By J.R. Miller
The art of living a Christian life
Whoever claims to live in Him--must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6
We have only successfully acquired the art of living a Christian life--when we have learned to apply the principles of true religion, and enjoy its help and comfort in our daily life.
It is easy to join in devotional exercises, to quote Bible promises, to extol the beauty of the Scriptures. But there are many who do these things--whose religion utterly fails them in the very places and at the very times--when it ought to prove their staff and stay!
All of us must go out from the sweet services of the Sunday--into a week of very real and very commonplace life. We must mingle with people who are not angels! We must pass through experiences, that will naturally worry and vex us. Those about us, either wittingly or unwittingly, annoy and try us! We will meet many troubles and worries in ordinary week-day life. There are continual irritations and annoyances!
The problem is to live a beautiful Christian life--in the face of all these hindrances! How can we get through the tangled briers which grow along our path--without having our hands and feet torn by them? How can we live sweetly--amid the vexing and irritating things, and the multitude of little worries and frets which infest our way, and which we cannot evade?
It is not enough merely to 'get along in any sort of way', to drag to the close of each long, wearisome day--happy when night comes to end the strife. Life should be a joy--and not a burden. We should live victoriously, ever master of our experiences, and not tossed by them like a leaf on the dashing waves. Every earnest Christian wants to live a truly beautiful life, whatever the circumstances may be.
A little child, when asked 'what it was to be a Christian,' replied, "For me, to be a Christian is to live as Jesus would live--and behave as Jesus would behave--if He were a little girl and lived at our house."
No better definition of the Christian life could be given. Each one of us is to live just as Jesus would--if He were living out our little life in the midst of its actual environment, mingling with the same people with whom we must mingle, and exposed to the very annoyances, trials and provocations to which we are exposed. We want to live a life that will please God, and that will bear witness to the genuineness of our piety.
Leaving you an example--so that you should follow in His steps." 1 Peter 2:21
Afflictions, when sanctified
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word." Psalm 119:67
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes." Psalm 119:71
By affliction, the Master Artist is adding some new touch of loveliness, to the picture He is bringing out in our souls.
Afflictions, when sanctified--
temper worldly ambitions,
burn out the dross of selfishness,
quell fierce passions,
reveal the evil in our hearts,
manifest our weaknesses, faults, and blemishes,
teach patience and submission,
discipline unruly spirits,
deepen and enrich our graces.
Afflictions, when sanctified--plough the hard soil and cut long and deep furrows in the heart. The heavenly Sower follows, and fruits of righteousness spring up. "No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11
Affliction is a messenger of God--sent to minister to us in the best of ways! When under God's chastening hand, we should ask,
What would God have this sorrow do for me?
What is its mission?
What its great design?
What golden fruit lies hidden in its husk?
How shall it . . .
strengthen my virtue,
nerve my courage,
chasten my passions,
purify my love, and
make me like Him who bore the cross of sorrow while He lived, and hung and bled upon it when He died, and now wears the victor's crown in glory?
Surely, the canary is wiser than the starling!
A cheerful heart has a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15
A cheerful heart is good medicine; but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Proverbs 17:22
One of the divinest secrets of a happy life--is the art of extracting comfort and sweetness from every circumstance. We must develop the habit of looking on the bright side. This is a magic-wand whose power exceeds that of any fabled magician's to change all things into blessings. Those who take cheerful views, find happiness everywhere; and yet how rare is the habit! The multitude prefer to walk on the dark side of the paths of life.
There are those who take to gloom--as a bat to darkness, or as a vulture to carrion! They would rather nurse a misery--than nourish a joy. They always find the dark side of everything, if there is a dark side to be found. They appear to be conscientious grumblers, as if it were their duty to extract some essence of misery from every circumstance! The weather is either too cold or too hot; too wet or too dry. They never find anything to their taste. Nothing escapes their criticism. They find fault with the food on the table, with the bed in which they lie, with the railroad-train or steamboat on which they travel, with the government and its officials, with merchant and workman--in a word, with the world at large and in detail.
They are chronic grumblers! Instead of being content in the state in which they are--they have learned to be discontented, no matter how happy their lot! If they had been placed in the Garden of Eden--they would have discovered something with which to find fault! Their wretched habit empties life of all possible joy--and turns every cup to gall.
On the other hand, there are rare people who always take cheerful views of life. They look at the bright side. They find some joy and beauty everywhere. If the sky is covered with clouds--they will point out to you the splendor of some great cloud-bank piled up like mountains of glory. When the storm rages, instead of fears and complaints--they find an exquisite pleasure in contemplating its grandeur and majesty. In the most faulty picture--they see some bit of beauty which charms them. In the most disagreeable person--they discover some kindly trait or some bud of promise. In the most disheartening circumstances, they find something for which to be thankful, some gleam of cheer breaking in through the thick gloom!
