When Adversity Comes
Charles Naylor, 1944
Out of the personal experience of a sufferer, a man who because of accidental injuries has been bedfast for thirty-five years, this book has come. Here is a man who speaks the language of those who have suffered adversity—loss of health, bereavement, unexpected reverses, disappointed hopes, and many other calamities that happen to people.
The thoughts printed in this book are not theoretical. They were not born in the mind of one who was merely trying to be helpful to those less fortunate than he. Rather, they flow forth from the inmost soul of one who himself has had to wrestle with adversity. Naylor spent thirty-five years as a bedridden invalid with pain as a constant companion, serious financial losses, and the loss of his wife. By the help of God he has mastered the calamities that came upon him in life. For that reason he is competent to give help to others.
When the Going Becomes Hard
When youth's bright imagination looks forward, it gazes down the vista of life and sees a bright future. People expect their lives to be replete with happiness. They think of themselves as being happy, they expect to be happy, they think that this life was made for happiness.
One of the components of happiness for which people look, is ease. Ease and comfort are two of the most desirable things in the estimate of most people. Few people look forward and plan their lives to be lives of toil and adversity. They expect to be so successful, that they may sometime possess enough of the goods of this world to say, like one of old, "Soul, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry!" This is the goal of millions—the desire of multitudes.
Another thing that looms large on the skyline of life is pleasure. Gratification of desire stands out as a thing to be attained at all costs, for it is supposed to bring pleasure; therefore, gratification is thought of as life's greatest good. The goddess of pleasure is thought to be the giver of all that is most desirable. On these things people set their hopes, and for them they make their plans. To attain them seems to be life's most desirable ambition.
THE CERTAINTY OF TROUBLE
No one plans to have adversity in his life. Did you ever see anyone who deliberately made provision in his life's plan for adversities? Troubles are not wanted; they are shunned. Most people are like those of whom the writer of the tenth Psalm speaks: "He has said in his heart, I shall not be moved—for I shall never be in adversity" (Psalm 10:6).
Yet there are few who escape adversity. If we look at the people around us and study their lives one by one, we shall see that life is rarely ever smooth sailing all the way. Life has its difficulties, its hard things—things that test the fiber of our souls. To believe we shall not have our part in the adversities which beset others, is wishful thinking.
Since good and evil are so blended in the world, adversity is quite certain to come to us in one form or another. We may expect our share, and should not leave it out of account in life's plans. According to the law of averages and the law of probabilities, we know that we shall not escape.
This should not alarm us, neither should it make us believe we shall be unhappy. We should not shrink from the future because of it; we should prepare for it. This does not mean that we should fear it and let its possible coming throw a deep shadow over life; neither should we live under a strain, expecting trouble to overtake us at any time. We ought to be ready to meet it bravely, confidently, and resourcefully, so that we shall not be overwhelmed.
USE YOUR RESERVE POWER
At the same time that we are aware of life's possibilities, we should be conscious of our own possibilities. Our bodies are built with much greater capacity than we use day by day. In time of need or danger or sickness, we draw upon these extra resources. This is true in every part of our being. In other words, we are given capacities to meet things far beyond what come upon us in our daily, normal life. Therefore, if the going becomes rough, if the way becomes difficult—we have at hand capabilities that enable us to rise to meet the need, and the first thing to do is to draw upon these reserves.
No wise general expects unfailing victory. He plans for victory, works for victory, does everything possible for victory; but at the same time he always has other plans to fall back on if he meets defeat. If his army is defeated he will have everything ready to fall back to a previously chosen strong position in the rear and there he will again marshal his forces, make his dispositions, and be ready for a new encounter with the foe.
The good general will anticipate any surprise moves of the enemy and have counter measures prepared. We have in our history examples of generals who failed to take such precautions and whose plans were not adequate to meet the conditions that arose.
In the Indian wars in the Ohio country, General St. Clair marched out with his army confident that he would be able to defeat the Indians. They surprised him by attacking him and his army before he expected it. He had not taken proper precautions. In a little while his army was defeated with great slaughter. Later, General Wayne led his army against these same Indian tribes. He was a general who took every precaution. The Indians could not surprise him. To them he was a man who never slept but was always on the alert. He defeated the Indians and compelled them to sue for peace.
At the battle of Chancellorsville, General Hooker is said to have had more than twice as many troops as Lee and Jackson. He was confident of success; he was certain the enemy must retreat; but General Jackson passed around Hooker's flank and in the early dawn struck him a mighty and unexpected blow. My grandfather was with his regiment in the Eleventh Corps that stood in Jackson's path. They were taken by surprise, outflanked, and driven from the field. This severe defeat resulted from over-confidence, lack of care, and lack of preparation.
Many people are taken by surprise by adversity—they are thrown into a panic and cannot summon their resources immediately. The result often is that they are overwhelmed by the adversity thus unexpectedly met. Some give way to discouragement, or even to despair. They had planned happiness, they were looking for pleasure and gratification, for ease. They expected to do as they liked, and have a good time. Adversity was the last thing they had expected, and they had no plans to meet it. Their thought now is, "What shall I do?"
Generally, they look for some easy way out—but adversity usually has no easy way out. There are a great many things that we have to go through, the hard way. There is always a way through adversity, and many times that way is simpler than it seems at first. In any event, it will require courage and determination. It will demand that we summon all our resources and meet it manfully. It will not do to whimper and pity ourselves, lament and weep.
Some who read this do not look forward to possible adversities—their adversities have already arrived. They are now facing them or they are now in the midst of them. The question with them is, "What shall we do now?" The stress and strain is not a future thing with them, but a present reality. In this volume we shall try to suggest some ways of meeting the stress of adversities.
The USES of Adversity
The common thought regarding adversity, is that it is only destructive; it sweeps away what we possess, destroys what we value, robs us of that which we cherish, sets up barriers before us, and makes life difficult.
Yes, it does all this; and to many, it is only destructive. But out of the evil, good can often come; or the evil can be transmuted into good. Some people are ruined by adversity. To them it seems that nothing is left. They can only sit down, fold the hands, and mourn for the loss which they have sustained. Often such people give themselves over to finding fault with others, or blaming God for what they have suffered. They may blame some of their fellow men and give way to resentment, complaining, bitterness, and general dissatisfaction with everything.
I know people who for years have been going about repeating the story of their wrongs, their losses, or their other misfortunes, again and again, to whoever will listen. They never get out from the shadow of these things. They permit their lives to be blighted and embittered and soured. They are unhappy, morose, discontented. They think their state of mind is the result of the adversity they have suffered.
This is not at all the case. Other people have suffered adversity without holding any such attitudes toward life or toward people or toward God. They have kept sweet-spirited. Their lives have not been robbed of their values, their beauty, or even of their serenity. The former people are what they are, not because of what they have suffered—but because of the sinful attitude they have taken toward their sufferings and losses.
Adversity can make us—or break us; it can rob us—or enrich us. What it does for us, depends upon us and our outlook on life—whether we count ourselves beaten or to have met merely a setback which may be overcome.
We must Use Adversity as a Door of Opportunity
Two miners lived in a cabin on a mountainside. There had been many rich mines in this mountain. Now, however, they were pretty well worked out and were being abandoned one by one. The miners were drifting away, and these two were about ready to abandon their cabin and go away also. But one night it caught on fire and burned to ashes. A short time later it was discovered that this cabin had been sitting upon a rich outcropping of valuable ore. The loss of the cabin revealed the hidden treasure.
Our adversities, if we examine them properly, may reveal to us hidden treasures not suspected before. The hidden gold of character may be brought to light—characteristics we did not know we possessed may come to the surface. We may find new strength. Qualities and capacities that have been unused, and even not suspected, may show themselves.
Many men and women have been going along in life with favorable circumstances, taking life easy, enjoying its pleasures—but merely drifting where the current carried them. Then adversity came, ease went out of life, and difficulties were multiplied. But instead of bewailing their fate, these people have taken a new grip upon themselves and faced life in a new way. Refusing to surrender to circumstances, they have summoned their resources and have become something they were not before, and something they never would have become—had adversity not overtaken them.
Adversity often means opportunity. It may close the way in one direction, only to open it to a wider vista, to a richer, fuller life. However, if we are not careful, we shall not look for the opportunities that adversity brings. We shall see only the way closed before us, our hopes trailed in the dust, our expectations unrealized. The effect adversity has upon us, does not depend upon the adversity; it depends upon us and on what we do after adversity strikes. Adversity may floor us; we may be knocked out for a time—but we do not need to remain in that condition. We can arise again and bravely face what life has brought to us.
We can spend our time looking at what adversity has done to us—or we can look for what we can do to adversity. We can strike a lump of clay with a hammer, and it is crushed to pieces. We can strike a lump of wax, and impress the shape of the hammer on it. We can strike a piece of rubber, and the hammer rebounds and the rubber is unharmed. People can be like the clay, the wax, or the rubber. Their response to the stroke of adversity depends upon themselves and their attitude toward life. As we develop this attitude from day to day through the years—we prepare ourselves to meet adversity, or we go on unprepared to meet it. We choose to build up the attitudes we need to meet adversity, or we choose to neglect to do so. We cannot escape adversity, or if we do escape it, we may be worse off than if it came. The wise person will prepare to meet whatever comes, and to be master of his circumstances—whatever those circumstances may be—and make his life a success; for it is possible to make life a success, no matter what happens.
We must Use Adversity as Means of Discipline
One important use of adversity, is that it brings discipline. The tendency of prosperity is to make one careless. It leads to undisciplined living, which, in turn, always leads to weakness, to failure, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. For the past generation or two, some of our philosophers have been teaching the undisciplined life, telling our young people to let themselves go, to follow their impulses, to give reign to their passions, to deny themselves nothing they desire. They have taught parents not to correct their children but to let them run wild, to live their own lives, to gratify all their propensities, to have their own way in everything.
Many people have followed—and are still following—this unrestrained, undisciplined way of life. What is the result today? The undisciplined of a former generation, are now the mothers of this generation. As a result, juvenile delinquency has reached a peak far above anything known hitherto. The home life of former days, with all its rich associations and blessings to the family and to society—is today almost entirely unknown in millions of homes—or places called homes.
As a result of following this philosophy of "do as you please"—we are an undisciplined nation. Prisons and asylums are full. There is one divorce for every six marriages. Suicides never were so common as in recent years.
Has all this lack of discipline brought happiness? On the contrary, there is more unhappiness now than our nation ever knew before at any other time in its history. No, undisciplined lives do not lead to happiness, no matter how great the opportunities for gratification. It is only the disciplined life that can produce happiness, and very often adversity is the only thing that will bring about the discipline necessary to set our feet in the way of true happiness. Sheltered lives are rarely strong lives.
Why is military discipline and training so rigorous? Why must soldiers be drilled and disciplined from morning until night? It is to bring out those qualities, characteristics, and abilities that will make the difference between an ordinary civilian and a soldier. Only troops that have been rigorously trained for long periods are able to meet the shock of war successfully, or to endure its hardships, or accomplish its purposes. The story of our marines at Guadalcanal and New Guinea is a vivid illustration of the result of discipline and training.
God knows the need of discipline for His children—and He knows that truer, better discipline can come through adversity, than by any other means.
Jesus speaks of himself as the vine and His people as branches of that vine. "He prunes every branch that bears fruit—that it may bring forth more fruit." John 15:2
How are vines pruned? The gardener goes into his vineyard and prunes his vines, often cutting away so large a portion of them that it looks as though he would destroy them. But they are not destroyed. On the contrary, they bring forth an abundant harvest, much more abundant than would have been possible had they not been pruned so thoroughly.
Are you a branch in Christ? If so, do not assume that you are going to have an easy, happy time with pleasant circumstances always, and never a sorrow or a care. No! God wants you to bear fruit, an abundance of fruit. He knows you cannot do that when you are at ease and merely enjoying yourself. In the school of adversity He will from time to time employ the pruning knife that will cut away from you many of the things you do not wish to lose. Christ is a wise gardener. He will not let adversity prune you too closely, nor will He take away from you that which will not profit you more by its absence, than by its retention. By disciplining you, He will strengthen you and instruct you, enlighten you and profit you.
Adversity develops Christian character. We can develop patience, only as we have tests which require the use of patience. We can become steadfast, only by standing firm against opposition and pressure. We can develop loyalty, only by having that loyalty tested and put under strain. We often acquire wisdom, by passing through the things that require wisdom. We can get understanding, only by things that compel us to learn. Love may reach its highest capacity when it has been severely tested. Serenity comes to some people, only after they have suffered and have been ripened by that suffering. Boldness belongs to those who have mastered themselves in many a conflict.
