The Glory of the Common Life
J. R. Miller, 1910
It was only a scrubby bush, which Moses saw in the desert, and yet it gleamed with splendor, as if it were burning. No wonder the old shepherd turned aside to look at the strange sight! He wanted to solve the mystery. But a voice halted him. God was in the bush!
Mrs. Browning, referring to this singular incident says:
"Earth 's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees—takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries!"
The poet's thought is that the glory of God is in everything, in every tree, in every flower, in every lowly bush, and that almost nobody sees the glory! Most people see only the bush or the plant. Only now and then—one sees the flame, the splendor of God, and takes off his shoes!
To many people, life is all a dreary commonplace. Some see nothing beautiful in nature. They will walk through the loveliest gardens—and see nothing to admire. They will move among Christian people—and never observe in them, any glimpses of immortality, any revealings of the divine nature. They will go through all the years and never see God in anything! It would give us a radiant world in nature—if our eyes were opened to see the splendor that is in every tree, plant, and flower!
An artist was painting a picture which he hoped might be honored at the Academy. It was of a woman, struggling up a street, on a wild, stormy night, carrying her baby in her arms. Doors were shut in her face. Nowhere was there warmth, sympathy or love for her. The artist called the picture, "Homeless." As he was painting it, imagination filled his soul with divine pity. "Why do I not go to lost people themselves, to try to save them, instead of merely painting pictures of them?" he began to ask. The common bush burned with fire. Under the impulse of the new feeling, he gave himself to Christ and to the Christian ministry. He went to Africa as a missionary, devoting his life to the saving of the lowest lost! If we had eyes touched by divine anointing, we would see in every outcast, in every most depraved life—the gleaming of every possible glory.
Many of the best people in the world are lowly and obscure. They have no shining qualities, no brilliant gifts. Yet if we could see them as they really are—we would find the thorn bush burning with fire. They are full of God. Christ lives in them!
There is a story of an Italian Christian who works with pick and shovel, walking two miles every morning to his task. He lives on the plainest food. Yet he is the happiest man in all his neighborhood. He has a secret which keeps him happy in all his toil and pinching. Away in Italy, he has a wife and two children, and he is working and saving to bring them to America, where he is building a home for them. This lowly thorn bush of hardness and poverty—is aflame with the fire of love.
God is usually found in most unlikely places. When the shepherds went to seek for the Holy Child, they did not go to fine mansions, to the homes of the great or rich, to earthly palaces—they found the Babe in a stable, sleeping in a feeding trough!
Lowell's legend is a story for all days and all places. As the knight rode out from his castle gate at the beginning of his quest for the holy grail, he tossed a coin to the leper who sat by the wayside begging. Through all lands he rode in a vain search for the sacred cup. At length, old, broken, and disappointed—but chastened, he returned home. There sat the leper as before, by the castle gate. The knight has learned love's lesson. He shares his last crust with the leper. He breaks the ice on the stream near by, brings water in his wooden bowl, and gives the beggar a drink. Then the leper is revealed as the Christ—and the bowl as the holy cup.
Ofttimes it is in lowliest ways—that God is found, after men have sought long for him in vain, in ways of splendor. A disciple asked the Master to show him the Father. He thought the revealing would come in some heavenly splendor. Jesus said that he had been showing the Father in all the years he had been with the disciples. He referred to his everyday life of love and kindness. You say you never have seen God, and that you wish you could see him. You could believe in him more easily, if you could see him sometimes. That is what the disciples thought and said, "Show us the Father, and it is enough," was their pleading. Yet, they really had been seeing the Father the whole three years!
So it is that Christ comes to us continually in plain garb, in lowly ways, without any apparent brightness. We decline tasks and duties that are assigned to us, thinking they are not worthy of our fine hands—not knowing that they are holy ministries which angels would eagerly perform! Not one of the disciples that last night, would take the basin and the towel and wash the feet of the others and of the Master. Washing feet was the lowliest of all tasks—the lowest slave in the household did it. But while these proud men scoffed and shrank from the service—Jesus himself did it! Then they saw that washing the feet of others in love—is divine in its splendor. The thorn bush burned with fire!
Some of the happiest people in the world—are doing the plainest tasks, are living in the plainest way, have the fewest luxuries, and scarcely ever have an hour for rest or play. They are happy because they are contented. They love God. They follow Christ. They have learned to love their work and do it with delight, with eagerness, with enthusiasm.
A pastor tells of visiting a family in one of the smallest houses in his great parish. There is a widow who goes out to work all day, and a girl of twenty who also works. There is a boy of ten or twelve who is at school. It would not have been surprising if a tone of discontent had been found in the little home, or if there had been complaints about their hard condition. But the pastor heard no word that was not glad. The three people in the little house had learned to see brightness in their humble circumstances. All the dreariness—was touched with a heavenly gleam! The rough thorn bush burned with fire!