When a ray of sunlight streamed through a crack in the shutter, and made a bright patch on the floor in the darkened room--the little dog rose from his dark corner, and went and lay down in the one sunny spot; and these cheerful people live in the same way. If there is one beam of cheer or hope anywhere in their lot--they will find it! They have a genius for happiness. They always make the best out of circumstances. Their good nature never fails. They take a cheerful view of every perplexity. Such people have a wondrous ministry in this world. They are like apple trees when covered with blossoms, pouring a sweet fragrance all around them.
It may be worth while to linger a little, on the philosophy of living which produces such results.
Some people are born with sunny dispositions, with large hopefulness and joyfulness, and with eyes for the bright side of life. Others are naturally disposed to gloom. Yet, it is still largely a matter of culture and habit, for which we are individually responsible. Like the apostle Paul, we can train ourselves to take cheerful views of life, and to extract contentment and enjoyment from any circumstances.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again--Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4. This is clearly a most important part of Christian culture.
Joyfulness is everywhere commended as a Christian duty.
Discontent is a most detestable fault.
Morbidness is a sin.
Fretfulness grieves God. It tells of unbelief. It destroys the soul's peace. It disfigures the beauty of Christian character. It not only makes us soured and unhappy in our own hearts--but its influence on others is bad.
We have no right to project the gloom of our discontent--over any other life. Our attitude is to be ever towards joy. There is nothing so depressing in its effect upon others, as morbidness!
True contentment does not chafe under disappointments and losses--but accepts them, becomes reconciled to them, and at once looks about to find something good in them.
This is the secret of happy living!
And when we come to think of it--how senseless it is to struggle against the inevitable! Discontent helps nothing. It never removes a hardship, or makes a burden any lighter, or brings back a vanished pleasure. One never feels better, for complaining. It only makes him wretched!
A starling in a cage struggles against its fate, flies against the wire walls, and beats upon them in efforts to be free--until its wings are all bruised and bleeding!
A canary is shut in another cage, accepts the restraint, perches itself upon its bar and sings.
Surely, the canary is wiser than the starling!
Why, papa, you have mamma and me left!
God Himself has said--Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
This truth ought to bring unspeakable comfort to God's children, who are called to suffer earthly losses. If they have GOD left to them--no other loss is irreparable!
A wealthy man came home one evening with a heavy heart, and said that he had lost everything. Bankruptcy had overtaken him. "We are utterly beggared!" he said. "All is gone; there is nothing left! We must leave our home, and beg for tomorrow's bread!" His little five year old daughter crept up on his knee, and, looking earnestly into his despairing face, said, "Why, papa, you have mamma and me left!"
Just so, what are temporal and worldly losses of the sorest kind--while God remains? Yes, what is the loss of money, houses, costly furniture, and other possessions, while God's love remains? There is surely enough in Him--to compensate a thousand times for every earthly loss!
Our lives may be stripped bare--home, friends, riches, comforts--gone; every sweet voice of love, every note of joy--silenced; and we may be driven out from brightness, tenderness and shelter--into the cold ways of sorrow! Yet if we have God Himself left--ought not this to suffice? Is He not in Himself, infinitely more than all His gifts? If we have Him--can we really need anything else?
The Lord is my Shepherd--I have everything I need!" Psalm 23:1
Our conception of Christian living
True religion is intensely practical. Only so far as it dominates one's life--is it real. We must get the commandments out of God's Word--and give them a place in the hard, dusty paths of our earthly toil and struggle. We must get them off the tables of stone--and have them written on the walls of our own hearts! We must bring the Golden Rule--into our daily, actual life.
We are too apt to imagine, that holiness consists in mere good feeling toward God. It does not! It consists in obedience in heart and life to the divine requirements. To be holy is, first, to be set apart for God and devoted to God's service, and it necessarily follows that we must live for God.
Our hands are God's--and can fitly be used only in doing His work; our feet are God's--and may be employed only in walking in His ways and running His errands; our lips are God's--and should speak words only that honor Him and bless others; our hearts are God's--and must not be profaned by thoughts and affections that are not pure.
True holiness is no vague sentiment--it is intensely practical. It is nothing less than the bringing of every thought and feeling and act--into obedience to Christ! We are quite in danger of leaving out the element of obedience, in our conception of Christian living. If we do this, our religion loses its strength and grandeur--and becomes weak, nerveless and forceless.
Our religion must touch every part of our life--and transform it all into the beauty of holiness.
He who holds the pruning-knife!