If you needed help in times of adversity, to whom would you go to seek that help? To one who has always had an easy and prosperous time, one who has never suffered? No, you want someone who understands; and you know that only those who have drunk deeply of the cup of adversity understand it and are able to give help. Who are those who become great souls? Are they not those who have dwelt long with adversity? Yes, adversity has its uses; adversity is often a blessing. We would never know what we might become or what we may do, unless we learn it through adversity.
The ORIGIN of Adversities
In this chapter we shall speak of the sources and causes of adversities; in the next chapter we shall begin to show the means and methods of meeting and overcoming these adversities.
We do not like to contemplate adversities. We desire to shut them out of our minds and think of the pleasant things of life. However, it is always best to face facts. We must face facts if we would be prepared for what life will bring. Security does not lie in unpreparedness, but in facing the possibilities and making provisions to meet whatever comes. So we shall look at some of those possibilities—which to some people are not possibilities but realities—in order to find the way out, and the preparation to meet them successfully.
Ordinarily, nature is a very good mother to us. She loves her children. Nevertheless, the forces of nature cannot be controlled to such an extent that they will never work destructively. Along with others, Christians must face the general calamities that befall society—earthquakes, fires, floods, droughts, storms. There are those who think that if we are truly children of God—then we ought not to suffer these calamities. Such people say these calamities are punishments visited upon people for their sins; therefore, it would not be just for God to let his children suffer from them.
However, the Bible teaches that God's children suffer the same as others in these general calamities, and the experience of millions of people confirms it.
God is infinite in wisdom and must ever follow that which is wisest in the circumstances.
Besides those general calamities, the farmer and gardener have to face the depredations of insects and diseases of plants and stock. A long catalogue of these lesser calamities might be given, but it would serve no good purpose. We know that these things must be faced; often there is no way of avoiding them. Our only recourse is to use all possible preventive measures; and if these do not succeed, we must suffer the consequences and find another way to balance things.
These special calamities include illness, personal losses, injuries resulting from accidents, and a variety of other things. This sort of adversity is often hard to bear, because it comes right home to the individual. He must face the results himself, often alone; and he need not be surprised if others do not notice his suffering, or even if they repel him on account of it. The blind, the deaf, the crippled may be as they are, through no fault of their own—yet they must suffer these handicaps. All too often they become oversensitive on account of them, which makes their lot still harder. As a result of being misunderstood, they are often treated in a way that makes them feel the keen sting of the conduct of the thoughtless and misunderstanding people about them. (We shall return to these things later to find the way of helpfulness.)
There are also man-made adversities. People have enemies who injure them, their property, or their reputation—and so cause adversities that are entirely needless. Sometimes business or other prospects are destroyed by vicious conduct or misrepresentation.
Many suffer from false friends, who are friends to one's face, but enemies behind his back. Others suffer adversities through lack of foresight. They cannot manage their affairs properly. They cannot plan wisely. Things overtake them unexpectedly, which might have been avoided.
There are also self-made adversities, and these are the worst of all to bear. People bring calamities upon themselves by their own misconduct. A thousand examples of this may be seen in any city. The drunkard reaps the fruit of his drunkenness, the harlot has her shame, the criminal looks out from between the bars of steel. Nothing truer was ever said than "Whatever a man sows—that shall he also reap." And much reaping is with tears and bitter regret.
Other adversities come upon us through our miscalculations. Things do not turn out as we supposed they would, and we suffer the consequences. Sometimes our adversities come because we have been careless, and sometimes because we have neglected to do the things we knew we ought to do. All these must be met in some way; and the happiness and success of our lives will depend in large measure upon how we meet them.
Millions of people today are wasting their resources in sinful living. In order to see the result of their conduct, people have only to look around them to those who have spent their resources in former days as they themselves are doing today. Look at elderly people with no resources. See how many of them have no homes and how many of them are dependent upon charity. So many young and middle-aged people are letting all they make, slip through their fingers and saying to themselves, "The future will take care of itself"; or thinking, "The government will take care of me when I am old"; or, "My social security check will take care of my needs." I wonder if these people are willing to live on the financial level that these things promise. Wasting their substance today—they are heading straight for a poverty-stricken old age! When that calamity comes, who will pity them?
There are others who are wasting something that is much more precious than money. They are wasting their inner resources—their moral and spiritual capacities. They are running after pleasure, seeking thrills and more thrills. They must try everything. No matter what calamities such conduct has wrought upon others, they will not heed examples; they must know for themselves.
What is the result? Today we have thousands of young people, as well as older people, whose emotions have been burned out. They have no more thrills. They feel that they have known and exhausted life, and can see no future for themselves. They come to hate life and to grow cynical and hard. But have they known life? There are great areas of life, in fact, the best part of life, of which they know nothing. To use a simile, they have made the round of the side shows and think they have seen all of the circus. They have known only the superficial things of life. They have never known life's real values and lasting satisfactions, and perhaps never will know them.
There are people in the religious world who are following the same course. They think religion is made up of thrills. They want one joyful thrill after another. They seek to stimulate their emotions. Such emotionalism is merely the foam on the waters of religion. Emotion is a real part of religion, but emotion is one thing and emotionalism is quite another. Joy is one thing, but hysteria is something different. Exaltation of one's feelings is one thing, and to be carried out of one's senses is quite another.
There are today thousands of people who have gone into the wild emotional religious movements that have been so prevalent in recent years, and many of them can no longer feel the thrills they once felt in their religion. Their emotions are burned out; they have become incapable of religious feeling. Many of these people are discouraged and despairing. Many of them have given up religion entirely, and many others are in asylums. The trouble is, they squandered their spiritual resources in religious excesses. They had a grand time while it lasted; but now that it has come to its end and they have no more capacity for it—alas! what will they do? Their spree is over, and now they are having "the morning after."
Can anything be done for these people with burned-out emotions? Is there yet a chance for them? After the thrills are gone, is there still to be found some solid, substantial, satisfying thing in life? Yes, there is hope even for these, but the way out is not easy. If the task of recovering themselves is taken up with courage and determination—then the way out is not too difficult for them to find, nor too hard for them to follow successfully. In the chapters that follow, we shall try to point out this way.
How to Meet Adversities
For the moment, the easiest way to meet adversity is to surrender to the circumstances. The temptation often comes in almost overwhelming force to give up, to quit, and make no further effort. Sometimes we are tempted to run away from trouble, to put as many miles between it and ourselves as possible.
Giving up does not make an end of the trouble. Surrendering to it, only gives it mastery over us. We cannot run away so far, but that trouble follows us. It does something to us on the inside, and what it does there, is the most serious consequence of the adversity. If we give up, we still have our trouble. If we run away, we take most of it with us. Surrendering to circumstances is never the way out, though it may appear to be the only possible way. No situation is entirely hopeless—there is always some way to retrieve the disaster.
There are some things that can never be the same after the hand of adversity has struck us. Fortunes may be lost, and poverty may be our lot. Health may be lost, and not be regained. We may be injured, and become permanent cripples. Friendships may be broken, that never can be mended. Past conditions, perhaps, cannot be restored—but the thing that counts most, can be restored. The citadel of the soul may be re-conquered. Confidence, assurance, hope, and tranquility may again come to us. We can rise above disaster. We can build anew, the things that have been broken down.
Examples of this are not hard to find. There are people in every community who, by courage, fortitude, and patience have regained soul mastery and are masters of their world. If the bird with a broken pinion can never soar so high again, it can still fly and it can sing as sweetly as before. When the worst happens, then all is not lost; there is still hope for every courageous soul, and victory for those who will take it.
The first sight we have of adversity, usually shows its worst features. There is nearly always a shock when we see it. We are usually surprised and unprepared. It falls upon us like a blight, blotting out the sun in our sky, stilling the song of hope in our hearts, and obscuring all hopeful elements in the situation.
Sudden adversity appeals to what is weakest in us. As the icy hand of fear grasps us—the darkness of discouragement may settle down over us, and we may also feel the shame of failure. When trouble seems to engulf us, we may be unable to see a way out—but this darkness will be followed by a new dawn.
THE THINGS THAT REMAIN
When the first shock of the coming of adversity has passed somewhat and our fears are quieted a little and the throbbing of our heart is lessened—the next thing to do is to take an inventory of what we have left. There is always more left, than we at first think.
A man and his wife, and their three-year-old girl stood looking at the smoking embers of their ruined home. They had put years of savings into it; they had worked hard and denied themselves; they had found great satisfaction in having a home of their own; but in one short hour the flames had consumed it all. As they gazed upon the scene with tearful eyes the man said, "It is all gone—we have nothing now." The little girl slipped up to her father's side, put her hand in his, looked up into his face, and said, "You have me, Daddy." He snatched her up and held her tight and said, "Yes, darling, we have you; and while we have you we are rich whether we have anything else or not."
In adversity, whatever our losses may be—the most valuable things usually remain to us. What can rob you of your virtues? Who can take away your character without your consent? As long as your spirit is left unbroken—not all can be lost. You have within yourself many things to help you retrieve your disaster and eventually to restore the shout of victory in your soul.
Adversity cannot separate you from your God. Friends may forsake you, your credit may be gone, many other things may be gone—but trouble has not robbed you of the love of God nor of his interest in you nor of his readiness to help you. No, the best things—the things that will count the most for you—still remain. No matter how dark things may look or how hopeless your situation may seem—there is always a way to go on.
There are some adversities that can be conquered. We can summon our courage and resources and go at them with both fists and fight them until we knock them out.
McCormick, the inventor of the reaper, saw his factory go up in smoke in the great Chicago fire. Before the ashes were cooled, he was planning a larger factory, an expanded business, and greater successes; and he achieved them.
When General Montgomery's troops in the Egyptian desert had been driven back so far that the thunder of the guns could be heard almost to Cairo, he reorganized his command, attacked the enemy, and attacked and attacked, and kept right on, until the foe was driven to final surrender.
Many times we cannot tell whether or not the attack method will work, until we have given it a thorough trial. Therefore it pays to tackle our adversities with determination and courage and wage a battle of conquest against them; for if we are to overcome adversity, no halfway methods can be justified. We must mean business and throw all our resources into the battle. We must go the whole way. We must not stop before our goal is reached; for half satisfaction and half victory, mean half dissatisfaction and half defeat.
Most adversities have to be endured, because they cannot be surmounted. A leg lost in an accident cannot be replaced, but that does not mean that one can never walk again. One may never walk as well on an artificial leg, but he can walk; and some people walk very well indeed. A business lost, does not mean that we can do no more business. A position lost, does not mean that we shall not be able to work again. Few losses are fatal. Few adversities are greater than we are. Many times we must accept adversity as it is, because we cannot change it and no earthly power can change it—but we can make the best of things.
If we have faced adversity, are we now making the best of things? Or is it possible that we might be doing better if we should use our powers and resources to the full? Nothing but doing our best, is good enough. Nothing but doing our best, is meeting adversity as we are capable of meeting it.
The Handicaps of Adversities
Adversities are the result of many causes. After the adversity has come, it matters little what has been the cause of it. It is the adversity we must face. If the cause is not a continuing cause of adversity, then its causative effects have ceased with the coming of the adversity. Usually such causes need no further attention, and the more attention we give them—the worse off we are. Causes that continue working, must be dealt with—but as matters separate and distinct from the adversity resulting from the cause. Look at the cause and at the adversity—and see if you can separate them. If you can do so, then no longer link them together but treat them as separate things. You will find that this greatly simplifies matters.
Some people seem born to adversity—they are just "unlucky." So many unpleasant and injurious things happen to them, that they seem to have a series of misfortunes. Others have natural limitations. Some are born and reared in poverty, or come to poverty through later circumstances. Some lack natural ability, and so are always handicapped in life's processes. Others have family handicaps—perhaps their family has a bad reputation or bad characters, or is involved in feuds or other troubles. Some people always suffer ill health. Others are crippled or abnormal in some way. Some have ugly features or are otherwise unattractive. Some people meet accidents, lose limbs, or are scarred—or have something else that is a handicap and a source of adversity to them. Some parents have abnormal children that are a great burden upon them; others have relatives to support and thus do not have freedom to live their own lives as they would choose. Some are naturally timid or suspicious or jealous—and these things prove to be handicaps and sources of adversities.
There are other adversities that come—losses in business through unwise investments, through mismanagement, through lack of fidelity in those we trusted. People also suffer as a result of their own unwise or sinful conduct. They sow an evil harvest, and are compelled to reap what they have sown. Sometimes they must reap what others have sown. Parents sow tares—and often the children reap the harvest. This is a sad, unavoidable thing that has cursed many a life.
There are many also who have formed bad habits—habits they have been unable or unwilling to break. These bad habits have brought them many adversities.