God finds much of earth's truest happiness—in most unlikely places. Many of the sweetest Christians in the world—are those who have least of earthly gladness. Their joy is the joy of the Lord; a joy which is transmuted sorrow. Many of the songs which are fullest of praise—are sung in chambers of pain. Paul had learned to rejoice in tribulation. Many of the most radiant experiences of Christian life are born of pain. Jesus gave a beatitude for sorrow, "Blessed are those who mourn—for they shall be comforted."
The North American Indians have a strange and beautiful legend. They say that as the flowers fade, their beauty is not lost—but is gathered up into the rainbow, and thus the flowers live again in even richer colors than before. Just so, the blessings that are taken out of our hands on earth—are only gathered into heavenly blessedness, where they shall be ours forever! The rough thorn bush of sorrow is made by faith to appear in unfading glory, to glow in the radiance of God's eternal love!
There are certain lives which we are accustomed to look upon and think of with pity. Their condition is always one of suffering. One person is blind and helpless; another is crippled so as never to be able to leave her room; another is paralyzed and cannot use her hands or feet; another is a hopeless invalid. We pity these people, and think their case is forlorn. Yes—but nowhere do you find such trust, such patience, such joy—as in their lives. The thorn bushes burn with fire—and are not consumed!
Many people never have learned to see God in their everyday life. It seems to them, that their life is not worthy of them, that its splendor is lost in their commonplace tasks.
In a little book published a few years ago, there was a story of a young minister visiting among his people. One day he called on an old shoemaker. He began to talk to the old man, and inadvertently spoke of his occupation as 'lowly'. The shoemaker was pained by the minister's word.
"Do not call my occupation lowly! It is no more lowly than yours! When I stand before God in judgment, he will ask about my work, and will ask what kind of shoes I made down here, and then he will want me to show him a specimen. And He will ask you what kind of sermons you preached to your people, and will have you show him one. And if my shoes are better than your sermons, then I shall have fuller approval than you will have!"
The old shoemaker was not offended, he was only impressed with the honor of his own calling, as God saw it. He was right, too! No occupation is in itself lowly—the commonest kind of work is radiant—if it is done for God! We shall each be judged indeed by the way we have done the work of our profession, our trade, or our calling. What we do for Christ is glorious, however lowly it is in itself!
There is a customary thought, that the calling of a minister is more sacred than that of the carpenter, the shoemaker, or the merchant. But the old man was right when he said that his calling was as honorable as his minister's. They do not have an ordination service for the painter or the grocer; but why not? There really is a splendor, a radiancy, in each one's peculiar occupation, however plain it may seem!
Paul said to the Corinthians, "Each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to." The slave was to continue a slave—with God. The tradesman was to continue in his trade—with God. We should not feel humiliated by our lowly earthly condition; we should glorify it. The angels, as they go about, do not recognize rank in people's occupations—some graded low, some high. We are ranked by the degree of diligence or faithfulness that we put into our tasks.
The bright, cheery, good-hearted bootblack, who "shines 'em up," is far above the useless millionaire who never thinks of God or man. You can live a noble, divine life anywhere with God. Your humblest thorn bush burns with fire!
One whose life seems lowly writes: "Some of my friends pity me for having to work in a factory—but I feel honored that God should call me to work at something like my Master's earthly calling—and I do not feel that polishing and packing watch crystals, is my real mission in this world—any more than carpentering was His." The thorn bush burns with fire!
We go to far-off lands to see the splendors there. Italy is glorious. Switzerland is glorious. But there is glory also in every common blade of grass, in every tiny flower, in every bud, in every leaf, in every butterfly!
You read biographies of great men and are charmed by what they did, by the noble qualities you find in their character. That is well. But just where you are—there are glories too. In your own life there are divine possibilities. You have not yet begun to find them all, or realize them.
Perhaps you have been thinking rather discouragingly about yourself. You feel that you have hardly a fair share of comfort, of opportunities, of privileges. You have been almost fretting because you are not getting on or getting up—as fast as you want to. You have been discontented, depressed. Ask God to open your eyes—and you will see your thorn bush burning with fire. Your everyday life is full of splendor! There is not a single hour in your commonest day—that is uneventful.
You are thinking that there are no miracles any more. But there really are as many miracles any week—as there were in the life of any Bible saint. Or, you have been thinking of your troubles, that you have more than your share of them. The work of the lace weavers seems to the observer, to be a great tangle, a strange puzzle. But out of it all, there comes marvelous beauty. Life seems a tangle, a puzzle, to us—as we look at its events, its circumstances, its sorrows and joys. But in the end—we shall see that not one thread was ever weaved into the wrong place in the web. God is in all our life!