The Secret of the Singing Heart
Charles Naylor, 1930
[Though this book is overall profitable, it does contain some areas of unsound doctrine. We trust that the reader will be able to pick out the "bones" and feast on the nutritious food.]
"Oh, why did not someone tell me sooner?" wrote a lady who had passed through some very trying spiritual experiences which had been made far harder because they had been misinterpreted. It had been the Author's privilege to explain some things through which she was passing. She had experienced great relief of mind and spirit by coming to look on her troubles in a new and clearer light.
About the same time another person, after receiving an explanation of difficulties and being instructed how to meet them wrote, "If I had known these things years ago, I might have been spared many things and my life thereby made far happier than it has been."
The receipt of hundreds of such letters and the personal testimony of other hundreds of people through the years spent by the Author in evangelistic work and the twenty-one years on his bed as the result of accidental injuries, have convinced him that there is much need for a treatise covering some of the vital principles of life and experience common to so many of us.
It has been the Author's purpose to illuminate, as far as his ability goes, the Christian pathway, as well as to point out some of the underlying principles of Christian life and experience. If he has succeeded in doing so in a way that will be helpful to others to an extent comparable to the gratifying results of his more personal work and correspondence, he will feel he has been well rewarded for his labors. He hopes he has succeeded in making clear the way into the joyfully victorious life, and that the reader may walk life's way with the "everlasting joy" which belongs to those who have learned the Secret of the Singing Heart!
Contentment is one of life's greatest blessings. But contentment is not something that can be sent down, nicely wrapped up like a Christmas gift from Heaven. It is a state of mind and heart. It is not dependent upon our situation or our circumstances. Many people are contented and happy in circumstances where others would be thoroughly discontented. Some people are discontented under the most favorable circumstances. Contentment is a structure we build ourselves. It is a state of mind we develop. It is an attitude toward things which comes to us through careful cultivation. It is something which lives inside us not something that circumstances and conditions create.
If happiness has not its seat and center in the heart we may be wise, or rich or great but never can be blessed.
Contentment is sometimes spoken of as a lazy virtue. Perhaps that is because some people are content with things with which they ought not to be content. We should never be satisfied to permit things to exist, which ought not to exist. We should never be satisfied to be less than our best. There are wrongs which need righting. There are conditions which need improving. There is progress which needs to be made. A sort of contentment that can view these things with indifference, ignore responsibility, evade duty should be called by an entirely different name. When we have done our duty, met our responsibility, corrected those things that need correction so far as is possible for us then we may have real contentment. Contentment does not mean surrender to conditions. It does mean being satisfied in the circumstances and conditions which exist, for which we are not responsible.
Contentment is a lesson to be learned. Paul said, "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content." (Philippians 4:11). He goes on to tell some of the things he has learned. "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (verses 12, 13).
Paul had learned a great secret. It was the secret of adapting himself to conditions, and being at rest in those conditions. He could enjoy to the full, the things that afforded him enjoyment. He could suffer patiently, the things that came upon him to suffer. But whether rejoicing or suffering he had that inner contentment of spirit the calmness and peace of which enriched his soul and made quite tolerable a life that otherwise would have been intolerable.
We, too, need to learn the lesson of contentment. The command to Christians is, "Be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5). Speaking further upon this subject Paul says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. Having food and clothing, let us be therewith content."
A godly life is productive of contentment but there are many Christians who at least in some respects are discontented. This discontent produces a constant urge to rebel against things.
It is a singular fact that many of the most contented people are those who live in poverty. In fact, the working people are the most contented of all people. Those who live on the common levels of life, are the truly happy provided they have the attitude of contentment.
There are many things people desire which can never give them contentment. One man says, "If I had a million dollars I would be contented." Another thinks if he had political preferment that would satisfy his ambition and he would be content. Another has another thing to attain to make him content. These things when attained do not bring contentment.
As already pointed out contentment is a lesson learned, a state of the heart, an attitude toward things.
Riches do not bring contentment. Andrew Carnegie, known to all for his wealth and a man who should have known what he was talking about, said, "Beyond a competence for old age, and that may be very small wealth lessens rather than increases human happiness. Millionaires who laugh are rare!" Many of us would do well to pause here and carefully study this saying of a wise and prudent Scotchman.
Jesus told his disciples not to be anxious about food and clothing and such things and added, "After all these things, the Gentiles seek" (Matthew 6:32). Possession of worldly things, is a goal set before them by the unsaved. The question asked about a man often is, "How much money does he have?" His supposed happiness is usually rated by the size of his bank account. No greater error in the choice of a standard for measurement of happiness, could be made. The command of the Scriptures is, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." We should put first things first. If we do this then our needs will be few, and our desires not much greater.
The basis of contentment is simplicity of desire. One of the things that is ruining more happiness than anything else, is the desire to excel others. "We must keep up with the Jones," is an attitude of mind fatal to contentment. It has caused more heartaches, destroyed more happiness, ruined more homes, produced more divorces, perhaps than any other one thing! This strife to excel, often leads people into sin.
The wife would outstrip her neighbors, so she makes large demands upon her husband for money. Thus pressed, he sometimes adopts business methods that are highly improper. In many cases it has led to shame and disgrace. In any event, it leads to unhappiness for both husband and wife and for the whole family. Through envy, jealousy of others, and coveting what they don't have many people have been brought to bitterness of soul and utterly to hate life. Better contentment in a cottage than discontent in a mansion!
Very often prosperity in temporal things destroys the happiness which has already existed in a less prosperous condition.
Years ago in one of our northern States, a man engaged in the lumbering business in a small way, built a cozy cottage on the shore of a bay into which he brought his bride. They both worked, he in his sawmill, and she in her cottage and were both happy. The years passed. He prospered in business and became rich. Then he built a fine mansion in the city and moved into it. After living there for some time and mingling with the society into which his riches gave them entrance in speaking to a friend one day he said, "We are not as happy as we were in our little cottage on the bay."
A few months ago I heard Charles M. Schwab make an address over the radio. In that address he told of his big house in New York City and of another great house which he owned in the country. He said, "I don't own them. They own me. The only satisfaction I have in them, is that I have enough money in the bank to pay the taxes on them." He has to look to other sources rather than to his possessions, for contentment and happiness.
Contentment is not built of gold or of precious gems. It is not constructed of honors or fame or the applause of the multitude. It does not come from out shining others. These may bring a sort of satisfaction but not contentment. Contentment belongs to the meek and lowly in spirit. Pride is destructive to it. Arrogance annihilates it. Covetousness curses it. Hatred poisons it. Malice thrusts a sword through it. Contentment can thrive only with the Christian virtues. Faith, hope, and charity abide with it. Peace broods over its domicile. Blessed forevermore is he who has a contented spirit.
So many nourish discontent. They are all the time looking at the things they do not possess and coveting them. They are always reaching out, stretching themselves to gain something which they cannot attain. They find fault with the things they possess instead of enjoying them. They minimize the simple good in things. They see all the faults and failures. They often feel that their rights are being trespassed upon. There is a frown in their hearts and a frown upon their faces.
Who is to blame for all this? The individual himself! He has adopted a wrong attitude of mind and heart. He is facing the wrong way. He has the wrong standard. He cannot be happy. He needs to turn about, face the other way, adopt a different attitude, look at things from a different angle, and set different standards for himself. He needs to learn the secret of the simple life simple desires, temperate aspirations, bridled ambitions.
In the valley of contentment is calmness, sweetness of spirit, and rest of soul. Through it flow the peaceable waters of quietness. In this valley, the song-birds joyfully sing. The heart mounts up to God in praise. In it lies the spring of joy which bubbles up in gladsome song.
The valley of contentment is not a place of inactivity. When we have learned to be content with such things as we have, and in our situation in life and in our circumstances that does not mean that we lose all aspirations or that all effort ceases. By no means. To be content with today, does not mean to be content with the same thing tomorrow. The right sort of contentment demands continual progress in the lines in which progress is possible. In fact, we cannot be contented not to make proper progress. In the valley of contentment, we are not to sit down idly dreaming away our days. On the contrary there is a path which runs through this valley, and we are to walk in this path, ever forward, ever upward.
If we would be truly happy, if we would sing the songs of the joyous life then we must learn the lesson of contentment. We must learn what desires to gratify and what desires to repress. We must learn what things can bring contentment and what things destroy it. We must avoid the latter, while we seek the former. We must cultivate our hearts. We must trust in God. Then and only then, shall we have that source of contentment and happiness within, which inspires us to sing the song of glad rejoicing!
The Fountain of Song
"The earth is at rest and quiet. Now it can sing again!" Isaiah 14:7
Nature is joyful. Song wells up from the heart of the world. We have heard of the music of the spheres. There is harmony which makes itself heard above the discords of earth. This world is not a place of melancholy. Its drab colors when properly blended, become beauteous. Its discord may be merged into harmonies.
Happiness is the normal state of all life. Our tears are meant to be only the cleansing rain which refreshes and beautifies life. There is an echo of far-off music in all the sounds of nature. Rejoicing is everywhere. Happiness is God's will for all his creation, "Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done this wondrous thing. Shout for joy, O depths of the earth! Break into song, O mountains and forests and every tree!" (Isaiah 44:23).
This universal joyfulness is also thus expressed, "The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and sing for joy!" (Psalm 65:13). Again, "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy" (Psalm 67:4). In nature, the animals are happy even though life for them is full of danger and hardship. The birds sing even though they know they are surrounded by enemies. Constant dangers do not silence their songs. In spite of all the cruelties of fang and claw, and undeterred by storms or cold, hunger or privation the voice of joy still rises in melody.
In man likewise pulses the same joyfulness. Difficulties may come, dangers may surround him; he may make failures, have losses, and sometimes almost despair. Notwithstanding all this, any normal person will rise superior to his difficulties, and the song of joy will not be fully quenched. Troubles, when they lie in the past, may be quickly forgotten. Trees bent over by snow, rise again when the snow is melted to gaze anew upon the sun. In the same way, man rises from his troubles. He lifts his head up into the sunshine, and again his heart breaks forth in joyfulness. The heart is naturally merry, and God would ever have it so. He says, "My servants shall sing for joy of heart" (Isaiah 65:14).
While preparing to write the chapters that follow I took my concordance and Bible and looked up some of the words that express rejoicing and happiness, such as rejoicing, gladness, happy, blessed, joy, rest, etc. I found that these words and others of similar import occur nearly nine hundred times in the Scriptures. Even then my search was only partial. Assuredly this multiplicity of joyous expressions should convince us not only that happiness is the natural state of man, but that it is God's will for him.
Again and again we are exhorted to rejoice, to be glad and to give expression to our joy. The poet has said, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." Joy is more powerful than sorrow. Peace is more lasting than trouble. Sorrow is but transitory. Life has balm for all our woes, and light for all our darkness. Morning breaks after the darkest night. The sun shines after the fiercest storm. Spring's warmth and beauty return after the cruelest winter. In the normal life, happiness is the rule and unhappiness is the exception. Troubles will come. There are misfortunes to be endured but these need not take out of life its beauty, its happiness, or its worth.
One conviction should ever be present with us. Our happiness does not depend upon our environment, our station, our circumstances, or any external thing. The songs come from within they bubble up out of the heart.
There's no defeat in life
Save from within,
Unless you're beaten there
You're bound to win.
It is what we are within that counts our outlook on life, our purposes, our ideals, our hopes, our faith. There are joyful beggars. The most thankful, the most appreciative are often those who have little. Some of the most contented, cheerful, and light-hearted people I ever saw, were people whose situations seemed least tolerable. In my ministry I have gone into homes where poverty abounded, where sickness and sorrow existed yet I found happy, trustful, rejoicing hearts in some of those homes.
Favorable external circumstances may encourage the song in the heart but the lack of these things need not still the song. External benefits alone cannot produce a song in the heart. A favorable condition of heart, is like the reed of the wind instrument. The wind itself can produce no music without the reed. So the music in human hearts is born in the soul. As the reed in the instrument makes the instrument musical so the proper qualities in the heart, make joyous music even in the night of sorrow.
Too many people have a wrong philosophy of life. The pessimist makes his own clouds. The optimist sees the sunshine on the other side of the clouds and is happy. The hopeful outlook, the expectation of success, and the discounting of the unpleasant and undesirable is the true way to happiness. The God who made the birds which sing so sweetly desires the same melody of song in the heart of the highest of his creation. Believing this, we face life with the elements that create melody in our hearts, to teach us the secret of the singing heart.
A Great Adventure
Life has wonderful possibilities for either good or for evil.
It may be a great adventure upon which we go, with ever changing scenes, through which we may march with our heads up and a song of victory in our hearts. To many, life is this.
On the other hand, life may mean a servitude in which the weary, discouraged, and almost hopeless prisoner of fate marches on toward an eternal dungeon. One may be a slave to worry, fear, foreboding. Life may be a series of defeats. But this is not the normal life. No one need live such a life.
Life was intended to be cheerful. It was meant to be filled with gladness, with light hearts and with singing. Facing life as we are capable of facing it, we can make it an ever ascending pathway with our vision taking in ever remoter horizon. Life may be a series of discoveries. Each day there is new territory to be explored, new experiences to be had.
The terrain of our life is largely of our own choosing. We may go on the upland way or down through the swamps. We may have the fragrance of flowers and of fruit, of pines and cedars or we may have the miasma of stagnant swamps. Life is full of boundless possibilities. It is a great continent which is lying before us awaiting exploration. Shall we go through it with bowed heads and burdened shoulders or shall we cast off our burden, lift up our heads, and act like men and women in the midst of a great adventure?
Explorers do not always have an easy time. Frequently they have great difficulties to overcome. But exploration gives zest to life. The constantly changing scenes always bring freshness of interest. The difficulties and privations of the past, are quickly forgotten in the inspiring prospect which lies before us. We need to cultivate the spirit of the explorer. We need to develop our possibilities, our capabilities, and have the inspiration of a great purpose.
It is so easy to say, "Oh, I do not amount to anything; I never can be anything; I never can do anything worth while" and then to settle down in the prison house of this attitude and never be free not because we might not be free, but because we do not choose to be free. So often people say, "My life is not worth living." Every life is worth living but every life is worth living right. Too many lives are like an airplane that is so heavily loaded it can never gain altitude.
We must rid ourselves of some burdens if we would live a pleasant life. A bird entangled in a net cannot fly. It must first be freed from its entanglement. Our entanglements are often of our own making. We build our own prisons and we shut ourselves up in our own cells. Circumstances can never long imprison us if our spirits are free. Has not someone written, "Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage." The free spirit cannot be imprisoned.
Let us not be content with servitude. Let us cry out with Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty," and then strike with the sword of a determined will to cut our way through whatever may imprison or hamper us. Do you say, "This is easier said than done!" True but it can be done by everyone. It is well within the possibilities of each of us.
What are we getting out of life? In the first place, we can get out of it no more than we put into it. So if we are getting too little out of our lives, if they are unsatisfying, or impoverished, or hemmed in it is because we are putting too little into them. Our lives are what we make them. It is not how long we live but how intensely we live, how full of worthwhile interests we fill our lives with, which makes them worthwhile and satisfying.
Life in reality, is what we are within. Circumstances are the casket in which lies the jewel of personality. The value is not in the casket, but in the jewel. Therefore, life is not made up of favorable or unfavorable circumstances, nor of possessions either many or few, nor of recognition or the lack of it, nor of honors given by others. It is what we are which gives quality to all these other things. We can blend musical sounds to produce either harmony, or discord. Things can be made either helpful, or harmful.
Chemical elements can be combined to create either wholesome things, or poisonous compounds. Whether we have happiness or unhappiness depends upon the elements we put into our lives and how we combine them. If we put into our lives selfishness, disregard of others, unkindness, discourteousness, ill-temper, complaints, murmuring, distrust, doubts, fear, hate, malice, envy, covetousness, and the like then we shall inevitably suffer bitterness, dissatisfaction, and sorrow as the natural result. Let us not say that God makes our life miserable or that it is our lot or that people wrong us.
No, we are making the quality, if not the form and outline of our lives. Circumstances alone neither make us, nor mar us. It is our reaction to circumstances which produces results in us. What ruins one person, makes another. To some, obstacles become stumbling stones, but to others stepping stones according to the use made of them.
So after all, what we shall have in life is our own choice. We are the architects of our own lives. If we build with noble materials, carved with patient care then we shall have beauty and grace. If we put into life love, loyalty, gentleness, meekness, kindness, faith, forbearance, patience, hope then we shall not fail to draw good dividends from all these things dividends which shall rejoice our hearts, cause our eyes to sparkle and the song of gladness to well up.
The purpose of life is not merely to have a good time, to gratify the senses, to eat, drink, and be merry. Its high and holy purpose is the building of character. Good character is the basis of real happiness.
Only the holy and innocent sing,
Out of a bosom where pleasures abide.
The process of character-building is not always easy but it is always profitable. Each of us has capacity to develop a great character, a noble and beautiful life which cannot be unhappy. Such a soul has depth into which trouble never can reach. No matter how trials and troubles may press in a calm and undisturbed peace holds the center of such a life. Joy springs up, on the darkest days. Light shines, in the deepest night. Life must have its disciplines and its difficulties to make it of value, to give it character. Iron ore is of little value until it passes through the fire and is purified, tempered, and shaped. The chisel must bite deeply into the marble again and again before the angel in it looks out. Likewise afflictions and disciplines, seemingly valueless or even hurtful bring riches greater than a king's ransom when the soul accepts their training.
The Christian life of many people is unsatisfying. Instead of being joyous, it is burdensome. There are two causes for this. If when we come to God we still cling to the past and try to graft Christianity onto our old lives then we cannot enjoy the fruits of righteousness. We must break with the past. We must find a new life. We must become new creatures. With the old life that is forsaken will go many of the causes of heartaches and sorrow and burden. However, if when we come to God we give up many things that have gone far to make up life for us but do not replace these with something better, then we impoverish ourselves and our lives become barren and unsatisfying.
We should fill our lives with pleasant deeds and thoughts of holiness, of truth, and of service. These make life rich for ourselves and profitable for others. We need the freshness and beauty of true spirituality. We need holy activities and profitable fellowship.
God said to us, "Rejoice and be glad." The Christian life is full of wonderful possibilities. I do not mean a formal and empty Christian profession. I mean the inner divine life begotten by the Holy Spirit. A life spent in exploring the kingdom of God on earth, is always an interesting and attractive and a happy life.
Let us make our lives a great adventure. It is our privilege now and then with heart and mind to make an excursion to Heaven there to sit and meditate beside the river of God. We can go back through history and become acquainted with the saints of old. We can have fellowship with their joys. We can drink of the "rivers of pleasure" and eat "honey out of the rock." We can live love's way and bask in the sunlight of Heaven. We can "run and not be weary, and walk and never faint."
The Worry Tree
The black walnut tree has a peculiar quality that affects the soil about its roots with a poisonous substance very unfavorable to the growth of many kinds of vegetation. Some grasses may grow under it but many other plants shrivel and die.
Something in many lives corresponds to the black walnut tree. In its baneful influence, the godly life cannot develop.
This noxious tree grows in the land of unbelief. It is found nowhere else. It is the worry tree. Many lives are cursed with this tree. It is one of their most prominent characteristics. It spreads its shadow over everything. It shuts out the sunlight. It poisons the soil. It draws up into itself the resources of the soul as a natural tree draws water from the soil, leaving spiritual faculties and powers parched and impoverished; it prevents their proper development and fruition.
Worry is one of the worst things that can come into a life. Perhaps only sin is worse; worry may even become sinful. It is a form of fear. Fear, worry, anxiety, foreboding are all the same in effect and will all be treated together here.
The worry tree does not grow in the land of faith. But in the land of unbelief and questioning, it spreads its great roots of doubt deeply into the soil. The results of worry are too numerous to be recounted in full.
One result is that wherever worry is given place, it stops the song of joy. We cannot be glad, when we worry. We cannot be free and happy. The moment we worry then peace, joy, satisfaction, comfort, all vanish. The sun goes behind a cloud. A chill wind blows. Many people make themselves utterly wretched through worry. Its effects are not merely spiritual. The whole being is poisoned by it. Perhaps it would be well to consider some of the effects worry produces. If we know those effects then it may help us to avoid their causes.
We note first, the physical effects. Certain glands that control the bodily functions are excited to action by fear. They secrete a powerful substance that is poured into the blood stream and produces immediate effects. It is this that enables one to run faster when danger threatens, or to expend greater energy than at any other time. A good purpose is served by these glands but when they are constantly over-stimulated by fear, worry, anxiety, or any other emotion then they produce too great an effect upon the nerves. This tends to make one nervous, and nervousness in turn reacts to produce fear and worry. This action and reaction continued, repeated over and over, breaks down the nerves.
A great many nervous people are what they are, simply because they have given way to worry. It upsets the whole course of nature. Many physical disorders are the direct result of worry. A few quotations from medical authorities may help to make this plain.
Doctor McCoy says, "The mind can have a powerfully stimulating effect toward either health or disease. When the mind is properly used and controlled then health may be maintained under many adverse conditions; but when the mind is torn by conflicting, destructive emotion then it kills the very cells it is supposed to guard over and control." Again he says, "You must realize how important the mind is as a factor in the production of many chronic disorders. Sometimes this process is so insidious as to be unrecognized except by the closest attention of a skilled diagnostician. In my practice I have seen a number of cases of paralysis which were induced by fear. Although these patients had been to many different doctors and undergone many different kinds of treatments, they were not cured until this fear factor was recognized, and then the cure took place almost instantly."
Doctor Copeland, once health commissioner of New York City, says, "Worry has a pronounced effect upon the organisms. The digestion is upset because the nerves controlling the circulation and muscular structures are 'jumpy' and disturbed in function. The intestinal action is disturbed. The brain and nervous system are upset. The glands operate irregularly. The whole system is deranged. Good teeth, as indeed good eyes and ears and heart and blood vessels and liver and kidneys are dependent on lack of worry and plenty of restful sleep. Worry is deadly to vigor and usefulness."
A whole book of this sort of quotations could easily be selected. Dr. G.H. McIntosh says, "If men could wipe out all fear from their minds then nine-tenths of them would be free from sickness."
Henry Ward Beecher said, "It is not work that kills men it is worry! Worry is rust upon the blade."
The mental effect of worry and fear, is equally as great as the physical effect. Through worry people often work themselves up into a sort of mental fever so that their nerves "go to pieces." When we worry, the mind cannot think clearly. Minor difficulties seem out of proportion. They do not seem natural but appear altogether different from what they do when the mind is in a normal condition. Sometimes worry produces great mental distress. Sometimes it partly or entirely unfits one for work. Have you not heard people say, "I am so upset I just cannot do anything!"
This mental condition reacts upon the body; the physical effects of worry react upon the mind; and we have a harmful set of actions and reactions set up, destructive alike to mind and body. An agitated state of the mind, affects the brain and tissues. The poison created in the body through fear and worry, reacts upon the brain tissues and the mind becomes still more troubled.
These things are not imaginary. They are being suffered by thousands of individuals. People get up in the morning tired out. They have no energy. They have to drive themselves. This is one common effect of worry. Another common result of worry is lack of mental control, so that the mind cannot concentrate on anything.
Worry also has a spiritual effect. It destroys faith. In fact, faith and worry are mutually destructive. Faith will destroy worry and worry will destroy faith. So whichever is given ascendancy, will destroy the other. Worry stimulates doubts. The more we worry the more we doubt. We have heard people talk about blind faith. Faith is not nearly so blind as doubt. Doubt cannot see favorable circumstances. It sees everything in an unfavorable light, and magnifies it. There may be ever so many favorable elements in a situation but doubt sees none of them. Worry sees none of them.
