By J.R. Miller
A sort of a strange, indefinable something
Every one of us casts a shadow.
There hangs about us, a sort of a strange, indefinable something, which we call personal influence--that has its effect on every other life on which it falls. It goes with us wherever we go. It is not something we can have when we want to have it--and then lay aside when we will, as we lay aside a garment. It is something that always pours out from our lives . . .
as light from a lamp,
as heat from flame,
as perfume from a flower.
The ministry of personal influence is something very wonderful. Without being conscious of it, we are always impressing others by this strange power that exudes from us. Others watch us--and their thinking and actions are modified by our influence.
Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." Ephesians 5:15-16
An arm that can never be broken!
The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!" Deuteronomy 33:27
The picture suggested, is that of a little child, lying in the strong arms of a father who is able to withstand all storms and dangers.
At the two extremes of life, childhood and old age--this promise comes with special assurance.
"He shall gather the lambs in His arms, and carry them in His bosom" (Isaiah 40:11), is a word for the children.
"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He; I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you!" (Isaiah 46:4), brings its blessed comfort to the aged.
The thought of God's embracing arms is very suggestive. What does an arm represent? What is the thought suggested by the arm of God enfolded around His child?
One suggestion, is protection. As a father puts his arm about his child when it is in danger--so God protects His children. Life is full of peril. There are temptations on every hand! Enemies lurk in every shadow--enemies strong and swift! Yet we are assured that nothing can separate us from the love of God. "Underneath are the everlasting arms!"
Another thought, is affection. The father's arm drawn around a child--is a token of love. The child is held in the father's bosom, near his heart. The shepherd carries the lambs in his bosom. John lay on Jesus' bosom. The mother holds the child in her bosom, because she loves it. This picture of God embracing His children in His arms--tells of His love for them--His love is tender, close, intimate.
Another thought suggested by an arm, is strength. The arm is a symbol of strength. His arm is omnipotence. "In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength" (Isaiah 26:4). His is an arm that can never be broken! Out of this clasp--we can never be taken. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish--ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" (John 10:28)
Another suggestion is endurance. The arms of God are "everlasting." Human arms grow weary even in love's embrace; they cannot forever press the child to the bosom. Soon they lie folded in death.
A husband stood by the coffin of his beloved wife after only one short year of wedded happiness. The clasp of that love was very sweet--but how brief a time it lasted, and how desolate was the life that had lost the precious companionship!
A little baby two weeks old--was left motherless. The mother clasped the child to her bosom and drew her feeble arms about it in one loving embrace; the little one will never more have a mother's arm around it.
So pathetic is human life with--its broken affections, its little moments of love, its embraces that are torn away in one hour. But these arms of God--are everlasting arms! They shall never unclasp!
There is another important suggestion in the word "underneath." Not only do the arms of God embrace His child--but they are underneath -- always underneath! That means that we can never sink--for these arms will ever be beneath us!
Sometimes we say the waters of trouble are very deep; like great floods they roll over us. But still and forever, underneath the deepest floods--are these everlasting arms! We cannot sink below them--or out of their clasp!
And when death comes, and every earthly thing is gone from beneath us, and we sink away into what seems darkness--out of all human love, out of warmth and gladness and life--into the gloom and strange mystery of death--still it will only be--into the everlasting arms!
This view of God's divine care is full of inspiration and comfort. We are not saving ourselves. A strong One, the mighty God--holds us in His omnipotent clasp! We are not tossed like a leaf on life's wild sea--driven at the mercy of wind and wave. We are in divine keeping. Our security does not depend upon our own feeble, wavering faith--but upon the omnipotence, the love, and the faithfulness of the unchanging, the eternal God!
No power in the universe can snatch us out of His hands! Neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come--can separate us from His everlasting arms!
An infallible test of our real self
We have a beautiful prayer at the close of Psalm 19: "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer." There could be no higher standard of life, than is set for us in this prayer.
The conduct may be blameless--while the thoughts are stained with sin. It is easier to keep our acts without fault--than to keep our feelings, our desires, and our affections pure. We may do no outward act of cruelty or unkindness; while our hearts may be full of jealousies, envies, and all selfishness. We are to seek that our thoughts be so white and clean--that they will be acceptable in God's sight.
The prayer covers our words, our thoughts, and our meditations; each a closer test than the one before. It is a great thing to be faultless in speech--but perfect grammar is not enough. Our words may be beautiful and graceful--and yet our thoughts may be full of hypocrisy, of deceit, of all evil! The prayer here is that our thoughts may please God. This is a higher spiritual attainment, than merely faultless words.
Then, a still higher test of life--is our meditation. Meditations are our deepest thoughts, the quiet ponderings of our hearts. Meditation is almost an obsolete word in these times of hustle and bustle. The word belongs rather to the days when men had much time to think--and think deeply. We meditate when we are alone, when we are shut away from others. Our minds then follow the drift of our own desires, dispositions, and imaginations. If our hearts are clean and good--our meditations are pure and holy. But if our hearts are evil and unclean--our meditations are of the same moral quality. Thus, our meditations are an infallible test of our real self. "As a man thinks in his heart--so is he." Proverbs 23:6
This prayer is, therefore, for a life of the highest character--one acceptable to God, not only in words and thoughts--but also in meditations. Such a life, everyone who loves God and would be like God--should seek to live!
