understand this. It may be a burden of pain, and pain seems so opposed to comfort--that we cannot see how it can be a gift of love. It may be sorrow; and sorrow never for the present seems to be joyous--but always grievous. It may be great loss--the stripping from us of life's pleasant things, leaving emptiness and desolation. How such burdens as these can be tokens of divine affection, God's gift of love--it is hard for us to conceive. Yet we know that God is our Father, and that His love for us never fails. Whatever comes from His hand to us--must be sent in love!
The world offers attractive things--pleasures, gains, promises of honor and delight. To the eye of sense, these appear to be life's best things. But too often they enfold bitterness and hurt, the fruit of evil. At the bottom of the cup--are dregs of poison! On the other hand, the things that God gives, appear sometimes unattractive, undesirable, even repulsive! We shrink from accepting them. But they enfold, in their severe and unpromising form--the blessings of divine love.
We know how true this is of life's pains and sorrows. Though grievous to sense, they leave in the heart which receives them with faith and trust--the fruits of divine blessing. Whatever our burden may be, it is God's gift, and brings to us some precious thing, from the treasury of divine love. This fact makes it sacred to us. Not to accept it--is to thrust away from us, a blessing sent from heaven. We need, therefore, to treat most reverently--the things in our life, which we call burdens.
We should regard all the gifts of God to us--with affection. This is easy for us so long as these gifts come to us in pleasant form--things that give joy to us. But with no less love and gratitude should we receive and cherish God's gifts, which come in forbidding form. It is the same divine love which sends the one--and also the other. The one is no less good--than the other. There is blessing as truly in the gift of pain or loss or trial--as in the gift of song and gain and gladness. Whatever God sends--we should receive in confidence, as a gift of His love. Thus it is, that our burden, whatever it may be, is hallowed.
It may not always be easy to carry it, for even love sometimes lays heavy burdens on the shoulders of its beloved. A wise father does not seek always to make life easy for his child. Nothing could be more unkind! He would have his child grow strong--and, therefore, he refuses to take away the hard task. God is too loving and kind, too true a father--to give us only easy things. He makes the burden heavy--that we may become strong in bearing it. But He is always near; and He gives us the help we need, that we may never faint beneath it. Thus we may always know, that our burden is our Father's gift to us!
A truly thoughtful person
Some people seem to have a genius for making others miserable! They are continually touching sensitive hearts, so as to cause pain. They are always saying things which sting and irritate. If you have any bodily defect, they never see you without in some crude way, making you conscious of it. If any relative or friend of yours has done some dishonorable thing, they seem to take a cruel delight in constantly referring to it when speaking with you. They lack all delicacy of feeling, having no eye for the sensitive things in others, which demand gentleness of treatment.
Thoughtfulness is the reverse of all this. It simply does not do the things which thoughtlessness does. It avoids the painful subject. It never alludes to a man's clubfoot or humpback, nor ever casts an eye at the defect, nor does anything to direct attention to it or to make the man conscious of it. It respects your sorrow--and refrains from harshly touching your wound. It has the utmost kindliness of feeling and expression. A truly thoughtful person, is one who never needlessly gives pain to another.
Thoughtfulness does not merely keep one from doing thoughtless things; it also leads to continued acts of kindness and good will. It ever watches for opportunities to give pleasure and happiness. It does not wait to be asked for sympathy or help--but has eyes of its own, and sees every need, and supplies it unsolicited. When a friend is in sorrow, the thoughtful man is ready with his offer of comfort. He does not come the next day, when the need is past--but is prompt with his kindness, when kindness means something.
Thoughtfulness is always doing little kindnesses. It has an instinct for seeing the little things that need to be done, and then for doing them!
There are some rare Christians who seem born for thoughtfulness. They have a genius for sympathy. Instinctively they seem to understand the experiences of pain in others, and from their heart, there flows a blessing of tenderness which is full of healing. This is the highest and holiest ministry of love. It is not softness nor weakness; it is strength--but strength enriched by divine gentleness.
