He who is satisfied with himself and with his attainments, is not living worthily. A wholesome life ever sees better things yet to be reached. Being good is not enough; striving to be better is not the loftiest aim. Nothing less than the best should ever satisfy an immortal being!
For the Best Things
We should seek only the best things in life. If everyone did, this would be an ideal world. The trouble is, however, that many knowing the good--yet choose the evil. What shall we call the drift in human nature, that causes it to gravitate so often and so easily toward lower--rather than rise upward toward higher things? We need not trouble about the philosophy of it--but it is worth while for us to find some way of overcoming the unhappy tendency. There is a way. It may not be easy--the easy course is just to let ourselves drift--but we know too well what the end of this will be. We should be brave enough to take ourselves vigorously in hand and to get our faces turned toward the best things. Nothing will drift upstream; we shall have to use the oars if we want our boat to go that way. But that is the way to the best things.
What are the things that are worthiest and best? We do not need to say condemning words about the things of this world. It is our Father's world. It is full of beauty. The Creator saw when it was finished, that it was all very good. We are to accept our place in life, contentedly and cheerfully, whatever the limitations, whatever the hardness, and set about living in such a way that we shall make our one little spot of the world, as much as possible like heaven.
We have only to turn to the Scriptures if we would learn what are the best things. Nothing can be worth while, which will ever perish. We are immortal, and only immortal things will meet our deepest needs. Nothing is best which we cannot carry with us when we go away from earth. We cannot carry money, or jewels, or estates, into the other world, hence these are not the best things.
Jesus Christ is accepted as divine Teacher--a Teacher come from God. Let us ask him, "What are the best things?" and we find answers to our question on every page of the Gospels. In his Sermon on the Mount he says, "Seek first the kingdom of your Father and his righteousness." He had been exhorting his disciples against worry and anxiety. He assured them that their Father who cares for the birds, and clothes the flowers, surely would much more care for them. They need never have any anxiety, therefore, nor give themselves a moment's care about their physical needs. Instead of this, they should seek first and only the Father's kingdom, and all else that they should need, would be supplied to them.
The things of God's kingdom, therefore, are the best things. We learn what some of these things are from the Beatitudes. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," that is, the lowly, the humble. Those who think highly of themselves are not the highest in God's sight--but those who forget themselves and hold all their gifts and powers at the bidding of the Master for any service to which he may send them. Jesus spoke only once of his own heart, and then he said he was meek and lowly in heart. His whole life was one of lowliness. His hands had made the worlds--but he used them without reserve in serving earth's needy ones.
"Blessed are the meek." The meek are the long-suffering, those who endure wrong patiently, uncomplainingly, returning love for hate, kindness for unkindness, and prayers for curses. Men do not usually think of meekness as one of the best things--but Jesus writes it high in the list, and says that the meek shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness." It is not attainment alone, which Heaven approves--but the longing to attain. Saintliness is beautiful--but it takes a long while to reach it. No doubt one of the best things is to be perfect, to wear the image of Christ--but the lofty reach seems almost impossible. This is the goal--but it shines far off, and it seems to us that we cannot come up to it until we gain heaven. It is a comfort to us to know that one of the best things is longing for the best, hunger for righteousness.
"Blessed are the merciful." Men do not praise the merciful. They commend what they call the heroic qualities. The strong, the brilliant, the clever, those who succeed even by trampling the meek under their feet, win the honors in this world. But the Master writes among those whom Heaven calls blessed, the merciful--those who are pitiful toward weakness, compassionate toward the erring, patient with the dull and slow, and almoners of the divine mercy toward all.
"Blessed are the pure in heart." Is there in all the range of the things one may live for, anything that will mean more in the making of happiness than, amid all life's experiences of temptation, to keep one's heart pure? This is a secret of peace which insures joy and gladness, whatever the experiences may be. It transfigures the life, making it shine as with an inner light. It gives one influence over others, making one a blessing everywhere. A pure heart is one of the best things.
"Blessed are the peacemakers." The highest of all the commendations in the Beatitudes is given to these, "they shall be called the sons of God." Unquestionably one of the best things in all the range of life is to be a peacemaker, to exert a loving influence over others, to help to bring together those who are in danger of falling apart, to deepen and strengthen friendships. There are enough people in the world who live to kindle strifes, to widen breaches and estrangements, to make men hate each other, to encourage quarreling and bitter feelings. No mission is diviner--than to be a maker of peace between man and man.