They play with fire--and wonder why they are burned!
Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression." Psalm 19:12, 13
Here the Psalmist prays to be kept from committing presumptuous sins. He knows the danger there is in such sins--and so pleads to be held back from them, that is, from willful, conscious, high-handed sins.
Mark the teaching, too, that these presumptuous sins spring out of the minute hidden faults. From hidden, obscure, undiscovered faults--come presumptuous sins.
A slight moral weakness--grows into an evil tendency;
and the evil tendency indulged--develops into a loathsome vice;
and the loathsome vice--ripens into a presumptuous sin!
We need to guard against carelessness concerning 'little sins'. The hidden fault lurking in the nature--may grow into a presumptuous sin!
Sow a thought--and you will reap an act;
sow an act--and you will reap a habit;
sow a habit--and you will reap a character;
sow character--and you will reap a destiny!
The course of sin is terrible! The little beginnings of sin--grow into appalling consequences! Be afraid of little sins and temptations.
There are some people who are always courting danger. Sin seems to have a fascination for them. One of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer is, "Lead us not into temptation." To expose ourselves needlessly to temptation, is presumption! Yet there are many who do this. They play with fire--and wonder why they are burned! They dally with 'little sins', and end in shameful degradation at the last! They pay the penalty in moral and spiritual ruin.
For final revision and approval
No good thing will He withhold, from those who walk uprightly." Psalm 84:11
This may seem to be a surprising statement at first glance. Does God withhold no good thing from His people? We must focus on the word "good". It is not merely the things which we want--that God always gives. Nor is it not the things which we think are good--that God gives. Perhaps they are not really 'good things'--as God sees them. We must always leave to Him--to decide whether they are good or not. He is wiser than we are--and knows just what effect on us, the things we crave would have. We must submit all our requests to Him--for final revision and approval, when we make them.
This is the teaching about prayer, so prominent in the New Testament, which bids us to add to all our most earnest pleadings: "Nevertheless not my will--but may Your will be done." If the thing we ask for does not come--we must therefore conclude that in God's sight, it is not a "good thing" for us. Thus it is--that God's withholdings are as great a blessing to us--as His bestowings!
There is another phrase here, which we must study. It is "from those who walk uprightly" that God will withhold no good thing. It is only when we are walking obediently, in God's ways--that we have a right to claim this promise. For, "if I regard iniquity in my heart--the Lord will not hear me!" Psalm 66:18
If you were to meet yourself on the street some morning
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way!" Psalm 139:23-24
It will be worth our while--to think seriously of the things in us--that only God can see. There are sins which are hidden from ourselves, of which our conscience is not aware--our unknown errors. The evil in us which lies too deep to be discovered. There is a SELF in us, which even we ourselves do not see! There are depths of our being--into which our own eyes cannot pierce. You may say that you know of no sins, errors, or faults in yourself, and you may be sincere; still this is not evidence that you are sinless.
Our conscience is not the final court. It is not enough to have the approval of our own heart. There are errors and evils in the holiest life on earth--which only God's eye can detect. We must ask God to search us, if we would be made clean.
We cannot see our own faults--even as our neighbors can see them. There is wisdom in the wish that we might see ourselves, as others see us--for it would free us from many a blunder and foolish notion.
We are prejudiced in our own favor. We are disposed to be charitable toward our own shortcomings. We make all sorts of allowances for our own faults. We are wonderfully patient with our own weaknesses. We are blind to our own blemishes. We look at our good qualities through magnifying glasses; and at our faults and errors with the lenses reversed--making them appear very small. We see only the best of ourselves.
If you were to meet yourself on the street some morning--that is, the person God sees you to be--you would probably not recognize yourself!
We remember the little story that the prophet Nathan told King David, about a rich man's injustice toward a poor man, and how David's anger flamed up. "This man must die!" cried the king. He did not recognize himself--in the man he so despised, until Nathan quietly said, "You are the man!"
We are all too much like David.
If the true chronicle of your life were written in a book, in the form of a story, and you were to read the chapters over--you probably would not identify the story as your own!
We do not know our real self. We do not imagine there is so much about us that is morally ugly and foul, that is positively wicked. But God searches and knows the innermost and hidden things of our heart!
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way!"
A wonderful Mecca for weary pilgrims
Every church should be in its community, as nearly as possible--what Christ would be--if He lived again in human form in a house just where the church stands.
Imagine Jesus living here, and people coming to Him just as they used to do when He had His home for many months at a certain home on a certain street in Capernaum. Would not our church become a wonderful Mecca for weary pilgrims? The sorrowing, would come to find comfort. People having problems and perplexities, would come to have them solved. Those who have stumbled and fallen, would come to be forgiven and helped to start again. The weary, would come to get rest. This corner would be a great resort--for all who feel any need of help.