Worry brings gloom and discouragement. It makes one moody, forgetful of God's goodness and mercy and helpfulness. In fact, worry shuts God out of the picture. It causes us to forget him or makes us doubt him. Under the influence of worry, we draw the most gloomy mental pictures. We clothe everything in somber shades.
Worry also prevents us from exercising our abilities. With worry, there is a great troop of evils. They cluster around it and add to its damaging influence. Worry is always evil. It never serves any good purpose. It never aids us in accomplishing anything. It never makes anything easier. It has nothing to recommend it.
More than that, worry is never necessary. Mark well that statement. It is a positive truth. Worry is never necessary.
First, worry never can help us. It can never make things easier or better. It never did any good. It never cured any trouble.
Second, we do not have to worry. There is always a better way. We shall attempt to point out that way later.
Worry is altogether folly. It not merely does no good it always makes matters worse. It weakens every good thing. It strengthens every bad thing. Worry is a noxious tree and it bears poisonous fruits.
Have you one of these poisonous worry trees? You must rid yourself of it before you can sing the glad songs of rejoicing that come from a free soul. One of the secrets of the singing heart, is the remedy for worry.
FRUITS of the Worry Tree
"Self-preservation is the first law of nature." Everything has some method of protection. Even the plants have "defense mechanisms."
Animals have shells, teeth, sharp claws, or are swift of foot or wing. Some of them produce noxious odors. Some of them are unpleasant to the taste. The octopus secretes an inky fluid with which to color the water. Some animals have great skill in hiding themselves. Some have electric defenses. Some are covered with prickles.
Man has a natural instinct of self-preservation. He will run or fight or hide himself or use other methods of defense. This law of defense is manifest in man's physical contact with nature. This is known too well to need explanation. He has also various mental defense mechanisms. Likewise in spiritual things he seeks to protect himself.
These various defense mechanisms have a powerful effect upon our conduct. When we are brought into a trial, threatened by something that will hurt or annoy us, or when we are afraid our defense mechanisms begin at once to function. The first impulse is to run away, to escape from the trouble. We shrink from what hurts. We try to avoid trials and all hard or unpleasant things.
It is often the part of wisdom to avoid unpleasantness as far as we can, without sacrificing something vital. But if we give away too much to this disposition to shrink and run away then we shall become cowards. We lose strength of character, courage, and the qualities that win in life. A coward can never feel self-respect; and if we are spiritual cowards, we shall be lacking in manhood and womanhood. We cannot respect cowardice, even when it is in ourselves.
This disposition to escape unpleasantness, often leads to an unfair excusing of ourselves in things in which we have been at fault. It often leads to our putting a wrong spin on happenings, to exaggeration, to minimizing the facts, or even to plain lying. These are the natural fruits of fear and worry, and they undermine spiritual character. They take the joy out of life. We need to watch our defense mechanisms, and be sure that we use right methods of defense methods that build up the character, rather than tear it down; methods that increase courage, faith, and determination. We should conquer the instinctive cowardice of our natures. "Safety first" may be a good slogan but safety through the faulty measures mentioned, is not real safety. It is only exchanging one kind of danger for another.
Another defense mechanism is the tendency to resistance. When we adopt proper measures of resistance, the results will probably be good. We are likely to be strengthened, encouraged, and helped. It is likely to bring out the best in us. But sometimes this instinct of resistance manifests itself in murmuring, complaining against circumstances or against people, blaming others for our plights or our troubles, or shifting responsibility. These may become chronic fault-finding and result in such a critical attitude that we are hard to please, contentious, and ill-tempered. We may become disposed to impatience, and find it hard to practice self-control. We may harbor resentment against others, and become unkind and uncharitable in our attitude.
Not only do non-Christians have such trouble but many Christians are tempted in this way. They worry and fear. They become discouraged, and then the bad characteristics mentioned above begin to manifest themselves in them. They have to fight to overcome them. They wonder why they are impatient, why it is hard to be kind, and why they feel resentful.
They need not be surprised, however. The impatience and resentment merely indicate an effort to escape from some unpleasant situation. So you need not be surprised if you have a conflict within, when you worry and give way to discouragement. To get rid of the conflicts get rid of your worry, your fear, and your discouragement. Then these tendencies will naturally disappear. But if you are given to worry then do not expect to escape wholly from tenseness and conflict. Indeed you are likely to have much trouble with them. These are not necessarily the result of sin. They are the result of worry and fear. They come from a wrong attitude of mind, a wrong outlook on life, and a wrong way of trying to overcome difficulties.
In such a situation, the outlook is negative. We need to change to a positive attitude. We need to put faith, in the place of doubts. Trust, instead of worry. We need to look on the bright side, instead of the dark side.
A negative attitude destroys our faith and robs us of courage, so we can bear little. It covers the bright picture of hope, with sackcloth. It banishes peace. Instead of soul rest, we have turmoil and trouble. It robs us of balance and poise. Confidence fades away. It gives place to distrust. We lose our power of initiative. In fact, worry and fear rob us of all the choice blessings we might possess. They prevent us from using our powers and make us pygmies instead of giants.
The triumphant life results from courageous action and courageous action is always based on faith. It has a hopeful outlook. It faces the future with confidence. This is the normal attitude of the Christian.
But worry causes heaviness, discouragement, dissatisfaction, despondency, and perhaps despair. Long giving way to worry, will change the character. The blithe gaiety of childhood, the courageous strength of manhood, the joyful song of victory will give way to moroseness and gloom. Clouds will cover the sky and we will forget that the sun shines anywhere. We will ruin our influence with others. They feel more like shunning us, rather than being in our society. Worry shackles our hands. It robs life of what is most worthwhile. If we cultivate a worry tree or a number of them then we must expect that they will bear this sort of fruit.
Worry also has another extremely bad result. It dishonors God. We say God is our Father, that he is taking care of us. We say we have faith in him. We say we believe God is faithful. Then we act in a way altogether contrary to this! If God is our God, and if he is taking care of us, if we are safe in his care, if no evil can come to us without his permission then what are we worrying about? If God really is what he says he is, and what we believe he is then we have no reason to worry. Things are bound to come out all right. God will find some way to bring us through to victory. He will work for our good, in whatever life may bring. If we really believe that God is true and that he is true to us then there is not a reason under Heaven for us to spend one moment worrying.
Again, worry dishonors God's Word. He has made definite promises. These promises are either true or they are not true. If they are not true then we may have cause for worry. But if they are true then let us act like it. Do we actually believe God's Word? If so, when we are tempted to worry, let us sit down, take that Word, and read its promises. Then let us believe them and act as though we believe them. When we do this, there can be no room for worry.
Worry ignores the help God has given us in the past, and the victories he has given us through his grace. When we are tempted to worry, we should sit down and look over the past and see how many circumstances came out better than we expected they would. We should observe how God has helped us in the past and say with one of old, "Hitherto has the Lord helped us!" It will do us great good, when we are tempted to worry to recount our past victories; to look back and see that our past worries were all for nothing.
When did worrying help anything for you? When did worrying keep anything from coming upon you that otherwise would have come? When did worry shield you from any trouble? Get rid of your worry tree! Get out from under its shadow. Get into God's sunshine. If you will do this then it will not be long until the song of victory flows forth from your lips, and peace and courage and hope spring up anew in your heart!
FERTILIZING the Worry Tree
Some people are not satisfied to have a worry tree, and to permit it to grow as it will. They fertilize it and water it. Oh, they do not mean to do this! Nevertheless they do it. They would like to be rid of their worries. Very often they worry over their worries.
I once knew a woman who was so given to worry that when everything was going well and she could find nothing to worry about she would worry because she thought things were going too well, and would certainly change for the worse. Nor is she the only person of this sort I have seen.
But how do we fertilize the worry tree? There are many ways. Some of them we shall recount.
First, we increase our worries by failure to face the facts calmly. We are like some horses. We become frightened at some things which have in them nothing that ought to frighten us. When we come to realize this, we are sometimes quite ashamed of ourselves. When there is a threatening or unpleasant prospect before us and we are tempted to worry over it we should not allow ourselves to become excited or agitated. We can meet things in calmness, better than we can when agitated; when we are masters of ourselves better than when we are the prey of our fears.
We should face the facts all the facts. We should not merely take note of the ones that oppress our feelings most. Our tendency naturally is to look at the worst side, to be impressed by the most threatening elements, and to overlook the favorable ones. We are influenced by our feelings more than by sound judgment; and by our fears more than by our courage. Troubles often look much worse than they are. In fact, we can usually bear them better than we suppose we can but we are naturally disposed to take one look at any threat, then fear the worst.
One of old said, "I feared a fear and it came upon me." Why did his fear come upon him? Because fear made him adopt an attitude that opened a way for its coming. He threw down his shield of faith. He began to tremble and shrink. If he had resolutely faced his fear then it probably would never have come upon him.
Failure to give weight to the facts we know, will fertilize the worry tree. Very often we know that we can meet trouble if we will. We know there are certain favorable aspects that we should consider. But instead of giving attention to these, we look entirely at the unfavorable appearances. We forget that the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God.
We are like a soldier who told of an experience he had in our Civil War. One day he was riding out with a comrade when suddenly they came face to face with two of the enemy. There was a lively exchange of shots. In the end one of the enemy lay dead upon the ground, while the other was severely wounded. Upon returning to camp this man examined his revolver. To his surprise not a shot had been fired. His companion had done all the shooting that had overcome their enemies. He had sat on his horse like a statue, fearfully forgetting all about his part.
I think that all too many of us, when we face a conflict forget our weapons and the ability we have to use them, and instead of fighting we worry, and worry.
Second. Another mistake we make, is giving way to our feelings rather than controlling them. Our emotions are easily stirred, whether they be joyful emotions or the opposite. Very often bad feelings assert themselves fear, doubts, timidity, foreboding. We give place to them. We let them run riot. We fall into a panic.
We should take command of our feelings. We should master them. Our action should be a response to good judgment instead of to our emotions. Many people are tormented by the foreboding of evils to come, and these forebodings are the source of disturbances in all the faculties. This need not be if we will control ourselves and make the intellect rather than the emotions, the captain of our soul.
Third. We fertilize the worry tree, by exaggerating the possibilities of evil and by not considering the probabilities of good. When we are threatened with some evil, let us ask ourselves the question, "Will this thing necessarily turn out evil? Will it necessarily prove to be what it looks as though it might be? Will the results assuredly be what they promise to be?"
Let us look at the factors that may balance these possibilities. Let us give due weight to the possibilities on the positive side. Let us ask ourselves whether we are not adding to the real dangers by our imagination. Let us see if we are not magnifying the chances of things going wrong. Strip the circumstances of the seeming and get down to the reality. They will usually be found to be much less dangerous than they appear, and we shall see that there is little if any cause to fear them.
Fourth. A fertile source of trouble is self-pity. I know of nothing that can torture a soul more than self-pity and this self-pity has in it an element of cowardice. We say, "Oh, it is too bad that I must suffer so. It is too bad that I must have such trouble. How unfortunate I am! How much trouble I have to endure! Why can I not get along easily as do others? Why must my way be so rough? Why must I meet so many difficulties? Oh, my poor self! What shall I do?"
If one wants to make himself thoroughly unhappy let him adopt such a course. It matters not whether there is anything really calculated to produce unhappiness. Self-pity of itself is sufficient to make us miserable. Get rid of self-pity if you want to be happy, for you never will be happy while you have it except with that poor sort of satisfaction which comes through feeling sorry for one's self.
Fifth. A twin sister to self-pity is a disposition to seek the sympathy of others and to enjoy telling our troubles, magnifying them in a way to excite sympathy. These things shrivel up the soul.
We often increase our fears and troubles by telling them to others. The more we think of them and the more we tell them the deeper the impression made upon our own mind by them.
Sixth. A further source of trouble is questioning the loyalty of others to us or their interest in us and sympathy for us. Do not expect other people to worry because you worry, or to fear because you fear. Friends are usually as loyal as we deserve them to be. They usually have as much interest in us as we merit by our conduct and attitude. They usually have enough sympathy for us, when we actually need it. We should not expect them to have sympathy for us, when we are acting in a way that tends to disgust them.
If we show ourselves real soldiers and meet difficulty with courageous, hopeful, forward-looking faith, and then things go ill with us we may expect ready sympathy. If we show ourselves cowards, if we whine and sniffle then to bestow sympathy upon us would be to waste it. If we expect others to be loyal to us then we must be loyal to ourselves. If we expect them to have an interest in us then we must act in a way to arouse their interest.
Seventh. And finally, we fertilize the worry tree by questioning God's faithfulness and love and mercy.
Have you been fertilizing your worry tree? If so you have only yourself to blame if it spreads itself over all your dwelling, and if it sighs day and night in the mournful breeze, like the somber moaning of the pine.
DESTROYING the Worry Tree
The vigor and tenacity of life in a tree, is determined largely by the soil in which it grows. I lived for many years in a state where the soil is fertile, the ground level, and where beech trees were very numerous. I had occasion to belt many of them, and observed that they were very easily killed. Before that, I had lived in another state where the soil is clay and the country very hilly. Here the beech trees were very hard to kill.
I remember a neighbor's attempt at killing a tree that stood by the roadside. Not only did he belt it but his boys climbed the tree and cut off the branches a little distance from the trunk. These were then piled around the tree and burned. I wondered why they were taking such radical steps to kill the tree. The next spring I learned the reason. In spite of all of this treatment, the stubs of the branches which had been cut off, grew out new twigs and leafed out. New shoots sprouted up. With all their labor, they had not accomplished their purpose. The difference was not in the climate it must have been in the soil.
We have already pointed out that the worry tree grows in the soil of doubt. We can hold an attitude of doubt, which is favorable to worry and fear. On the other hand we can hold an attitude of faith, which is altogether unfavorable toward these things. In order to destroy the worry tree, we should change the soil around its roots. We cannot uproot it and destroy it by an act of our will. We can take away its favorable soil. We can develop faith. We can believe in God. We can turn our eyes away from our worries and our troubles and look upon God. We can cease to fertilize the worry tree. We can cease to rob ourselves of our heritage of victory willed to us by our heavenly Father.
We can have that rest of soul which God has promised us. We can find it only in him. But as long as we permit all our time to be occupied with giving attention to our worries we shall have no time to give to the cultivation of those graces which God would freely develop in us to give us happiness and contentment. We so often cultivate doubts instead of cultivating faith. It is important that we learn how we are doing this, and then adopt a different course. We can all have faith if we will go about it right and faith is the victory that overcomes all of our troubles.
One of the best ways to get rid of worries, is to ignore the doubts upon which they are founded. Troubles let alone, have a way of curing themselves. As long as we fill our brain with worry we will increase our trouble. The less we think about our troubles the smaller they become. The more we think about them the more rapidly they grow, and the less capable we are of overcoming them or meeting them successfully.
The surest way to get rid of the worry tree is to cut it down with the ax of faith. There is no worry or fear in trust. I repeat this thought over and over that it may sink deep into your heart and mind. When you worry then you do not trust. When you trust then you do not worry. You cannot do both these at one time.
Permit me to suggest a way to develop your faith. Take your Bible and some paper. Write out a list of promises which meet your need. Read these promises over every day. Read them until they become real to you. Whenever you catch yourself worrying or fearing then get those promises and read them. Say after you read each one, "This is true and it means me." Say this over and over until you come to believe it.
Perhaps at first your words will mock you. Perhaps the promises will seem to mock you. I have had the experience. I know how it feels. I know also from personal experience, that we can keep right at it, reading these promises, asserting that they are true, asserting that they mean us until in our own consciousness they do come to mean us. They come to soothe and comfort us. They neutralize our fears. Little by little we come to trust in them and as we trust, we cease to worry. Our fears grow less. We come into a restful attitude. There is a sure cure for all of our worries, if we take it. That cure is an attitude of simple trust in God and his promises.
Worry is a mental habit. Children are not prone to worry, or if they do, it is only momentarily. There is a natural flexibility to the human mind that throws off worry, until we rob it of its flexibility by cultivating the habit of worrying. Any bad habit can be broken so the worry habit can be broken. If you are troubled with worry, start in to break yourself of it, just as you would break yourself of any other improper or hurtful habit. Worrying is an extremely hurtful habit. It is an abnormal mental state possible of correction and we owe it to ourselves to correct it.
We cannot help thoughts coming into our minds but it is within our power to direct our thoughts. We can reject unwelcome thoughts. We can compel ourselves to quit thinking, what we do not wish to think. We can supplant improper thoughts with bright, cheerful thoughts.
From a long experience of suffering, being confined to my bed, with nothing to do, being in fact unable to do anything, and having sunk to the depths of discouragement and black despair I finally learned to supplant my dark thoughts with bright ones. I found that I must keep my thoughts off of myself; so I deliberately turned my thoughts into other persons and ideas. Of course, the old gloomy thoughts reasserted themselves but as often as they came back, I supplanted them with something else, and finally broke myself completely of the habit of worrying and of thinking depressing thoughts.
One thing very needful, is the will not to worry. Suggestion has a profound effect upon us. Our thoughts have this power of suggestion. We can suggest negative ideas to our minds or we can suggest positive ideas. We can suggest discouragement or we can suggest encouragement. We can make our minds run in the channel in which we choose for them to run. Positive suggestion is the basis of a happy and successful life. Make your thoughts help you rather than hinder you.
One trouble with many people is that they are always resisting something. They are always on the defensive. This attitude of resistance toward our circumstances and surroundings, places us under a continuous strain. One writer has said, "Most nervous patients are in a constant state of muscular contraction; but a large percentage of the things that harass and vex them, causing them nervous tenseness, would cease to torture them if they would simply stop resisting. It is our perpetual resistance to annoying trifles which gives them power to annoy us."
I do not advocate surrender to circumstances. What we need is to adjust ourselves to them. This constant revolt against circumstances so common in many people, takes the joy out of their lives. It keeps them under a perpetual strain. It uses up their energy to no purpose.
Do not use up your energy resisting circumstances. Displace the undesirable by something else, if that is possible. If not, adjust yourself to it make the best of it. Let us use as great intelligence in these matters, as we do in others. When I am cold I do not resist the cold I seek warmth. When I am hungry I do not resist hunger I seek food. When I am weary I rest. When I am anxious or worried I turn to faith and trust. The psalmist said, "What time I am afraid I will trust in you." He had learned the secret of overcoming trouble.
The word worry is not in the Bible. You may look for it from cover to cover. You will not find it. As God did not think it necessary to use the word worry in the Bible, or have it used there just so it need not be in the Christian life. To be sure the equivalent to worry is in the Bible. We find fear, trouble, and words of like nature but we are commanded not to be afraid, not to be troubled.
Many people are like those of whom the psalmist speaks. They are "in great fear where there was nothing to fear" (Psalm 53:5). Most of our troubles are imaginary, or if there is real trouble then we add much to it through our imagination and fear. Some people are so afraid of trouble, that they are never at rest. They are frightened at nothing; even as it is written, "The sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them!" (Leviticus 26:36)
Listen to this promise: "Whoever hearkens unto me, shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" (Proverbs 1:33). "He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear . . . all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74, 75).
The experience of the psalmist may be our experience if we will do as he did: "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4). We shall also do well to hold an attitude like that of the psalmist: "The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). The result of holding that attitude is stated in verse three, "Though an army should encamp against me my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me in this will I be confident." Read also Psalm 46:1, 2, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." Again, "In God I have put my trust I will not fear what flesh can do unto me" (Psalm 56:4). The exhortation of Christ is, "Be not anxious" (Matthew 6:25). Read also verses 31, 34; Luke 12:25, 26.
Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled" (John 14:1). What reason does he give that we should not be troubled? He continues, "You believe in God." To him, that was sufficient reason for not worrying. It ought to be sufficient reason to us. In verse 27 he says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
Now, for a concluding thought which we shall do well to keep fresh in our minds. When we trust in and obey God then whatever comes to us must come in his will. It cannot come without his knowledge. His watchful care is ever over us. He will always keep us, no matter how many troubles come. Therefore if we abide in him and his Word abides in us then we shall never have cause to worry. We are safe and secure, no matter how threatening future or present troubles may be. So cut down your worry tree with the ax of faith and rest in full assurance of faith in the righteousness and love of God.
Ringing the Joy Bells
Each of us has a large capacity for enjoyment. Some are naturally more exuberant than others. Some are lighthearted and cheerful others are sober and thoughtful. Some are emotional others are unemotional. Some are inclined to look on the bright side of things while others upon the dark side. But each of us has within joy bells which may be made to peal out the glad tidings of a joyful heart.
Sometimes these joy bells ring spontaneously but very often if they ring we must ring them. We must do something to cause them to ring. Every Christian life may hear their happy echoes every life may be joyous. If our life does not hold a considerable content of joy then it is because we permit it to become abnormal. We permit the joy bells to hang silent in the belfries of our souls.
Like all our other capacities our capacity for joy and gladness may be developed and increased. It is important to have the will to be joyful. "I mean to be happy" should be the motto of each of us. There need be nothing selfish in such an attitude. It is perfectly right and in complete harmony with God's will that we hold such an attitude, and that we use our best endeavors to make it a reality in our lives.
The Christian religion is not a long-faced and gloomy thing. It is the greatest source of true happiness. We should set ourselves the task of developing our capacity to be happy.
We should not be like a woman who once lived as a neighbor to my grandfather. She constantly wore a sunbonnet that extended some inches in front of her face. Asked why she did it she said she wore it lest she should see something to make her laugh. A part of her idea of being a Christian, was refraining from laughter. Others, while not so extreme think it a mark of spirituality to be grave and dignified and to shut out of life whatever would make it bright, cheerful, and happy.
Long ago I determined to be happy. I determined to be happy no matter what happened, and no matter what condition I might be in, or what my circumstances might be. For twenty-one years I have been bedfast, and a constant sufferer but I am happy. I am happy every day. I will not be any other way. I have had my troubles many of them. I shall probably have more. I have learned that troubles do not make unhappiness. It is only a wrong attitude toward trouble, which does so. I hope the reader will pardon my referring to my own experience but I have passed through much suffering and trouble, and have learned to be happy in spite of it that I know others can do the same if they will. Many a time I have had to pull hard on the rope of the joy bells to get them to ring. I have kept on pulling until they pealed out their joyous tones. You can do the same, no matter what the situation or surroundings if you will go about it in the right way.
Many people have unfavorable tendencies. They seem naturally disposed to be easily discouraged or gloomy, looking on the dark side. They are timid, sensitive, or unsociable. These unfavorable natural tendencies should not be permitted to have sway. We should set ourselves resolutely to overcome such tendencies. If we are inclined to become easily discouraged then we should cultivate hope. We should ask ourselves, "What would be the hopeful attitude with regard to this situation?" Having determined what it would be we should adopt it and hold it no matter what the temptation is to do otherwise.
If we are inclined to be gloomy and to look on the dark side then let us compel ourselves to look on the bright side. Perhaps we may feel that there is no bright side but there is always a bright side to everything. If there is no naturally bright side then let us turn up toward God and let the sunshine of his love fall upon us. That will brighten any circumstance. If we are inclined to be timid then let us compel ourselves to do the thing we ought to do, or want to do. Let us not surrender to our timidity. We can break through it, overcome it, and master it. If we give way to it then its hold upon us becomes firmer and firmer. If we do what we desire to do in spite of it then it will cease to hinder us.
