The Practical Side of Religion
Charles Naylor, 1920
The sun was slowly sinking toward the western horizon, while I wended my way up the rugged hillside. As I ascended the winding path ever higher and higher, my horizon broadened. When at length I reached the summit and turned to gaze back over the valley, the city lay spread out like a great picture at my feet. The winding river, with a steamer slowly moving along on its bosom, shimmered in the evening sunlight. The sounds from the city were softened and blended until they arose to me like the musical strain of far-away melodies. The low-hanging sun magified the drifting clouds with the hues of the autumn mountain-side. Crimson and orange and gold, they burned in that western expanse.
As I gazed upon the scene — its influence seemed to exalt and enrapture my spirit. There stole into my being a sense of rest and peace and joy, which lifted me out of the monotony of ordinary things. I sat there and drank in the beauties of the scene until the sun sank out of sight behind the hills and the stars began to twinkle overhead. The lights flashed out in the city beneath. The quiet hush of the evening seemed to settle down over me, and it was uplifting to be there.
The mountain-top is a delightful plateau. There the soul reaches heights and depths such as it reaches at no other time. Preachers love to preach and poets love to sing of the mountain-tops of life. How delightful are these times in our spiritual life, and how naturally we long for these seasons! How often they are pictured — until one would suppose that they are the principal things in the Christian life!
Some people have imagined that when they became Christians, the mountain-top experience would be their constant portion. They may have been led to expect this from hearing preaching that exalted the emotional side of religion. It may be that when they were converted, that their new-born joys seemed to be unending. They thought that this exaltation of spirit was the normal state of a Christian. They gloried in it as the days passed by. The time came, however, when this emotional glow subsided. As the barometer of their feelings fell, they began to question themselves thus, "What is the matter with me? Have I done something wrong? Am I mistaken in thinking that I was saved?" Thus, their faith fell with their emotions. After a while their emotions rose again, and their faith rose with their emotions.
There are times when we seem to draw near to God in prayer, when the sight and sound of the world is shut out. An inexpressible sweetness and joy and satisfaction then come into the heart. How near God seems! How calm and precious is the hour! How our spirits drink in of the water of life! How we seem to talk face to face with our Lord, and how the curtain seems drawn back until our eyes behold the secrets of the Eternal! We give ourselves over to the supreme enjoyment of the hour.
But alas! in a short time we find ourselves no longer on the mountain-top — but out in the broad plain of life, and how tame and monotonous is that plain, when we think of the mountain!
In this, the natural and the spiritual are alike. What would you think of the man who would build a store upon the mountain-top, apart from the throng of purchasers whose business he desired? Would you think that wisdom was displayed? Do business men proceed this way? No, they seek the busy street that is trodden by a multitude, where the constant stream of traffic flows; and there, amid the noise and dust and hurry, they ply their trade with little thought of the mountain-top.
The mountain-top is a very good place to which to make an excursion now and then. It is the place to spend our holidays — but it is not the place for the real accomplishments of life. When we wish to make a living, we must leave the mountain-top with its far-flung panorama of beauty. We must roll up our sleeves and take up the rugged toil and, amid sweat and grime and noise and discord — produce the real results that feed and clothe and shelter us.
The real accomplishments of life are not on the mountain-top — but in the monotonous, soul-trying daily grind of mundane living. If you imagine that you are to live in the idealism of a mountain-top experience — you will find yourself coming short of it most of the time. You will be continually lamenting over your failure to make your experience measure to your ideal. So long as you are reaching toward this ideal and are conscious of your failure to reach it — then your attention will be absorbed by this, and you will be of little use to God. The sooner you come down to the place where you stop condemning yourself because your emotions are not always joyous, or because you cannot always pray with that full outpouring of soul — the better it will be for you. You will never become a practical Christian until you learn that the Christian life, like the natural life, is largely made up of a monotonous round of everyday duties.
There is little of glamour or brilliancy in labor or ordinary things. That is reserved for the special things in life. It is true that there is joy in the toil and in the hardness, yes, even in the bitterness — if there is a consciousness of duty well done. It is the daily grind which tests our faithfulness. God wants people who will be true in the daily toil of life, who will do well the little, uninteresting things. He wants practical Christians, people who are willing to do the work . . .
even if it means weariness,
even if it means little joy,
even if it means sacrifice.
If you lived on the mountain-top always, the scene would soon lose its beauty, and you would soon forget its loveliness. When, after the days of toil, after the months of the commonplace, you lay aside your tools and turn from your labors — it is then that you can go out and enjoy the beauties of nature. It is then that you can enter into her moods and be her comrade. You can enjoy her then and be refreshed by her — as you could not be without those weary days of toil. Many people are willing to enjoy the mountain-tops — but they shun the necessary daily work. In natural things, we call such people lazy.
Idealism has its place in life — but it must not close our eyes to the practical side of life. Enjoy what of the mountain-top God may give to you — but do not count this the ordinary, usual thing of Christian life. Learn to enjoy the mundane toil. Learn to find the sweetness that is in it. Learn to find the beauty in the common things of life, for some of the most common things are among the most beautiful — when our eyes are taught to see their beauty.
The Christian life is preeminently a life of mundane service. That is its highest and broadest purpose. To try to be a Christian merely for the joy that is to be found in it — is often to render ourselves miserable. To seek happiness for ourselves as the chief end of life — is a very unworthy purpose, and is one that can but end in disappointment.
See that you do your part in life in the everyday duties — and God will permit you to live on the mountain as he sees best. Appreciate the mountain experiences when they come — but do not let them make you despise the common things of the Christian life.