I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. . . . He prunes every branch that produces fruit--so that it will produce more fruit." John 15:1-2
Our Father is the gardener; we are branches under His care. He watches over our lives. The painful afflictions which cut into our very souls, the taking from us of objects that are dear to us, as when the gardener with his sharp knife removes luxuriant branches from the vine--are our Father's prunings! No hand but His--ever holds the knife! We are sure, then, that there is never any careless cutting, any unwise or mistaken pruning, any needless removing of rich branches or growths.
We really need to go no farther than this. A strong, abiding confidence that all the trials, sorrows and losses of our lives--are parts of our Father's prunings--ought to silence every question, quiet every fear and give peace and restful assurance to our hearts, in all their pain. We cannot know the reason for the painful strokes--but we know that He who holds the pruning-knife is our Father! That is all we need to know.
The other thought in the Lord's parable, is scarcely less full of comfort to a Christian. Jesus says, that it is the fruitful branches which the Father prunes: "He prunes every branch that produces fruit--so that it will produce more fruit."
Afflictions are not, then, a mark of God's anger or disapproval; rather, they are a mark of His favor. The branches into which He cuts, from which he trims away the luxuriant growths--are fruit-bearing already. He does not prune the fruitless branches--He cuts them off altogether as useless, as mere cumberers, absorbing life and yielding nothing of blessing or good.
Some Christians have the impression that their many troubles indicate that God does not love them--that they cannot be true Christians, or they would not be so chastened. This teaching of Christ shows how mistaken they are. The much chastening shows that the Father is pruning His fruitful branch--to make it more fruitful! All whom the Father loves--He chastens!
It is the fruitless branch that is never pruned; the fruitful branch is pruned, and pruned--not by one without skill, not by an enemy--but by the wise Father! Thus we see how we may rejoice--even in our trials and afflictions!
One who was altogether ignorant of the art and purpose of pruning, who should see a man with a sharp knife cutting off branch after branch of a luxuriant vine, would at first suppose that the pruner was ruining the vine. So at the time it seems--but by and by, it appears that the prunings have made the vine more fruitful. In the season of vintage, the grapes are more luscious, with a richer flavor in them--because of the cutting away of the superfluous branches.
In like manner, if an angel who had never witnessed anything of human suffering, and who knew nothing of its object, were to see the Father causing pain and affliction to His children, it would seem to him that these experiences could be only destructive of happiness and blessing; but if the angel were to follow those chastened lives on to the end, he would see untold blessing coming out of the chastenings! The Father was but pruning the branches--that they might bear more and better fruit!
We should never lose sight of the divine purpose in all trials--to make our lives more fruitful.
The 'picture' of the ideal Christian life!
Most of us are bad-tempered in various degrees. The dictionary has been well-near exhausted of adjectives, in giving the different shades of bad-temper: aggressive, angry, bickering, bitter, capricious, choleric, contentious, crotchety, despotic, domineering, easily offended, gloomy, grumpy, hasty, huffy, irritable, morose, obstinate, reproachful, peevish, sulky, surly, vindictive--these are some of the qualifying words!
We do not like to believe that the case is quite so serious--that many of us are unamiable in some offensive degree. It is easier to confess our neighbor's faults and infirmities, than our own! So, therefore, quietly taking refuge for ourselves among the few good-tempered people--we are willing to admit that a great many of the people we know, have at times rather ungentle tempers. They are easily provoked; they fly into a passion on very slight occasion; they are haughty, domineering, peevish, fretful or vindictive!
What is even worse, most of them appear to make no effort to grow out of their infirmities of disposition! The sour fruit does not come to mellow ripeness in the passing years; the roughness is not polished off the diamond to reveal its lustrous hidden beauty. The same petulance, pride, vanity, selfishness and other disagreeable qualities are found in the life, year after year!
Where there is a struggle to overcome one's faults and grow out of them, and where the progress toward better and more beautiful spiritual character is perceptible, though ever so slow--we should have sympathy. But where one appears unconscious of one's blemishes, and manifests no desire to conquer one's faults--there is little ground for encouragement!
Man-like it is--to fall into sin.
Fiend-like it is--to dwell therein.
Saint-like it is--for sin to grieve.
God-like it is--for sin to leave.
Bad temper is such a disfigurement of character, and, besides, works such harm to one's self and to one's neighbors, that no one should spare any pains or cost to have it cured!
The ideal Christian life--is one of unbroken kindliness. It is dominated by love--the love whose portrait is drawn for us in the immortal thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." That is the 'picture' of the ideal Christian life!