If we are inclined to be unsociable then we should compel ourselves to act in a friendly way whether we feel like it or not. We should practice being friendly toward others. If we act this out then friendliness will soon become natural to us, and bring us much satisfaction.
I have spoken of the rope of the joy bells. Most bells do not ring by themselves. We must ring them. So we must ring the joy bells. Sometimes our joy bells seem like the old bell on a farm where I once was. It stood on a tall pole. I wondered why it was not rung to call the workers in from the field at noon. When I came to the house, I discovered there was no rope attached to the bell.
In some cases the joy bells are like a bell on another farm where I lived. It did not hang in the proper position, because it was not properly balanced. So when the wind would blow, the bell would ring night or day. Many a time I was awakened in the night by its ringing. Some joy bells likewise ring only as chance occurrences. They ring only under favorable conditions as a result of favorable circumstances. They are not controlled.
We need to attach a rope of faith to our joy bells and through the exercise of this faith, we can cause them to ring. We can have an inner source of joy and peace which is not disturbed by the storms of life, which does not depend upon circumstances but has its root and fountain deep in the heart. We can be so hid away with Christ that the storms will pass us by.
A number of years ago during the test of a submarine, it stayed submerged for many hours. When it had returned to the harbor, a man said to the commander, "Well, how did the storm affect you last night?" The commander looked at him in surprise and said, "Storm! We knew nothing of any storm!" They had been down far enough below the surface not to feel any effect of the storm. In the same way, we can sink down into God and away from life's storms so they need not keep the joy bells of our soul from ringing. We can be joyful, even in the midst of troubles!
A friend once told me of his experience in an earthquake. He said when the buildings swayed and trembled then all the bells of the city began ringing. In life's earthquakes, we may so trust God that our joy bells will ring.
God gives to us the gift of joy. Jesus said he gives us his peace, that our joy may be full. Paul rejoiced in the midst of his tribulations, "We are exceeding joyful in all our tribulations." And he exhorted the Thessalonians to "rejoice evermore." If we cannot rejoice in the present realization of our hopes then we can at least rejoice in hope of better things to come. Rejoicing in past victories and in past blessings will often bring joy, in spite of present trouble.
There may be dark periods in life. Failure may cast its shadows upon us. Discouragements may press us. If we look only at the present then we shall have a hard time to make the joy bells ring. At such times we should look at our lives as a whole, not at these temporary incidents. "Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning." Morning will dawn upon our darkest night. If we cannot rejoice in the present then we can rejoice in God. We can rejoice in the good things of the past, and in the good things which lie before us in the future.
The truly and permanently happy people are those who have a source of happiness too deep or too high to be seriously disturbed by ordinary troubles. We can attain a stability that makes us like the anchored buoy rather than like a drifting object ever tossed about the waves of circumstances.
Faith is the anchor of the soul. In fact faith is the most essential element in the life of happiness and success. Those who have this inner source of happiness, do not depend upon daily events to make them happy. They depend upon their relationship with God; they live by faith settled, rooted, and grounded in Christ and in the Christian life. The waves of trouble may pass over them, but they are not swept from their place.
Jesus taught us a valuable lesson when he said, "I have food that you know not of." We may know what this means from personal experience. We may be so submitted to God, so obedient to him, and so trustful that the joy bells may be kept ringing in our lives and our souls be rejoicing evermore, until we reach that land of endless day where trouble and sorrow, discouragements and suffering, never come! Learn how to ring your joy bells and how to prevent them from being muffled by doubts and fears.
Just for Today
There are three days yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Each person in the world lives in one of these three days. Some are living in the present, some in the past, and some in the future. Where we are living with respect to time, has a great influence upon our lives. Perhaps we do not know just where we are living. It might pay for us to make a careful examination and see whether the past, the present, or the future is bulking most largely in our thoughts and conversations.
Those who are living in yesterday are living on memories. Yesterday is gone forever. We can never recall it. I once knew a home where the wife had died. I visited it a year or so after her death. It was a gloomy place. The husband was a gloomy man. He had tried to leave everything in the home as nearly as possible as his wife had left it. The musical instrument had been untouched. This man was living in the past. All his brightness, joy, love, and happiness were in the past. The present meant nothing to him. The future held no hope. On the journey of life he was walking backward! His gaze was ever behind him.
Many are like this man. Their circumstances may be different but they are facing the past. Their only joys are the memory of past joys. Their sorrow over past troubles, mistreatments, losses, failures, and sins shroud their lives in gloom.
Why should we keep these past things ever present with us? Bring not the cares of the past, its regrets, sorrows, or anything from it that can cast a gloom upon our today, into the lives we are now living. Yesterday is only a memory. Let us carefully cover its scars. Let us not exhibit them to the world. Let us not be ever looking upon them and thinking over them.
Paul's example is a good one to follow, "Forgetting that which is behind I press forward." We should let yesterday be yesterday. Someone has said, "The tears of yesterday are like passing showers." After the shower should come sunshine. After yesterday's troubles should come forgetting. Yesterday's joys should be followed by the joys of today. Let us not live in yesterday. Today is too full of opportunity. It is heavily laden with good things. Let us dry the tears of yesterday. Let us turn to today!
Other people live in tomorrow. Their joys are the joys of anticipation not of realization. True, anticipation has its real joys but we should not picture a tomorrow so bright, that it obscures today. We should not exalt tomorrow so much, that today loses its meaning. The hopes of tomorrow, the bright pictures we paint are not reality. We know not whether they ever will be.
Sometimes people cannot enjoy the things of today, because of their forebodings for tomorrow. Instead of filling the future with bright anticipations they fill it with a thousand ghostly fears. They cross their bridges before they get to them and because they are ever looking at the bridges which their imagination pictures before them, they cannot see the beauties beside the roadway they are traveling.
For them, the flowers bloom in vain. The songs of the birds are not heard. The beautiful prospects on each side of their way are lost. The bridge ahead is all that they see. Their attention is so focused on it that they have no eyes or ears for today.
A writer said, "I am the champion bridge crosser. I not only cross them but I help build them." He has many relatives today scattered all over the world. They are in the same business. The fears of tomorrow are a blight on many todays.
Jesus, who understood life better than anyone else, said, "Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today." His meaning is do not live in tomorrow, do not borrow trouble. Live tomorrow when you get to it. Live in today. We know not what tomorrow will bring forth. When it comes it will take thought for itself. There will be time enough to meet its problems, to overcome its difficulties, to fight its battles, and to rejoice in its victories when we have reached them. Let us not neglect today, for tomorrow. Whittier says,
No longer forward or behind
I look in hope or fear,
But grateful take the good I find
The best of now and here.
Our lives are wholly made of todays. Let us live in the time that is ours and make the best of it while we may. Let us enjoy its joys, and do its work. Let us live to the full today giving to the past and to the future only what is justly theirs, and only what will profit us in the giving.
It is important that we properly meet the things as they come. Someone has said, "Tomorrow we shall smile over today's worries so why not begin today?" This is an excellent philosophy and well worth consideration. If adopted it will be a profitable rule of life.
If we were given now the strength and grace which we shall need tomorrow we could not use it. It would profit us nothing. If we are strong enough for today, tomorrow need give us no concern. We shall be strong enough for it when it comes. Sufficient for today, is God's way of giving. Suppose you try using today, the strength and grace you had yesterday. Does it avail you anything? Then do not look for tomorrow's grace today for if you had it today you could not use it either tomorrow or today.
We should not attempt to solve all the future's problems now, or to see our way entirely clear before us. Face whatever is right at hand. Sometimes the difficulties of today have a way of projecting themselves into the future so that when we look forward we feel we never can bear what will be.
Perhaps a little more of my own experience may be helpful. When I was forced to remain bedfast, my sufferings were very great. These continued month after month. The future loomed up before me so dark, so discouraging, so hopeless, that I felt I never could face it. I asked myself, "How can I endure it?" I was appalled by the prospect. While I was in this melancholy state, it seemed that the Spirit of God drew near and whispered to me, "You do not have to live tomorrow, now. You do not need to bear tomorrow's pain or suffering, now. God knows what you can bear. He will not let more come upon you than you can bear. Live today not the days that are before you."
I said within myself, "Yes, God knows what I can bear. He will not let that come which is too great for me. I will live today. I can bear this today. I will not think of tomorrow." And so again and again I said to myself, "I can bear it today." This attitude was a great help to me, and the sense of God watching over my life became much more real.
Yes, you can bear it today. Whatever your trouble, whatever your sorrow, whatever your perplexity you will find a way of getting through today. When tomorrow comes then God will provide a way for tomorrow.
Not long ago I was reading the hymn, "Lead Kindly Light," and was deeply impressed by some of its ideas. The author says, "I do not ask to see the distant scene one step is enough for me." He had come to live in today. But was this a natural characteristic? By no means. He continues, "I was not ever thus . . . I loved to choose and see my path." How human he was. How like the rest of us! But he learned sufficiently the wisdom of living in today, until he could say, "One step is enough for me." In confidence he closes:
So long Your power has blessed me,
Sure it still will lead me on
O'er moor and fen,
O'er crag and torrent,
Until the night is gone.
Today has enough for us to bear, enough for us to conquer, enough work for us to do. But God's grace shall be sufficient for it. Many of our troubles of today, will pass with today. We need not carry them into the future. We can meet our troubles of today as Abraham Lincoln met his. Lincoln even when assailed by such anxieties and griefs as you never will know, used to say, "And this too will pass."
Yes, today will pass and tomorrow will come and when tomorrow comes then we shall have tomorrow's strength for its needs. Let us live in today, in the strength that God gives, and not permit the shadows of yesterday or forebodings for tomorrow to hide the sunshine and beauty and gladness that come from trust and obedience today.
If You Can't Help it
We would always like to have the ability to make things go as we wish them to go. We would like to accomplish everything we attempt. We desire all our plans to work out as we plan them. We would like to avoid all disappointments, all failures, all wrecking of our hopes and plans. Unfortunately, or perhaps sometimes fortunately we cannot always accomplish what we desire. There are none of us who cannot look back upon mistakes, failures, and losses that bring us regret. I suppose all of us would like to change many things. We would like to have the opportunity of trying again.
Perhaps we realize that failure was our own fault. Perhaps we look back upon errors, indiscretions, blunders, etc., which humiliate and trouble us. We live under the shadow of them. Some of us are saying to ourselves, "Oh, if I had not done it. Oh, if I had done differently." Others are saying, "I failed. What is the use to try again?"
Others look back upon evils that came upon them seemingly through no fault of their own. They cannot get away from these influences, or at least they do not do so. A blight from the past, withers all the present. What shall we do with those things of the past? We cannot live over those days that are gone. We cannot have another chance, wherein we failed. We cannot turn the clock of time back to yesterday. We are here in today. Those things are back in yesterday. We are eternally separated from them so far as having power to change them is concerned. We cannot help the past.
There is but one thing left for us to make the best of the present. We cannot make the best of the present if we bring into it things of the past, so that they becomes a present hindrance. Some wrongs of the past may be righted. Some evils may be undone. If so, instead of letting their shadows rest upon our lives and their weight upon our consciences we should make haste to do all that can be done to right them. There are people who should make right, wrongs that they have done to others. I shall not tell you to pass these by, to forget them. Instead I must say that it is your duty to do everything possible to make right any wrongs of the past.
I am talking in this chapter of past deeds we cannot help and not of damage we can repair. There can be no excuse for not doing what we can do to repair errors of the past. At the same time many circumstances can never be improved by anything we may do. No effort of ours can make them better. We may regret the past ever so much. We may be humiliated by them. The memory of them may be a constant trouble, goading us all the time. What shall we do about such things? I find in my notebook a stanza, the origin of which I do not know:
For every evil under the sun,
There is a remedy or there is none;
If there is one then try to find it,
If there is none then never mind it.
This is excellent advice. If there is a remedy for the past then try earnestly to find it. But what cannot be remedied, should be left to the past. Shakespeare says, "What's gone, and what's past help should be past grief." We should shut the door of the past, lest the chilling breezes that blow through cause us to be unable to make proper use of the present. Paul had memories which troubled him. Mention is made here and there in his writings of his much regretted past. The blood of God's saints was upon his garments. He remembered the bitterness and hatred he had put into the pitiless persecution that he had visited upon the Christians. He remembered his part in the death of Stephen. He remembered how he had witnessed against many, had thrown many into prison, had brought many to death. He could not change the past. There was but one thing he could do. He resolved to do what was possible to do. He said, "One thing I do forgetting those things that are behind, I press forward!"
Ah, yes, forgetting the past. We would like to forget but, alas, we cannot forget. Neither could Paul forget, in the sense of banishing the past from his memory. He could forget, however, in a very practical sense, and this he did. He did not let his past errors hinder him from living a life of freedom and activity, of love and sacrifice, of wholehearted devotion to the Christ he had once hated. He threw all his energies into today. He did not let vain regret hinder him. Perhaps those regrets, deep and poignant as they were, often pressed in upon him but he pushed them aside and threw himself anew into the work he was doing, perhaps even more zealously than he would have done or could have done had he not been spurred on by these regrets.
Some are chained to the past by griefs and sorrows. Some live in the past with loved ones who have gone to a brighter climate. Some homes are kept darkened and the voice of music is hushed. A dead hand lies upon the heart and upon the home. Such a sorrow can be a blight the life. What shall we do? Shall we tear affection from our hearts? Shall we put from us thoughts of the happy past? No, we need not do this but we must not walk with our sorrow and commune with it, until it becomes the greatest fact in our lives.
We must resolutely overcome blighting sorrow. We must live in today. There may be a sort of grim pleasure in living in a cemetery. Such a life is but a living death. Our loved ones would not wish us thus to sorrow for them. They would desire us to enter into the activities of today. They would be remembered, but not with a sorrow so deep and absorbing that it shuts out any of the happiness that might come to us today, or prevents us from filling the useful place we might fill.
There are others who are not so troubled about the yesterdays as they are about today. Certain people have within themselves qualities that are constantly getting them into trouble. They are of an unfortunate temperament, or they have certain characteristics that constantly hurt or antagonize others. They try to curb themselves but often fail. To be sure, we should resolutely endeavor to be masters of ourselves but if we have qualities in our makeup that we cannot help, we cannot help them; that is all there is to it. We should do all we can but when we have done all we can, we should adjust ourselves to the facts. We should not permit these things to blight our lives.
When the Lord accepted us, he accepted us with those shortcomings in us. He knew all about them. If they did not prevent his loving and accepting us then they will not prevent his continuing to love us. They will not prevent our serving him acceptably. They may cause us trouble and humiliation but if we cannot help it then we cannot help it, so we must make the best of it.
Have you tried again and again to overcome some fault and still it troubles you? Well, Paul had such an experience. Of course you remember that oft-mentioned "thorn in the flesh." Paul tried to get rid of that but the Lord did not take it away. He said, "My grace is sufficient." In other words, he said to Paul, "I am not going to take that away from you. I am going to leave it there to work a good purpose in you. I know what it will work out. You put up with it. You make the best of it. I will see that you come out all right."
Now the Lord may hold that attitude toward us. Paul went ahead and made the best of an unpleasant situation. He succeeded. We may do likewise.
Sometimes we are tempted to look upon ourselves as failures. I suppose all of us came short of our hopes and expectations many times. One thing, however, is certain. We shall never be real failures unless we surrender to circumstances and give up the fight. Sometimes, out of failure come the greatest victories. People who seem to be the greatest failures, sometimes prove to be the greatest successes. A quotation concerning Abraham Lincoln has in it a lesson of perseverance under the most trying and disconcerting circumstances one can imagine. As you read, think if you have had more failures in your life than he or more cause to give up trying.
When Abraham Lincoln was a young man he ran for the legislature in Illinois, and was badly swamped.
"He next entered business, failed, and spent seventeen years of his life paying the debts of a worthless partner.
"He was in love with a beautiful young woman to whom he became engaged then she died.
"Entering politics again he ran for Congress and was badly defeated. He then tried to get an appointment to the United States Land Office but failed.
"He became a candidate for the United States Senate and was badly defeated.
"In 1856 he became a candidate for the Vice-Presidency, and was once more defeated.
"In 1858 he was defeated by Douglas.
"One failure after another bad failures great setbacks. In the face of all this, he eventually became one of the greatest men of America his memory beloved and honored throughout the world."
These do not exhaust the catalog of Lincoln's failures. Many others might be added to this list. But was Lincoln a failure? By no means. Neither need you be notwithstanding all the failures you have made.
Perhaps the greatest "failure" the world ever saw, was Jesus of Nazareth. Seeking to do a great work he came to his own people but his own people rejected him. They hardened their hearts against him. They opposed him most bitterly. Again and again he had to escape for his life, and at last he was taken, condemned, ignominiously crucified. He who had proclaimed himself Son of God, was now a pauper, laid in a borrowed tomb, leaving his disciples disappointed, chagrined, hopeless, and despairing. But was that the end? Ah, no he rose again to be the world's Redeemer!
The question is not, Have we made failures? or Shall we make other failures? We shall never become blunder proof. We shall not always be wise and discreet in our future conduct. We do not know enough always to avoid such errors. Then, too, we are often taken by surprise and have to act without consideration. Of course, we shall not always do the wisest and best thing.
We also have weaknesses and these weaknesses will sometimes assert themselves. Perfection in the realm of human conduct, is not a thing of this world. Paul speaks of that which is perfect, as being in the future. When that comes then we shall know as we are known. We shall see clearly, and we shall be wise and strong enough to meet, as they should be met all the circumstances that arise.
But now we are imperfect. We have our weaknesses and shortcomings. We should not surrender to them. We should not allow them to blight our lives, discourage us, or make us feel that we are failures. We should resolutely make the best of them, and face life with courage. But do you say, "I am so ashamed of my blunders and weaknesses!" Wesley's advice to his fellow ministers was "Never be ashamed of anything but sin!"
If you cannot be what you desire to be be what you can be, and do not be ashamed of it. Do not let mistakes or imperfections prevent you from doing what you would do.
I remember one young man who succeeded in getting a position that paid him a salary which for that day was looked upon as being rather unusual. Through a combination of circumstances he lost that position. It was not his fault. His conduct reflected honor upon him. He sacrificed greatly to do what he did. He felt he was wronged. He returned to his home, surrendered to circumstances, gave up to discouragements, and so far as I have learned, he permitted his life to be ruined.
This is an example of what we should avoid. But are you doing the same thing? Are you following out the same principle? If so, cease to do so. Be the man or the woman you can be, and hold up your head and look the world and circumstances in the face and assert your Christian fortitude. Say, "I have failed but I am not a failure. I have failed but I will yet succeed."
People have to face many misfortunes home troubles, business reverses, debts, physical handicaps. Look upon the great names of history, and see how many of them had such things to meet but in spite of them went resolutely forward.
Many people seem to do well until some crisis comes, and then they fail. This failure seems to change the whole course of their lives. They look upon their lives differently and hold a different attitude toward themselves than formerly.
I had such an experience. Actively engaged in evangelistic work, feeling that I had developed to the place where I was prepared to do more effectual work than hitherto, having plenty of opportunities for work I was hopeful, even confident of success. In the midst of this I was stricken in an accident. Worst of all I realized that I had brought it upon myself. Lying upon my bed, suffering day and night without respite, I would look back to the time I was injured and think I had no one to blame but myself. That it was an accident wholly unexpected, that I had no way of foreseeing it and so could not have avoided it did not change the fact. I had brought it upon myself. Oh, the days and months of self-condemnation, of bitter regret! It darkened all nature. It brought me to the verge of despair.
Again and again I said to myself, "I am only a has-been. The future holds nothing desirable. I have nothing to look forward to. So far as my work is concerned and my life among men I had rather be dead." For eight long weary years, no ray of hope shone for the future. But I learned to make the best of the present, to turn resolutely away from the past, and to cease self-condemnation. After I had learned this lesson, God opened the door of opportunity to me again in a most unexpected way. He has given me a larger opportunity than ever before, and to the glory of his grace, I believe he has made me more useful than I ever would have been without learning these hard lessons.
Whatever there may be in your life that cannot be helped do not sit down and fold your hands and spend your days mourning. Make the best of it! There is an out and that way leads to victory and success.
A woman said of a certain person who frequently had trouble in her spiritual life, "Her chief trouble is that her thoughts turn inward too much." Ingrowing thoughts, like ingrowing toenails are sometimes very painful. There is such a thing as focusing our thoughts too much inwardly. Wherever we center our thoughts we produce a reaction. Centering our thoughts on our own spiritual difficulties, on our own inner experiences, and upon our feelings and sensations is likely to produce an effect entirely different from that which we desire.
Dr. Stephen Smith, hale, hearty, and happy at the age of ninety-nine, said among other things in stating his philosophy of life, "War has killed its millions but introspection has killed its tens of millions. Next to an ill-advised and over plentiful diet, introspection has shortened more lives than almost any other cause that we can name. The man who is forever thinking about himself, is degenerating. The hardest patients I have had to handle, were those given to introspection and self-analysis."
Note those persons who are extremely careful about themselves in physical matters. They are always concerned with what effect food and weather and the rest will have upon them. They wonder if this will hurt them, and how that will affect them. They are afraid of taking cold, and of this, that, and the other thing. They make living too serious a business. They are nearly always the victims of their own carefulness. The one who gets along well physically, is usually the one who uses good common sense and then practically forgets he has a body.
In spiritual things it is the people who are always taking their spiritual temperature, and looking at their spiritual tongue, and feeling their spiritual pulse, and measuring their spiritual stature who have most trouble. Some people are constantly questioning their own motives. They are constantly asking, "Should I have done that?" They give microscopic attention to the details of their life. They are all the time asking, "Did I do right? Am I right?" Everything must be minutely examined. The smallest detail of life must not be passed without attention.
It is true that the Bible says, "Examine yourselves," but it has no reference to such microscopic examination. If we should be going somewhere and our foot should slip we would not take for granted that we are headed in the wrong direction. That one little slip is but an incident in the journey. When the path is observed as a whole, that little incident only a trifle. The general course has been forward.
Some people cannot sing the song of Christian joyfulness, because they are too much absorbed in examining themselves. Neither do they feel like singing, for they are constantly finding little faults and magnifying them out of all proportion to their significance.
We all know people who have ingrowing thoughts. It is proper for us to pay due heed to ourselves but this ought to occupy a comparatively small portion of our time. Some people have so much trouble keeping themselves right, that they never get anything else done. The trouble is that they are making too hard a task of it. They would be just as nearly right without making half the effort, or perhaps a tenth, of the effort. In other words, if they did not make such an effort, they would not even then go wrong.
We need rather to be concerned to have sufficient velocity to produce a momentum that will keep us on the way. When I first started to learn bicycle riding as a child, it took all my attention to keep balanced, and in spite of myself I would fall over now and then. I soon became enough accustomed to riding, that I guided the wheel automatically and gave no more attention to balance than when walking. At first I was constantly turning the wheel this way and that. Consequently I made crooked path.
That is why many Christians do so poorly. They are so intent upon keeping themselves right, that they have their eyes constantly upon themselves. Let them look ahead, become intent on reaching what lies before them and they will make real progress. They will not fall over nearly so easily as when they are so careful about themselves.
In studying ourselves and losing sight of others we become morbid. We brood over our shortcomings or seeming shortcomings. We lose our courage. Things look dark and discouraging. We may say that Satan is after us, that he is accusing us. But most accusations have their origin in ourselves. We are accusing ourselves. We are condemning ourselves and imagine that it is Satan doing so.
We ought to understand that our minds have two parts. Much goes on in our minds of which we are conscious. We consciously follow out certain ideas. We think certain thoughts, and know we think them. We consciously follow out certain ideas.