AFFECTED BY OUR ATTITUDE
Whatever our handicaps, we have to live our lives. It behooves us not to add to those handicaps, other handicaps that may be avoided. For instance, the mental attitude we hold toward our handicaps is of primary importance. We can add a great deal to our troubles by adopting an improper mental attitude toward them. Perhaps one of the most common reactions to a handicap, is that of shame—a constant feeling of embarrassment. This feeling may be perfectly natural—but it is not the result of a handicap itself, but of one's mental attitude toward it. If we cannot help what we are or how we are—then what good does it do to give place to embarrassment or shame?
It is said that Mr. Wesley used to tell his preachers to be ashamed of nothing but sin. That was good advice. If one is crippled or scarred or has an impediment in his speech or is otherwise "different"—there is no use to be ashamed of it. We should overcome our embarrassment, face life as it is for us, and make the best of it.
When I say "make the best of it" I do not mean just endure it or put up with it. By no means. I mean we should turn our energies, our thoughts, our purposes into other directions and determine to rise above our handicaps and be our best selves, rather than defeated selves.
Others let fear and timidity rule them because of their handicaps. Whenever they think of trying to accomplish anything, their handicaps stare them in the face. They look at everything through handicaps. They say within themselves, "If I were as others, then I could do it." They do not take into consideration that thousands of others no more able than themselves, and some of them handicapped more—have resolved to win in spite of handicaps, have pushed ahead with determination, and have won—have won gloriously.
If we have brought trouble on ourselves—as many do, through our inability to foresee the outcome of things—the tendency is to give way to self-blame and say, "I brought this trouble on myself!" Perhaps you did; but vain regrets and self-condemnation will never help you overcome it. You may have bitter memories, but those bitter memories should not be allowed too great a place in your thoughts. If you have been the cause of your own adversities—then you should try all the harder to overcome them; you should not surrender to them. Neither self-blame nor self-pity will help you. They are evil companions. Chase them away, and get down to the business of making something of your life.
Improper mental attitudes toward our adversities, may cause us to disregard our good points and the things that are still in our favor; for no matter how hopeless things look, there are many things still in our favor. Do not spend your time in useless regrets, nor in blaming others, nor in coddling discouragement. Wake up! Take an inventory of your resources. Face the facts like a man. If you have been adding wrong mental attitudes to your adversities—then stop right now! Take hold of yourself; do something about things. They might be much worse than they are. In the worst circumstances in which you can be placed, you have at least a fifty-fifty chance. Will you take it and make use of it?
When adversity overtakes some people, they give way to reckless abandon and let go of everything. They accept misfortune as their master, and make no effort to retrieve what remains to them. Such people are quitters—they sell themselves to circumstances pretty cheaply. There is neither reason nor excuse for adopting such an attitude. The time a man needs most to be a man, is when the demands upon him are greatest, and that is the time that he is capable of rising to the finest heights of courage, fortitude, and determination that he will not be overwhelmed by any trouble or sorrow that can come.
Do not add to adversity by putting on your face looks of discouragement, sorrow, hatred, cynicism, criticism, or hardness. Do not adopt an attitude that is mean, ugly, resentful. There is no use allowing yourself to react in these ways. It may be a natural reaction, but it is not by any means the only possible reaction. You can react unwisely or wisely, as you choose. Perhaps you cannot help the first impulse, but you can control that impulse; for you can deliberately choose the way you will react to your adversities. Moreover, you do choose; for your will must consent in order for your reaction to continue in any particular direction or to become permanent.
If you have troubles, do not talk about them to other people; they want to hear pleasant things. Your troubles cause them to have unpleasant reactions, which they do not want. Every time you talk about your troubles or show them on your face or permit improper reactions to them in the presence of others—you create unpleasant reactions in those about you; and their unpleasant reactions are manifested towards you and you feel it. Your relations with your friends suffer from these reactions—yours and theirs.
CHEERFULNESS A GREAT HELP
Beware of talking about your troubles, looking sad and discouraged, or scowling and murmuring. Look pleasant; be cheerful. Act cheerful, even if you do not feel it. You may reply, "That is easy enough for one to say who never had such experiences." Quite true. But if thirty-five years as a bedridden invalid with pain as a constant companion, serious financial losses, and the loss of my wife do not qualify me to speak—then what would? It is out of that background that I speak; for I, too, know discouragement and sorrow. I, too, know the temptation to surrender to circumstances. I know how difficult it is to smile, when there is nothing to cause one to smile. And still I say, Put away your troubles out of your sight and smile, and then smile again, and keep on smiling. Look at the favorable things, take advantage of them, build up your life again. Such things are always being done by others, and you can do what others are doing. God intended you to be happy no matter what your circumstances, and you can be happy in spite of them—I know.
Do not allow yourself to be sensitive as to what people say, or think, or do about your adversity. Just ignore it. If they do not act as they should act towards you, that is their fault—not yours. For yourself, choose to be happy—discard gloomy thoughts, and think of pleasant things. Try to do good to others, be interested in them, serve them.
There are many others worse off than you and I are, and yet they get along somehow. Some of the happiest people I have ever known, have been people who have had adversities such as I felt I never could endure. Yet they were happy in enduring them. What you and I must do when we cannot conquer our adversities, is to conquer ourselves and settle down to endure them, not sullenly, complainingly, self-pityingly, but with courage and hope. Your fortitude is a wonderful thing—it can accomplish a great many things you never have dreamed. Try putting it to work and keeping it at work. Ask God's help; he will free strengthen your fortitude, and you and he together make a success under any conditions.
Do not break yourself upon your adversities. Accept what cannot be helped—but live your to your highest capacity. Many have wrung success out of what seemed foredoomed to be failure. Will you choose to be one of those many—or you spend the remainder of your life repining, unhappy, discouraged, resentful? Ah, my friend, there are better things for you! Strive for the better things. Strive with all your might. Strive without ceasing. The end will be attainment for you, no matter what your circumstances. Perhaps there will not be attainment of the degree and sort you have desired; nevertheless, there will be sufficient attainment to make you happy, contented, victorious, and able to live a wholesome well-rounded, successful life.
HELPING THE HANDICAPPED
And now a word to those who are not handicapped, or do not look upon themselves as being handicapped. Do you know how to treat the handicapped? When you meet one who is blind, or crippled, or deformed, or scarred—do you look upon him and act toward him as though he were a freak? Do you look at handicapped people differently and act toward them differently, than you do toward other people? Can they read in your looks or your tone or your movements, that you think they are different from you, that they belong in another class, that they are hardly human beings?
For many years I have been associated quite closely with a number of blind people. I have often been disgusted—even highly offended—by the way I have seen them treated by people who did not mean to be unkind. So often the tone in which they spoke, the way they acted, and the way they talked to each other in the presence of the blind people—showed that these sighted people did not think of the blind as acting, thinking, and feeling the way other people do. Intentionally or unintentionally, the blind were treated most discourteously and inconsiderately.
All handicapped people are normal in most ways. They think and feel like normal people—and when they are given a chance, they act like normal people. They do not want to be pitied nor discussed. If you will be courteous and thoughtful, and ignore their handicaps (whatever they may be) and treat them just as you would treat anyone else, or would want anyone else treat you—then you will be treating them properly.
Do not refer to their handicap—or if you do, do it in a casual way that will not humiliate them. Most of all, teach yourself to feel toward the handicapped people, as you feel toward other people. Whatever of abnormality there is, you should not emphasize it nor call attention to it by word, look, or action. In this way many of the sorrows of the handicapped can be assuaged, instead of being accentuated and emphasized. Just use good common sense, and the courtesy and consideration you show to other people; then you will help the handicapped to be happy in spite of their handicaps.
The Ministry of Suffering
Adversity brings suffering, which all desire to escape. In a vast number of lives, however, suffering has proved to be the one thing, and the only thing, that could work out the beneficial results that were needed to enrich, deepen, and enlarge life. It is bitter fruit—but it gives life something that can come from no other source.
Suffering is the common lot of all mankind, and of the animal creation. People who do not have much else from which to suffer—suffer from trifles or from imaginary ills—but all suffer. Sinners and saints alike, know the rankling of the sharp arrows of pain. Even those whose lives seem most prosperous and sheltered, cannot fully escape.
Suffering has a useful place in the economy of God. It is a severe schoolmaster, but a good one, whose lessons may be costly. But if they are properly learned, they become golden treasures that enrich life.
ENRICHMENT OF CHARACTER
Pain is God's chisel with which he carves His image in the heart.
Suffering gives understanding—it illuminates life's dark places and solves riddles.
Suffering develops patience and endurance, and strengthens the fibers of the soul.
Suffering develops discipline and gives self-control. It reveals and develops latent qualities. It ripens and enriches the character.
To be sure, such results follow only when we meet our sufferings in the right way. If resist suffering and become resentful and pity ourselves or murmur against God—the fruits will be bitter indeed!
Since we choose the attitude we hold toward our
sufferings—we determine whether they shall . . .
make us—or mar us,
bring joy—or sorrow,
bring the sweetness of Christ's fellowship and comfort—or the darkness of despair.
When we suffer, we are very likely to be misunderstood. Out of the hundreds of interested an sympathetic friends who visited me during the early months of my confinement, only three had any idea of what I was passing through. These three had passed through the fires themselves. I knew they understood; and their fellowship with my suffering, was balm to my spirit. The others meant well, but many of them were only "Job's miserable comforters." It was impossible for them to plumb the depths into which I had gone, or to know the weight of my crushing burden—and so they looked on me with bewilderment.
I am still in bed. I still suffer, but not so severely as in the early years. I am not sorry that I have suffered, for God has made life broader, deeper, and richer than it could have been made by any other means.
The wrong views that some people have about the cause of suffering, often add to their suffering. Some people think that God sends suffering upon his people as a punishment, and that when we suffer sickness or something else, it is because God has been offended by something we have done. It is true that God may chastise us. It is probably also true, that he generally uses other means than sickness and actual suffering.
We are a part of the natural creation and, as Paul shows in the eighth chapter of Romans, we share in the common travailing and groaning of that whole creation. We are mortal and must share in the things that are incident to being mortal until that glad day when our Lord shall return and sickness, sorrow, and death shall give p to immortal life and glory.
WHAT CAUSES OUR SUFFERINGS?
Some of our sufferings are caused by inherited conditions. Some of our sufferings are caused by wrong living—whether that wrong is willful, or the result of ignorance. Some of our sufferings are caused by eating wrong foods or not eating proper foods; some by gluttony, overwork, an the like. Many of our troubles are caused by wrong thinking—fear, hate, wrong attitudes toward people or toward ourselves or toward life. Many of our physical and mental ills result from these things.
Most of the things that happen us, either good or bad, happen as the natural and ordinary operations of living in a flawed world. Take the following illustration: It is night and a dense fog has settled do over the country. A bus filled with passengers is passing along a highway. A little way ahead is a railroad crossing. A train is approaching that crossing. The engineer of the train may know he is approaching the crossing, but he is unaware of the approach of the bus. The bus driver may know there is a railroad crossing ahead, but because of the fog he cannot see it, nor can he see the train. Onward the two go through the foggy darkness. They reach the crossing at the same moment. There is a crash, and several of the passengers are killed.
Who was responsible for the accident? Who brought about the deaths? The engineer of the train did not plan the accident, nor desire it—neither did the driver of the bus. Neither knew what was about to happen, and so it could not be avoided.
Did Satan cause the fog or regulate the speed of the bus and of the train to bring them together at the crossing? Satan possesses no such power; he works through the hearts of wicked men, and there was no wickedness involved.
God permitted the accident to happen, just as he permits many other things of like nature to happen. He permits all our adversities to come. He permits us to act foolishly or sinfully—if we choose to do so. He permits others to act improperly toward us. He permits all the evil that happens in the world, in the sense that he does not step in and prevent it.
Think what a world this would be, if God should work a thousand miracles each day to prevent undesirable happenings. He would have to upset the regular course of nature, and everything would be thrown into disorder. No, God does not work thus. He does interfere to help his children. He does answer prayer. He does work miracles—but not by breaking natural laws.
What God does with our adversities and our sufferings, is to transmute them into the gold of godly character. They prove to be blessings in disguise—but blessings nevertheless. Again and again in the Scriptures, we are told of the blessings that come through suffering and pain, disappointments and testings. Yes, sufferings, losses, adversities—all these things we so desire to shun—work "for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory"—if we patiently endure them and submit to God's sovereign and loving will.
God and Our Adversities
David believed that God was interested in his adversities. He says, "I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul." (Psalm 31:7)
The writer of Psalm 94 says, "Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law." Here is recognition of the fact that God is not indifferent to the things that trouble his children. These writers turned to God as to one from whom help might be expected. They believed God would understand their situation and that they could count on him to assist them in their adversities. They felt that they could depend upon him in their time of trouble and not be disappointed.