We have but to turn to the gospel pages--to find the story of a life in which all this was realized. Jesus never lost his temper. He lived among people who tried Him at every point--some by their dullness, others by their bitter enmity and persecution--but He never failed in sweetness of disposition, in patience, in self-denying love. Like the flowers which give out their perfume only when crushed; like the odoriferous wood which bathes the axe which hews it with fragrance; the life of Christ yielded only the tenderer, sweeter love--to the rough impact of men's harshness and wrong. That is the pattern, on which we should strive to fashion our life and our character! Every outbreak of violent temper, every shade of ugliness in disposition--mars the radiant loveliness of the 'picture' we are seeking to have fashioned in our souls!
Bad-tempered people are continually hurting others, ofttimes their best and truest friends.
Some people are sulky--and one person's sulkiness casts a chilling shadow over a whole household!
Others are so sensitive, ever watching for slights and offended by the merest trifles--that even their nearest friends have no freedom of fellowship with them!
Others are despotic, and will brook no kindly suggestion, nor listen to any expression of opinion!
Others are so quarrelsome that even the meekest and gentlest person cannot live peaceably with them!
It would be easy to extend this portrayal of the evils of bad temper--but it will be more profitable to inquire HOW a bad-tempered person may become good-tempered. There is no doubt that this happy change is possible in any case. There is no temper so obdurately bad--that it cannot be trained into sweetness. The grace of God can take the most unlovely life--and transform it into the image of Christ.
I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2
It is good always to look up. Thousands of people dwarf their lives, and hinder the possibilities of growth in their souls--by looking downward. They keep their eyes ever entangled in mere earthly sights, and miss the glories of the hills that pierce the clouds, and of the heavens that bend over them!
A story is told of a boy who one day found a gold coin on the street. Ever after this--he kept his eyes on the ground as he walked, watching for coins. During a long lifetime, he found a good number of coins--but meanwhile he never saw the flowers and the trees which grew in such wondrous beauty everywhere; he never saw the hills, the mountains, the sweet valleys, the picturesque landscapes; he never saw the blue sky. To him, this lovely world meant only a dusty road, dreary and unbeautiful, merely a place in which to look for coins.
This really is the story of the life of most people. They never lift their eyes off the earth! They live only to gather money, to add field to field, to scheme for power or to find pleasure. Or, if their quest is a little higher, it is still only for earthly things. They never lift up their eyes to God! There is no blue sky in their picture. They cherish no heavenly visions. They are without God in the world.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Colossians 3:1-2
It took the baby out of the young mother's arms the other night!
He came to Simon Peter, who asked Him, "Lord, are You going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered him, "What I am doing--you do not understand now; but afterward you will understand." John 13:7
We are assured that God has a plan for each individual life of His redeemed children. Jesus had a purpose in washing the feet of his disciples that night. It was not an idle thing that He was doing. He meant to teach these men a great lesson.
He has a purpose in every smallest thing, in each event in our lives. His plans run on through all the years, and are woven of the threads of the common events of our lives. We do not know the meaning of the small things in our everyday experiences--but the least of them is in some way connected with the great divine plan.
God's plan for each life includes the smallest affairs of that life. The things that come into our experience are not mere chance. 'Chance' is not a good word; at least we may not use it to mean something that broke into our life independently of God. Nothing ever comes into our experience by chance, in the sense that it is outside of God's purpose for our life, and beyond God's control.
Suppose someone wrongs you, treats you unkindly, even cruelly. If you are God's child, your Father takes the evil into His hands, and it becomes thenceforth, a secret of blessing; it will be overruled so as to be among the "all things" that work together for your good.
The purpose of God for His children--is always good, always love. It could not be otherwise, for God is love. This does not mean that His plan for us never involves suffering. Ofttimes it does. It brings death to a mother--and pain and grief to her family. It took the baby out of the young mother's arms the other night! It leaves the young widow broken-hearted, with little children to provide for. It permits loss of property to come, leaving a family to suffer pinching poverty and hard struggle. It allows a man to lose his work in the time of financial depression, and to endure experience of sore need. It brings sickness with its pain and cost. It lets us have bitter days of suffering. Godly people ofttimes have to endure bitter things, which are hard and most trying. Nevertheless, the plan of God for our lives is good. It is a plan of love. "What I am doing"--it is the Master who says this, and what He does must be good.
Is affliction good? Can it be good to endure bereavement, to suffer injustice, to bear pain? Some day we shall know that many of the best things in life--are the fruit of these very bitter experiences. Our redemption--comes from the sorrow and suffering of Jesus Christ. Just so, the best blessings and the holiest beauties of God's saints--are the harvest of pain.
We must not forget that the things which are painful, are also parts of Christ's chosen way for us, and that they are always good. In all our life Christ is making us--making godly people of us, fashioning Christian character, transforming us into His beautiful image.
Let not life's pains and trials dismay you. Submit to God, accept the providences that come as part of His discipline, and take the lessons, the enrichings which He sends. Some day you will know that you have learned many of your sweetest songs--in the darkness.