On the other hand, there is a part of our mind of whose workings we are unaware. This is called the subconscious. You have often noticed that a plan all worked out and complete comes into your mind apparently from nowhere. Or you are suddenly affected by an emotion. You cannot account for feeling that emotion. If it is a pleasant emotion, you enjoy it and think little about it. If it is an unpleasant one, you may be troubled by it and wonder what caused it. The secret of the matter, is that much has been going on in your subconscious mind of which you knew nothing. Suddenly what was in your subconscious, was projected into your conscious mind.
Perhaps a few days ago you wondered over something that happened, and questioned whether or not you were what you ought to be spiritually. That thought presently faded out of your mind. You thought no more about it. A week, two weeks, or a month later you suddenly, and without any seeming reason, felt a sense of condemnation come over you. You wondered what caused it. Perhaps you thought Satan was at work. You did not understand that the thought you had the other day and had forgotten about, kept on working in your subconscious mind and just now projected itself into your conscious mind.
This is the secret of much of our trouble. Those accusations you had did not come from Satan. They are the product of your own thoughts. You started the thought working, then got your mind off on something else. But that did not get the thought out of your mind. What shall we do to hinder such things from working in our mind and having such a depressing, discouraging effect upon us? When the idea that starts this train of thought comes into your mind, meet it with the assertion of faith in God's promises. Drive the idea from your mind with some good thought. Assure your heart that God is with you and is taking care of you and that you can meet whatever comes. This will uproot the other thought from your mind, and it will not continue to work in your subconscious mind.
Remember, when you allow yourself to think discouraging thoughts, when you allow yourself to question your motives and examine yourself with such attentive scrutiny then you are loading up your subconscious mind with what sooner or later will come out into your conscious mind again to trouble you. Therefore, do not plant such seeds of troublesome thoughts in your mind. Plant thoughts of faith, of victory, of trust, of assurance, of confidence and these will bear fruit that you will be glad to reap.
We can imagine things about ourselves, as easily as we can imagine them about others. Our imagination can be misdirected. C.B. Larson has said, "Imagination when misdirected, can produce more ills than any other faculty." Many people are tortured by their imagination. Imaginary ills and imaginary foes beset them.
Of course we shall have heartaches. Of course we shall have experiences we can hardly keep from thinking over. But we should avoid magnifying them. We should treat them with good common sense. Instead of lavishing so much time upon ourselves and trying so hard to keep right ourselves if we turn our attention toward helping others, we find many of our own troubles cured without any medicine! About two-thirds of our troubles might be cured by forgetting them!
If you were busy being glad,
And cheering others who were sad,
Although your heart might ache a bit,
You'd soon forget to notice it.
Most of our troubles are imaginary or at least nine-tenths imaginary. Paul speaks about "casting down imaginations" (2 Corinthians 10:5). That is something we should all learn. Do not expect of yourself, more than you expect of others. Judge yourself by the same standards by which you judge others. God does not want you to be melancholy. He wants you to be joyful, to sing the songs of his kingdom, to have a heart full of praises. To have these, you must turn your eyes to God often and see his beauties and perfections. Forget yourself and think of God and his goodness.
The fruits of thoughts are feelings. If you do not think right then you cannot feel right. Naturally when you do not feel as you think you ought to feel, you are ready to condemn yourself and say, "Well, there must be something wrong with me." Yes, there is something wrong but in the majority of instances that wrong is merely in your thoughts. If there is something actually wrong in your heart, wrong in your relations with God, or wrong in your relation with your fellow men then you can locate that easily. It is something definite. It is not something that you need hunt for for days and cannot find. The things that stand between us and God, or between us and others, if they are worth noticing at all are at least large enough to be easily discovered and are definite enough to be easily understood. The remedy for them is easily applied, and its results are definite and easily known.
We should understand clearly that those obscure misgivings, the cause of which we cannot locate, though they bring gloom, despondency, and discouragement originate in a wrong attitude toward ourselves. They are the fruits of wrong thinking.
So let us get rid of our ingrowing thoughts. Let us get outside of ourselves, and into the sunshine of God. Then our hearts will become lighter. We shall see the goodness of God, and almost before we know it, we shall be singing the song of the victorious life!
Sometimes an otherwise pleasant neighborhood will be kept in an uproar by a few trouble makers. Human trouble makers, however, are not to be compared with some other kinds.
I am fortunate enough to have splendid neighbors. Nevertheless, even in this good neighborhood, there is a great deal of trouble. The names of these trouble makers are not Jones and Adams and Thompson, or anything of that sort. There are three of these families of troublemakers. Two of them are the "ifs" and the "maybes." Not far away live the "buts," who are close relatives of the others. Most of these belong to the "doubt" family or to their close neighbors, the "unwillings."
These "ifs" and "buts" are a numerous brood. They are quite vocal. They are always ready to make suggestions. They are full of questions. They are constantly reminding us of the uncertainty of life, and not infrequently they make it appear much more uncertain than it really is.
Let me introduce some of the "IFS." Here is one, "If only I were sure." This one suggests that you don't really know. You should be a little more certain. You might make a mistake.
Perhaps you are already acquainted with this fellow. He says, "If I were just sure that I am saved." "If I were just sure that I am right." "If I could know, so that I could not question it."
How many times you have been tormented by this bad neighbor! Perhaps you were satisfied for a time about your experience, or about other things but then you fell to questioning and wondering. This "if" makes you frequent visits but is never a welcome guest. You have to deal with him some way. Are you able to do so satisfactorily?
Another "if" is, "If I didn't feel so . . ." Yes, you would like to have pleasant feelings all the time but that cannot always be. Whenever you have feelings which you dislike, or which cause you trouble, this "if" is ready to suggest that you should not be too sure of your position. He says you should not undertake any spiritual work until you feel certain. You agree with it and say, "If I didn't feel so . . ."
A full brother to this "if" is, "If things didn't seem so . . ." To be sure, things are sometimes awry. People and things are not as they ought to be. We cannot always get things to seem right. We are troubled, restless, and uncertain because of the trouble this "if" gives us.
The next "ifs" are twins. "If I were not tempted so," and "If I were not tried so." Yes, how happy you could be if it were not for these twins. But they are your close neighbors. They visit you every now and then. And how tormenting they can be! If you could move away and leave them, you would rejoice. But if you should move, they would only move with you. You must always expect to have them as neighbors, so you must find a way of adjusting yourself to them, so that they will not spoil your happiness or hinder your Christian growth.
Another "if" that has brought terror to many a soul is, "If I am not right." This "if" can visit you on nearly any occasion. It has no manners. It may come in the dead of night. It may come when you are getting along well. It may come when you are having troubles, when you are bothered, tempted, or not feeling well physically. But whenever it comes, it tends to give you a spiritual shock. It makes you ask the question, "What if I am mistaken?" or sometimes, "What if I am deceived?" A great many people suffer because they fear to be deceived. It is needless to suffer from such fear. God will not let an honest soul be deceived with respect to his relations with him. It is only the ones who will not bare the truth, to whom he sends delusions. It is our privilege to know our situation, and not to worry about being deceived. Sin is deceitful but righteousness, never.
Another "if" of the "doubt" family is, "If God doesn't . . ." We must have help from God. We put our trust in him. But what if he should fail us? What if his promises should not be fulfilled?
Another "if" is, "If I fail." The possibility of failure is ever before us, and we can let this "if" be a great barrier to all our efforts. These are only a few of the "ifs" that live close neighbors to many of us.
We now turn our attention to the "BUT" family. First, "But" says, "But I am so weak." Then it shows all our weakness. It calls our attention to the failures of the past. It pictures up how likely we are to fail in the future. Yes, we would like to do this, that, or the other but "my weakness!" It also says, "But my ignorance. If I try then I shall only blunder."
In psychological circles, much is said about inferiority complexes. A great many people have a sense of inferiority. They think others can do better than they, that others are better than they are. They think they must always be in the rear of the procession. They are always minimizing their own abilities and their various good qualities. "But" is the favorite word of this inferiority complex. It can always imagine difficulties that do not exist.
Another of this family is, "But they." It is the expression of the fear of man. "But they will say." "But they will think." "But they will do." Many people are held back, and their lives stunted, by constant fear of what others think, say, or do.
These "buts" and "ifs" and all their kind have one spokesman for them all that says the final word. When it is pointed out to us that there are ways to overcome all these troublesome neighbors, when we are exhorted to be free, to be our real selves, to rise above our fears, when our friends would instill courage into us, then this spokesman is heard. It is, "Yes but maybe," he says. He admits all that has been said but still has some additional fears to bring up.
What will you do with these "buts," these "ifs," these troublesome neighbors of yours? You have to do something with them. Sometimes you can ignore them. At other times you have to use other methods to overcome them. Anyway, you must overcome them, before you will have learned the secret of the singing heart. As long as you are tormented by these, you will not feel like singing. It is possible for you to look all these "ifs" and "buts" in the face and then go unfalteringly on your way heavenward.
You must put them to rout with the sword of faith. You must shield yourself from their darts when they assail you with the shield of faith. The "ifs" and "buts" are what give faith its opportunity. Faith is intended to be an antidote for uncertainty and fear. It will cure the worst case of it. It will put to flight all your foes. It will silence your questioning. It will soothe your fears and quiet your troubled heart. It will make you conscious of your strength. It will enable you to overcome your temptations. It will keep you steadfast through your trials. It will enable you to trust regardless of your feelings. It will give you assurance.
The little girl, learning to punctuate, came home from school and told her mother what she had learned. Her mother said, "Indeed, and how did you do it?" "Well Mama, it is just as easy as can be. If you say a thing is so then you just put a hatpin after it. But if you are asking whether it is so or not then you put a buttonhook."
I fear some of us have too great a supply of buttonhooks. We are putting them after too many things. We need a greater supply of hatpins. Whenever God says anything, whenever he makes us a promise be sure you put a hatpin after it. Your feelings will often tell you to use the buttonhook but it does not belong there. It belongs after nothing that God says. So when you go to read your Bible then get a handful of hatpins. After every promise you read, put a hatpin. After everything God says, put a hatpin. Then be sure that later you do not replace it with a buttonhook.
Then, too, we need to put many hatpins after things in our own life. Say, "God will not fail," then put a hatpin after it. Settle things, then put hatpins after them, and never allow yourself to change to buttonhooks. God wants us to be certain.
Faith is not only the antidote for fear and uncertainty. It is also the preventive of doubt and fear. Faith is the anchor of the soul. Anchor yourself with it by definitely exercising it each day.
In your life, do what God wants you to do. Do what duty demands then God is responsible for the contingencies. When you work for anyone you obey his instructions, and then you let him be responsible for the consequences. That is exactly the way to do with God. Do his will, do your duty and then do not be fearful of the consequences. Put the "ifs" and "buts" to rout. Keep up your shield of faith, wield your sword of faith and you will conquer these enemies!
Erasing the Question Marks
Life is full of mysteries. Many of them we wish we might understand. It would be much easier to go happily upon life's way, if we could understand everything that happens to us, and if we could see our way before us.
We all ask questions. We all wonder why some things occur, and what they mean. But some of us are more given to asking questions than others. Some put a question mark after everything. We have pointed out in the previous chapter, some of the questions commonly asked. Many people form the habit of being uncertain. They cultivate indecision until it is difficult for them to make up their minds. Following this year after year, increases the uncertainty of their lives. They are never quite sure.
How shall we overcome that uncertainty?
First, we must set ourselves to the task of breaking ourselves of the habit of doubt. That is not easy but it is possible. We should form right habits of thinking. We should not look upon people and circumstances and everything about us, as enemies. We should not live in a defensive attitude. We should not believe that everything we attempt to do will turn out bad, nor that everything is against us.
Most of life is in our favor. God created our environment, speaking in a general way, and he did not make that environment always hostile. It is true that there are many obstacles, and many unfavorable influences. But the helpful things are more numerous. The influences for good, are more prevalent than are the evil ones. This is true when we hold the right attitude ourselves. God wants us to get the question marks out of our relationships. He wants us to know definitely our relation to himself. He wants us to have an inner consciousness that our attitudes are acceptable to him. He wants us to have a religious experience with such a basis of certainty, that it brings to us a constant assurance of rightness.
We need a consciousness of God's fatherhood. Many know from an intellectual standpoint that God is their Father but they cannot realize it in practice. They hope he is their father. In a way they believe he is their Father but when it comes to having the inner satisfaction of realizing the relation of sonship to him they know little of him. To them, it is not a practical relation.
Some imagine God is ready to cut them off from himself for any little trifling deviation from propriety. Their life is influenced more by fear of God, than by love of God. If they are conscious of something worthy of reproof, they count themselves estranged from God. All their joy is gone. Their attitude toward themselves and toward their relation to God, is well illustrated by something a woman said to me recently. "If I had to ask the Lord to forgive me, I would think I would have to get justified and sanctified over again."
Is God really our Father? Would he so readily break those tender ties between his soul and ours and cast into outer darkness because we had been overcome by some sudden temptation? Most of us have experienced God's disapproval. We recognized that we were in fault. As soon as the thing was done or said, we immediately felt a pang of regret. Such errors may make a breach between us and God but this breach is only partial and may at once be repaired.
If we take the right course, then God is ready to forgive. He is ready to repair the breach, to restore the interrupted flow of fellowship. Experiences such as this are not interruptions of the Christian life; they are mere regrettable incidents in it. God cuts off only those who turn away from him, those who in spirit rebel against him.
Sin lies in the attitude of the will toward God. Many times our actions need repentance of a certain sort but because the will has not turned away from God, they do not result in our being cut off from God. Perhaps we have all heard teaching that made a person either a Christian of angelic character and deportment or else a sinner rejected by God. Between these two, lies a great middle ground. None of us are too angelic but at the same time we are not servants of the devil. Between these two extremes, lies a great range of human experience in which men walk with God, their heavenly Father, overshadowed with his mercy.
Often we think some strange thing has happened to us. We have experiences we cannot understand. Perhaps many of us have not learned God's method of dealing with his sons and daughters, sufficiently to understand that what we feel is not his displeasure, but his hand of discipline. He loves us with an everlasting love. That is not a love which can be easily broken. God's acts flow out of his love toward us. His everlasting love manifests itself in everlasting kindness. "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you!" (Jeremiah 31:3).
This is God's attitude toward all his children, even those who have faults and shortcomings. God does not expect us to be as wise as he is, nor to exhibit the same power, or to be always as perfect in our conduct as he is. He does expect us to do right. He does expect us sincerely to try to please him. But he does not expect us to be free from blunders, mistakes, weaknesses, and those frailties that are commonly found in humanity.
Yet we should not excuse ourselves in doing anything improper. If we do so, then he will not excuse us. But with loving mercy he draws us back to him. As it is written, "As a father pities his children so the Lord pities those who fear him." That pity manifests itself in his patience, his tender mercy, his ready forgiveness.
One thing very difficult for many people to learn, is that the chastening rod of God is applied in love, not in anger. We are told that God "scourges every son whom he receives," and that that scourging is the proof of our sonship. So often people are inclined to take God's chastisement as an evidence that they are no longer sons. They look upon it as a mark of God's disapproval, of even of his anger. But Scripture tells us that his chastening is for our profit. He does it not for his own pleasure but that we may be made holier by it. It is a mark of his love. He says, "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten" (Revelation 3:19).
"You have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as a son.' Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it!" Hebrews 12
Note carefully God's attitude in his chastening. We are all ready to admit the truth of the eleventh verse, "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous but grievous." None of us like to be chastened but yet that is necessary; out of it come the fruits of righteousness. When the Lord chastens us, therefore, let us bear it with meekness. Let us profit by it. Let us not be grieved and discouraged. The Lord says, "Therefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (verse 12). You can understand what that means. It means stand up like a man. Do not bow down and tremble for fear. And he adds, "Make straight paths for your feet."
Gold is purified in the furnace. It is not destroyed it is made the better by the flames. You and I must pass through the furnace. The purpose of the furnace is that we may be purged from our dross, that we may be refined, that we may be rid of grossness, that we may be made more holy.
Does the gold ask, "Why have you put me in the furnace?" If you and I have to pass through the furnace of affliction or sorrow, of losses or failures then let us submit ourselves to the hand of God. Let us not question his mercy or his goodness. Let us endure as "seeing him who is invisible." Let us trust his hand, and trust his love. Let us not fear that we shall be destroyed.
We must often endure the chisel of affliction, as God carves us into His image. We desire to be in His image. We desire to be godlike in character. Remember that God afflicts, only for our good. Like the surgeon, God does not hurt willingly but only of necessity.
We have read of the Balm of Gilead but of what use is that balm, until we are hurt? There would be no such balm, were there no hurts in life.
God knows there are things that will hurt us. He knows that sufferings of various sorts are inevitable. He knows that we shall bring upon ourselves, by lack of wisdom or carefulness or by lack of understanding or in other ways many humilities and difficulties that are hard to endure. But he would not have these things unduly trouble us, nor make us feel that he has become our enemy. He would have us ever to recognize that he is our tender, compassionate Father. He would comfort us in our troubles as a mother comforts her children. In our times of trouble he would not have us run from him, nor shrink from his presence. He would have us run into his arms and tell him all our troubles, our questionings, our heartaches. He would have us so to trust him, that the question marks would be removed.
Many Christians are always on the defensive. They are always facing an enemy either without or within. Their lives are a constant battle with themselves, a struggle to repress something. They are constantly harassed lest they do wrong or feel wrong, lest they be deceived. They are a prey to wrong apprehensions. They are constantly trying to strengthen themselves in an attitude of resistance against something. They hold themselves under a strain. They are constantly troubled over things that God would not have them be troubled over. Instead of living thus, God wants us to live positively, to be on the offensive, to be victorious. He desires us to be courageous, confident, serene, and without anxiety, conscious of divine help.
The open-hearted God is a fountain of power. He would have our hearts open to receive his power. He would not have us trust in self but in his sufficiency of grace and power for our every need. He would have us constantly believe that in any situation that may arise, there will be no lack of what is necessary to make us overcomers. By believing this, and acting as though we believe it we shall be overcomers. We will rid ourselves of many of life's question marks. Some of them will remain to eternity but many of them need trouble us no longer. Those that cannot be removed, need not darken our lives. Trusting him, we can go onward, singing the glad song that flows from the sense of his fatherhood and his understanding love.
Building Blocks of Faith
Faith is one of the most powerful elements in human life. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a picture gallery of the heroes of faith. It begins with a definition of faith. We always need a definition that we may know what we are talking about. "Now faith is the substance (ground or confidence) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The American Standard Version renders it thus, "Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen." In the margin it reads, "Now faith is the giving substance to things hoped for, a test of things not seen."
This is a practical picture of faith. Faith is accepting a thing as true, and acting upon that thing as truth, with all confidence. As it relates to God, it is taking God at his word. It is believing his promises. It is personal acceptance of his promises, relying on those promises, and making them the basis of life.
One phase of faith is confident trust; the other is confident action. We read of the "full assurance of faith." Such full assurance in the old-time worthies resulted in great accomplishments. In Hebrews 11 and elsewhere, we read of what was done through faith. We look upon those who accomplished such things as, in some way, superhuman.
We are inclined to believe, as the doubters of this world believe, that the day of faith in God has largely passed. In reality, that is not true. Mighty works of faith being accomplished today. Faith is just as effective today, as in any former age. People today have faith, and the power of their faith is manifested in mighty deeds and accomplishments.
We overlook the fact that when these worthies of Hebrews 11 were living, the people did not consider their faith as amounting to very much. They were probably entirely unaware of the great accomplishments of faith that were going on around them. In like manner, most people are ignorant of the wonderful accomplishments of faith which are so prevalent today.
When we read of the accomplishments of faith in Hebrews 11 it is natural for us to say, "I am not like those men. I cannot have faith such as they had." I am not so sure of that. They were only common folk with perhaps little more than average faith. It may be that we shall not accomplish all that they accomplished but faith will produce real results just the same.
The day in which they lived was no more favorable for faith, than today is. In fact there was not so much faith then as today. Christian knowledge and Christian experience have laid a broader ground for faith a surer foundation than they had in former ages. Faith is just as mighty today, and will accomplish as much as in the ancient days. Perhaps we shall not duplicate the things they did. That may not be necessary; or perhaps it would not serve any good purpose if we should do so. But faith is the gift of God, and he is willing to impart it to each of us.
We already have much natural faith. The faith we have is the basis of our lives. Without faith, the business world could not operate. Home life would not be possible. Government would be powerless. No great undertakings would ever be begun. Accomplishments, of whatever sort, are based on faith. No wonder we are urged in the Scriptures to "have faith in God."
Faith in God is believing him. We can have no satisfactory relations with him, except through faith. We are saved by faith. We are justified by faith. We stand by faith. We are kept by faith. We rejoice by faith. Assurance of immortality is a matter of faith. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
The apostles had faith. Jesus said to them, "You believe in God." Faith brings certainty. Without faith, there can be no certainty. It brought certainty to Paul. He said, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."
God is worthy to be believed. He cannot lie, because his whole nature is truth and righteousness. He never changes. He never forgets his promises. He never turns away from those who trust him. Therefore, have faith in God.
We should hold the attitude toward the Word of God that was held by an old saint who was nearing the sunset of life. A minister quoted to her, "Lo, I am with you always," and said, "What a blessed promise that is!" "Ah," said she, "that is not a promise; that is just a fact."
God's promises are facts! They are actual facts or potential facts. They are either facts to us or may become facts to us, by trusting them. The greatest fact in the lives of God's people, is that they believe in God and they act upon that belief in a way that produces definite results in Christian living holiness of heart, and life, and true happiness. In fact, there can be no other basis for true happiness, but faith. It is the foundation of all. To believe in God as the New Testament pictures him, and to accept him as he is represented to be, and to submit to him as such faith would lead us to do is to be happy.
One needful thing, is that we believe in God as he reveals himself to be in Scripture. We must do this quite apart from any inner feelings we may have about him, or any fear we may have about him. He is what he reveals himself to be in Scripture. If we feel he may be other than what he represents himself to be in Scripture it is because we do not definitely believe the representation he makes of himself. We read God's promises and often we cannot feel that they mean just what they say, or that God will make them true to us. We fear and tremble when facing a crisis though God has promised to be with us and help us. He has promised us victory through Jesus Christ all along the Christian way. Yet how many times we shrink and tremble and walk in uncertainty.
Unbelief is the source of all this. Abraham believed God; therefore he did not stumble at God's promise. He took God at his Word, then acted upon his Word just as though there could be no such thing as questioning it. God's Word is true. His promises were meant to be fulfilled. They are "yes and amen" to every one who believes. God has no desire to avoid fulfilling that which he has promised to do. He is under no compulsion. He promised, because he wanted to do the things which he promised to do.
He will do what he has promised. Do you believe it? It is true, whether or not you believe it but you will get the benefit of it only by believing it. All fears that God will not do what he has promised, are foolish fears. If you will believe, God will do the rest. If you will trust, there will be no failure. If you will go ahead in faith, doubting nothing then your way will be prepared before you. The victory will ever be yours. You will be able to stand in the evil day. Whatever comes cannot overwhelm you. Your strength will be equal to your need. "Have faith in God!"
The psalmist declared that he would not fear, though war was made upon him. That was the language of faith. Faith gave him courage. It will give you courage. There is no telling what God will do for those who trust him.
What will earthly governments do for their citizens? Here is an illustration: Great Britain sent ten thousand men on a long voyage by sea, then seven hundred miles over sun-scorched trails through the jungles of Africa to fight their way through an armed and brave enemy, to rescue one man. That man had been arrested and imprisoned illegally and unjustly. His life was at stake. So Great Britain risked the lives of ten thousand men that he might be saved.