Did they have reason to believe these things? And if so, have we not equal reason to believe them and to act as though we believe? God has ever been the help of those who put their trust in him. Just to quote his promises to help, sustain, comfort, and bless in adversity; and his exhortations to be strong, of good courage, to be unafraid, and to be hopeful—would make a long chapter. Moreover, none of these things was put into the Bible just to fill up space; neither are they just goody-goody make-believes. God means every one of them and stands ready to fulfill his promises and to make it possible for us to put his exhortations into effect.
It is a wonderful thing to have God as a friend in the pleasant and desirable things of life. He can add greatly to all our natural blessings by His gracious fellowship and love and the sense of His abiding presence.
In our darker hours, when it seems we need Him more—we can confidently count on His unfailing help. Talking about having God as our helper, is not a mere platitude. It can be realized.
God should be our confidant. We should take Him into the depths of all our troubles and pour out to Him all the tribulations of our hearts, all our sorrows, cares, anxieties, pains—everything that troubles us.
It always helps us when share our troubles with a friend, especially if the friends is sympathetic and understanding. God the most sympathetic and understanding of friends. So in our times of tribulation, let us ruin straight to Him and open wide our hearts and minds, and lay out before Him all those things that bring us anguish. We should not only confide in Him our every heartache and pain—we should also rely upon Him to be a present help in every time of trouble. We should have that trusting confidence that assures us of His help to the full measure of our needs.
GOD IS ON OUR SIDE
A common mistake is that God is on one side of the question—and we on the other side persuading or cajoling him to help us. The fact really is that God, like any good parent, is on the side of his children. Get this clear. God is always on the side of his children. He really is our Father. Our enemies, are his enemies.
Speaking of the affliction of God's people, it is said, "In all their affliction, He was afflicted." God enters into all our sorrow and suffering, into all that troubles us. He may let us suffer for our own good, but he can make us joyful in our tribulations. I remember that in some of the most severe sufferings through which I ever passed, my soul was so full of the glory of God that I was lifted up above the sufferings. God did not take them away at the time—but he did make me able to bear them. Out of bearing them, came rich blessings to my soul. When the hand of God is upon us—it is always upon us for good. He never hinders us; he always helps us. He never leaves us or forsakes us. Remember, whatever your trouble may be, God is on your side always and all the time.
One thing that sometimes stands in the way of people, is the feeling that they have brought their troubles upon themselves. Certainly, we bring many troubles on ourselves; but do parents refuse to help their children out of trouble, just because they have brought it upon themselves? Sometimes trouble comes upon them as the result of something done ignorantly, with no thought of trouble resulting. Merciful parents help their children just the same, and so does God help us even if we have caused our own troubles. He is still our merciful Father. He may let us suffer a little while, to learn to be more careful the next time, but he will help us just the same.
One of the most needed things in our tribulations is patience. We should endure with meekness, and at the same time hold fast our confide in God. We read of one of old who endured because he saw One who was invisible. That invisible One will be visible—when we look with the eye of faith, and we shall see him as our deliverer.
WHEN DEATH COMES
I suppose the most tragic adversity that ever comes, is when the death angel visits our home, or the homes of our dear friends. We know that death is inevitable, and that love cannot hold it back. We know it lies ahead of each one of us, but we are never ready to have a place left vacant. We are never ready for the last good-by. We are never ready for the heart-crushing loneliness that follows the going of our beloved. To those who have no hope in Christ, death is a tragedy. To those in whose souls that blessed hope blooms—death is a transfer, a going to the better land. It may be a tragedy for those left behind, but we weep for ourselves, not for the ones who have been transported to the realms of glory.
Sometimes the departure comes after a long, lingering illness—when we have looked for the end day after day. Sometimes the telephone rings or the telegraph messenger knocks at our door with the stunning news of unexpected tragedy that throws us into shocked amazement. There is no need to describe this experience for one who has passed through it. The important thing in the crisis, is the attitude we adopt. We cannot change the facts; we can only meet and bear them.
Sometimes people meet this crisis of sorrow rebelliously and resentfully. Ordinarily, death is the result of natural causes—disease, accidents, old age, and the like.
Do you remember how Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus? Did he shed tears of hypocrisy—or of genuine sorrow and sympathy? When death comes to our circle, the Christian attitude is one of submission and full reliance on the goodness and wisdom of God.
Sometimes there are days of waiting for tidings from some loved one far away. These are days that try the soul. There are times when uncertainty, the fear, and the agitation can be borne by sharing it with Him who is ready share all our troubles. To the extent we trust at such times, to that extent he will be our helper and our strength.
God's comfort in our times of sorrow is not imaginary thing. It can be so real that it is a balm for our wounded spirits. Having passed through the experience more than once, the writer knows within himself how real and vital and sustaining the comfort of God can be. He knows how corroding sorrow can be mixed with the joy of the divine Friend, and a deep and satisfying sense that God understands and cares and helps. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you and will comfort by healing your wounds and bringing peace.
WHEN WE HAVE MADE MISTAKES
One of the things in which we greatly need God's help, is in living down our mistakes. We may have to re-establish ourselves in the confidence of others. We may have to rebuild a wrecked business. We may have to regain a lost reputation or re-establish a broken friendship. Whatever our mistake has been, and however devastating its effect—the case is not hopeless. We can patiently rebuild what has been destroyed. It may be difficult, it may take a long time, it may require patient effort—and plenty of it—but if we have the will, then we can find the way.
In all our efforts to re-establish ourselves, we should pray God to be our helper. After failure, there is so often a sense of frustration. The task of coming back looks too great. It may be too great for us unaided, and many people will not aid us—rather, they may hinder us. In God we may always be assured of an understanding friend who is ready to help. He will not do our work for us—but he will give us strength for the work. He will not take away any reproach that has fallen on us, but he will enable us to show ourselves again worthy of esteem.
There are many things he will not do; but in whatever we must do, he will help us and make possible what we can not do alone. He will strengthen our courage and help us. He will help us to cease to be what we never should have been, and help us to become what we ought to be and desire to be.
There are times when we do not understand, and when a great many questions come to lips, but often these questions go unanswered. Even when we ask God for a solution, that solution may not come. What shall we do when our questions are unanswered? We can only wait—but we should not wait impatiently. We should remember that God works in his own time and his own way. He often answers our questions indirectly or through our experiences, but until the answer comes, be patient and trust. At proper time, you will know what you need know.
Jesus told his disciples that here on earth—we will have many trials and sorrows. But he also told them that in him they would have peace. And so whatever life may bring us of adversity, sorrow, an suffering—we can look to God for that peace which "passes all understanding," which will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. All his gracious promises are true, and they are true to us. He is our present help in time of trouble. Lean upon him, trust him with confident assurance, and he will not fail you; he will bear the heavier part of your load.
So Much to Worry About!
Recently in speaking of one of our friends, she said, "Mrs. Smith has so much to worry about." I suppose a great many people thinking the same thing—that they have causes for worry. Perhaps they feel somewhat justified in worrying, because they are confronted with difficulties, and difficulties always create foreboding and fear—unless they are properly met.
I have before me a letter that says: "I brought up in a 'worry' home, therefore I had acquired the habit of worrying from childhood. I have worried regarding my spiritual condition since my early years, and it is hard to rid myself of the habit."
"A worry home"—what a picture that brings to our minds! No doubt all of us know of such homes. Perhaps some of us have been reared such homes and have acquired the habit of worrying. Many others who have not been reared in "worry homes" have acquired the habit. Worrying is a habit, and a very bad one. It is an inexcusable one for a Christian.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WORRY
First of all, worry is distrust of God. Christians believe God is watching over their lives. If they believe their Bible, they must believe that God's wall of protection is round about them and that nothing can come to them that does not come through his will. He has told us that all things work together for good, if we truly love him. If we trust our heavenly Father's care, we will rest in the assurance that he knows and cares and will not fail to help us in every time of trouble. In other words, we have no cause for worry.
When we worry, we take ourselves out of God's hands and try to fight our own battles. I do not mean that we are not Christians; but we do trust in our own efforts, rather than in his grace and loving care. When we trust—we do not worry. When we worry—we do not trust.
Worry dishonors God. The goodness of God, his love for his people, and his protecting care—are told over and over in the Bible, proclaimed by preachers, and spoken of in our testimonies. Yet when trouble looms on the horizon—we begin worry, worry, worry. We leave God out of picture, forget his promises, and take the whole burden upon ourselves! He has told us to cast burdens upon him, but we do not do it when worry. We bear our burdens ourselves and add to them by our worry—making them far greater they would be, even without divine help, if we not worry.
We are told to do all things to the glory of God. Did you ever worry to the glory of God? Did worry ever make you feel like praising God? Does the fact that you worry make other people feel that you believe in God and expect him help you in your troubles? No! Your worry honors God, and advertises the fact that you not trusting in him.
Worry never makes anything better. Look back over the past and consider the things about which you have worried about. Did worrying make them come out any better? Did worry give you strength meet your problems?
But you say, "I cannot help worrying." I a not so sure about that. Many people, even those who are not Christians, go through troubles great as yours without worrying. They have learned to face circumstances, and make the best of them. Christians should not only do this—they should do still more. They should trust the Lord to take them through difficulties, to give them strength, to make them victorious.
How many times in the past have you worried over things, when the outcome showed that you had no reason to worry? All your worrying was useless and causeless. Trust is a remedy that never fails to cure the worry habit. Therefore, learn to trust.
WHAT WORRY DOES TO US
Here is what the lady from the "worry home" says: "I am mentally in a state of agitation most of the time, which hinders me from clear thinking, and this makes it almost impossible for me to compose my mind and to take clear action."
That is exactly what worry does for anyone. It agitates the mind, and as a result clear thinking is impossible; and if one does not think clearly, then one's judgment of facts cannot be clear and correct. Therefore, one can imagine that all sorts of evils are going to happen to him, and his worry is increased.
Many people lose control of themselves and go to pieces—their nerves break down, their courage leaves them, they are forlorn, discouraged, and often hopeless. What brought them to such a state? Not the things that were actually facing them, but their worry over those things.
The lady quoted knew the remedy: "I know that simple trust is the remedy, but sometimes this, too, is hard to do and it takes me several hours to get quiet."
Worry is a habit which is hard to break. This lady is gaining, however, for even though it does take some time, she is learning to trust; and when she trusts, she comes to quietness of spirit and her worry ends. She has got farther along than many, and she will eventually gain victory over the habit and learn to trust and be at peace even under threatening circumstances. She still give way to worry and this is the result: "I still spend hours in discouragement and almost despair of ever being an overcomer." However, she does not remain in that condition: "Then my faith and courage will rise and I trust and obey through to victory." She further says, "One thought has always helped me in time of trouble: if somebody else has come through this, I can stand it too."
NO REASON FOR WORRY
No Christian has any reason to worry. Get that fact fixed in your mind. Read it over and over. If you are a Christian, it applies to you. You may be a worrier, but you have no justification for your worry. Read God's promises and see if you can find justification in them for your worrying. Think of how he has helped you in times past, and brought you through even greater difficulties than those which you now face.
Look at what God has done for many others. Does that give you reason to worry? Not one good word can be said for worrying. There is no excuse for it—no reason for it. Worry is a sort of mental disease. All bad habits finally become a sort of disease; for they produce physical results. The most common physical result of worry is broken-down nerves, mental instability, and lack of ability to meet things that are coming.
Learn to cast your cares on Christ. He will really bear them for you. He will really sustain you. He will really give you grace, courage, help, comfort—and whatever is needed to take you through. No, you have nothing to worry about.
"I DID NOT HAVE GRACE"
A woman was mildly chiding her friend because she had neglected a duty an missed a golden opportunity. "Yes," the friend replied, "I know I ought to have done it, but I just did not have the grace."
How often this reason is given for coming short of known duty, or leaving undone things we are impressed by the Spirit to do. How often when there is a consciousness of coming short, the twinges of conscience are answered by saying, "I did not have the grace!"
Now was it a lack of grace, or was it a lack o something else? Was the reason given just excuse? Let us see what lies behind it. First, "I did not have grace" may mean only "I was not willing to do it." If there is a lingering hesitancy to do a thing, that makes it doubly hard. To compel our reluctant selves to do what we know we ought to do, though we do not want to do it, is a difficult task. And it is very easy to fall back upon so plausible an excuse as lack of grace. We never know whether we are able to do a thing—until we sincerely try it; and we rarely sincerely try to do what we do not want to do.
If there is something within us that says "I don't want to do that"—then we can never say that we cannot do it for lack of grace. God gives grace only for what we are willing to do. Let us face the facts. We somehow find a way to do most of the things we desire to do—and find an excuse for not doing the things we do not want to do. If we make a habit of reluctancy and avoiding duty—it reveals itself in weakness and indecision.