Then all who come--would find a home for their souls here. We know how Christ welcomed all who came to Him. He was everybody's friend! No one was ever turned away from Him, unhelped. The church should be to the people who come to it--what Christ was to those who came to Him. It should be a true home of the soul.
It is in a spiritual way, that the church should chiefly serve us. Some people forget this, and think that it is the business of the church to provide entertainment for those who come to it. We sometimes hear people complain that the church does nothing to furnish 'good times' for the young. But frankly, that is not the purpose of the church.
Are schools--public schools, high schools, colleges--established to entertain those who come to them? Places of amusement are established to entertain--but the purpose of a school is to teach, to educate, to train the mind, to develop the intellect.
Just so, the mission of a church is not to amuse, to provide fun and entertainment--but to lead people to Christ, to train them in Christian duties, to build up godly character in them, and to prepare them for usefulness and service to the souls of men.
Entertainment is never to be the great purpose of the church. The aim must always be to honor God--and make the worshipers more holy!
The sin of wasting life!
So teach us to number our days aright--that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12
What is it to number our days?
One way is to keep a careful record of them. That is a mathematical numbering. Some people keep diaries and put down everything they do--where they go, what they see, whom they meet, the books they read. But mere adding of days is not the numbering that was in the thought of the Psalmist.
There are days in some lives--that add nothing to life's treasures, and that leave nothing in the world which will make it better or richer. There are people who live year after year--and might as well never have lived at all! Simply adding days--is not living! If that is all you are going to do with the new year--you will only pile up an added burden of guilt.
Why do people not think of the sin of wasting life?
If you saw a man standing by the sea--and flinging diamonds into the water--you would say he was insane. Yet some of us are standing by the sea--and flinging the diamond days, one by one, into its dark floods! Mere eating and sleeping, and reading the papers, and going about the streets, and putting in the time--is not living!
Another way of numbering our days, is illustrated by the story of a prisoner who when he entered his cell, put a mark on the wall for each of the days he would be incarcerated. Then each evening he would rub off one of these marks--he had one day less to stay in prison.
Some people seem to live much in this way. Each evening--they have one day less to live. Another day is gone, with its opportunities, its privileges, its responsibilities and its tasks--gone beyond recall.
Now, if the day has been filled with duty and love and service--its page written all over with pure, white thoughts and records of gentle deeds--then it is well; its passing need not be mourned over. But merely to have to rub it off at the setting of the sun, leaving in it nothing but a story of idleness, uselessness, selfishness, and lost opportunities, is a sad numbering!
What is the true way of numbering our days? The prayer tells us, "So teach us to number our days aright--that we may gain a heart of wisdom." That is, we are so to live--that we shall get some new wisdom out of each day to carry on with us.
Life's lessons cannot all be learned from books. The lessons may be set down in books--but it is only in actual living--that we can really learn them.
For example, patience. You may learn all about patience from a sermon, from a teacher, or from a book, or even from the Bible. But that will not make you patient. You can get the patience--only by long practice of the lesson, in life's experiences.
Or take gentleness. You can read in a few paragraphs what gentleness is, how it lives. But that will not make you gentle.
Take thoughtfulness. You can learn in a short lesson what it is and how beautiful it is. But you will not be thoughtful, the moment you have learned the definition. It will probably take you several years--to get the beautiful lesson learned.
"So teach us to number our days aright--that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
Nursing a viper!
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived." Colossians 3:5-7
A new life in Christ calls for the utter destruction of these evils. It is a shameful list which Paul names. It makes us ashamed to think that such qualities may belong to us--or may nest in our heart! Who would have thought that any these vile things could exist in anyone who wears the human form! Yet many of these ugly things are found in each of us! Our hearts are naturally cages of unclean birds!
What does Paul tell us we should do with these unholy things? He says we are to put them to death. When we find any evil thing in ourselves, we must kill it, for it is not right for it to live. An uncompromising war should be waged against all evil. He who cherishes any impurity in himself--is nursing a viper which will sting him to death by and by!
The way to obtain the help of God
I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike." Acts 26:22
When Paul stood before Agrippa, it was twenty-five years after his conversion. They had been years of toilsome life, amid enemies and dangers; but the heroic old apostle had never given up, never faltered, never turned aside. It was a great record--but he takes no praise to himself. The help came from God--for all these years of faithful witnessing.
Many Christians fear that they will not be able to stand faithful and true to the end. Here is an encouraging word for all such: They shall obtain help from God for every duty, for every hour of danger, for every struggle. They need only to be faithful day by day, doing the day's duty quietly, and trusting God. This help will come from Him, silently, secretly, just as it is needed, always sufficient grace--so that they shall be able to stand faithful year after year. God never puts a burden on us--without giving us the strength we need to carry it. The way to obtain the help of God--is to go faithfully and promptly forward in the way of duty, asking for the help, and sure of getting it. It will not come if we wait to get it before we set out to do His will.
I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you--will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6