If an earthly government will do this to save one of its citizens then what will the government of Heaven do to save one of its citizens who appeals to it? Jesus said twelve legions of angels were ready to assist him and to defend him, and we are told that "the angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear him, to deliver them." "Have faith in God."
The life of faith is the most satisfactory of all lives. In fact it is the only satisfactory life. Matthew Henry wrote, "None live so easily, so pleasantly as those who live by faith."
Children implicitly trust their parents. They believe they will be protected and cared for. They believe their needs will be supplied. They believe they have nothing to fear. They have the confidence expressed by the little boy who was threatened with injury by a larger boy. He said as he looked the other squarely in the face, "No, you won't hurt me. My daddy won't let you." If we have the same confident trust in God, we can say, "God will not let you do the things that are threatened. God will protect us. God will help us."
This is not imagination. It is reality. We should cultivate an attitude of faith toward God, an expectancy that he will take care of us. This brings to us the confident assurance that we have nothing to fear. This in turn brings rest and peace. When we have learned to exercise such faith, we have learned the secret of the singing heart.
C.B. Larson says, "We should train ourselves to meet everything in that attitude of mind which expects all things to work out right." Why should we not have such an attitude? Why should we not expect such results? We have every reason to be confident. Instead of questioning, fearing, trembling, lest we may fail let us exercise definite faith in God, and day by day build up ourselves and erect a structure of Christian character and Christian life worthy of the God who helps us. Someone has said, "Do not wonder if you will fail but think how you are going to succeed." That is the attitude with which we should face life. Success is the product of faith. We should expect to succeed, as well as determine to succeed.
Faith produces the building blocks with which we build up life. These building blocks of faith are not like the child's blocks with which it builds up a tottery structure which falls at a touch. No, faith furnishes concrete blocks to build an enduring structure. With them we can build a life that the earthquakes of unfavorable circumstances cannot throw down.
Faith manifests itself in, or leads to, obedience. If we believe God is King and has the right to rule over us, and if we believe the Bible is his law then faith will adopt an attitude of obedience. It will be our joy to do his will. Such faith will end rebellion. There will be no questioning but sincere, wholehearted obedience. It will not be the obedience of fear, but the obedience of love. Its language is, "I delight to do your will, O God!"
Faith also manifests itself in submission to God. God's will becomes sweet to us, and this submission to him becomes a great building force in our lives.
Faith results in honoring God, by giving credit to his promises. If we shall "set to our seal that God is true," then we can say like the prophet, "Those who are with us, are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). Faith has an inborn courage that can face anything. This courage is founded on solid facts.
We should have faith in our Christian experience. I have seen many downcast, doubting people. When I asked them what was the matter, some said, "I don't feel right." When I asked, "Why don't you feel right?" some answered, "I don't know but I don't feel right." You may have the same experience. Perhaps you don't feel right. Well, what of it? Your emotions are not the test of your spiritual state. Some people feel bad physically when there is very little wrong with them, perhaps nothing of any consequence. Others may feel all right when they are in the grasp of a deadly disease. Just so spiritually.
You cannot tell by your emotions, what is your relation with God. Your emotions were never intended to be evidences of your spiritual standing. We must stand by faith, learn to exercise faith, and learn to live by faith. Judge yourself righteously. Do not let your feelings master your faith. Make your faith master your feelings. As a general thing, when you believe right, you will feel right but very often people base their faith on feelings instead of on realities. It does not matter so much how you feel. How are you? This is to be settled by your faith quite apart from your feelings and when you settle it, leave your feelings out of the question as evidence.
We should make a practice of building into our life every day, the building blocks of faith; not building blocks of doubts and fears, anxieties and worries. Plenty of these building blocks of faith are to be had. In learning to build with these building blocks of faith, we learn the secret of the singing heart, of a joyful, happy Christian experience, of certainty for the future and for the present!
Singing in Quietness
No life is so sheltered but it has times of distress and difficulty and often of conflict and turmoil. But no life need be so full of these, that there is no time for quietness. No one works all the time. For every soul, there is a time for withdrawal from all the activities of life, a time to rest in quietness.
Life in this age is intense. People live so much in the public, that many feel they have no time for quietness. Others are so disturbed in their minds, so constantly under a strain, they are so continually facing real or imaginary difficulties that they have no rest of spirit. God does not want us to miss the quiet side of life. He wants us to be able to sing the songs of quietness which differ from all other songs. Before we can sing these songs, we must become quiet and enter into a place of restfulness.
Here is a promise: "Whoever harkens unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" (Proverbs 1:23). Isaiah, prophesying of the coming gospel age, said: "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places" (Isaiah 32:17, 18). It is our privilege to have this blessed experience.
The effect of righteousness is certain. It does not bring turmoil nor anxiety but quietness and assurance. The first thing to make sure of therefore, is that we are righteous. We may count ourselves unrighteous or we may count ourselves righteous. The important thing is how does God count us? If we have been saved by his grace, if we have been washed from our sins in the precious blood of his dear Son, if we have been born again then we are righteous. If we are living in obedience to God to the best of our understanding, if we are living in humility and trust, sincerely endeavoring to do his will then we are righteous.
There is a difference between being righteous and being perfect. None of us will attain such a perfection in this world, that we have no faults or shortcomings to be overcome. But righteousness, first imparted by God in salvation, is preserved as long as we preserve an attitude of submission to him, with a sincere purpose to please him as the ruling motive in our lives. But in order to have quietness and assurance, we must believe that we are righteous. We must not always be questioning ourselves, always looking for flaws in ourselves, putting ourselves on the rack of torture. We must be fair to ourselves. We must have faith in ourselves. Then we can dwell in a peaceable habitation and in a quiet resting place.
Worry, anxiety, fearfulness, are not from God. He has said, "I will give you rest." Many people do not become quiet long enough to rest. Sometimes people get where they feel they must be doing something all the time. Activity is proper but a person in a state of constant tension cannot sit down and be quiet. They have a constant impulse toward activity. I have known people who had to be compelled to sit down and sit quietly for a considerable time, until their nerves relaxed. They had entirely lost control of themselves, so that without the restraining forces of another will, they were unable to be quiet or to relax.
Sometimes we get into a similar condition spiritually. There is a continual inner restlessness, a something that cannot be satisfied. We become agitated and bothered. We worry and fret. We suffer a thousand fears of present and future ills and troubles. We need to come to quietness before God, and to see him as he is, and to submit to his will without reserve. We need to hear him say, "Be still and know that I am God."
Straining and struggling come from rebellion. Submission is the cure for this. If your life is in a turmoil then God's promise of rest is not being fulfilled in you. It is not God's fault. You may have that rest of soul, by deliberately turning away from the thing that prevents your rest, and diligently seeking the way that leads to quietness and peace.
Perhaps you need to disengage yourself from various useless and profitless activities. Perhaps you do not give any time to the cultivation of quietness. Quietness is something that must be learned. We need to learn how to say effectively to our spirit, as Jesus said to the waters, "Peace be still." We need to learn how to relax our worries, to withdraw from our anxieties. We should learn to practice going into the secret closet, shutting the door and closing everything out but God. The Scriptures speak of "the secret place of the Most High." A writer said, "The secret place of the Most High is ever still, and if we dwell there then our hearts will not be disturbed by any tumult without."
There is a way into this secret place. The strange thing about that way, is that each of us must find it for himself. Most of us who do not find it, do not look for it intently enough. We seem too busy. We would like to be in God's secret place but we assume that under our circumstances we cannot be there. There is a road, and a short road, from wherever we are into God's secret place that secret place of quietness and rest where he would commune with us and where our hearts can grow tranquil. To satisfy God and to satisfy our own hearts we must be alone with him in his secret place.
The tempestuous surge of emotions must be quelled. The tumult of spirit must be brought to quietness. Only then may we enter into that tender fellowship and delightful association with the Lord, which it is his will for all Christians to have.
W.G. Murray crowds a great deal of truth into a few words when he says, "Inner serenity becomes outward strength." We sometimes wonder why some Christians are so sure of themselves, why they seem to have such a sense of sufficiency to meet what may come. We wonder why they meet their circumstances with so little trepidation. In the midst of most severe tests, they are serene and strong. The prophet said, "In quietness and in confidence, is your strength." We should give heed to learning this lesson.
We can cultivate a tranquil habit of mind. In Ezekiel's vision of the glory of God, it is said of the living creatures, "When they stood, they let down their wings" (Ezekiel 1:24). I once got a wonderful lesson from this saying. I stood upon a hill-top looking down into a valley. As I watched, a number of turkey buzzards alighted in the valley below me. Instead of folding their wings as birds usually do, they stood with them outstretched, looking about as though fearful of being attacked by something. They stood ready instantly to spring into the air. They made me think of many Christians who hold this constant attitude.
We should learn to let down our wings. We should learn how to rest. There may be clouds even threatening clouds upon the horizon of our lives. For the time being, our sky may be entirely covered, and shadows may darken the landscape as far as we can see. It takes only a small cloud to produce this effect. We may be tempted to think the whole earth is covered with shadow. We may let gloom sink into our souls. We should not do this. We should remember the truth expressed by Elizabeth Browning, "The blue of Heaven is larger than the clouds." Tell yourself this over and over when you are tempted to be discouraged, and remember that God has a way for you, so that your heart may be quiet and free from fear of evil.
We have a place of refuge and that place of refuge is a quiet place, a place of safety and rest.
A man was walking in the woods when he heard dogs baying. Presently a fawn appeared in sight. When it saw him it ran up to him and fell down at his feet and looked appealingly into his face. He fought off the dogs, took the fawn home, and raised it for a pet. If we should run to God in our troubles as confidently as that little fawn ran to the man he would beat off our enemies and take us into a place of safety, calmness, and rest. We should have the simple faith that Whittier expresses in the lines,
I know not where his islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond God's love and care!
So often people ask, "How shall I get through the things that are ahead of me? How can I endure this?" The way to go through, is to trust through. What do we do when we trust? What do you do when you trust the bank with your money? You just go about your business without worrying in the slightest degree as to the safety of your money. When you trust a friend, you rely upon that friend. You do not question him. You believe in his loyalty to you. You take it for granted that everything will be all right between you. You do not expect anything unworthy of his friendship. You repose utmost confidence in him. It does not occur to you to question him. You rest in full assurance in your friend or in your bank.
Trust removes every tendency to be disturbed. That is just the result when you trust God in that simple way. You rely upon him. You take it for granted that things will be all right because you are God's and God is looking after you. Your interests are safe in his hands, and therefore they must come out all right. Trusting him thus, you enter into the rest of faith and from that rest of faith, you sing the songs of quietness and of confident assurance.
The songs we sing in quietness are not the songs of battle, nor the songs of the army camp, nor the songs of the march. They are the songs of holy fellowship, of divine comradeship. They are the songs of the satisfied soul. Let us therefore adopt that attitude of soul toward ourselves, toward God, and toward life and all it may hold that will bring us into the quietness and rest and tranquility of the secret place of the Most High. Let us learn to sing the songs of quiet rejoicing, the songs of those who lie down beside the still waters.
Singing in Activity
Activity is a law of life. Life in the body continues only so long as there is activity of function. Soul rest does not imply stagnation. Rest is the result of the soul's attitude toward and relation with the spiritual, mental, and physical universe. It is one's adaptation to one's environment which produces harmony and which prevents discord and friction.
When the machinery of life is well oiled then it runs smoothly. It is not needful that we withdraw ourselves from the activities of life, or shut ourselves up in a convent or cloister in order to have soul rest. We can mingle in life's activities; we can fully do our part and yet have that inner rest which brings calmness, peace, and satisfaction.
These qualities are not the result of inactivity. They are not the result of death but of life and often the most active and vigorous life, is the one that is most restful. Activity begets a mental attitude that naturally bursts forth into song. It produces soul vigor, just as it does mental and physical vigor. Vigor creates energy. Energy finds its normal expression in activity. Activity produces satisfaction and gratification. These are expressed in rejoicing.
Lack of activity is often the source of many troubles.
Lack of proper physical exercise causes the muscles to grow flabby, the various bodily functions to grow sluggish, and creates a disposition toward further inactivity. It is also the cause of many diseases. It weakens the body and leaves it a prey to destroying germs.
The man who does not use his mental faculties so as to keep them keen, soon does not want to think; it is a task for him to think. He will not think, if he can avoid it.
The same laws apply to the spiritual being. The less active we are in spiritual things the less inclined we are to be active. The longer we are inactive the less power to be active we have. A great many people are weak and powerless Christians simply because they are inactive Christians. They are unable to meet the difficulties of life and to overcome them readily because of the weakness induced by their lack of spiritual exercise. Every one of us should be active. It is the only way to develop spiritual vigor and strength. It is the only way to be a happy, rejoicing Christian.
Our activities, however, should be of a proper sort. There are many religious activities that build us up and strengthen us, that bring out all our good qualities and develop them. Other religious activities produce an evil effect. Any activity that places the body under an undue strain, uses up too much nervous energy, or robs the body of its vitality results in hurt to the body.
In like manner religious excitement, extremism, and unbalanced enthusiasm such as we see in some religious movements today are distinctly hurtful to the soul. These have an effect upon the soul, such as stimulants have upon the body. There must always be a reaction from them. That reaction is distinctly harmful. We should see to it therefore, that our religious activities are wise activities, not the result of fanaticism or extremism, not unbridled enthusiasm or carnal excitement. Our activities should be sane, moderate, reasonable, and within the bounds of Christian propriety.
There is nothing that will give zest to life, like a great purpose. Too many lives merely drift. The Christians outstanding on the pages of history were all inspired with a consuming purpose to accomplish something.
Jesus went about doing good. He was under the urge of a great love. Notwithstanding all the opposition of those who should have been his helpers, he rejoiced in spirit. Jesus was devoted to an ideal. That ideal was to uplift and save men. In the strength of that ideal, he never faltered.
You and I need such an ideal. We, too, need the urge of a great love a love for God and humanity. A multitude of opportunities abound for doing good. The heart of the world is longing for love and comfort, for kindly deeds, for helpfulness and mercy. What are we doing to supply this need? How much of devotion have we?
Let us note the devotion of the apostle Paul. He poured himself out to people, not only in his own nation but to strangers, to those who had no natural claim upon him. He counted not his life dear unto himself that he might accomplish the great purpose that inspired him. It was his activity, ceaseless, and self-forgetful which enabled him to be exceedingly joyful in all his tribulations. It was that very activity that made him joyful.
Drifting always becomes monotonous. We may enjoy it for a time but if we really desire happiness, we must "get our backs into it." There is a great difference between being weary as a result of labor and the feeling of weariness that comes from idleness. When I was growing up I lived in the country. Sunday was usually a weary day. I longed for its passing that I might get to work again, not because I cared so much for work but because mere idleness and inactivity could give no satisfaction to my youthful spirit. When one is weary from labor he can rest and enjoy resting. When one is weary from idleness then rest has no charms.
Many weary Christians are weary from idleness. They let the days pass by, and perhaps use but a few moments, if any time at all, for spiritual development or exercise. They know there are unsaved people all around them but they do nothing about it. They know there are sick to be visited but they do not visit them. They find a convenient excuse for their idleness just as every physical idler can find.
They know there are sorrowing hearts who need comforting and the poor persons who need ministering to. There are scores of opportunities all about them but they are not using them! Then they wonder why they do not make more spiritual progress, why their life is not more blessed. They wonder why they have so many trials and difficulties to meet and why they seem to have no spiritual energy.
They need not wonder. They know very well what the results would be should they do the same physically, as they are doing spiritually. Why then should they be in doubt as to the cause of their spiritual state? So many say, "Oh, if I only had more joy in my Christian life!" We may as well say, "Why do we not have more to eat on our tables?" when we are too lazy to earn the money to buy it.
We can sing the joyous song of the reapers only if we are reapers. We can rejoice in accomplishments only if we accomplish something. But accomplishment means definite activity, properly directed.
A great many people are very active in what they suppose to be religious work but may not be religious work at all. What do the things we do amount to, from a spiritual standpoint?
Really religious activities use the spiritual faculties and powers not the mere physical faculties and powers. Really spiritual activity is entering into the needs of people in a helpful way, comforting those who need comfort, ministering to the poor, encouraging the discouraged, helping wherever help is needed. Such activities will start the song of joy in our own souls.
When we throw light upon the darkened pathway of a fellow traveler that light is reflected upon our own pathway. When we minister to others then we are ministered to. When we bring joy to the sad then joy comes to our own hearts. But the trivialities with which so many religious people occupy themselves, can never bring real soul satisfaction.
It is not the greatness of our labors but their purpose, the earnestness that we put into them, and the quality of our own desires, which make them worthwhile. It is not the seeming importance of what we do but the spirit we put into the doing. We may never have opportunities such as some others have; we may never have a place of importance or authority. This need not in the least hinder us from being as active as those who have more responsibilities and seemingly more or greater opportunities.
If we make the most of our opportunities, whatever they are we shall be happy. It is not how great the opportunity but how greatly we rise to it. It is not what others think of what we do but how much unselfish devotion we put into the doing of it, which determines its value in God's sight.
Devotion to a worthwhile cause always has abundant reward. Here is the secret of the singing heart. If you will learn this secret and put it into practice then you may have a heart which breaks into song from the inward pressure of joy as the safety valve of a boiler blows off under the pressure of the steam. The pressure of the steam depends upon the fire; so the heat and energy of devotion and love in our souls may be fervent enough to produce constantly recurring and overflowing songs.
Some in their imagination, picture Heaven as a place of rest. They think we shall sit around and play on golden harps or leisurely stroll over golden streets. That is not my idea of Heaven. I believe the law of life in Heaven will be the same as it is upon earth; that is, that activity of a constructive kind will be necessary to happiness. I do not know what Heaven is like. No doubt it is inexpressibly glorious but my faculties are so limited in this world, my activities so bound up by restrictions and limitations of the body that my soul longs for the opportunity for greater expansion of its powers.
There are boundless possibilities for development in every human being. There will be opportunities for this development in the world to come. That development will mean activity, not useless activity but productive activity. It is written of that world, "His servants shall serve him." The golden harps will sound and the singers will sing in Heaven, not because they are resting, not because they have nothing else to do but because they are giving expression to those joys that result from their heavenly activities. After all, the harps and the singing, the golden streets, the gates of pearls are only figures. They stand for spiritual realities which mean far more than are expressed in these feeble figures. We shall rest from our labors of this world, not in inactivity, but in action. Very often in this life the best sort of rest, is activity of a different sort. Let us remember that whether in earth or Heaven, the song of joy is born of activity!
Facing the Sunrise
Life is such that we may face either of two directions. The direction we choose to face, determines to a large extent our happiness or lack of happiness.
If we face westward, then we face the sunset. This means facing the fading light, the passing away of things. It means the coming of darkness.
This is a changing world; much that is dear to us passes away. If we fix attention on our losses then darkness and gloom will settle upon us. We shall look upon fading hopes, empty chairs, and blessings passed away. Facing this way tends to bring melancholy and sadness.
It is better to face the sunrise. Even in the darkness we may face the east with the assurance that dawn will presently come. There will be new friends for the old friends that are gone, new hopes for the perished ones, new opportunities instead of the vanished ones. Let us resolutely look away from the sunset to where the dawn will break again and the light shine anew upon us.
Facing the sunrise is an art it must be learned. The natural tendency, especially with very many, is to face the sunset. It is the hopeful Christian, who is the joyous Christian. He looks ahead for better things. He is not disappointed. The good is never all in the past. The lost treasure may be replaced. What the future brings us, will in a great measure depend upon the way we meet it the outlook we have toward it, and the faith with which we respond to it.
Let us change the figure somewhat. We should always face the light. When we face away from the light then we walk in our own shadow. When we turn about and face the light then the shadows are behind us. We need not walk in the shadows. It is our privilege to walk toward the light, to walk in the light, not in the darkness. Jesus said we should have the light of life, and that we should not walk in darkness. There is a way, therefore, to have our pathway illuminated and our steps made sure.
There is great value in the forward-looking attitude. One writer said, "It is worth a thousand dollars a year to have the habit of looking on the bright side of things." Note that he calls it a habit. It is just that. We can cultivate good habits as well as cultivate bad habits. We should deliberately cultivate the habit of looking on the bright side.
To look on the bright side of life, we must have the right sort of ideals. High ideals are a great inspiration. The momentum imparted to the soul by great ideals, will carry it through many places of difficulty and will raise it above many obstacles.
The power of the ideal has been thus expressed, "Our ideals find us where we are and they carry us where we ought to be." Ideals, even if we never reach them, put a zest and vigor into life which it can have from no other source. Ideals help us to make the best that can be made of ourselves. Through ideals we aim high, and we strive earnestly. In contemplation of our ideals, we lose sight of much that we are the better for having lost sight of.
One writer declares, "The best way to correct defects in ourselves and in others is constantly to emphasize ideals, instead of punishing faults." Many people condemn themselves and feel that they ought to punish themselves for their faults. Just recently I had a letter, a part of which I will quote, to illustrate the attitude toward life and toward themselves which many people have: "I cannot understand why it is that I cannot get complete victory. Perhaps it is self-condemnation. I am wondering if I do not enjoy condemning myself, because I somehow think by going over all the ugly past and saying to myself, 'What if God won't forgive you?' or 'Maybe God won't forgive,' I punish myself a little more, and perhaps God will take pity on me."
Such punishment is no part of God's plan for us. It in no way makes us more acceptable to him. It is, however, a great hindrance to us. The psalmist had learned his lesson. He said, "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrow." (Psalm 127:2). The priests of Baal tried to gain the favor of their gods, by cutting themselves and otherwise punishing themselves. God's approval is not won in this way. He would have us trust in his mercy, look to the sunshine of his love, and face away from the shadows toward the light. We should emphasize our ideals and reach toward to them while forgetting those things that are behind.
Sometimes people start in life with high ideals but as the years go on, they lose these high ideals. Then the high hopes that went with those high ideals fade away. People become disillusioned; they come to look upon the sordid and unlovely and forget that life has a better side. Their minds become indifferent to what once inspired them.
We should beware of lowering our ideals or forgetting them. The pure always remains pure. The good is always good. Realities do not change. Our point of view may become wrong. We may come to face in the wrong direction. But the realities remain as they were.
Youth is naturally idealistic. We should carefully preserve that idealistic outlook of youth, and keep young in spirit. Years ago I observed people becoming old before their time, losing their ideals, becoming pessimistic. I resolved that my spirit would never become old. I said to myself, "My body may get old, my hair may grow white but my spirit shall never grow old."
I was struck by the tone of a letter I received recently. The writer of it was telling her troubles. In it she said, "I am an old woman I am fifty-four years old." It is tragic that one should view life thus. Old at fifty-four think of it!
I know people who are young at eighty-five. Their hearts are young. Their outlook is young. Their idealism has not diminished. The way to keep young is to keep interested in life, to love people, to have faith in God.
A bright sunrise may be followed by a cloudy day. It is important that we know how to have sunshine on these cloudy days. There is just one way to do it. That is faith's way. Faith runs a shaft up through the clouds and lets the sunshine come down on the heart. In the natural world there is plenty of sunshine just above the clouds on the cloudiest day. In life there is likewise plenty of sunshine if through faith we rise above the clouds, or if we pierce them and let the sunshine through.