Sometimes we are willing and desirous that things be done—but we are not willing to make the necessary exertion to do them. We are prone to take the easy way and make excuses for not accomplishing more. The lazy man is inclined to say "I can't" even when he feels that he could do it, if he would exert himself.
Sometimes effort is half-hearted and fails, because there is not enough determination in it. Halfway measures seldom win. Unless we are determined to succeed, we may often be tempted to fall back on the excuse, "I did not have grace."
Often earnest, persistent effort is necessary; and if we give up when we have only half tried, or have tried only a little while—the failure is because of a lack of grace, but of persistence. A common proverb says that love covers a multitude of sins. It is likewise true that the excuse, "I did not have grace" covers a multitude shortcomings.
Perhaps you really did lack grace. If so, why was the grace lacking? If you can find the hindrance and remove it, abundant grace will flow into your heart. Sometimes the hindrance to grace is something that troubles the conscience; that prevents faith and wholehearted prayer—and weakens the arm, and saps the courage. Who could be strong, bold, and persistent, when his conscience is lashing him? If this is the reason your lack of grace, go to God and get the matter settled with him. You must have a clear conscience, before you can be strong in the Lord and have his grace abounding in you.
Some lack grace, because they neglect to seek it, or because they seek it without faith. God promised us all the grace we need to live a victorious Christian life; and he will not fail to give us all we need in whatever circumstances may be placed or whatever work we may ha to do. To ask God for grace and then not believe that he gives it—is to prevent his giving it. Faith and grace work together. Grace is helpless without faith. Unbelief is an impassable barrier to grace.
Grace is not intended to supply willingness, nor to take the place of earnestness and persistence and faith. Grace is meant to supplement these, and to make up what we lack when we have thrown our whole selves into the matter. God does not favor the lazy person—by doing his work for him, or by making accomplishment so easy that things can be done with little effort. Some people seem to think that if they have grace to do a thing—it will be so easy that they will be merely passive instruments. No, God does not give grace to make things easy—but to make difficult things possible. Every possibility can be turned into an actuality—if we will do our part. If God should by grace make all things easy—then what personal worth would our actions show? What we do is praiseworthy, only to the extent that we put effort into it. What is accomplished by grace, is no credit to us, but to Him who supplies the grace.
Since it is God who gives grace—when we excuse ourselves by saying we have not grace, we actually throw the blame on God. But he has said, "My grace is sufficient." If you do not have grace, seek it persistently and in faith, then act as the you had it. You will find that when you put forth an effort, grace will be given. Do not wait to that you have grace, or you may never do anything. Grace is often given the moment it needed.
"Let us therefore come boldly unto throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16)
Building up Ourselves
The Christian life is a process of building. Jude says, "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith" (verse 20). Growing in grace and in the various attainments of the spiritual life, is a slow building-up process. We often hear of people edifying and building up others, of helping those about them—but it is just as important that they help themselves. There are so many people who are always looking outside of themselves for help. They expect to be built up by their brethren, by preaching, by the prayers of others, by exhortations, by encouragement, and by help that comes from the outside—but the Apostle puts our building up where it rightly belongs—most largely with ourselves.
When we start to build, the first thing we need is a good foundation. Jude tells us what foundation we need: "Building up yourselves on most holy faith." Some people try to build themselves up on their emotions. When everything is going well—they build a structure of courage, termination, hope, expectation, and the like. But presently reverses come—and their building comes down with a crash. Their courage is gone, hope is clouded, and their expectation is pointed. Only faith provides a solid foundation which we may build a structure that will the storms.
By the grace of God we have power to build up ourselves in faith, courage, love, hope, gentleness, meekness, goodness, strength, and all the other elements of Christian character. We may encourage ourselves—or discourage ourselves. We largely are—what we make ourselves. I have heard said of some people, that they were their greatest hindrance.
An experience David once had gives us a good example of how a man can help himself when he is in trouble. In First Samuel 30, we are told how David and his men, who had gone out to war, came back and found their city destroyed and their wives and children taken captive. This was a critical situation. The whole blame was thrown upon David, because he had led his men out to war and left the city unguarded. "And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him" (verse 6).
What did David do in such a crisis? Sneak off like a coward and hide? Did he begin to say, "How awful this is! What in the world shall I do?" Did he say, "It is of no use to try?" No, he faced the situation like a man. When everyone was finding fault with him and speaking evil of him, "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." What was the result? He pursued after his enemies, defeated them, and recaptured all that had been lost.
If you have met with a defeat, if you have been blaming yourself, and others have been blaming you—do not get downcast and whimper and whine. Encourage yourself in the Lord your God.
In the forty-second Psalm, David tells another of his experiences. In the third verse we read, "My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is God?" (Sometimes people sneer at us when we are in trouble, and say—or at least act as if would like to say, "Where is your God?") David must have felt very much depressed indeed. He goes on to say: "My soul is cast down within me. All your waves and your billows are over me." What did he do? In meditation he looked forward and saw a brighter day: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."
An example of a person hindering himself is found in Elijah, when he bewailed his situation and thought that he alone was left in Israel to worship God. We may look on the dark side, and discourage ourselves. We may look forward to future with such forebodings, that we cast a cloud over our hope and unfit ourselves to meet trouble when it comes.
Some people are always finding fault with themselves and pointing out their faults weaknesses to themselves or to others. Such attitude is very unjust. Be fair to yourself. Of course, you have faults and failures—everyone does; but instead of this destruction criticism, adopt a positive attitude. Try to correct your faults and profit by your failures. "I can" wins; "I can't" loses. Really believe that God will take care of you in time of danger—believe that God will bring you through your troubles. By doing these things, you will strengthen your heart to meet your difficulties.
But one may say, "You do not know my troubles." No, but I know your God. Some have written me telling how their crops had failed and lamenting over their situation. What shall they do?
"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights." Habakkuk 3:17-19.
Thus the prophet built up himself. And so may we if we will exercise real faith in God.
Getting Rid of Troubles
Most people have troubles of one kind another, and they want to know he get rid of them. They try this way and that—yet the troubles still cling to them. They worry and bother, fret and complain, but their troubles grow no less. Sometimes they weep and pray; sometimes they become discouraged and a despair; yet all that they do, only seems to increase troubles.
Since trouble is such a common thing, is there no way that we can rise above it and triumph over it? Many people read the scriptural prescription and know what the Bible says to with trouble—but it seems that they try everything else first. The Bible says: "Casting all your cares upon God—for he cares for you." Now there are people who believe the latter part this who never do the first part.
Someone says, "Why don't you cast your cares on the Lord?" They reply, "Oh, I have; but it doesn't seem to do any good!" Have they cast their cares on the Lord? No; they have simply brought their trouble to the Lord for him to inspect—they have called his attention to various things concerning it, told him how heavy it is, how weary they have become of bearing it, and how much they need help. And then they have picked up their burden and walked away with it!
Have you thought you have been casting your care upon Jesus—and at the same time have gone away from your place of prayer as heavily burdened as before? Maybe you have just been having your troubles inspected and have kept a tight hold upon them yourself. The first thing to do in casting them on Jesus, is to let go of them, since you cannot cast anything down unless you let go of it.
Instead of disappearing, the troubles of some people grow larger the more they pray over them and consider them. Their experience is like that of the Psalmist, who said, "The troubles of my heart are enlarged" (Psalm 25:17). When a thing is enlarged, then it is magnified. Often we magnify our troubles by looking at them and thinking of them.
There is a story about an old lady who was walking along the road carrying a heavy basket. A gentleman driving in a carriage invited her to ride with him. She got into the carriage, but the basket was on her lap. The man asked why she did not set it down on the floor of the carriage. She answered, "I am heavy enough myself! I do not want to make the load heavier by setting my basket down." You laugh at this, but perhaps you are doing the same thing. Jesus is having to support both you and your burden—yet you carry the burden too. This does not make it any easier for Jesus, but it does make it harder for you.
Do you say, "I can cast some troubles on Lord, but this is a real one"? Do you think Jesus is able to bear only the imaginary troubles, and that you must carry the real ones yourself? You can get rid of the imaginary troubles by forgetting them; you do not need to cast them Jesus. It is the real burdens—the ones that grip your soul, that cause you to suffer, that wound and trouble you—that you should cast on Jesus. You can get rid of them in this way, and only this way. Let go of your troubles. Jesus is adequate to the task of taking care of them, and you too. Think over this text until you really it deep in your heart: "Casting all your cares upon him—for he cares for you."
With Face to the Wall
The experience of Hezekiah related in the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, is full of lessons for us today. One of the most striking expressions in it is: "Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall." He was king. Dominion was his right. He was accustomed to giving commands and having them obeyed. His desires were gratified, and his word was law. Though he ruled in majesty, he had now come face to face with one who would not obey him. Sickness held him in its grasp, and his majesty and glory counted for nothing. Moreover, a message from God's prophet had told him that this was a fatal illness. Death comes to the king, as well as to the humblest servant.
What should Hezekiah do in this crisis? His servants were around him, solicitous for his welfare, ready to do whatever they could for him. His splendid throne was unoccupied, and his glory forgotten. How empty his honors must have seemed, and how weak was his authority! He turned his face to the wall, away from the imperial and the jeweled diadem, and the applause of people. He turned away from his riches—they were only vanity now, unable to help him.
There are times when we find human help unavailing. We must pass through some things life alone. Some burdens, none can share. Some sorrows, no one can assuage. There are some conflicts for which we can summon no human reinforcements. Others may yearn to help and cheer and strengthen us; but their well-meant efforts may only hinder instead of help. We turn our faces to the wall, not knowing what to do. Perhaps we are almost in despair; the future looks dark, the past has been disappointing, and present is the worst of all.
When Hezekiah turned his face to the wall "he wept sorely." He gave way to the sorrow his heart. "Ah, yes," you may say, "I feel like doing that too. What else can I do?" God did not chide Hezekiah for weeping. Neither will he chide you if your heart seems broken. Christ was a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." You and I will have occasion for tears and sighs in our own lives, for it has pleased God to place us in such circumstances that the fiber of our manhood and womanhood may be tested.
Sorrow is a great softener of the heart. Someone has said that "tears are the rain that God pours into the heart." The bitterest of all tears, are the ones that we shed alone, caused by those sorrows and troubles that are peculiarly are own, and into which even the tenderest sympathy cannot enter to help.
Weeping cannot always continue—something else must follow it. Many times discouragement and despair have followed. While Hezekiah wept, he talked with God, though he had no indications that God would help him. Through the wall, Hezekiah saw God as a loving, tender, pitiful, infinite, compassionate Father. He saw God as the refuge of the oppressed, the helper of the needy, the uplifter of the fallen. He looked to God—but not as the majestic ruler, the lawgiver, the avenger of sin. As a son of Israel, he looked to the Father of Israel and poured out his heart.
THE COURAGE OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE
There was one thing that must have been very consoling to Hezekiah at this time: he could come to God with a clear conscience and a sense of the uprightness of his life. The New Testament says, "If our heart does not condemn us—then we have confidence toward God." This was the secret of Hezekiah's confidence—his heart did not condemn him. How good it is, if in our times of troubles, when our faces turn to the wall, we can approach God as Hezekiah did, and say to him: "You know that my heart is not set upon evil, but upon good; and my purpose is to serve God aright. My life has been pure before God." There is no other strength like the strength of a clear conscience. There is no satisfaction like that of a well lived life. There is no peace like the peace of conscience. Hezekiah's life must have been upright, for men face to face with God speak the truth to him.
When we come to God in our times of need, and can plead the innocence and uprightness our hearts—then God will hear us. Our tears will not be overlooked, and the yearnings of our heart will reach the heart of God. He will send us help we need, to bring us out victorious. But if our faces are turned to the wall, and we cannot plead that God has seen only good in our lives; if our consciences do condemn us; if our shortcomings stand out clearly before us; yet if we have the earnestness of repentance that means a turning to the right, God will hear and help. God quickly forgets the past—when the heart turns to him in submission and in willingness to do his will. And so when human help fails us, let us turn our faces to the wall and, if need be, weep sorely; and pray with all our hearts whatever prayer may be necessary—and the God of all grace and comfort will be our help and our deliverer.
Even in life's darkest hour we should not allow ourselves to despair. God is ever on the side of those who try to do his will. He is a present help, although our eyes may frequently fail to see him. It may seem to us, as it did to Job, that God hides himself. All too often he is hidden only because our vision is filled with the things that prevent our seeing him. We see only the wall, and seeing it we fail to look at God's mercy and help. Look beyond the difficulties and the threatening dangers, the failure of human help—and even our own failures—to the One whose loving heart never permits him to forget ,and who will never fail us in our time of need!