Thoughtfulness is one of the truest and best tests of a noble Christian character. It is love working in all delicate ways. It is unselfishness which forgets self, and thinks only of others. It is love which demands not to be served, to be honored, to be helped--but thinks continually of serving and honoring others. He who has a truly gentle heart, cannot but be thoughtful. Love is always thoughtful.
You can never lose your mother!
Though all are born "dead in trespasses and sins;" in another sense, when a baby is born--its life is only a patch of soil in which, as yet, nothing is growing.
A mother's hand is the first to plant seeds there--in the looks of tender love which her eyes dart into the child's soul, in her smiles and caresses and croonings, and her thousand efforts to reach the child's heart and shape its powers; and then in the lessons which she teaches.
All the members of the household soon become sowers also on this field; as the life begins to open, every one is dropping some seed into the mellow soil.
In a little while, hands outside the home begin to scatter seeds in the child's mind and heart. The street, the playground, the school; later, books, papers, and pictures contribute their portion.
As the years advance, the experiences of life--the joys, temptations, tasks, trials, sorrows--all bring their influences. Somewhat in this way, the character of the mature man--is the growth of seeds sown by a thousand hands in the life from infancy.
All our thoughts, words, and acts--are seeds. They have in them a quality which makes them grow where they fall, reproducing themselves. This is true of the good we do.
The mother's teachings enter the mind and heart of her child as mere seeds; but they reappear in the life of the son or daughter, in later years--in strength and beauty, in nobleness of character, and in usefulness of life. Not only is this strange power in the mother's words; her acts, her habits, her tones of voice, the influences that go forth from her life--are also seeds, having in them a vital principle. Where they lodge--they grow.
You can never lose your mother! She may die, and her body may be buried out of your sight, and laid away in God's acre. You will see her face and hear her voice no more; no more will her hand scatter the good seeds of truth and love, upon your life's garden. But you have not lost her! Your mind and heart are full of the seeds which fell from her hand along the years. These you never can lose. No hand of death can root them out of your life. They have grown into the very fibers of your character. They reappear in your habits, your dispositions, your feelings and opinions, your modes of thought, your very phrases and forms of speech! You can never lose your mother; the threads of her life are woven inextricably into your life!
All the noble things that fall from your hands, as you travel along life's paths, are seeds, and will not die. The good things we do, with the true words we speak, with the faithful example we show, with all the influences of our life that are Christlike, are living seeds which we sow in the lives of others. They will not fall into the ground and perish. They will stay where they drop, and you will find them again after many days. They will germinate and grow, and yield a harvest!
Go on doing the little things, no matter how small, only making sure that you breathe love into them. Let them fall where they may, no matter into what heart, no matter how silently, no matter how hopeless may seem the soil into which they drop, no matter how you yourself may appear to be forgotten or overlooked as you do your deeds of kindness, and speak your words of love. These words and deeds and influences of yours are living seeds, and not one of them shall perish!
The same is true, however, of the evil things we do. They, too, have in them the quality of life and reproductiveness. If only our good things were seeds, this truth would have unmingled encouragement for us. But it is startling to remember, that the same law applies to the evil things.
The man who writes a wicked book, or paints an unholy picture, or sings an impure song--sets in motion a procession of unholy influences which will live on forever! He, too, will find his evil words again in the hearts of men, long, long afterwards; or see his unclean picture reproduced on men's lives, or hear his unholy song singing itself over again in the depths of men's being!
The evil that men do--lives after them! "Bury my influence in my grave with me!" said a wicked man, dying with bitter remorse in his soul. But that is impossible. Sometimes men who have been sowing evil, wake up to the consciousness of the harm they have been giving to other lives, and go back over their paths, trying to gather up the seeds of sin which they have cast into human hearts. But the effort is unavailing, as no one can take out of men's minds and hearts--the seeds of evil he has dropped there!
We are not done with life--when we die! We shall meet our acts and words and influences again! "Do not be deceived! God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows--he will also reap!" Galatians 6:7. He shall reap the same that he sows--and he himself shall be the reaper!