Of course, we may so focus attention upon our troubles, that we do not observe the sunshine. Maclaren says, "The secret of finding sunbeams in everything is simply to submit to God's will and way." Yes, that is the real motive of joyful Christian life. To submit to God's way without any reluctance or hesitation is one of the greatest secrets of the singing heart. God's will, when gladly submitted to, is always brings joy. We rejoice to have his will done. It is shrinking from his will which causes the hurt and stills the song.
Very needful is the cultivation of a sense of humor. We need a safety valve. The faculty of mirth is given us as a safety valve. Sometimes tears have a good purpose but in general it is better to laugh over our troubles than to cry over them. The results physically, mentally, and spiritually will be better. Through a sense of humor, we can sheer off much that is hard and troublesome. What we cannot sheer off, we can make easier to bear. Many a person has kept up courage, faith, and determination through a good laugh, and has broken the spell of defeat.
Humor, mirth, and playfulness are all divinely created to serve God's purpose in us, to balance the pain, the heartaches, and the tears that assuredly will come also. The smiling countenance, the sparkling eye, the joyful laugh all add spice to life. They not only come from sunshine in the heart but they produce more sunshine therein and sunshine all about. If we are inclined to be melancholy and troubled, moody, and heavy-hearted then we need to fill up the other side of the scales with joy. Some of life's treasures are gladness and cheer.
When I need things in my work, I fill out a requisition for them and send it to the proper place. All that I need is in stock but none of it comes to me until I ask. No doubt many of our blessings grow shelf-worn waiting for us to seek them. James said, "You have not, because you ask not" (James 4:2). Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find." We should ask and seek of God until we are enriched with joy and peace and true happiness.
It is our privilege to be happy. We owe it to ourselves, that we be happy. But to receive what is ours, we must face the sunrise where these things are, not the sunset where they are not.
I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me!
This song of victory, is a song of faith. Faith is the basis of happiness. It is the inspiration of song. We return to the theme of faith here, because faith is central and vital. Christian faith is what makes the Christian life so joyous.
Many who call themselves Christians are not joyous. That is because they do not have an active faith. Paul was radiantly joyful solely because he was a man of deep and settled faith and had the assurance that comes from such a faith. Again we quote his words, "The life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God."
To Paul, Christ was real. His relationship with Jesus were real. On that stormy sea journey that ended in shipwreck, Paul could say to those in danger with him, that all would be well, that not a life would be lost. He could speak confidently, because the angel of the Lord had stood by him and had given him the assurance of faith.
God promised, "My presence shall go with you." That promise has been a comfort and consolation to God's people for three thousand years! We need to cultivate a sense of God's presence. He has said, "I will never leave you, nor ever forsake you." His presence with us is real, whether or not we realize it. We need not try to create a sense of its reality in our imagination. It is a fact, not a fancy. We have only to sense the fact, and to treat it as a fact.
We may say that God is everywhere. True, but it is not his presence everywhere which counts for us; it is only that part of everywhere where we are. God is just as real in that little part of everywhere where you and I now are as he is in Heaven on his throne. It is his presence where we are, which really counts for us. Therefore it is the sense of the reality of his presence with us, which makes him real to us.
The psalmist said, "You are ever with me." To be able to say this means much. First of all it means safety.
The story of how one of God's children came to realize her safety in the abiding presence of God is told by Hannah Whitall Smith: "I was attending a prayer meeting when a poor woman rose to speak, and I looked at her wondering what she could say little thinking she was to bring a message to my soul. She said she had great difficulty in living the life of faith on account of the second causes which seem to control nearly everything that concerned her. Her perplexity became so great, that she began to ask God whether he was in everything or not.
"After praying for a few days, she had what she described as a vision. She thought she was in a perfectly dark place and that there advanced toward her from a distance, a body of light which gradually surrounded and enveloped her and everything about her. As it approached a voice seemed to say, 'This is the presence of God.' While surrounded with this presence all the great and awful things of life seemed to pass before her fighting armies, wicked men, raging beasts, storms and pestilences, sin, and suffering of every kind.
"She shrank back at first in terror but she soon saw that the presence of God so surrounded and enveloped each one of these, that not a lion could reach out his paw nor a bullet fly through the air except as his presence moved out of the way to permit it. She saw that yet there is ever so thin a sheet, as it were, of this glorious presence between herself and the most terrible violence that not a hair of her head would be ruffled nor anything touch her, unless the presence divided to let the evil through. It was so also with the small and annoying things of life. Her difficulty vanished. Her question was answered forever. God was in everything!"
We shall not all have such experiences to cause us to realize the presence of God, and our safety therein. God has other ways of assuring us. We may greatly help by assuring ourselves continually that God is with us. If we would say to ourselves in our times of difficulty or danger, "God is with me and I am safe," we would presently come to feel safe no matter what the circumstances. If we should repeat over and over to ourselves in our times of need, "God is with me and God will help me," it would come to be a reality with us. It is real whether or not we realize it but it profits us in our consciousness only when we realize it.
In times of storm, we especially need to realize the sheltering presence of God. We can do much toward cultivating a state of mind that makes God's presence real in our dark times. We must not wait for the dark times, to begin this development. We should practice the consciousness of God's presence until it becomes real to us at all times.
The sense of God's presence is sometimes vivid and strong. At other times, we know God is near only by faith. Therefore we have the need of cultivating a sense of his presence by faith. Our faith will be tested with respect to this, as with other things. The more tests faith meets and endures the more it grows.
We need to learn to use our faith. We should form the habit of daily accomplishing something by our faith. We should pray the prayer of faith every day, for some definite request. We cannot do this if we scatter our prayers too much. We can have a general faith that takes in all our needs and which we can exercise daily but we need a particular exercise of faith, to receive particular help grace. We should pray for many things but there are some things on which we should specialize. We should make them a special object of prayer. We should choose something that we feel to be the will of God for us. Then we should pray for that until it is granted, until faith grasps its object and makes it a reality.
When we pray for many things, but do not exercise definite faith for one of them then we weaken rather than strengthen our faith. Every day many circumstances large and small call for the exercise of faith. Little acts of faith build character and bring success and happiness.
Every exercise of faith prepares us the more easily to exercise it next time. Every recognition of the power of faith and its accomplishments, makes us more capable of faith. The exercise of faith in the daily routine, gives us a sense of God's continuous help. Sometimes we realize very greatly our need of help. Do we realize God's willingness to give that help, and do we act upon such a realization? It has been said that God helps those that help themselves but I think that God loves best to help those who cannot help themselves. I think that those who are faint and weak with the toils of life, and those whose courage falters, may more than any others have cause to believe that God will help them. God is not looking for opportunities to help those who need no help. His help is for those who stand in need of it, and who must have it. To such it is freely given when they trust him.
So many say, "Oh, if I knew how to have faith!" One thought may help you. Never let what you do know, be weakened by what you don't know. Stick to what you do know. Always remember that God's promises and your experience with him are facts. Nothing can change them. Your fears and uncertainties do not change God's love. So settle down on God's promises. Do not doubt them. Do not question them. Rely upon them. Leave the unknown to God. Stand upon the known while you face the unknown.
James said we should show our faith by our works. If we believe in God then we ought to act like it. "He thinks he believes it but he doesn't," said a woman of a man who had been professing his faith in the gospel. "If he really thought he had a friend like that, rich enough and strong enough to help him in every trouble and willing to do it, too somebody who is sending him blessings all the while he is here and getting a beautiful home prepared for him to use afterward do you suppose he would go about so gloomy and discouraged all the time?" Assuredly not! Our conduct is in harmony with what we truly believe. So, if we really believe God's promises then we shall be joyful Christians.
We should truly believe and have the will to put that belief into our conduct. We should have the will to be cheerful, bright, and pleasant. We should keep our troubles out of our eyes, out of our voices, and out of our movements. We should not advertise that we have trouble. The more we allow our physical attitude, the tones of our voice, and the look in our eyes to depict discouragement, defeat, or uncertainty the more we shall have within to overcome. God meant us to be victorious, so let us adopt the attitude of victory and say, "Since God meant me to be victorious then I mean to be victorious. It is my right to be victorious. Through God's help, I will be victorious. I am victorious." This attitude will go far toward making us victorious and toward making us realize our victoriousness.
There are times when our faith grows weary, when we find it difficult to exercise. After long effort, we may say, "My faith is worn out." At such times, we may find it difficult to pray. At such times, people are inclined to mistrust their own experiences and question whether they are entirely right with God. Alice E. Worcester tells what she does under such circumstances,
When I am very weary
I do not try to pray,
I only shut my eyes, and wait
To hear what God will say.
At times we can only hold still and wait. At such times that is all God requires of us. That is all that is necessary. If God does not speak when we wait to hear him speak then we may be sure that he will speak when it is needful for him to speak; and when he speaks, he will cause our hearts to rejoice. In these times of weariness, we should not let down our faith. We should rest in faith.
We have said that faith brings joy. Over in far-off Africa on the Congo River stands a native village. Formerly its inhabitants were sunk in ignorance, and they lived in mud huts that abounded in filth. A missionary went to the town and proclaimed the gospel message. They heard, believed, and accepted it and were saved. They were transformed and set about the transformation of their town. To celebrate the great change that had come, they changed the name of the town, and now it is known as Joy Town. Christ can make our town, any town, Joy Town to us.
Let us not forget that what life is, depends upon what we are and what we see, depends upon how we look. An old fable goes like this: "A cold firebrand and a burning lamp started out one day to see what they could find. The firebrand came back and wrote in its journal that the whole world was dark. It did not find a place wherever it went, in which there was light. The lamp came back and wrote in its journal, 'Wherever I went, it was light.' What was the difference? The lamp carried its light with it and illuminated everything. The dead firebrand had no light and everywhere it went everything was dark."
To sum up our thoughts, the secret of the singing heart consists in learning to be what we ought to be and in holding the attitude we ought to hold toward life. It consists in learning to adjust ourselves to our circumstances and to be happy in those circumstances. It means to take advantage of those favorable things which come in life, to make the best of the here and now, and to look forward to the future with confident expectation of success. It consists in walking with God, believing in him, and acting out that belief day by day. Doing this we shall be ever blessed. We shall have joy and happiness, and "sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
Making a God
One of the most important things in life is that we have the right sort of a God. Religion has a profound influence upon the lives, not only of Christian people but of those who are under Christian influences, and those who are under false religions. It is important therefore that we have in our mind a correct, though of necessity only a partial knowledge of God. There is but one God but the picture of that God that is in the minds of men differs greatly. As this picture differs in different minds we differ in our concepts of the reality.
Within the past week someone wrote to me and spoke of God's "casting men into Hell, then delight in watching them sizzle in a Lake of Fire." This is a crude and altogether erroneous idea of God. Nevertheless, one who believes in such things cannot but be profoundly affected by such a belief. The heathen idea of God is often of a fearful being, vengeful and terrible. Such a God inspires fear, a terror, and often despair. The instinct of the worshiper is to try to placate such a God. The heathen may fear this type of a god but he cannot love him. Happiness cannot come into his life through such a God. A God of this sort exists only in imagination but the effect upon the life is just as real as if such a God were real.
The idea we have of God, will profoundly affect our lives. The God we have, is the God we create in our minds. What God means to us in our consciousness and in his influence on our lives is what we picture him to be in our mental conception of him. Someone has said, "God created man in God's image then immediately man created God in man's image." The Greek and Roman gods had the form, the characteristics, and the passions of the men who created them. The gods of the heathen are made in their own likeness mentally, morally, and spiritually. In olden times a Greek said, "If the camels had a God he would have four feet and a hump."
The development of the idea of God among the Hebrews can be traced in the Scriptures. Before Israel went into Egypt the idea of God seems to have been of a universal God, a God who was God of all the earth and not of a special people. But during the captivity in Egypt, surrounded as they were by idolaters and they alone holding the idea of the true God he became to them the God of Israel.
After the Exodus he became to the great body of the people, little more than a tribal God. He was viewed in the same light by the nations round about them. It is true that the most spiritual, including the prophets and spiritual teachers, had clearer ideas of God. But we do not find a general conception of him any higher than a tribal God until we reach the era of the Psalms. In these we find both ideas the God of Israel, and the God of the earth and all nature. As we go on through the Major and Minor Prophets, we find a clearing and expanding of the idea of God. This made an end to idolatry in Israel. In the Old Testament, Isaiah has the greatest conception of God.
But it is Jesus who reveals God as he is. The God revealed by Jesus, is a God of universal character. He is not only the universal God but the universal Father.
The idea of God develops slowly. When the gospel is carried to a heathen land, it is difficult for the people to grasp the Christian idea of God. It dawns on them only a little at a time. This is true even in Christian lands. Even today the views of God held by many people differ widely from God as Jesus revealed him and as he is revealed in the Christian Scriptures.
What sort of a God do you have, reader? Sum up the various ideas of him you have, and see what he is in the aggregate. How does he impress you? How do you feel toward him? Do your ideas of God bring happiness into your heart? Do they cause you to love him and trust him? Does contemplation of him start the joy-bells ringing in your heart, and the song to come to your lips?
To some people God is a giant to be feared. We do not sing in his presence we try to hide. When we fear, we do not sing. If we fear God with this slavish fear then how can we be happy?
One of the secrets of the singing heart, is to have a God who will inspire us to sing. God in reality, is a God of that sort. If we know him as he is then association with him will be the source of life's sweetest and most satisfying fountain of joy.
Jesus identified the greatest source of human happiness when he said, "That they may know you." Again, he said to his disciples, "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God." To him that was sufficient reason why one should not be troubled. But some people believe in God, and it is that very belief which causes them to be troubled. They do not see God as Jesus saw him. The God they see has different characteristics; characteristics that inspire fear rather than love. They worship him with the idea of placating him. They do not look upon worship as communion with him, as a sweet, soul-satisfying fellowship the source of life's greatest joys and blessings.
Perhaps it would be of great value to all of us, if we would read the New Testament carefully with the idea in mind of finding just what it teaches about God. Let us try to get Jesus' idea of God and John's idea and Paul's idea. When we have done so, we may be amazed to see how much our own ideas of God have differed from theirs. God may come to mean something entirely different to us.
Let us briefly view the outline of the picture of God painted in the New Testament.
First, we are told that "God is love." A God that we as Christians fear, is not the real God. John 3:16 tells us, "God so loved the world," and Paul asked, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Again he says, "That you may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:18-19). We might profitably spend days considering these Scriptures. Think of them, dear reader, until they mean to you in your innermost heart just what they say; until God's character actually becomes love in your consciousness. Then you cannot fear him, you cannot shrink from him. You will love him.
God's loving, gentle, forgiving, pitying character can never inspire fear. We need not fear his justice for his justice is only for those who will not have his mercy. Really to know God is to love and to trust him. Note particularly the following facts: Only those who will not believe have cause for this slavish fear.
Those who have cause for fear, do not fear him, as it is written, "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Therefore, only those who have no occasion thus to fear God, do thus fear him. The true God is the God of the open heart, the Father who loves his people. He is not a God afar off. He is a God who is near. He is not harsh, and stern, and vengeful. He is high, and powerful, and glorious yet he condescends to walk with us in the lowly valleys of life. He condescends to talk with us in the quiet of the evening. He has a listening ear and a tender heart.
He is our Father, and as our Father, he loves us as sons and daughters. "You shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18). Sometimes an earthly father must be stern. But his sternness is because he loves his son and desires the best for him. The loving father disciplines his son, not for the father's own pleasure but for the son's profit. The sternness and the discipline are the special attitudes of God toward us. His constant attitude is one of tender, solicitous love.
God is not only the God of the open heart but he is the God of the open hand. "He who spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). His promise is that he will "not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly." He desires that we be happy. He desires that we be supplied with everything that will contribute to our happiness. Truly he is the God of the open hand.
He is also the "God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3). The Psalmist said, "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). Paul speaks of him on this way, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The Holy Spirit is the "Comforter" (John 14:26). Reader, is this the picture of God you have in your mind and heart?
He is the God of justice. The Bible says, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). A number of times Jesus is called "The Just One." His justice is always tempered with mercy. It is never separated from his love. If we have the picture of God in our minds that David had in his mind then we shall feel as he felt. He had sinned. The prophet gave him the choice of three evils as punishment. He said, "Let me fall into the hands of God." God's promise to the Christian is that he "shall not come into condemnation." What then if God be just? "Mercy rejoices against judgment." It is God's delight to forgive; therefore if we submit to him then we need not fear his justice.
He is a faithful God. "God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son" (1 Corinthians 1:9). Again and again it is declared that God is faithful. Peter calls him "a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19). The Psalmist says, "Your faithfulness is unto all generations" (Psalm 119:90).
God is the God of goodness. The Psalmist exclaims, "Oh how great is your goodness which you have laid up for those who fear you" (Psalm 31:19). And again, "He loves righteousness and judgment the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" (Psalm 33:5). "The goodness of God endures continually" (Psalm 52:1). And again he says, "You crown the year with your goodness" (Psalm 65:11).
He is not an imminent God not afar off. Paul said to the Athenians, the Lord is "not far from everyone of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:27, 28). "The Lord is near unto all those who call upon him" (Psalm 145:19). And Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). And he has promised, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
The foregoing is a very partial picture, a very fragmentary outline of the character of God. But if we study the picture as it is painted in the New Testament until God comes to be to us what he really is, and if we then enter into relations with him such as he desires to exist between himself and us we then shall know one of the secrets of the singing heart.
Too often God (to us) is only the reflection of our fears and doubts, of our conscience, and of our peculiar characteristics. In reality, he is what he reveals himself to be in his word.
To Moses God revealed himself thus, "The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6, 7). He promised Moses, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest" (chapter 33:14). Our thoughts of him should not disturb us. His presence shall give us rest.
We should dwell before him in confidence and trust. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He is the Father of tender love and constant care. He would enter into all our troubles, our sorrows, our joys. He has said that he would rejoice over us with singing. He has said he would have us without anxiety that he would have us abide in his love, partake of his peace, to rejoice with "joy unspeakable and full of glory," and sing the songs of victory and trust.
One writer has said of the Bible, "It tells us that at the heart of the universe there is a heart, that God is love, that that love is the moving spring of his activity."
Who Wears the Halter?
A man puts a halter upon a horse and ties him up within the narrow confines of a stall. The horse may think of the luscious grass in the pasture but he is fast in the stall. He may think of freedom to go where he will and do what he will. He may desire freedom but he is haltered.
A man puts a bridle upon the horse, saddles him, and rides away where he will. The horse may desire to rest quietly under the shade of a tree. He cannot do that he is bridled. The bridle is controlled by another will. The horse would go south but his head is turned north by the bridle, and the way he is turned he must go.
Now, the horse is much stronger than the man. If he should exert his strength and exercise his own will, he might overcome the will of the man. He might nullify the power of the halter and the bridle. Sometimes this occurs. But in general the horse has been haltered and bridled so often that he has yielded to the mastery of these things. He does not exert his own strength or his own will as he could. All his life therefore he is mastered. He can only be a servant, very unlike his fellows in wild freedom upon the prairie.
It is not horses alone, who wear halters and bridles. There are men and women all about us wearing them. Circumstances halter many people and tie them up within narrow limits, restricting their freedom, shutting them off from the good things of life, making their lives narrow, and often very unsatisfactory. There are other circumstances that bridle people and force them to go where they would not go. Many times people act against their own best judgment and against their wills. They are victims of circumstance, just as much as the horse is the victim of the halter. Their lives are just as restricted as the lives of the horses.
How often we permit circumstances our feelings, our fears, our doubts to strap a halter upon us and lead us about where we would not go, and tie us up somewhere so that it seems we cannot get away.
Many people realize that they are haltered and like the conquered horse, they think they are securely held by the halter. They long for freedom. They desire to be unrestricted. They want freedom of expression, freedom of action, liberty to do as they choose, to turn their lives into the channels that would yield them greater happiness and contentment. But alas, they are haltered. So they look at their halter of circumstances, of feelings, of doubts, of fears, and say, "Oh, I can't help it!" And then cease to try to help it.
Some horses will pull back on their halters for a few times but not sufficiently to break them. Thinking they are securely fastened, the horses cease to try to get loose.
We humans do the same. We make some slight efforts to overcome our circumstances and to do the things we really desire to do. We do not exert all our strength. We try only half-heartedly. Then we conclude we cannot break away and cease to try.
We surrender to circumstances. We permit them to have a halter upon us through the years, and we permit them to bridle us and to ride us wherever they will. Life is a bondage to circumstances.
Man was never meant to wear a halter. We are told that when man was created, God set him over the work of his hands. God made man master of things. He intended that man should always be master master of himself, master of his circumstances. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). And again, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed."
The Christian life is a life of freedom. It is divinely given mastery. If we use the liberty that is given to us instead of wearing the halter of circumstances then it is our privilege to put the halter upon circumstances and to master them. God wants us to be men and women, to look circumstances straight in the face, to assert our dominion over them. The attitude of God is plainly shown in the Scriptures. Of Jesus it is said he "has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father" (Revelation 1:6). But does not that refer to Heaven? No. Chapter 5:10 says, "And have made us unto our God kings and priests and we shall reign on the earth."
That does not mean some future reign. It is now and here, as Paul tells us in Romans 5:17, "Those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ." That means we shall put the halter on our circumstances and our difficulties and master them bringing them into subjection to our wills, asserting ourselves, thus becoming triumphant Christians.
One may say that is all very well to talk about but how shall we do it? The answer of the Scripture is, "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." With our two hands, we may put the halter on all our circumstances. These two hands are faith and determination. Faith is very good but it is not enough. Works must go with faith.
In the siege of Verdun in the World War, when attacked by a greatly superior force, taken by surprise, and at first driven back with heavy losses the French rallied and adopted the slogan, "They shall not pass!" With grim determination and a courage that would not yield, they held on until they overcame.
Many times in our lives we shall have to say to circumstances, "You shall not pass. You shall not master me. I will not yield to you. I will overcome you!"
Frequently people have tried to discourage others by saying, "You cannot do that." The answer of determination has been, "But I will do it." Did you ever read the poem by Edgar Guest about, "It couldn't be done but he did it!"?
Right now perhaps someone may be saying, "Yes, that is the way to do. That is the attitude to hold. I would like to do that IF . . ." Yes, there is the IF. What does it mean? It means I have not the courage or the will to try. Very well. Reach out your head and submit to the halter.
You have your choice. You can halter the circumstances or they will halter you. We can be free men or slaves. We can spend our days haltered in the stall, ridden where we do not want to go or we can use our strength and be free.
It is true that we cannot always change our circumstances. We need not always change them or even frequently change them to be free, to have the mastery over them and to be happy. Circumstances neither make us nor break us. It is mastering them or surrendering to them, that determines the outcome.
So many say, "But my circumstances are so unfavorable." That does not mean you need be defeated by your circumstances. It only means an opportunity for greater conquest. All real accomplishments in this world are made, not because of circumstances but in spite of them. Every man who has become really great in accomplishment, or in self-mastery has done so by overcoming his obstacles and difficulties. This is the very thing that has made him great and without these things to overcome, he never would have become great; his powers would never have been developed.
It has been repeated that we should not pray for burdens equal to our strength but for strength equal to our burdens. Happiness does not come from favorable circumstances. The rich who are not compelled to work and who may do as they choose with their time, are rarely happy. Shall we say, "If circumstances were more favorable then I could be happy"?