Beauty for Ashes
Isaiah prophesied that Christ would be sent "To bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3
We do not have to live to be very old, to learn that many of our plans, hopes, and expectations are burned up in the fires of circumstances—and only their ashes remain to us. Losses and disappointments will come. Many of our fondest hopes will perish before our eyes, leaving only heaps of ashes.
The natural tendency at such a time is to conclude that all is lost, that nothing remains to us of the things that were so precious. I have seen people stand and look upon the ashes of a burned down home—ashes representing the savings of many years, the loss of beautiful things that had be gathered together.
I have seen others whose hopes had become only ashes; business losses, loss of loved ones, or grievous disappointments—had left what seemed to them to be only a few ashes.
The tendency is usually to sit beside these ashes and mourn. Sometimes people spend the remainder of their lives in mourning and self-pity.
In the passage quoted at the beginning of this article, the Prophet Isaiah was probably referring to the custom of people putting on sackcloth and sitting in ashes, as a token of mourning. Jesus, he said, was "to comfort all that mourn." God does not intend that you and I should treasure our ashes and make of them a sort of wailing place to which we go to express our sorrow. He does not want us to linger around our ash piles. We shall have them—we may depend on that. Trouble will come into every life sooner or later. Into some lives, there will come much trouble, suffering, and disappointments. But God does not intend that we be mourners.
Our griefs are to be assuaged, our sorrows are to be comforted. We are to be given something instead of them—something to replace them. God will give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for spirit of heaviness.
Are you sitting beside the ashes of your smashed hopes, lost friendships, business losses? Are mourning? This is not God's plan for you. It is natural for us to mourn over our losses—but that mourning should have an end. Our soup should cease, and the fountain of our tears should dried up.
God will do these things for us, but he will not wrap up his help and blessing and send it in surprise package to us. We must seek the fulfillment of God's promise, by preparing our hearts to receive God's gift, and by having a receptive attitude. To have such an attitude, we must turn away from our ashes. We must put the past with its losses and disappointments behind us—and turn to the future as to a new day.
God cannot comfort us, if we choose to mourn. He cannot give us beauty, if we preserve our ashes. He cannot fill our hearts with glad, new thoughts and songs of praise—if we hold fast the old sorrows and continue to shed tears. We must submit to God's changing our ashes into beauty. We must have our vessel ready for the oil of joy. The garment of praise cannot be put on—until the old garments of sorrow and complaint and self-pity are put off.
Have you been wanting the Lord to comfort you, to give you beauty for your ashes? Your attitude may be the only thing that has kept you from receiving these precious blessings which God has for you.
Ashes may be very useful. When my father wanted to raise turnips, he would build a big brush pile and burn it, and then plant his turnip seed in the ashes. I have seen other ash-heaps growing crops of nettles. Ashes are fertile. Whatever seed is sown into them, whether by man or by nature—will produce a crop. What sort of seed have we sown in our ashes? If we sow no seed—then weeds will grow. If we sow seeds of remorse, self-pity, or resentment against life or against people—then we shall have a crop and we shall reap it, but not with joy. If we sow the right kind of seed—then we shall reap with joy, because we shall have a worth-while harvest.
If I may be permitted to speak of myself, I can say that I know what it is to have my life's hopes become only ashes. For eight years after I had been confined to my bed, I saw no hope that I would ever be able to accomplish anything more. I could only lie in bed and suffer, and be waited on by others. I was only a burden to others, and to myself. There seemed to be no prospect that the purpose of my life would be carried out. I could no longer preach or write. I had few opportunities for service of any kind. I knew the bitterness of disappointment. For eight long years there was no hint of anything better, but then God opened the for a fuller life than I had ever had before—and of greater and wider service. He gave me joy my ashes, and now I can see that the ashes were a very necessary part of my life.
Because of losses and failures, life often comes richer and more beautiful. We read of those who "out of weakness were made strong." Paul suffered the loss of all things.
Don't waste your ashes. Don't sit moping over them. Make a garden of them!
The Challenge of Obstacles
"The only use of an obstacle, is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them. So that it ought to be our goal to overcome everything that stands in the way." Woodrow Wilson
In the ancient days of chivalry, when the knights arrayed themselves in armor, it was a common thing for a man to be challenged to personal combat by another. A man traveling in that day knew not when he might meet an adversary, and it behooved him to have his weapons at hand and to be ready to use them. That day has gone, but there are still adversaries, and very real ones, to challenge us on life's way. Not only are there enemies to meet—but there are obstacles and hindrances to overcome. There can be no great achievement, unless there are great obstacles; for achievement is triumphing over obstacles and overcoming difficulties. The promises are all to the overcomer—not to the man who has no difficulties to overcome.
When the warrior of old faced an adversary and his challenge, he had either to meet him boldly, or to run away like a coward. Every obstacle which rises in our way says defiantly, "I challenge you to combat."
The first test given by an obstacle is the test of our courage. Strength will avail us not, if we have not the courage to use it. The foundation of victory, is always courage. Soldiers may shrink and tremble when the battle begins, the difference between the one who stays and fights, and the one who runs away, is courage. A brave soldier may tremble, but he will nerve himself for the conflict. He does not consider running away; he will do or die.
"The only use an obstacle," said Woodrow Wilson, "is to overcome." It was not God's intention that obstacles should overcome us, but that we should overcome them. Nothing else can develop our latent powers; nothing else can increase our strength. Obstacles are opportunities—the stepping-stones to higher life and greater attainment!
It is pointed out in the quotation, that it ought to be our goal to overcome obstacles. We should have that virile, manly spirit of determination not to be overcome, but to use one's powers in their most effective way to win. There is a sort of pride in maintaining ourselves undefeated, that brings out the best that is in us and causes us to summon all our energies and throw them determinedly into the conflict.
During World War I, we often saw the phrase, "The will to victory." This will to win, this determination not to be conquered, is as needful in the Christian life as in the conflict of armies. Where it is lacking, there will be few victories and little achievement. Many people fail because they lack this will to conquer. Some people stop trying to live the Christian life, because they do not have the will to face discouragement and obstacles with full intent to conquer them.
Being creatures of environment and heredity, no matter how ardently we desire to serve God—we shall find within ourselves tendencies and dispositions that must be overcome, or they will overcome us. Some people have a tendency to be selfish—to become more interested in their own gratification than in others. Some are prone to distrust others, and find it hard to repose confidence in them. Others may be inclined to jealousy—these may have battles to fight over and over. But unless they conquer this disposition, they will seriously hinder their happiness.
Some are disposed to envy those who seem to be more favored than they themselves. The feeling that others always have a better chance—often lead to discouragement. Some speak or act impulsively without considering results, and so cause themselves much trouble. Self-esteem, love of ease, and exaggeration may cause trouble.
But why need I add to the catalogue of these things? Everyone knows those particular things in himself which are obstacles to the normal full development of the Christian life and the full operation of God's grace in his soul. What shall we say when we face these things? Shall shrink like cowards from their challenge? Or shall we face them, and conquer them?
There are also external obstacles—natural obstacles, and obstacles put in our way by others. These must be met with that same "will to victory" as the internal obstacles. They will yield, as all such things must yield, to him who faces them manfully. Put on the whole armor of God. Go forward calmly, courageously, confidently, determinedly, meeting all obstacles with an unfaltering faith, trusting in God!
Is God Our Friend?
I suppose more songs have been written on the subject of God's being our friend, than upon any other topic.
We sing the old song, "What a Friend we have in Jesus," and we do well to sing it; for he is a true friend in whom we may trust, a friend who is always loyal, a friend who will never fail us.
But how about the Father? What is his attitude toward us? Is he also our friend, if we are his faithful children? Jesus is so much like the Father that he said, "He who has seen me, has seen the Father" (John 14:9). The attitude of the Father toward us, is just as friendly as the attitude of Jesus. In fact, it was the Father's love that sent Jesus to this world and made him our redeemer and friend. We are on safe ground when we say that God is our friend.
I wonder if we always act toward God, as if we believe with all our hearts that he is our friend. Some people are afraid of God—afraid of what he will do to them, afraid of his attitude toward them. There is a reverential fear we should toward God; but I am talking of that fear which dreads, which drives us away from God, rather to him. This sort of fear makes us hesitate to be frank and open toward him; in fact, many times we do not treat him as if we believe he is our friend.
Since God is our friend, it is natural for us act toward him as we do toward our friends. In the first place, we trust our friends, rely upon them, have confidence in them. The closer our relation with them, the more open our minds hearts are toward them. We are sure of them. We do not question their loyalty to us. We feel free to approach them at any time and upon most any subject. We enjoy being in their company. We are drawn together by mutual ties of confidence and esteem that are precious to us.
True friendship with God will produce these same results between us and God, that true human friendship brings between two individuals.
CHARACTERISTICS OF FRIENDSHIP
We confide in our friends. We feel free to let them know things about us that we would not tell others. We seek their company when we are in trouble. We seek their comfort in sorrow. We tell them our problems and the things that trouble us.
Do we act in the same way toward God? If he is really our friend, then we ought to be just as free to confide in him as we are to confide in any earthly friend, no matter how long he has proved the integrity and reality of his friendship. But do we actually confide in God with the same confidence we do in our friends?
Another mark of friendship is that we trust in what our friends say. We trust in their integrity, their reliability, their sincerity. When they tell us a thing, we accept it as being true. We have faith in them. If we question their word, their reliability, or their trueness to us—that means there is something lacking in the friendship; one of the most precious elements of friendship is absent. Do we believe what God says as truly and as unquestioningly as we believe what our friends say? We read the Bible and see many great and precious promises. Do we believe these promises of God with the same assurance and unquestioning certainty as we believe our nearest and best friend? Or do we believe more in the word of some of our friends than we believe in God's Word, and trust them more than we trust him?
In other words, do we think we have human friends who are truer than our divine Friend? If so, we are missing something in God's friendship—something that is the very heart of friendship, something that makes friendship rich and blessed, and makes communion satisfying and fellowship sweet.
We are free toward our friends in our relationships with them. Many times we can act towards them as we would not think of acting toward stranger; for we know that our friends understand. There is such comradeship and understanding, that we can open our hearts to them without fear of offending them; we can be frank and natural.
That is just the way God wants us to be with him. If we truly place his friendship toward us on the same basis as our best and finest human friendships—then these human friendships will not be closer than our friendship with him. And our conduct toward God will be just as free, without constraint, as our conduct toward our friends in whom we have the utmost confidence.
What really is our attitude toward God? What do we do when we are in trouble? Do we shrink from him and from his ministers? Do we hide our trouble? Do we bear our own burdens? When we need somebody to understand, do we feel like taking the matter to God—and yet not feel really free to do so? If this is the case, then we do not count him our friend to the extent we ought. We are holding back something from our friendship, or not taking something he offers. We ought to be freer in our relations with God, in our trust in him. We ought to confide in him with more assurance. We ought to believe what he says with more confidence than we show toward any human friend.
He is truly our friend. Let us hold an attitude toward him that will bring out the fullness of this friendship and make us partakers of his richness. Let us be whole-hearted friends toward God, and he in return will be a whole-hearted friend toward us. Then there can be that intimate understanding, that blessed fellowship, that sweet communion, which will enrich our lives and make them full of all the blessedness of the spiritual realities that God would have us possess and enjoy in this present life.
When a person has met with a loss, is suffering as the result of an accident, or is passing through a bereavement—friends often to him, "Brace up—be a man." By this they mean: "Summon your courage and resolution—prepare your will to endure. Collect all the force within you and set them in operation to support, fortify, and sustain you in the time of need."
There are often times when we need to summon all our spiritual powers to resist things that oppose us. It is inevitable that there will be times when we need all our courage and strength. But the God who watches over us and loves us—is God of wisdom, and he will not permit us to have more than we can stand. He makes no mistakes in judging our ability to meet the varying circumstances of life.
There are many people who try to evade passing through difficulties, but their evasion (or attempt to evade) only weakens themselves; and if they do miss the conflict, they also miss the strength that comes from gaining the victory. The poet tells us:
"I must fight, if I would win."
But instead of wanting to run away from the conflict, he says,
"Increase my courage, Lord."
By this he means, "Help me to brace up and win; help me to fight like a man, not like a coward."
We have within us, many unrealized powers. There is always reserve power in us that is commonly unknown until with confidence in ourselves we go forward determined to win. Then we find strength, where there seemed to be only weakness. Sometimes, however, this natural strength is not sufficient and we realize the need of reinforcements.