There is a law of divine justice, in which God requites to every man according to his deeds. We are not living under a reign of mere chance. But sometimes it seems as if the law of justice did not work universally--that some who do wrong, are not requited; and that some who do good, receive no reward. But this inequality of justice is only apparent. Life does not end at the grave! If it did, we might say that the Lord's ways are not always equal. God's dealings with men, are not closed in this earthly life! The story is continued through eternity!
In this present life--wrong often seems to go unpunished, and virtue unrewarded. But our present lives, are simply unfinished life-stories. There are other chapters which will be written in eternity. When all has been completed, there will be no inequality, no injustice. All virtue will have its full reward--and all sin will receive its due punishment.
The gentleness of Jesus
Learn from Me--for I am gentle and humble in heart." Matthew 11:29
Of the gentleness of Jesus it was said, "He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick." Isaiah 42:3. There is nothing that this sorrowing, sinning world needs--more than gentleness. Yet, there are some Christians who seem never to have learned love's secret of gentleness.
We need to pray for the grace of gentleness, that we may walk softly among men, never hurting another life by harsh words or ungentle acts.
We can have something of the beauty of Christ in our life. As we can get into our hearts the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the mind that was in Jesus--the light of divine love will shine out from our dull nature, and transfigure it. This will make us sweet-tempered and gentle-spirited. It will make us honest in our dealings with our fellow-men. It will make us kind to all about us. It will make us godly people to live with at home. It will make us good neighbors and faithful friends. The unconscious ministry of such a life through long years--will leave untold blessings in this world.
Such a life of quiet, simple, humble, Christlike goodness--will pour out its unconscious influence into other lives--making them better, happier, holier, sweeter. Such a ministry of simple goodness is within the reach of every Christian. It requires no brilliant gifts, and no great wealth. It is a ministry which the plainest and lowliest may fulfill.
In these days of 'fashionable worldliness', the church needs just such simple goodness. It has eloquence in its pulpits, and activity in its pews--but it needs more godly people filled with the gentleness of Christ, repeating the life of Christ wherever they move.
His treasured possession!
I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep." John 10:14
When we think of the millions who are in Christ's flock, it seems strange to us that He knows and calls each one by name. Yet the truth is made very clear in Scripture.
Every mother knows her own children by name, and it is as easy for the Good Shepherd to know each of His millions by name--as for any human mother to know each of her little children.
There is comfort in this teaching. We are not lost in the crowd. Each one of of God's children, is the special object of His love and thought and care!
"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine!" Isaiah 43:1
"For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession!" Deuteronomy 7:6
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14
That Christian life which costs nothing--is worth nothing. There must be self-restraint, discipline, severe schooling. There must be struggle, and the agonizing effort. If you are to reach the goal and win the prize--you must put every energy of your life into the race. There must be a sacrifice of indolence and self-will and personal ease. Too much pampering, spoils many a promising Christian.
Every noble and godly life, is a struggle from beginning to end. Only those who toil and fight and overcome--are successful in life. This is true in every sphere--in business, in academics, and in spiritual life. Are we resisting sin, overcoming temptation, living victoriously in trial? If not--we are not living worthily. "To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me." Colossians 1:29
This lesson makes life easy and simple!
It is life's largeness which most discourages earnest and conscientious people. As they think deeply of life's meaning and responsibility, they are apt to be overwhelmed by the thought of its vastness. Life has manifold, almost infinite, relations toward God and toward man. Each of these relations has its binding duties. Every life has a divine mission to fulfill--a plan of God to work out.
Every individual life must be lived amid countless antagonisms, and in the face of countless perils. Battles must be fought, trials encountered, and sorrows endured.
Also, the brief earthly course--is but the beginning of an endless existence, whose immortal destinies hinge upon fidelity in the present life.
Looked at in this way, as a whole, there is something almost appalling in the thought of our responsibility in living.
Many a person who thinks of life in this aspect, and sees it in its wholeness, has not the courage to hope for success and victory--but stands staggered, well-near paralyzed, on the threshold. Despair comes to many a heart when either duty or sorrow or danger is looked at--in the aggregate.
But this is not the way we should view life. It does not come to us all in one piece. We do not get it even in years--but only in days--day by day. We look on before us, and as we count up the long years with their duties, struggles, and trials--and the bulk is like a mountain which no mortal can carry. But really, we never have more than:
one day's battles to fight, or
one day's work to do, or
one day's burdens to bear, or
one day's sorrow to endure,
in any one day.
