By J.R. Miller
'Tis not for man to trifle--
Life is brief, and sin is here!
Our age is but the falling of a leaf,
The dropping of a tear!
Not many lives, but only one, have we,
One, only one;
How sacred should that one life be!
We have no time to sport away the hours;
All must be earnest in a world like ours!
Serving Christ is something very practical. Some people seem to think it is something aside from their common life, something that belongs only to Sundays, something that can be done only in certain holy moments. But serving Christ is really one's very life--or it is nothing. It does not consist merely in acts of worship. There are times when one's first and most sacred duty--is to stay away from a religious service! A young mother was regretting that she had been able to attend church so rarely during the six months since her baby came. But if the baby really needed a mother's care all those months, she would have been unfaithful to her Master--if she had neglected it even to attend church services.
A pleasant story tells of a young girl left by a dying mother in charge of a little sick sister. All her days and nights were filled with this care of love. She could not attend church services nor take any part in Christ's work outside of her little home. It grieved her, for she loved Christ and longed to be of use in his service.
One night she dreamed that the Master had come, and she stood before him, painfully explaining why she had not been able to do any work for him because all her time and strength were required in caring for the suffering child. "That child is mine!" said the Master. She could not have served him better--than in tending this little one of his that needed her care and was her special charge. If she had failed in this duty even in order to attend church services, if she had neglected this sick child in order to help others outside her home--the Master would have been grieved.
Our duty in serving Christ lies always near to our hand. It is never some impossible thing that he wants us to do.
There was an artist who wished to leave behind him some noble work that would live through all time. He sought for material fine enough for his dream. He traveled to distant lands and journeyed far and near in vain quest for what he sought. He came home an aged man, weary and disappointed, and found that from the common clay beside his own door, his old apprentice had made marvels of loveliness which were praised by all who saw them, and had won him fame.
Just so, many people longing to do noble things for Christ, look far off for the opportunities, missing meanwhile services which wait for them close by their doors. Nothing is grander for us any day--than the quiet doing of God's will, simple faithfulness in common duty, making the best of what lies close to our hand.
There is one quiet way all of us may serve Christ--by letting the light of his love shine out in our faces and our lives, to brighten some little spot of earth that needs brightening.
About four hundred years ago there lived a man in Italy who wanted to do something for the world. He painted a picture for a little obscure chapel near his home--a picture of the Christ Child and the Mother. Into the face of the Child he painted a soft light which has been a delight and a wonder ever since. It was a warm and hallowed light which brightened the face of the Mother as she bent over her Child, and filled all the scene with a gentle radiance.
The picture was a blessing to the peasants who lived about the village and saw it in the chapel. They had their sorrows, their cares, their struggles--and that soft light cheered and heartened them and made their hard, narrow life mean more to them. They called the painter Ariel, the light-bringer, because he had brought that holy shining into their lives. We may all serve Christ in this way--not by painting pictures like Correggio's--but by carrying heavenly light on our faces, in the love that shines there, and does not fade out in the darkest night.
Serving Christ means always living love's lesson among men. Religious meetings and acts of worship avail nothing in pleasing God--if our hearts are full of bitterness and uncharity, and if we do not fulfill the law of love. Jesus sharply reproved the religionists of his day because, while they were most punctilious in the observance of the minutest forms and ceremonies, they lacked the qualities of mercy, justice, and faith. It is just as true now as it was then--that the religion which pleases Christ is a holy life, and a holy life is one in which love rules. It is not enough to be honest and true and upright--we must love each other as Christ loves us; we must be patient, thoughtful, kind, helpful.
Then we should serve Christ unweariedly. He does not call us to follow him for a little while--but until we are released and called to our eternal home. There are things which test our perseverance. Some people are hindered in their earnestness in doing good, by the ingratitude of those they try to help. Gratitude is very sweet--but Christian love is a holy passion which fails not, when it meets no requital, even though it is rejected and insulted. Others are disheartened by the seeming failure of what they do. "Nothing comes of it!" they say. But we have the assurance that no true work for Christ is in vain. Somehow, sometime, somewhere, all that we do for our Master will have its result and its reward! Though nothing seems to come of the good we do with love--yet Christ is honored, there is blessing in our own hearts, and there will be reward in glory. We may go on serving Christ, therefore, though we see no result. Nothing done for him can fail.
Some are hindered in their work for Christ by sorrow. When they are bereft, the tasks are dropped out of their hands. But sorrow does not in any sense release us from the service of our Master.
There is a story of a woman who had had many sorrows. Parents, husband, children, wealth, all were gone. In her great grief she prayed for death--but death came not. She would not take up any of her usual work for Christ. One night she had a dream. She thought she had gone to heaven. She saw her husband and ran to him with eager joy, expecting a glad welcome. But strange to say, no answering joy shone on his face--only surprise and displeasure. "How did you come here?" he asked. "They did not say you were to be sent for today. I did not expect you for a long time yet."
With a bitter cry she turned from him to seek her parents. But instead of the tender love for which her heart was longing, she met from them only the same amazement and the same surprised questions.
"I'll go to my Savior," she cried. "He will welcome me if no one else does." When she saw Christ there was infinite love in his look--but his words throbbed with sorrow as he said: "Child, child, who is doing your work down there?" At last she understood. She had no right yet to be in heaven. Her work was not finished. She had fled away from her duty. This is one of the dangers of sorrow--that in our grief for those who are gone, we lose our interest in those who are living and slacken our zeal in the work which is allotted to us.
When one asked to be allowed to go and bury his father before beginning to follow Christ, the answer was, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but you go and publish abroad the kingdom of God." However great our bereavement, we may not drop our tasks until the Master calls us away.