Once I saw the framework of a building erected without any braces. A heavy windstorm came, and the frame of the building went crashing to the ground. The framework was strong enough; all it lacked was braces. The same may be true of us sometimes. The framework of our Christian life may be strong and properly fitted together, but there may come times when we need additional braces. Then we have only to rem that God has in his great storehouse an as supply of braces—all cut to fit the places in w they will be needed. He has provided them especially for our use, and he invites us to help ourselves to all we need. Let us find a few and la them for future use.
Are you feeling lonely and forsaken? Here are two braces for you:
"I will never leave you nor forsake you!" (Hebrews 13:5)
"Surely, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world! (Matthew 28:20)
Are you tempted? "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:13). Remember that the way for your escape is already made and that God tells you that you can put this brace under you. If this one is not sufficient, there are many others of the same kind in the storehouse.
Are you in distress? Use these braces:
"From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will befall you." (Job 5:19).
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous—but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalm 34:19).
"He gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might, he increases strength. Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:29, 31).
Here are braces to try when you are fearful:
"Fear not, I will help you!"
"The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear him, and delivers them!" (Psalm 34:7).
Do you have enemies? Do they rise up against you as an army? Run into the storehouse, and get Psalm 27:5: "In the time of trouble, he shall hide me in his pavilion."
The promises of God are not the only braces that he gives us. His many warnings will also serve the same purpose; for instance, this one spoken by Jesus: "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses" (Luke 12:15) . Or, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation" (Mark 14:38).
We may find braces not only in his promises and warnings, but also in the examples that are recorded in the Bible. How often God sustained his people in their troubles and difficulties. How often he gave victory and turned defeat into quest. Then, too, examples of failures record in the Bible will make very good braces, if will give heed to them.
Have you ever needed braces, when you did seem to have them? If so, that should show the need of being prepared for the time when you may need them. I think it is a good idea to go through the Bible and pick out certain texts you think will help you, and then mark them some way in the margin. You might write the word "brace" on the margin opposite some helpful scriptures. If you need a brace and cannot call anything to mind, you can take your Bible a read the texts that you have marked "brace". You will be surprised to find what a great help they will be to you. You might start with Isaiah 41:13-14, "I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you!' declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." Add as many others as you wish, and you will soon be braced up for any emergency!
Negative and Positive Living
Our happiness and joy in life, depend to a great extent upon our attitude of mind and heart. If we take a positive attitude toward ourselves and toward life in general, if we approach our problems and our work with the right mental attitude—then we shall have already taken a long step toward success. If we hold a negative attitude toward things, then life will be a struggle, and we shall not live the joyful life that is God's purpose for us.
Many Christians are always on the defensive. They are always facing an enemy, either outside or within. When they look around them—they see everything against them. They expect circumstances to be against them and to hinder them. They look forward to life with serious misgivings. Will they be a success? Will they be able to overcome the great obstacles that confront them? Will they be able to overcome the enemies they must meet?
Some people are all the time afraid of the devil. Even when they awake in the night, they think of him and are afraid. They look upon as a constant struggle against his power. As they look ahead they see their lives with a line of enemies on either side striking at them as they pass. When they look within they find a similar discouraging situation. Life to them is a constant battle to limit themselves, to repress something, to force themselves into a certain line of conduct or a certain way thinking, and to force their emotions into a certain set channel.
The great question to them is, Shall I be able to conquer myself? Shall I be able to keep the unruly things within me in proper balance? They look forward to a non-ending struggle with self. They are fearful all the time, lest they do something wrong or say something wrong, or take a wrong attitude toward somebody or something. They feel their own weakness, and tremble at what the day may bring forth. They are constantly harassed lest they do something wrong. They weigh their conduct carefully and scrutinize the minutest detail. They are never tranquil and at ease, for if they are not troubled about what has passed—then they are troubled about what is going to happen. Then too, their emotions must be carefully analyzed. Constantly keeping one's actions and emotions under the microscope, can never result in happiness nor freedom; it is a bondage that is almost unendurable.
There are thousands of people who desire to serve the Lord, but to them serving the Lord seems to be a constant round of self-denial and repression. There is more fear than joy in their lives, more trembling than rejoicing, more doubt than trust. This negative life, however, is not the life that the Bible teaches us to live. This negative outlook and attitude toward life is the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches as the Christian outlook and attitude. "I would have you anxious for nothing," is the language of the Scriptures. God wants us to live positive lives and to be on the offensive.
Christianity is not so much not doing things, as it is doing. It is not so much holding ourselves in restraint, as it is using our energies in right channels. It is our privilege to look away from ourselves, our weaknesses, our faults, and our failures—to Christ, the life-giver, and the Holy Spirit, the power-giver, and God, the merciful Father, watching over our lives for good. There will be some things in our lives to repress. There will other things to guide. There will be enemies the outside and on the inside, but these are to take our chief attention. We are to be occupied rather with constructive work for God. We are use our faculties and powers, not simply restrain them from being used in a wrong way. It is privilege to be courageous, confident, expectant of victory.
God wants us to be serene, without anxiety. He said, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest." Do you have rest in your soul? If not, it may because you are straining and struggling and pressing and fighting—where you ought to be trusting and resting in confident assurance in God. If we are simply resting in faith on the promises of God, then we shall be conscious of divine help. We must keep our hearts open to God's fountain of power, not trusting in self, but in his sufficiency. His grace is offered to us, and his power will be supplied to us for every need. We should not trust in sell, but in the living God. In him we can rest with the full assurance that there will positively be no lack of what is necessary to make us overcomers in any situation in life. This positive life is the way of happiness and victory.
Getting Properly Adjusted
"That is a fine watch you have there," said a man to his friend. "I suppose it keeps good time."
"Yes," was the reply, "it is adjusted to heat, cold, and position. I find it very reliable."
No doubt we have all seen advertisements in papers and magazines showing a watch solidly frozen in a large cake of ice, with the information that that type of watch is so adjusted that it will keep correct time even when frozen.
People need adjusting too. Many people say: "Oh, if my circumstances were different! If the influences around me were different—then I would be so different from what I am."
If we wait for the world to be made over, then we shall never become what we desire to be, nor live the kind of lives we desire to live. Whatever we become, we must become in the face of all these things and in spite of them.
A wise old gentleman, giving advice to a young man, said: "You must remember that this world is pretty much made already. Success consists in adjustment. Don't try to re-make your world—adjust yourself to the situation. Make the best what you have where you are."
A poet has pressed the same thought in these lines:
The world will never adjust itself,
To suit your whims to the letter.
Some things will go wrong
Your whole life long,
And the sooner you know it, the better.
There will always be things working to hinder us, to disturb our calculations, to overthrow our plans, to heap obstacles in our way, and to discourage us if we will let them. It is persistence in the face of such things, that brings success. Almost any cheap watch will run pretty well under very favorable circumstances, but that fact does not make it of real value. Just when it most needed, it may fail; for circumstances cannot always be favorable, even to a watch. The qualities in the watch that make it run right under unfavorable circumstances, are what make it valuable.
It is just the same with men and women: the qualities that enable them to adjust themselves to their circumstances and be a success, even when things are unfavorable—are the things in their characters that are really worth while.
Many people say, "It is of no use for me to try to live a Christian life under my present circumstances. I must wait until there is a change of my situation."
Other people are living Christian lives under similar conditions. If you cannot be a success, then perhaps the trouble is in you, not in your circumstances. The grace of God will enable us to adjust ourselves so that in any situation, we can live acceptably to God. There is no use of whining and complaining and saying, "I can't." There is no use of looking forward to the future and hoping for a better time. Right now is the time to win or lose. God says his grace is sufficient, and it is. You may have abundance of it if you will, and by His help you can conquer every circumstance.
Five Necessary Adjustments
Every Christian needs at least five adjustments.
First, he must be adjusted to the Lord—for God will never change his ways for us. Accepting his ways and submitting to him, will adjust us to him so that his ways suit us all right and keep us from complaining and always wishing things were otherwise.
Second, we must be adjusted to the church. There are people who are not satisfied with what their fellow Christians are doing, or with their dispositions, or with the way things are conducted in the church. They think they cannot live successfully or be on proper terms with others, unless things are going to suit them. You need not expect that everything in the church will ever come up to your ideas of what it ought to be, nor that every individual will measure up to your standard, nor that everybody will teach just as you think he ought to. Instead of being irritated over such things and finding fault—serve the Lord faithfully, but do not try to assume all the responsibility for what others do.
Third, we need to be so adjusted to the world—that no matter what comes up, it will not cause us to swerve from the true path. Worldly influences will constantly come against our lives, but we must not let them draw us away nor hinder our spirituality.
Fourth, you must get adjusted to our circumstances—the things that go wrong in the family or in your work. Every now and then, something will disturb you or vex you—but you must learn how to meet these things. Have you ever noticed that vessels on the lakes have timbers on their sides to sheer them off the wharf and to prevent the hull from being injured by striking the wharf? Christians need some such contrivances in their lives to keep their troubles from getting too close to them. They need to have something alongside to prevent them from being hurt by the impact of natural circumstances. One of the best things to sheer off petty annoyances, is a good smile. An attitude of cheerful courage, is a wonderful help too.
Fifth, we need to be adjusted to heat, cold, and position.
We need to be so adjusted to the HEAT of human enthusiasm, that we shall not be carried away from our common sense and be led into doing unwise things. We need to be so adjusted to emotionalism, that our emotions will not run away with us nor the emotions of others influence us too strongly. We need to be adjusted to the passions of others, so that their anger, envy, jealousy, malice, and such like will not affect us. We must be able to hold our own position and go our own way. We need to have a definite personality of our own, to think for ourselves, and to keep balanced—no matter how high the tide of enthusiasm, emotionalism, or passion may run about us.
We need to be so adjusted to COLD that religious formality will not freeze us out, nor the prejudice of others move us to ill feeling, nor the indifference of others make us indifferent.
We need to be so adjusted to POSITION that we shall be able to live a balanced Christian life in any surroundings. No matter whether we are rich or poor, no matter what our social position, our employment, or our associates, or whatever might naturally influence us—they will not be able to draw us away from the Lord or prevent us from serving him. God made us to live in this world and be victorious Christians in it. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith."
Where Is Your God?
"Your God is far away," said a heathen man to a missionary, "but our God is sitting here in the temple. We can see him and come into his presence and make our offerings before his face. But your God is far away—you cannot see him—and you do not know where he is."
Because this man could not see the Christian's God with his natural eyes, God seemed unreal to him. He could not see how a faraway God could influence the Christian's life. Is the idea of a God afar off, the true Christian idea of God? Where is your God today? Is he far away in Heaven, leaving you alone here? Does he seem almost out of your reach? Is he almost too far away to come into real contact with your life, or for you to come into real contact with him? Is he so far away that only your most earnest and anguished cry can reach him? Must you strive and struggle? Must you grow desperate, before you can get his attention—or have hope that he will hear you and take notice of your petition? Does it seem that only by the most persistent and earnest effort, only by summoning all your forces and by the utmost intensity of purpose—you can force yourself across that great intervening space and now and then come into his presence? Do you seem so far away from him, that divine help can rarely come to you, that you rarely expect it? Do you feel that you must fight your battles alone except in rare intervals and great crises? Can help be expected, only in your extremity?
Where is your God? Does your heart grow lonely? Do you long for his companionship, but feel that you cannot have it? Do you seek for him, and cannot find him. Do you try to come into his presence, but know not where he is? Job had an experience like this at one time. He lost his God. Listen to him: "Oh, if only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!" (Job 23:3).
Job's experience is repeated in many another life. There are times when God seems so far away that with all our seeking him, he seems to be no nearer. How natural it is for the heart at such a time to wish: "Oh, that I had lived when Jesus walked the earth! Oh, that I might have seen him! Oh, that I might have come before him and made known my needs and heard the sound of his voice and followed his footsteps!" He was Immanuel, that is, "God with us"; and he was truly with his people then. Has his name changed—or does this not apply to him now? Ah, no, there has been no change in him. He is still Immanuel. He is still "God with us." Heaven is not his only dwelling place.
Our God is not like a man. "For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." (Isaiah 57:15). Here God himself tells us that he dwells in Heaven—and also that he has an earthly dwelling, with him who is of a humble spirit. He is still Immanuel—he is still with us. Listen to some of his promises: "My presence shall go with you" (Exodus 33: 14). "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). "I will never leave you, nor ever forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).
Sometimes these promises seem very true for others—but unreal for ourselves. We can believe that he is near to others; we can believe that his helping hand is guiding and upholding them—but we seem unable to find the same reality in it for ourselves. But Paul tells us that this is true for all of us. He says that God is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). He is a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
God is very near you today, and knows every burden of your heart, every unsatisfied longing, every aspiration. He hears every prayer, even the silent heart-cry, though it may seem that he does not hear nor care.