Are we sure of this? By no means. It takes more than circumstances to make anyone happy. The secret of happiness does not lie in circumstances. It lies in us. Our circumstances may be unfavorable but that does not mean we must be unhappy. People are happy in circumstances which are far more unfavorable than ours. One of the happiest, most cheerful ladies whom I ever met, lay helpless in her bed. She could move her head slightly from side to side, and move one hand a little. Rheumatism had made the remainder of her body almost immovable. But her face was radiant with joy. She told us how happy she was. We marveled at it. For years she had been in this condition. Still she was happy, cheerful, and rejoicing. When we expressed our sympathy she said, "I am contented!" Circumstances, even such circumstances could put no halter on her.
There are faces that shine in the darkest night with the beauty of an inner glory, with a joy that does not depend upon circumstances. Perhaps you can think of others whose circumstances are worse than yours yet their lives seem happier than yours. Why should this be true? Why should you be less the master of your circumstances than they of their circumstances?
Resolve that you will no longer be dominated by your feelings, your doubts, your fears, by your trials, or your circumstances. If you have tamely submitted to these in the past then make a declaration of independence, start a warfare to conquer them. Be tied up no longer by them. Choose the direction of your own life. Faith and determination, with God's help, will make you master and you shall be free indeed. When you have gained that freedom, when you are master of your circumstances, when you have the halter on them, when you can tie them up then you will have gained that victory over life and everything in it that will start the joy-bells pealing! You will then know the secret of the singing heart!
The Road to Happiness
The desire to be happy is one of the most universal of human desires. Few people put anything else ahead of their own happiness. In many a life, this is the most powerful motive. Happiness, like everything else in this world of law and order, is the result of the operation of certain laws. It is a product, the result of certain processes.
One thing should be clearly noted. The road to happiness is not a direct road. If we would arrive at happiness then we must first go somewhere else. On the road thither we must pass through the gate of duty, and walking on the way of righteousness, pass through the village of love, descend into the valley of humility, and go over the stony way of loyalty and sincerity, and ascend to the heights of purity. Here, without looking for it we shall find happiness.
It is a mistake to think that true happiness can come from mere gratification of desire. Gratification has its part but often pursuit of a worthy motive is a greater factor. Unworthy motives, selfish desires, and sensual gratifications, instead of producing happiness only disappoint and disillusion. It is a law of our natures that the higher the desire to be gratified, or the higher the motive that we have the higher and truer is the happiness which results. No truer thing was ever said than that, "If you sow to the flesh then you shall reap corruption from the flesh." It is the inevitable consequence.
Gratification of the desires of the flesh, may bring physical joy. The drunkard and the ungodly may join in singing their drinking-songs, their sensual love-songs, and the like but these are not songs of true happiness. A sensual joy poisons itself and dies in the midst of its song. Pure song brings higher forms of joy and higher and purer inspiration. It springs from pure and innocent love from the home where love reigns from the heart that is full of kindness, pity, consideration for others, and love of goodness.
The highest happiness comes from the use of our highest faculties. The exercise of these faculties blossoms forth in the truest and purest joy. Joy of mind and of heart, rather than enjoyment of the flesh inspires the heart with rejoicing. The song that has no minor strain is the song of purity, at peace with God and with its fellow-men. Selfish desires and selfish living build an impassable barrier between ourselves and true happiness. The poet spoke truly when he said,
Tell me not then of the pleasures that sting
Coiled under roses of pride;
None but the holy and innocent sing,
Out of a bosom where pleasures abide.
Innocence need not be a thing which we associate only with childhood. It may be mature. It may be a characteristic of middle age and of gray hair. Innocence is the result of right relations with God and with man. Right relations can exist only when a right attitude is maintained. A right attitude may be maintained only when behind it lie right desires and right purposes.
Happiness is the fruit of harmony. Harmony results from conformity to the laws of our being. The law of God revealed in the Bible, is the law of harmony. The holy are most truly happy, because they are most truly harmonious. Both their inner lives and their outer lives are harmonious. Their relations with God and with man are harmonious. The elements of strife and warfare are absent.
Happiness is not the result of where we live, or of our surroundings, or of what we possess. It is the result of what we are. No matter how favorable our situation, nor how much, nor how many things we possess that should make us happy if we do not have within our own breast the elements that produce happiness then we shall never be happy.
We have already noted that true happiness is associated with purity. There is nothing from which greater happiness springs than an inner consciousness of being pure before God. It is a singular thing that a great number of Christian teachers have taught that it is impossible for a Christian to live in purity before God. The unhappy effects of this doctrine, have been to rob the Christian life of many of its joys and to make many people look upon it as an unsatisfying life, a losing battle.
It has been taught that Christians must sin continually day by day. Believing this doctrine it is no wonder that many Christians are unhappy and live far beneath their privileges. Their outlook is one of defeat, of constant shortcoming, of repeatedly enduring a sense of condemnation. Now, such teaching is assuredly not in harmony with the teachings of the Scriptures, particularly of the New Testament. The Christian life there is pictured to be a joyful life. The command is "Rejoice evermore." How can one rejoice evermore, when he is conscious of being guilty before God? Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart." If there are no such persons then Christ's words are mockery.
What is the New Testament picture of a Christian? It is of a man or woman forgiven of their iniquities, cleansed from their guilt, walking in righteousness before God. Or, as Paul puts it, "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you." The joyful fellowship that Paul had with Christ, manifested in all his epistles, is a thing inconsistent in its entirety with the sort of life often said to be the Christian life.
"But," one may say, "How about the seventh chapter of Romans?" I do not think Paul was very happy when his life corresponded to the seventh chapter of Romans. Paul passed out of the seventh chapter into the eighth chapter that day on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him.
From that day there was a new song in Paul's heart and in his mouth. He lived a new life, the life pictured in the eighth chapter. The seventh chapter is not the picture of a Christian life. It is the picture of a man without grace trying to live up to the law of God and finding himself continually failing. It is a continuation of his argument extending from the third to the sixth chapters, of the failure of works and of the efficacy of grace. Real Christians do not live in the seventh chapter of Romans. It is not the reflection of a Christian experience.
Christians live in fellowship with God. God is their Father. They are not rebellious sons but obedient sons. Sin is a thing of the motive and of the will. Mistakes, blunders, weaknesses, failures, and unintentional shortcomings are not sins. To treat them as sins, is to make a vital error. The Bible does not treat them as sins. Sin is willful disobedience. It is rebellion against God, and nothing but things of this character may properly be called sins, or be treated as sins. These other things often called "sins" do not produce the effects of sin. The real Christian experience, is a walk with God. There is mutual understanding between the soul and God. There is earnest desire to please God and an earnest endeavor to do so.
Besides being in harmonious relations with God and our fellow-men unselfish devotion to the highest things for their own sake, is the surest way to be happy. It is the tree whose fruit is happiness. It bears "twelve manner of fruits" and always has the fragrant blossoms and the luscious fruits. The Scripture that says, "The wages of sin is death," is not a threat. It is a simple statement of an inescapable fact now and here, as well as hereafter. Evil always has its own reward, and we begin to draw its dividends the moment we are guilty of it. It never goes bankrupt. Its dividends continue to increase as the years go by. On the other hand, the dividends of righteousness are never passed. They are always paid in golden coin.
Disobedience to our best and highest impulses, aspirations, and desires must inevitably result in blighted hopes, an accusing conscience, regret, and a sense of failure. It is a poison injected into the cup of happiness. If we would have the song of happiness in our hearts then we must learn that the secret of the singing heart is to be pure, to be true to the best there is in us, to be living on a plain above the mire of sin, of selfishness, and of sensual gratification.
We have already pointed out that life was not intended for us merely to have a good time, to seek pleasure and to enjoy ourselves. It is a time for building Christian character and for accomplishing worthy things. Some people think a Christian ought to have no trouble, no conflict, no difficulties. Some who become Christians expect to have a joyful, easy, satisfying time as Christians. There is joy in becoming a Christian. There is much inner satisfaction. There is peace, rest, victory. But the Christian life has another side. The young Christian who starts out joyfully with God's blessing upon him, finds sooner or later that life will challenge him. It will take strength, courage, and determination to meet its many problems and difficulties, and to conquer its enemies.
It has been said, "When we are converted we mount up with wings as eagles, then we run and are not weary, and later we must learn to walk and not faint."
We are in the midst of a great conflict. The hosts of good and evil are in deadly combat. The sound of this battle comes to our ears from every direction. Whether we will or not we are in this conflict upon one side or the other. It was said that on the battlefields of France the larks would sometimes fly up into the heavens and sing even amidst the roar of battle. Likewise the Christian can ascend to the heights of God and sing even in this world of conflict. His song need not be quenched; his spirit need not be broken. He is in this battle and he cannot help himself; so he should be a worthy soldier.
It is impossible that we be neutral. Jesus said, "He who is not for me is against me." The weight of our influence, the result of our actions, the force of our example are on one side or the other. We must "show our colors." The cry that echoed in the camp of Israel, still echoes in the world, "Who is on the Lord's side?" Those who really are on one side, yet pretend to be upon the other are hypocrites. There is a line of clear distinction, in life, spirit, and character between a true Christian and a lost sinner, no matter how moral that sinner may be. That distinction is always clear to the eyes of God. Sometimes it may be obscured to the world but the distinction is real just the same. Either we are on Christ's side and with him against all evil or we are against him.
There are some who desire to be secret Christians. In my youth I was very timid. I desired to be a Christian yet I feared to say anything about it; so I thought I would be a Christian in my own heart and take no part in the public worship of God. This was an unsatisfactory life but I counted myself to be a Christian. Later when I was brought face to face with the facts, I found that I was not a Christian at all. When I truly became a Christian through the saving grace of God, I was ready immediately to identify myself with the Christians of my community. I was no longer ashamed to be called a Christian.
Jesus said that if we are ashamed of him before men, that he shall be ashamed of us before his Father and the holy angels. A truly loyal Christian does not want anyone to think he is on the world's side.
In our Civil War it was a great offense to question the loyalty of an individual. This was also true in the World War. I remember a fine Christian woman saying years ago publicly, "I do not want anyone to mistake me for a lost sinner." That is the spirit that ought to animate us all and will animate us if we are vigorous, courageous Christians.
Paul speaks of the conflict being waged: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12). The forces of evil beset every Christian. They are animated by an intense hatred of God. They cannot attack God directly; therefore they attack his children. There is a devil in the world. Verse 11 says, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." According to this text we shall be able to stand against him no matter if he may have power and use it in a wily way. One thing is sure; if we put on the armor of God and boldly face our foes then the outcome of the fight will be victory for us.
Many people fear the devil. The Bible does not say to fear him. It says, "Fear not." Many people have wrong ideas of the devil. They imagine he is almost, if not quite as powerful, as God. They imagine that he is everywhere at the same time. In other words, that he is infinite and omnipresent. He is finite therefore he is like all other finite personalities very limited in his powers. There are many evil angels; how many we do not know; but they also are finite creatures, evil yet limited. Many people lose sight of the fact made plain in the Scriptures that though the evil angels work against us and try to destroy us "the angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear him" to protect and keep them.
The conflict is real, not only with the powers of Satan but with the evil influences that come from the unsaved people about us. We cannot but be influenced by these; therefore we must stand steadfast against them and overcome them.
Then, too, there are those things within ourselves that we must fight. Paul said, "I keep my body under control, and bring it into subjection." No matter how good Christians we become, we shall find within ourselves some troublesome things that will give us occasion to exercise our strength and courage. Salvation forgives all sin but it does leave our disposition, our physical desires, and the desires of the mind, to be brought into subjection and governed. All these things make life a battle. But it may be a winning, not a losing battle, all along the line of life. It will be a battle of victory, if we remain faithful.
It is not God's will that a Christian be on the defensive all the time. He should not be cornered fighting for his life. He should wage aggressive warfare against his many foes. God gives us sufficient offensive and defensive weapons, that when we use them properly we need fear no foe. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). We do not use carnal weapons, but since our foes are spiritual foes, we fight them with spiritual weapons. The "sword of the Spirit," we are told, is the Word of God. Jesus used it triumphantly against Satan in the time of his temptation. It will often serve us to put our enemies to flight. Sometimes we can quote Scriptures as Jesus did. At other times we can use them as bulwarks of faith. We can anchor our faith in them.
Our mightiest weapon of all is faith. We are to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6:12). Paul fought a victorious fight all through life and when nearing the end he said, "I have fought the good fight" (2 Timothy 4:7). The writer of the Hebrew epistle has something to say about this warfare. He calls to remembrance "those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated." (Hebrews 10:32, 33). Paul told Timothy to "endure hardness as a good soldier."
The life of a soldier in many respects is a hard life. Likewise the life of a Christian has its hard elements in things to be endured, things that will try courage and endurance. But what are we dress parade soldiers, or real soldiers? What are we courageous Christians, or cowards? What are we people of spirit and vigorous manhood, or do we dwell in the caves of fear? No! "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong!" We shall be good soldiers of Christ Jesus.
But this fight is a fight of faith. It is through faith we conquer. Faith gives confidence. We must believe that we shall win.
General Marion said of his men in the Revolution, "If I saw my men sitting up on their horses straight, with their heads up and with their eyes flashing then I knew that I could attack a greatly superior force with certainty of success." Gideon's three hundred men are examples of what all God's people should be. "Confidence is half of conquest but only the first half." We must have confidence that we shall win then we must do the things that bring victory. We must fight manfully. This we can do, and doing it we shall win.
A soldier's life does not consist altogether in fighting. Battles are fought only at intervals. There are things to be endured by a soldier besides the perils of battle.
When Garibaldi led his troops to fight for the freedom of Italy, he stood before them and said, "I will give you hunger, wounds, death but Italy shall be free." They followed him enthusiastically and won. If we have the love that endures all things then we shall not be deterred by the comparatively few hardships of the Christian life. We shall have the courage to meet them and to go through them.
Before a soldier is ready for battle, he must be drilled. He must be taught to cooperate with others. In the same way, God puts us through the drilling process in life. Soldiers often get tired of their drills, nevertheless they must keep them up if they would be good soldiers. So the Christian must have the drill of the daily repetition of the little troublesome things of life. He must go through the various processes of becoming a soldier, and these drills must be kept up continually through life.
Sometimes in our Christian life we seem to be making no progress. We seem to be only marking time. At other times we find it necessary to go upon the double-quick. We then realize we are making real progress. But running is often no more important than marking time. So whichever we are doing, let us be content to obey our Commander.
Soldiers are often kept in garrisons. Frequently it is as important to hold some position without fighting, as to be at the battlefront. Garrison duty often becomes irksome.
In like manner, there are irksome things in the Christian life. There is the daily recurrence of the same duties; things must be repeated over and over. Perhaps we cannot always enter into these things with zest but it is just as much a test of our loyalty and our soldierly qualities to do well the uninteresting things of life, the things that come again and again, the things we weary of as to do those that interest us most.
Again, soldiers are often held in reserve. The battle is raging in front of them. They are doing nothing. Sometimes it is harder to be held in reserve, than it is to fight. There are times when God makes us be in reserve. For a time at least we are inactive. We may not understand why. We may think that we are useless; but not so. God is only waiting for the time when he can use us effectually. He is only waiting until he needs us for some definite thing.
It is important that we have soldierly qualities. The demand of a soldier's life is for the manifestation of the sterner side of his nature. The coward may make a pretty good soldier until he faces the enemy. Only the man of courage unfalteringly faces whatever difficulty which may come. Therefore we have need of courage. The old song says,
Sure I must fight if I would win,
Increase my courage Lord.
Well, the Lord is ready to do that, if we take the right course. How can we be courageous, even though we may not feel courageous? Marshal Foch said, "Don't stop to have any fear but when you are sure that you are right then approach the issue with confidence and fight and fight on until victory." Marshal Foch won enough victories to know how it is done. If we follow his advice then our victories will be won, and we shall know no defeat.
Good soldiers do their part everywhere. They are not merely good soldiers when no enemies are in sight. They are ready, obedient, confident.
Of one thing we can always be sure we have a good General. We need fear no foe, when we follow him. We need fear nothing, but that we may not properly follow him. He requires nothing more than he ought to require. He leads us nowhere but where we ought to go. He goes forth "conquering and to conquer." Let us follow him through life's conflict without fear, with the assurance that we shall be filled with his might, that we shall be kept by his protecting power, and that nothing shall by any means hurt us while we obey and trust him.
The fact that there are dangers and hardships and wearisome toil in the army, does not stifle its song. There are songs in the camp, songs on the march, songs in the battle, and songs of victory. These songs differ.
In life we have the songs of the camp. There are songs for the quiet hour, songs of safety, songs of contentment, songs of a restful soul. There are songs of anticipation, of hope, and of fellowship. These songs may gladden our hearts day by day even though we are in God's army, for God's army is a joyful army.
In life there are songs of the march songs of accomplishment, of endeavor, of determination. There are songs that make us forget our weariness. Let us learn to sing these songs on the march, so that as we go onward in our Christian journey it shall not be a dragging forward through the difficulties and sometimes darkness of the march, and up through discouragements and fear but looking beyond the things which surround us, we may see the end of our march and the great victory after the campaign is over.
Then there are songs of the battle, songs of courage, of determination, songs of the power of our Leader, of his greatness, of his glory, and of his care of his soldiers. There are songs to encourage us, to create in us enthusiasm, to inspire us. There are songs that flow from the will to win. Let us learn to sing the songs of battle. They will help us on the Christian way. They will cause our foes to fear us.
And, finally, there are the songs of victory. These are the songs we all desire to sing. We may sing these songs in our anticipation of victory but it is when the victory actually has been won, that we can sing them from our hearts and have them mean something to us. These are ever glad songs, songs of rejoicing and triumph.
The Christian life is a victorious life. It could not be victorious without battles. So we shall face its battles, march its marches, do our garrison duties and whatever may come to us through the will of our Leader and then from time to time we shall sing the song of victory. We shall at last, when the war is over and we have laid down our weapons, join with those above in singing the grand hallelujah chorus of victory through all eternity!
Learning to Sing!
When the Psalmist had considered the goodness of the Lord, and what it meant to mankind, he cried out, "O let the nations be glad and sing for joy!" (Psalm 67:4). And the Lord through Isaiah said, "My servants shall sing for joy of heart" (Isaiah 65:11). Jeremiah says, "They shall come and sing in the height of Zion and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord . and their souls shall be as a watered garden and they shall not sorrow any more at all."
God not only meant this world to be a happy place, a place of gladness and song but he has promised to put a new song in our mouths. Our heavenly Father, like a good earthly father, rejoices in the happiness of his children. He never intended this world to be a place of sorrow and anxious care, of disappointment and wretchedness. He never meant it to be a valley of tears. It is only because the world has been separated from God, that all these things have come. Sin has brought universal trouble. God will take away sin and bring universal song.
A child sings because he has the spirit of song in his heart. His singing may not be very melodious; he may not keep the tune nor the time; nevertheless the joy in his heart will bubble over. It is like this when we are saved from our sins. We are filled with a sense of God's goodness, and our souls begin to sing. Like the child, however, there are many things we must learn about singing.
Light hearts do not come by accident or at least their lightness does not depend upon accidental combination of circumstances. The song in the soul. is the result of a proper attitude of the soul toward life and toward God. Therefore if we cultivate this attitude toward life, it will be to us a source of song, an inspiration of song. We sing when we are thinking about pleasant things. This attitude of mind is conducive to song. The song breaks forth spontaneously. In order therefore to have our hearts full of song, we must train ourselves to have the heart attitude from which song springs. We can train ourselves to have this attitude, as well as to have the opposite attitude. Life under such circumstances will be much more pleasant and happy, than if we continually look upon the dark side of things.
One necessary thing in singing is that we must have a right attitude toward life and correct views of duty, of our privileges, and of what a wholesome, holy, balanced life is. We must have a proper sense of our relationship to the world in which we live. These things help us to be in harmony.
Harmony is one of the greatest elements of happiness as it is one of the most necessary elements of song. Speaking of God's watchman the prophet says, "Together shall they sing." The Psalmist said, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." We must get the discords out of our hearts and out of our voices and out of our relations. One discordant voice in a choir or in a congregation, can spoil all the singing. I remember listening over the radio on a number of occasions to the services of a church when a man standing near enough to the microphone to be readily heard sang altogether out of tune with the congregation. He sang away apparently with all his might and his voice stood out in sharp contrast to the voices of the other singers.
There are people who are out of harmony with their surroundings, out of harmony with the people with whom they associate. Their lives and their voices are discordant. There are some who are discordant only in certain things. They miss certain notes. It is highly important that we learn the are of adapting ourselves to people and to things. We have to get along with people and they have to get along with us, and if these relations are to be joyous or even bearable then there must be a considerable degree of harmony. We must get rid of those discords that continually arise.
Sometimes people make no effort to be harmonious. They go on their way, do as they please, and think as they please, independently of others. The Bible teaches us that "no man lives unto himself and no man dies unto himself." There must be an adjustment of lives to each other, and that adjustment must be such as will produce harmony. We should make a sincere effort to learn harmony; not merely musical harmony but soul harmony.
We must learn to adjust ourselves to our circumstances in a way that creates the greatest possible harmony. If we are always at war with our circumstances and our environment then we shall be constantly irritated, disturbed, and uncomfortable in mind and soul. If we do not find through adjustment, a way to be at peace with our circumstances and our environment then we shall have many a chafed spot to burn and pain.
We must learn to have an ointment for the chafed spots and we must learn how to apply it to make it effectual. Patience, submission, and forbearance in equal parts well mixed make an excellent ointment. The machinery of life will sometimes get hot bearings. We need plenty of the oil of grace. This will stop the friction. There are ways of avoiding friction with people and friction with circumstances. There are ways of avoiding discord.
One necessary thing is to keep in time with others. Soldiers must keep step; otherwise they are a rabble rather than an army. In like manner, we must keep step with others. I have frequently listened in to church services where the song leader kept just about half a beat ahead of his congregation. He was all the time trying to hurry them up. I thought it a poor means of doing so. It spoiled the music for me. We may spoil the music of life for some people in a similar way. At the same time we are spoiling it for ourselves. So in life's song let us keep in time. Let us avoid discord, and let us sing with all our hearts.
Religion is harmony. It is harmony with God and harmony with man. It is harmony with whatever is right everywhere. Life's harmonies are based on right relations. It is our privilege to have right relations with God relations that satisfy us, and relations that satisfy God. This is not an extreme statement. Thousands of people have this experience daily. They know the peace and joy and satisfaction which come from such relations. There can be no true happiness when one has not proper relations with others. If those relations are full of discord, disagreement, and disharmonies then life must be lived on a plane far below its possibilities.
There is need of harmony within ourselves. Many people are torn with conflicting emotions, with conflicting desires, and conflicting purposes. They have conflicting experiences. There is conflict in the soul, conflict in the mind and this often results in disharmony in the body. We should carefully study ourselves to see where our discords are located. We should then set about removing these discords and getting ourselves into tune. We should create harmonious relations within ourselves, instead of allowing the disharmonies that exist to persist.
To a very large extent, we can have harmonious relations with others. There are some people who are not harmonious, with whom we must have relations. They are not willing to be in harmony with us or with others. We should strive earnestly, that on our part there shall be no disharmony. We should have no attitude of disharmony toward them, no feelings of disharmony, no disregard of their rights. On our part, there can be the elements of harmony without respect to what is on their part.
Harmony produces a life worth living. In fact, the happiness of Heaven results from its harmony. This is true of the home, of the church, of the neighborhood, of the nation. The Psalmist said, "As for me, I am for peace." Peace is harmony. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." If we have in our hearts, the attitude of peacemaker, if we strive earnestly for concord then we shall inevitably be happy.
There will be things in life which we cannot help, things that are unpleasant, some things that are hurtful, some things that must be endured but these need not destroy the harmonies in our souls, nor the harmonies of our joyous song nor the harmonies of our relation with everything else.