These are suggestions only of some of the best things. Jesus indicates others in his teachings. His disciples contended more than once on the question of greatness. It is a proper desire to wish to be a worthy follower of Christ. A good man used to pray, "Lord, make me an uncommon Christian." Christ will never blame us for wanting to follow him with uncommon faithfulness and to live a life of unusual earnestness and godliness. But the disciples were thinking of rank, of priority in position. Jesus told them that the first places in his kingdom must be won--not by valor on the battlefield, not by favoritism--but by love. Those who serve others the most humbly, the most unselfishly, the most helpfully, are the best and most Christ-like Christians. "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28
On another occasion, the same lesson was taught by an act. Jesus quietly rose, laid aside his garments, girded himself for the work of an actual servant, and then began to wash his disciple's feet. The Master showed them that such serving was not degrading--but honorable. Jesus never did anything diviner in all his ministry--than what he did that night. And no better opportunity of doing truly great and noble things will ever come to us--than when it is our privilege to perform some lowly duties of love, in serving or helping Christ's little ones. The lowlier the person is who needs the help, and the lowlier the deed it may be ours to do--the diviner the service.
These are only hints of the best things in life. The world thinks that those who turn away from the quest for earth's prizes--to live lowly lives of love, trying to help the poor, the weak, the obscure--are throwing away their opportunities. It thinks they are following a delusion, and pities them. But those are rather to be pitied who think they are finding the best things in their quest for wealth, for honor, for fame, for power. There will come a day of revealing, when things shall be seen as they are, and then it will appear that those who have devoted their lives to the honor of Christ, and to the lowly service of love in Christ's name, are the really shining ones, that they are doing the best, worthiest, and most beautiful things under the sun, and will receive the highest honors and rewards.
If we learn this lesson well, the aspect of all our life will be changed for us. We shall see that there are things that are gloriously worth while, in which the world beholds no beauty, no honor. The greatest thing is love. To live the little thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians day after day, in quiet circumstances, among people who need to be loved and helped onward, is a greater achievement for a lifetime than to win one's way to fame or to wealth by selfish striving.
We should live always for the best things. Some people live for good things--but not the best, and the good is often the enemy of the best, inasmuch as it satisfies us and makes us contented to live on the lower planes. There is nothing dishonorable in having small capacities and in living and working in commonplace positions, if one is doing his best.
The lowliest person, who does God's will faithfully is as honorable in God's sight as the man who, with larger abilities and larger opportunities, does greater things. But when one with great gifts does only trivial things, he is not living worthily.
In our Lord's parable, the merchant sought always for the best. He dealt in pearls, one of the finest commodities of the time. He dealt only in good pearls, however, not in those of an inferior quality. One day he heard of a new pearl which had just been found, which was of exceptional beauty and brilliance. It was of great value--so great that the only way he could obtain it, was to sell all his other pearls. This he did, and purchased the one peerless pearl.
This man illustrates those who are content with nothing less than the best things. The good does not satisfy them--if there is a better; the better is quickly given up to get the best. This must be the rule of life for all who would live worthily. Especially should it be the rule for all who are following Christ. The good should never content them--if there is a better possible. They should be ready to pay any price to attain the best.
In Christian life, only the highest ideal should be accepted. It is not enough to say, "Some for self--and some for Christ," or even "Less for self--and more for Christ" the only true striving must be for "None for self--and all for Christ!" A young Christian asked whether dancing, card playing, and the theater are permissible for a Christian. The question may be answered by asking another: "Do you want to reach the highest and best in Christian life and service, or do you desire to attain only the lowest levels which the widest charity will accept as within the lines of permissible things? Do you want to rise to the absolutely best things in Christian consecration? Or do you wish to make just as little as possible of your devotion to Christ?"
In all lines of life, many pleasant things have to be given up in order to reach the best. There is a story of a boy who aspired to be a skillful surgeon some day. He was an enthusiastic baseball player. An eminent surgeon who knew the boy's desire, told him that his playing would stiffen and thicken his fingers and finally destroy the delicacy of touch which is so essential in critical surgical work. The favorite amusement was instantly sacrificed--the good given up for the better, the best.
The same rule must be followed in every department of life. We can attain to the best things--only by the sacrifice of the things that are merely good. "Everything is permissible--but not everything is beneficial." 1 Corinthians 10:23. "Do your best to present yourself to God." 2 Timothy 2:15. "This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ." Philippians 1:9-10