Perhaps you seem to be walking alone, but you are not alone. There is a Presence beside you. His protection is around you. Your God is with you. You may not be conscious of his presence by any of your natural senses; you may not see him; you may not feel him; you may not hear him; you may be wholly unconscious of his presence; but he is with you right now, to be to you everything that you need.
In an aquarium in a city were some large fish in a glass tank. They were accustomed to being fed on minnows, which they snapped up greedily. There was a plate glass partition in the tank, and one day the minnows were placed in the water on the opposite side of the glass partition. They saw the large fish and were very much frightened, thinking, perhaps that they were in great danger. The large fish apparently thought this was their opportunity, and in their efforts to get the minnows they dashed against the plate glass partition again and again, to no purpose except their own injury. This glass partition was a perfect protection, though it could not be seen by the minnows nor the fish.
In the same way, sometimes God's protection is invisible to us, but it is just as real and just as effective as though we could see it. We are just as safe when we do not feel God's protection nor see it, nor know of it—as though it were plainly apparent. God is with you just as much when you do not feel his presence—as when you do feel it, when you do not see him working as when you do see him working. Where is your God? He is with you now.
You Have a Little Strength!
This chapter is not for those who feel themselves strong, competent, and able to meet whatever comes. It is for those who know they are weak—those who look toward life ahead and see difficulties and dangers and the need of more strength than they possess. It is for those who sometimes say with Paul, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Paul knew he was weak. He wrote to the Corinthians, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3). Paul was not naturally a weakling. He had strong qualities of leadership, yet he said, "We are weak" (4:10).
Paul's profession of weakness was not a pretense; he was not saying it merely for effect; he felt that he was weak. He was not ashamed to admit that he was weak; in fact, he gloried in his weakness. His weakness served an excellent purpose in his life; for by recognizing it, he could be made strong. We are told of those who out of weakness were made strong, and did great and valiant deeds. Paul said, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10) His recognition of his weakness brought him into an attitude that prepared him to receive the power of God.
Yes, we are weak—but what of it? Paul says our weakness merely gives God his opportunity to assist us. He did not lament his weakness; it cleared the way of all pride of self, of all trusting in his own strength, of all self-sufficiency. It made him rely utterly upon Christ, and doing so he was neither afraid of his weakness nor of life, but confident and victorious for both the present and the future.
Paul said that God made us the weak human beings we are, for a purpose: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). Then Paul illustrated by his own experience what he meant: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (vss. 8-9). Paul had many troubles—but there was the power of God upholding, strengthening, and making him able for whatever came.
To the church in Philadelphia came this message: "You have a little strength" (Rev. 3:8). The members of this church were not strong and mighty, but they were not altogether without strength. Their little strength had made them able to do two things: they had kept God's word, and had not denied his name. They had only a little strength, but that little strength was sufficient for success.
Did you ever hear of trigger action? Where great potentials of electricity are used, there is often a great switch which would be very dangerous for one to handle because of the electric arc formed when it is thrown—so a little switch is rigged up which controls the larger switch. This switch, placed in a safe place, serves as a trigger to actuate and to control the master switch. The so-called electric eyes are sensitive to light, and light falling upon the bulb causes a small electric current to flow according to the intensity of the light. This small current of electricity is often used as a control to turn on or off the lights of a great city, and as a control for power in many other ways.
That little electric current produces enormous results. It has only a little strength, as you and I have. Our little strength, like the little strength actuating the relay, can control an immense amount of spiritual power. In other words, our little strength turns on the power of God, which is waiting to operate when the occasion demands. You may be weak, you may have but a little strength, but you do have that. You have some faith, some knowledge, some ability in many directions.
We are too prone to think that we have to do everything that is done, that it all depends upon our strength. Then if we feel weak, we know that we can accomplish little. So we shrink before our tasks, we tremble before responsibilities, we draw back from difficulties, and say, "Oh, I am so weak—how can I go on? How can I be victorious?" Just in one way: by using your strength, not to do the task, but to turn on God's power. Use your strength as a relay. Paul said, "It is God who works in you."
There are always many people who live under strain. One frequently hears such expressions as: "I am so nervous." "I am afraid." This tense living is not normal. The pity of it all is that so many of these tensions are wholly unnecessary.
The tensions set up in life often mar the quality of that life. They cause abnormalities. They affect all of one's life relations, as well as the inner life. Life needs to be balanced. The more nearly its tensions are balanced, the richer and fuller and more satisfying will life be.
If the moral life is not normal, if it is subject to continuous strain of one kind or another, not only will the spiritual life be strongly affected, but physical health, and even mental health, may be profoundly affected. In fact, moral stresses may even cause death. Much of the nervousness which people suffer, much of their apprehension, much of their lack of physical ease—comes from moral or mental unbalance.
I can remember having heard people remark, "Getting religion is healthy business." This is true. When religion comes into the life and the sense of guilt, the fear of punishment, and other spiritual tensions are relieved—then mental tensions are also relieved; and health ensues as a natural result.
CAUSES OF STRESS
Probably the most common of all causes of stresses is fear. The fear of past things and the consequences that may flow from them, haunt life for many people. Some fear present circumstances or conditions—while others look into the future and conjure up so many fears that they hardly dare go on living. People are besieged by anxiety and worry day by day. Anxiety and worry are a sort of fear, and every fear sets up tensions. That is why God says over and over in the Bible, "Fear not. Be not afraid."
Some people are haunted by regret. They are constantly living over unpleasant things in their lives. Others labor under a sense of failure until they are tormented by it. Tensions are set up and maintained, which should be banished.
Another thing that causes great tensions in life, is resistance to what cannot be changed. So many people are rebellious against their circumstances. They will not submit to them even though they know they cannot change them. Thereby they set up tensions within themselves which are constantly tearing them down.
HOW TO GET RID OF STRESSES
"Yes, I know I have these tensions," says one, "but what am I going to do about them? How can I relieve them? How can I get rid of them?"
The first thing to do is to face the facts. Admit that you have the tensions, then analyze them, and search out the cause. When the cause is found, then relief can often be obtained. Many times just knowing the cause of the strain, will suggest the means of relief.
A man came to me and told me how timid he was. He wanted to work for the Lord, but found it very difficult to do so. I began to inquire concerning the cause of his timidity. I found that he had been laughed at a great deal in his childhood. In order to protect himself against the laughter, to shield himself from the pain it caused, he had withdrawn within himself, become uncommunicative, reserved, afraid of being hurt. By shunning others and being by himself—he had formed the habit of timidity.
When he saw the cause of his timidity, he realized that being timid was a bad habit he had formed—a habit that was just like any other bad habit. Then he saw that the habit of timidity could be broken, in just the same way that one breaks any other bad habit; that is, by deliberately overcoming it, by deliberately doing what he knew he ought to do despite feelings of timidity.
We need to ask ourselves, "Can these his tensions be helped? Can I find a way to relieve them?" There is nearly always a way, and usually not too hard a one. The fears and regrets of the past can be faced with the question, "Are those things really important now? Do they have a present bearing on life?" Usually they do not have. When that is the case, we can dismiss those things. Refuse to let our minds rest upon them, and force them out of our thoughts by bringing in other thoughts to take their place. We can refuse to be bothered over those things of the past.
When things come up to produce tensions, you can ask, "Do they need considering now?" If not, put them out of your thoughts—deliberately turn away from them. Again you should ask, "Are these things that trouble me, as big as they seem?" Probably you are giving to your troubles much more importance than they really deserve. Try ignoring them. That is a good cure.
Then there is the rest of faith, of trust in God, of casting our cares upon him, of casting the things that trouble us upon him. There is nothing that so relaxes spiritual tensions of life, as committing the matter to God; he has to handle most of our troubles anyway, so why not cast them upon him, and find that rest of faith that is his will for us?
One thing necessary, is to refuse to worry. You will worry—if you let yourself worry. You will find plenty of things in life to worry about. It is very easy to establish the worry habit, and it always creates tension. Learn to refuse to worry. God would have us calm, peaceful, resting, contented. He would have us partake in that rest of soul, which he said he would give to us. If your life is strained, unbalanced, troubled—then seek the Rest-Giver and find in him the help you need.
I See Differently Now
When we look back through the years, many things look different to us than they did when we were in the midst of them. It often requires the lapse of years, to bring us understanding; there are so many things that we cannot understand in the present. There are things that make us wonder and question. In our human judgment, we often think that things should be different. If we had our way, we Would never allow hurtful and grievous things to happen to us. Sometimes we are crushed because they happen, and we cannot understand why God permits them. But if we endure the test, we can often look back and see that those were the very things that were needed to develop in us strength of character, or to teach us lessons needed to make our Christian experience more effective.
In my notebook I have a quotation taken from a letter that expresses a great truth. I remember that the writer had told me of some of the experiences he had passed through in former years. There had been dark and trying times, hours of bitterness, days of sorrow and lamentation. Now, gazing back over the years that intervened, he wrote: "Then everything seemed to go wrong. But I see differently now. God has a hand in placing us in our circumstances, and I know he has cared for me all these years."
Many of us have had experiences of this kind, when things seemed to be working for our destruction, instead of our help. Now, looking back over those things, we see that it was God's kindness and mercy which led us by this unseen path to heights and depths that we had not reached before. We can see that those things that we thought were disastrous, were our upbuilding. Even when we doubted God's care, even when we thought we were left alone, even when we felt ourselves forsaken—the everlasting arms were underneath us all the time. God was guiding us, though to us the path was strange and difficult. Afterward he brought us out into a large place and established our goings.
A rich manufacturer, who had begun as a poor boy and had worked himself up until he was owner of a large factory, had a son just coming into manhood. That son was bent on having a good time. He loved pleasure and sought it eagerly. His father furnished him money to spend, but one day he called his son into his private office, and said: "Son, I have been furnishing you spending money for some years now. I think it has been quite long enough. From now on you must make your own way. If you will go to Johnson, the superintendent of the factory, he will no doubt find a place for you."
The manufacturer turned again to his work, and the son went out from his presence silent and stunned. He knew his father well enough to know that his declaration was final. He would not change his mind. The young man, feeling wounded and hurt, went away murmuring and discontented and resentful. He felt that his father did not love him, and that having to go to work to earn his living would be a disgrace to him and would cut him off from his pleasures. He was sure that his companions would laugh at him. The prospect as he viewed it was dismal enough. Presently he realized that he was facing a situation that demanded that he pull himself together and show himself to be a man. One morning he entered the office of the superintendent of the factory and asked for employment, just as any other individual would.
The superintendent, having been advised that the owner's son was coming, gave him a job, starting him in a low position. It was real work, and the young man did not enjoy it. But when he got his first paycheck, he had a feeling he had never had before in his life. This was money really his own; he had earned it himself. There was satisfaction in this, but not enough to take away the humiliation that he was suffering; however, he made up his mind to show his father that he could make his way, so he went on laboring earnestly and faithfully. Presently he was promoted. From time to time other promotions came, until he was placed in an executive position. Here he found that the knowledge he had acquired by working himself up through the various positions, was invaluable to him, and it dawned upon him why his father had acted as he had.
He walked into his father's office and said: "Father, I see that I have done you great injustice. When you cut off my allowance and sent me to the factory to work, I felt humiliated and resentful. I felt that you did not love me. I thought you did not have my interest at heart—but now I see it differently. I see that the course you took with me, was the only course you could have taken to fit me for the position I now occupy. I see now that it was the only way I could learn to value things at their real worth. And I am thankful to you, Father, that you were true to me, and that you manifested your trueness to me in a way that I know now must have cost you dearly, but which at the same time makes me appreciate you far more than I ever did before."
A few years ago a young preacher came to me and told me
his troubles. He was passing through a time of darkness that he could not
understand. Several months ago he called upon me again, and in the course of
our conversation he referred to the time of trouble through which he had
passed. He said, "Those things that I could not understand at that time,
have taught me lessons which have prepared me to help many souls as I never
could have, had I not had those severe trials."
Yes, things look different now. He can now see God's hand in it. He can see that those difficult things were a blessing to his own soul and to the souls of others. He can see that he had been in God's school of adversity and knew it not. He thought these things were destructive to him, but when he looked back upon them with clear vision and a knowledge of God's purpose—he saw real blessing in them. He saw them as manifestations of the wisdom and kindness of God, and he thanked God for these things that had been bitter and hard to bear.
Are you passing through difficult things which you cannot now understand? Does it look as if these things are ruining you? Just trust God and be patient. Out of your night of bitterness, out of your darkness and woe—will come strength of character, a blessed realization of God's faithfulness, and a knowledge of Him and yourself which can come to you in no other way. You will look back in time to come, and thank God for His wise care and tender love for you which brought you to these things, and realize that it was His hand leading you to better and richer things beyond.