There is a tendency to fall below the standards we have set for ourselves. There is always the tendency to deteriorate in our spiritual lives. It is needful therefore that we frequently compare the pitch of our lives with the pitch-pipe or the tuning fork that gives the correct pitch.
God has a most excellent and most satisfactory tuning-fork. It is the Bible. It will always give us the true pitch for life, the true tone for our songs. Again and again we should come to God in prayer and thus find if we are in tune with him and if we are not, there be restored to his pitch.
We shall never be like God in greatness and majesty and power. We shall ever be finite and have our faults and failings. Nevertheless we can keep our lives in tune with the infinite. We can have the tones of divine love, truth, and mercy abounding in our lives and thus the rich and splendid harmonies of heavenly music will be sounding in our hearts and in our lives and their tones will inspire those about us to high and holy things that will start the heavenly melodies ringing in them also.
Singing in Safety
When God established Israel in Canaan, he had seven cities of refuge appointed. In the event of certain things occurring, those who had been the cause of them might flee into one of these cities of refuge. No matter how many enemies such a person had or how intent the enemies were on taking his life they dare not disturb him within the bounds of the city of refuge. If he went out of that city then he did so at his own peril.
Jesus Christ is our city of refuge. In him we are ever safe. Out of him there is no safety. The wise man said, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower the righteous runs into it, and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10). After the Lord had delivered David from all his enemies, he said, "The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me!" (2 Samuel 22:2, 3).
These figures of speech are not merely poetic imagery. They express a great truth. God is our refuge and strength an ever present help in time of trouble. He is exactly what these scriptures represent him to be. He is not a God afar off, who cares nothing for our prosperity or safety. He is not bound by the chains of his own laws, so that he is unable to do anything for us. He is not unwilling to help us in our times of need. No, he is truly our strong tower, into which we may run and be safe. Those who obey and trust him are safe.
He does not promise his help and then neglect to give it. He does not raise expectations of safety in us only to disappoint us in the hour of peril. No, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures." He takes away the fear, because he takes away the danger. It is written, "Whoever puts his trust in the Lord shall be safe" (Proverbs 29:26). Through Hosea God said, "In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety." (Hosea 2:18). This is a figurative language but it expresses a great truth. No matter who are our enemies, no matter what threatens us God will master the situation. He will make his people to lie down safely in a safe place, secure in his unfailing care.
When we feel we are safe from all our enemies, when we feel we are protected most amply, when we believe there is nothing at all to cause us concern then we can sing in safety. It is thus that God would have us sing in our Christian life. He would have us with that confidence in him which trusts him unfalteringly. He would have us believe that in his care we are safe.
Being safe and having the assurance of our safety are two altogether different things. We may feel safe when we are in great danger if we are ignorant of that danger. We may be concerned for our safety when there is no danger if we are unaware of our safety. It is important then that we know whether or not we are safe. When are we safe? When we are trusting in God. When we are obeying him. When we are in his care. But many who are truly in his care and who might lie down in safety and whose hearts might be free from anxiety or any sense of disturbing care are disturbed and troubled and filled with forebodings which are altogether needless.
No matter how safe we may be we cannot feel safe unless we believe we are safe. As long as we question our safety then there can be no feeling of security. As long as we question God's care of us then we shall feel insecure. It is necessary therefore that we believe God's promises of our safety; that we cease to question them altogether. We should rely upon them without fear. When we repose implicit confidence in his Word then we may have a sense of safety in his protecting care, and realize there is a wall of his love about us that cannot be penetrated by any enemy.
With this attitude of heart, questioning is lost in trust. A sense of security brings comfort and rest. The writer of the old song expressed his confidence, that though his Father has many dear children to look after, "He will never forget to keep me." That is the attitude of faith. That is the attitude of heart out of which we can sing in safety. This blessed secret of trust, is the secret of the singing heart and until we have learned this and put it into practice, we cannot sing the song of restful trust; we cannot sing from an undisturbed heart.
We should cultivate a sense of our security, by considering that we are secure. We should reject all feelings of insecurity, because they are based on groundless fears. So many of us cultivate our fears. We develop a sense of insecurity, by continually questioning our safety. We cultivate feelings we do not desire to have and then wonder why we have them. We cultivate a sense of insecurity by letting our minds dwell upon the possibility of insecurity, by considering the dangers that may threaten us and the possibility of evil that lies in things.
We should do just the opposite of this. Cultivate a sense of security by considering God's faithfulness, by familiarizing ourselves with his promises, by considering how great he is and the marvelous power he can exert, and the great love he has that will naturally cause him to exert this great power to keep us safely. We may feel safe, or we may feel unsafe just as we choose. Some Christians are always troubled and worried about what is going to happen, while others rest in God and do not worry in the least for the future. It is a different attitude of mind; that is all. We can have whichever attitude we cultivate.
When we trust in God then we are care free. When we are care free then the song will rise, the song of trust and confidence. One who had this experience wrote,
I no trouble and no sorrow
Seek today, nor will I borrow
Gloomy visions of the morrow,
In my Jesus all is blessed.
We might suppose that the author of these lines was a man whose life had been carefully guarded from trouble. We might suppose he had never known sorrow nor care, that he knew nothing of persecutions. On the contrary he was a man who suffered many things. He had been bitterly persecuted. He had suffered heart-breaking sorrow. He had been misrepresented and maligned. The tenderest ties of affection had been crudely broken. He had known bitter poverty. Yet in all these things his soul had triumphed, and when I knew him in the last year of his life I found him to be one of the most joyous Christians I had ever known.
It is the privilege of every Christian to live in the one hundred twenty-first Psalm. It is entitled "The Great Safety of the Godly Who Put Their Trust in God's Protection." Get your Bible and read it. Read it over and over; then let your soul establish itself in it, to abide in its security.
Peter tells us that we are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" (1 Peter 1:5). No doubt you have noticed how again and again we are led back to faith. We are kept through faith. If we are to be kept then we must exercise faith. We must believe that God will keep us and trust him to do so. Faith is the most prominent element in the Christian life, and the most important element. Every road in the Scriptures leads to faith.
Continuing, Peter tells us how we are kept, "Ready to be revealed in the last time." Kept in readiness for God's coming. Kept in readiness to meet the great judgment day with joy; in readiness to welcome our Lord's return. Yes, kept ready day by day for whatever the future holds for us preserved by God's power from evil.
There is another sense in which we are kept through faith. A fort is kept by a garrison. God places a garrison in us, so that the citadel of our soul may be kept inviolate. We are made partakers of his holiness, of his goodness, of his love, his mercy, his peace, and many other things. He himself dwells in us in a very real sense. Thus we are garrisoned and defended against all attackers.
Faith also works to help us hold on to God. Some people are fearful that their hold upon him will be broken. They feel as though they were hanging over a chasm of uncertainties and dangers, and only by holding on with their utmost strength, can they hope to escape disaster. The real facts are illustrated by an incident that I once observed.
A father took his little daughter by the arms and lifted her from the floor. She grabbed frantically at his arms with her hands and held on as hard as she could, fearing that he would let her fall. Seeing her fear, he relaxed his grasp sufficiently to throw most of her weight upon her hands. She held tightly for a few moments, then her strength began to fail. She cried, "O Papa, Papa, I'll fall, I'll fall." Her father only smiled. Her grasp soon began to relax and she lost her hold with both hands but she did not fall. Her father held her as tightly as before. She had been at no time in danger of falling.
In the same way, God holds us. Our strength may not enable us to hold on to him securely. Sometimes we may feel our grasp upon him slipping. It may seem that we shall certainly fall. But we do not fall. His hands still hold us. We are safe in the midst of our fears. Ah, soul, do not be afraid God will not let you go. He will hold fast to you with those great omnipotent arms of his. His hold will never slip. Do not trust your own faith to hold on to him. Hold as you can but rely upon him to hold you. Do not attempt to rely upon yourself, to hold all your weight. He does not expect it. He does not wish it. He wants the satisfaction of holding you, and having you have confidence enough in him to be unafraid but secure in your safety.
God's ways are not our ways. Sometimes God's wisdom rather than his power protects us. He can make great barriers of trifles.
The story is told of Felix of Uola and his followers who when fleeing from their pursuers took refuge in a cave. Just after they entered, a spider spun a web across the opening. The pursuers coming along glanced toward the cave but, noticing the spider's web across the opening, decided no one had entered there, so marched on. After they had passed out of sight Felix and his men came out. When he saw the spider's web Felix said, "With God a spider's web is an army. Without God an army is but a spider's web."
One thing we must learn when God takes us out of trouble, or when he comforts and sustains us in our troubles then we must do nothing to bring trouble back upon us. We must let past things be past things.
The following illustration points out a lesson we all need to learn: "A Christian lady had passed through some trouble and the Lord at the proper time had comforted her. But later she got to thinking over the thing again, and began to feel bad over it. Then the Lord said to her, "I comforted you over this once; now if you go to thinking it over again, you will have to bear it yourself."
Many of us go back into the past to bring up troubles through which we have been brought, and sorrows over which we have been comforted. With these, we spoil the present. With these, we crush the song of joy which would otherwise spring up in our hearts. Let us not act so unwisely.
Living today, trusting God for today, realizing his care today, and letting yesterday and tomorrow look after the things that belong to them we may realize the security of our souls in God, and out of that sense of security, we can sing songs of triumph and abounding joy.
Singing in Adversity
Life has its adversities. It must needs have them. Adversity, pain, sorrow, and disappointment are the lathe upon which God shapes us. They are the grinding-wheel which grinds and smoothes us. They are the polishing-wheel which makes us shine. If we can never be happy until we are so situated that nothing which exists may tend to render us unhappy then we shall have little happiness in life. Happiness does not come from a life of ease and indolence. It is not the result of the absence of obstacles and difficulties. Happiness comes from triumphing over them. Therefore the song of true happiness often arises from the soul which undergoes many adversities.
Paul understood what life must be. He went through the cities of Asia after he had been stoned and left for dead, "Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through many hardships and tribulations, enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). He enumerated the things he suffered in his work for Christ. Doubtless you have read that list again and again. Notwithstanding all this, no one has more to say about rejoicing, being filled with joy, and singing the songs of victory than does this same sufferer of tribulations.
The Psalmist also knew about tribulations. He said, "I will be glad and rejoice in your mercy for you have considered my trouble; you have known my soul in adversities" (Psalm 31:7). God did not leave him to himself in his tribulations. Being conscious of this, he could rejoice.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." Did he say, "Mourn and weep because of this"? Did he intimate that they should shrink from them? Did he indicate there was something wrong in them which brought these tribulations? Not so. He had already told them that the world would hate them. Now he showed them that as a result of that hatred of the world, and also as the result of natural conditions in life they would have tribulations. Did he say to them, "This will take away much from your happiness; you will be sad and disconsolate much of the time; you will sorrow on account of these tribulations; it is too bad you are to have them"? No he said nothing of this kind. He told them plainly what was to come; then added, "But be of good cheer I have overcome the world."
Think of the boldness of Jesus in saying this. Just before him lay Gethsemane. Just beyond that, the trials before the high priest and Pilate, and Calvary awaited him. He knew this very well. He knew he must pass through the bitterest of tribulations. Nevertheless he said, "Be of good cheer I have overcome the world."
What a wonderful example for us this is. He has overcome the world not merely for himself but for us as well. As the Psalmist pointed out, he knows our adversities. He knows that lying ahead of us there are adversities and difficulties, perhaps dangers, sorrows, and many things to try the soul. He also knows when we are in those things, when they are pressing hard upon us, when we are tempted to bow down our heads and give up. He knows exactly how we feel, how things seem, how the future looks, how the present troubles us. In spite of it all he is saying to us, "Be of good cheer I have overcome."
Dear soul, Jesus knows all about your troubles. He knows every heartache, every difficulty, everything you must overcome, everything you must bear. Trusting in his grace, relying upon his help you shall soon find your heart filling again with melody, for the clouds will pass away.
Paul asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" Then he adds, "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us!" (Romans 8:35, 37).
Speaking of our acceptance with God and our justification by faith through grace, Paul says we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2). But are the good things of God all in which we can rejoice? No, for he continues, "And not only so but we glory in tribulations also."
Paul could rejoice in the bad things, as well as in the good things. Why could he do this? Was he a mere enthusiast? Was he a man who shut his eyes to the facts? No, he was sober-minded, consistent, and sane. He looked behind the frowning face of circumstances. He saw the results that follow tribulations. He set them down for us that we might consider them and rejoice with him. "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us!" Romans 5:3-5. That was the secret of Paul's rejoicing.
Again Paul tells his experience in 2 Corinthians 7:4, "I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds." He tells why this is: "God, who comforts those who are cast down, comforts us" (verse 6). "Who comforts us in all our tribulation" (2 Corinthians 1:4). The comfort of God is wonderful. The satisfying, soul-delighting blessedness of it, can be known only by those who have gone deeply into the waters of tribulation. So many in times of trouble, are prone to feel that God does not care for them or to feel that they have offended him. Just when they need him most, and just when he would be most ready to help they cease to seek that help and feel they must meet their difficulties in their own strength without the help they so much crave.
Right here many are tempted to give up trying. They feel they are unable to overcome or to endure through to better days. They feel that God has forsaken them in their hour of need. Their feelings and their attitude shut them off from that help which God would delight to give them. It is just here that we need to face things squarely. We need to consider God as he is. We need to take a right view of our relationship with him.
In the time of the child's need, a true and loving parent yearns with sympathy and with an earnest desire to help. The heart of God is more tender than the heart of a mother. His love is stronger than any human love. In these times of tribulation and trouble, of sorrow or care, of anxiety or foreboding we should remember that he is waiting to take us into his arms and to comfort us with that comfort which only he can give.
The clouds may seem to hide his face; he may seem far off but he is not far off. The clouds may prevent us from seeing him but they do not prevent his seeing us. He does see us and he desires us to turn to him for that support in trouble which we need in order that the heavy load may be borne. He desires that we confide in him, and that we pour out our soul's bitterness and longing to him. He expects us to act as men and women who trust him. He expects us to use what strength we have. But beyond and above our strength, is his abundant strength and help ready to supply whatever deficiency there may be in us. He always sees the way out of our difficulties. He always knows just how much grace we must have. He always measures out to us the needed supply we must have.
No one has ever lived, who has not had his times of discouragement, heaviness, sorrow, and disappointment. Care and anxiety come to all. Unsaved people have to bear their own burdens, meet their own adversities, suffer their own sorrows without divine help. They get through them in some way in their own strength, and we could do the same without divine help. There would always be a way that we could get through somehow. But God knows a better way than we know, and he will help us into that better way. He will give us the strength and fortitude necessary if we only trust and go forward courageously.
James tells us, "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." There is a way to do this. That way is the way Paul took. Paul looked behind the tribulations to the outcome. James exhorts us to do likewise. These tribulations all are fruitful. They are good for us. If we bear them as we should then we shall look back upon them shortly and rejoice that God let them come.
Let us now look at Paul. It was midnight. He and Silas lay in a Philippian dungeon. Their feet were fast in the stocks. Their clothes were torn, their backs were bleeding from the many stripes that had been laid upon them. It seemed that death might be only a little ahead of them. Under these unfavorable circumstances they did not lament they prayed (Acts 16:25). After they had prayed, they did something else; they sang praises to God. They did not do this for mere bravado. They did not do it to keep the other prisoners awake. They did it because of the joy that was welling up in their own hearts. They were suffering, so they could not sleep; so they spent the time in the very best possible manner. They spent not a moment in regretting what had happened. They did look for the needed help. Their faith reached out to God and help came. Their souls were filled with joyful praises and they sang from full hearts.
There were reasons why they could do this. First, they were innocent. They had a consciousness they had done nothing wrong. They had been trying to do good. Now they were suffering for it. There is "rest" comfort in being innocent under such circumstances, or in any circumstances. A clear conscience inspires to song. So if our conscience is clear, we can rise above our circumstances if we follow the course taken by Paul and Silas.
Second, they were hopeful Christians. They did not look on the dark side. They looked beyond the present suffering and the threatening circumstances. They neither saw the dungeon nor the stocks nor the executioner's sword. They neither felt their galled ankles nor their smarting backs. They looked to God. They saw his approving smile and they sang praises.
Third, they exercised definite faith. They believed God knew all about their circumstances. They believed they were in his care. They believed nothing could come to them, without coming through his will. So they rested in full assurance of faith in him and in their tribulations they sang joyfully. Paul taught others to rejoice, and he set them an example. If we face our adversities as he faced his we too may sing in adversity.
In adversity we sing a different song than we do when we are untroubled. We must join courage to trust. When we do this, we can sing songs of confidence born of our confidence in God's help. We can sing songs of trust which allay our fears. We can sing songs of anticipation as we look forward to the victories which lie before us, and at the crown at the end of the road. We can sing in joyful remembrance of God's former mercies.
The song of adversity is more difficult to learn, than the song we sing when everything is going pleasantly and prosperously but these songs are no less joyous in the depths of the heart when they spring from faith. In fact they can often be more truly joyous than the songs of prosperity, because they go deeper into the depths of the heart and rise with fuller trust. But no matter how many tribulations we have, if we trust God, we may be "exceeding joyful" in all those tribulations.
The Heavenly Places
A devout Scotchman, being asked if he ever expected to go to Heaven answered, "Why man I live there!" Heaven is not only a place far distant, a place of which we know very little and to which we hope to go some day when this life is over. Heaven is something which may be enjoyed here and now. "God, who, rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus!" (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Too many people put off their enjoyment of Heaven to another life, and do not expect much of it in this life. It is our privilege to enjoy Heaven now. We can have a Heaven in this life. It is true that many persons who speak of this, refer only to superficial emotions, outbursts of rejoicing, leading to physical demonstrations and the like. These things may have a certain value but they are not the things referred to in the text mentioned. Living in Heaven here, means something far deeper, richer, and more glorious than mere emotions, however joyful for the moment emotions may be.
Living in Heaven is a reality. It was a reality to Jesus. Jesus was living on earth in the midst of a few friends and many enemies but he was also living in Heaven. To be sure, his being in Heaven was something different from our being in the heavenlies with him. We can be in Heaven while we are in this "valley of sorrow." Philippians 3:20 says that "our citizenship is in Heaven." In other words, we are citizens of Heaven now.
What does it mean to dwell in Heaven to sit in the heavenlies in Christ?
First, it means to be raised up above the base and evil elements of this world, into a heavenly atmosphere. It means to have our affections set upon heavenly things and not upon things on the earth. It means that heavenly things, that is, the things of righteousness, purity, love, and all kindred elements will have more importance to us than do earthly things.
Living in the heavenlies means to live in the element of love, to be actuated by love, to be filled with love, love that is begotten in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts" (Romans 5:5). "God is love and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Love instead of selfishness, becomes the mainspring of life. It banishes hatred, jealousy, envy, malice, and all similar things that blight life.
In the heavenly places we, are in an atmosphere of peace. We are at peace with God, at peace with our fellow-men, and peaceably disposed. Those who live in Heaven, are heavenly-minded.
To be living in heavenly places, requires certain characteristics in ourselves. In other words we can live in the heavenlies only when we have been raised up into the heavenlies by Christ. This raising up is a purification of our natures and an implanting of divinely given spiritual characteristics. One of these characteristics is inner purity. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). We must not suppose seeing God in the sense this means, is confined to eternity. No, we can say like Simeon of old, "My eyes have beheld your salvation." As was prophesied, it shall be true of us, "all shall know me, from the least to the greatest" (Hebrews 8:11).
We must be godlike in the characteristics of our souls if we would dwell with God either in eternity or in the heavenlies in this life. There must therefore be inner purity of desire and purpose, of affection and will. There must be glad acceptance of God's will for us. We must always act from motives of love and purity. Only by this means, can we have the favor of God and realize his presence with us.
Inward purity manifests itself in outward purity that is, purity of life. Our conduct will be the fruit of love. We shall not only love our neighbor as ourselves but even love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us. A great profession of religion, together with many physical demonstrations of joy, may exist when there is no inner purity and when the outer life is inharmonious and unlovely but there can be no actual living in the heavenly places under such conditions.
There must be un-worldliness of spirit. Those who love the world do not and cannot love God. We must mingle with the people of the world as did Jesus but if he dwells in us and rules our life then we can keep ourselves pure in the midst of this evil world. We may dwell among men yet sit in the heavenlies in Christ.
Living in the heavenlies, we have fellowship with God. John says, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). Again, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin" (verse 7).
Fellowship must be experienced to be understood. It is the answering of our hearts, to the heart of God. It is one of the most precious experiences of the Christian life. It includes a consciousness of being acceptable to God. It is the realization that our heart answers to him and his to ours. This includes the sense of divine companionship, of divine understanding, and of union with God. We are his and he is ours. The Bible expresses this relation by the figure of marriage. A marriage of true love symbolizes this sacred relation of redeemed souls to God.
In this relation we have communion with God. We know God hears us. We know we can talk to him as to a father. We know there is a heart that answers to our heart. We know one understands and enters sympathetically into the things that make up our lives. Jesus said he would not call his disciples servants but friends. Abraham was called the friend of God. It is our glorious privilege to be friends of his in a close, intimate, and satisfying friendship which will enrich our lives and make a Heaven of them.
When we dwell in the heavenlies, it is our privilege to entertain God there. "If any man hears my voice, and opens the door then I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20). Again it is written, "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Isaiah 57:15). Therefore God does not dwell only in Heaven he dwells in the hearts of his people. We can entertain him as a dear friend, when he comes in and sups with us.
We are called the temples of God, because God dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, comes into us to be an abiding guest (John 14:16). All these texts show clearly that it is God's purpose that man be in intimate relations with himself while in this world.
Life has two sides. Most of us could realize more of the heavenly if we would let our minds dwell more upon that side. The heavenly is not merely imaginary. It is not merely an attitude of mind. It is a glorious reality.
We shall not have fellowship with Jesus merely in his joyfulness and victory but in "the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake." He had his periods of heaviness and mental distress. It is our privilege to go with him through the valley of humiliation, through the garden of Gethsemane to Calvary. It is our privilege to fellowship in his sufferings from rejected love, from unjust condemnation, from neglect and hatred.
Christ was still in the heavenlies as he passed through these things, and we may be in the heavenlies with him yet walk with him through such things. We have the promise that if we suffer with him we shall also reign with him. Let us not shrink back from whatever suffering comes to us, because we are true to Christ and walk with him.
God has promised to withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly. Ephesians 1:3 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." All spiritual blessings are ours through Christ. When we walk with Christ, we have access to his storehouse of love, mercy, kindness, and blessing. As Paul cried out, "All things are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
Since it is our privilege to sit in the heavenly places with Christ then let us draw near in full assurance of faith. Let us become heavenly-minded. Let us set about realizing our privileges. We must draw near to God. We must dwell in his presence. This is not such a hard thing to do. It takes some time. It takes some effort. But this time and effort are largely to free ourselves from our attachment to earthly things. We are so close to them, so absorbed with them, so busy with them that we do not take time for many things. We fill our minds with trivial things instead of with thoughts of the high, and holy, and blessed things of Christ.
Let us learn our privileges in Christ and then set about having these privileges realized in actuality. Oh, the blessedness of being hid away in the presence of God the sweetness of communion with him the joys "unspeakable and full of glory" which come to the quiet soul whose heart is all the Lord's, when he lives in the very atmosphere and elements of Heaven. No matter what may be our situation in life it is the privilege of each of us to have this blessed experience.