It is wonderful how the Bible gives emphasis to this way of viewing life. When for forty years God fed His chosen people with bread from heaven, He never gave them, except on the morning before the Sabbath, more than one day's portion at a time. He positively forbade them gathering more than would suffice for the day; and if they should violate His command, what they gathered above the daily portion, would become corrupt. Thus early, God began to teach His people to live only by the day--and trust Him for tomorrow.
At the close of the forty years, the promise given to one of the tribes was, "As your days--so shall your strength be." Deuteronomy 33:25. Strength was not promised in advance--enough for all of life, or even for a year, or for a month--but the promise was, that for each day, when it came with its own needs, duties, battles and griefs--enough strength would be given. As the burden increased--more strength would be imparted.
The important thought here is, that strength is not emptied into our hearts in bulk--a supply for years to come--but is kept in reserve, and given day by day, just as the day's needs require.
When Christ came, He gave still further emphasis to the same method of living. He said, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today!" Matthew 6:34. He would have us fence off the days by themselves, and never look over the fence to think about tomorrow's cares.
The thought is, that each day is, in a certain sense--a complete life by itself. It has . . .
its own duties,
its own trials,
its own burdens,
its own needs.
It has enough to fill our heart and hands for the one full day. The very best we can do for any day, for the perfecting of our life as a whole--is to live the one day well. We should put all our thought and energy and skill into the duty of each day, wasting no strength--either in grieving over yesterday's failures, or in anxiety about tomorrow's responsibilities.
Our Lord, also, in the form of prayer which He gave his disciples, taught this lesson of living only by the day. There He has told us to ask for bread--for one day only. "Give us this day our daily bread." He again teaches us that we have to do only with the present day. We do not need tomorrow's bread now. When we need it--it will be soon enough to ask God for it, and get it. It is the 'manna lesson' over again. God is caring for us, and we are to trust Him for the supply of all our needs--as they press upon us. We are to trust Him, content to have only enough in hand for the day.
If we can but learn to thus live by the day, without anxiety about the future--the burden will not be so crushing. We have nothing to do with life in the aggregate--that great bulk of duties, responsibilities, struggles, and trials--which belong to a course of years. We really have nothing to do even with the nearest of the days before us--tomorrow. Our sole business is with the one little day, now passing. Its burdens will not crush us--we can easily carry them until the sun goes down. We can always get along for one short day. It is the projection of life into the long future, which dismays and appalls us. This lesson makes life easy and simple!
There is but one standard of true Christian character
Whoever claims to live in Him--must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6
Nothing is more striking to a close observer of human life, than the almost infinite variety of character which exists among those who profess to be Christians. No two are alike. Even those who are alike revered for their saintliness, who alike seem to wear the image of their Lord, whose lives are alike attractive in their beauty--show the widest diversity in individual traits, and in the cast and mold of their character. Yet all are sitting before the same model; all are striving after the same ideal; all are imitators of the same blessed life.
There is but one standard of true Christian character--likeness to Christ. It is into His image--that we are to be transformed; and it is toward His holy beauty--that we are always to strive. We are to live as He lived. We are to copy His features into our lives. Wherever, in all the world, true disciples of Christ are found--they are all trying to reproduce the likeness of their Master in themselves.
One reason for the diversity among Christians--is because even the best and holiest saints realize but a little of the image of Christ, have only one little fraction and fragment of His likeness in their souls. In one of His followers, there is some one feature of Christ's blessed life which appears; in another, there is another feature; in a third, still a different feature. One seeks to copy Christ's gentleness, another His patience, another His sympathy, another His meekness.
Therefore, a thousand believers may all, in a certain sense, be like Christ--and yet no two of them have, or consciously strive after, just the same features of Christ in their souls. The reason is, that the character of Christ is so great, so majestic, so glorious--that it is impossible to copy all of it into any one little human life; and again, each human character is so imperfect and limited--that it cannot reach out in all directions after the boundless and infinite character of Christ.