"Our brothers have made us lose heart. They say,`The people are stronger and taller than we are...'" (Deuteronomy 1:28). What a pity that our brethren put stumbling-blocks in the way by discouraging us with goblins of fear, guilt, inferiority and hate. God sent His Son to deliver us from these evils. Now we must go on to our new and heavier responsibilities with courage. We must not pay attention to those who would melt our hearts by "saying"--by criticizing and downgrading--and thereby making the downhearted to fall. The one who discourages is like a black cloud with no silver lining. The Christian who knows God knows better.
Art Buchwald told the story of the Hollywood producer who loved to collect rare books and loved to tell about it, too. His friends, tired of bent ears, hired an actor to tell the producer that he had an old German Bible. The collector asked him who printed it, and the actor replied, "`Guten' something." The stunned producer said, "Guntenberg?" "Yes, that sounds like it." The producer screamed, "Let's go, we'll hire a plane!" The actor replied, "It can't be worth anything. Someone named Martin Luther scribbled all over it." Are we making our Bibles worthwhile for others by notating what is precious to us?
Ambition is fine if it is headed in the right direction, but aspiration without inspiration can literally kill us. We should hope for a better life, but be willing to work for it, too. "Hope is the sunshine of the heart; and those young people who begin life with a free gratification of wants and a full sense of prosperity lose the fine relish that comes with each new and hard-earned indulgence, and the delight of adding to another's pleasure by self-sacrifice and renunciation. They may well be pitied for not knowing the enjoyment of gradual progress through their own power of perseverance" (George S. Hillard).
"He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul" (Psalm 23:2b). This jewel of a psalm has calmed countless hearts. It is beside the still waters where the Holy Spirit meets His saints, not in the winds and waters of strife. He cannot lead us to the placid waters if we are rushing ahead of Him. We must take the time to be led to the peaceful morning hours with Him. This is when He prepares our hearts for the struggles of the day. This is where the success is won before the campaign is engaged: in prayer, seeking our guidance for the day. Then let us rest awhile by the still waters of His gentleness and affection, His joy and peace.
This humorous story whittles us to our befitting size: A young woodpecker felt quite energetic one morning, and he decided to start the day by pecking at a giant oak tree. He pecked away and was making a minuscule dent when a flash of lightening split the tree from top to bottom. The bird rushed out from under the wreckage, looked up at what the lightening left of the tree, and whispered in awe, "Gracious -- I didn't even know my own strength!" It might help to get away from the trees and see the forest to get a better perspective of what God has done for us--and what we can’t do for ourselves!
We have heard many times that overdone expression, "It's a great life if you don't weaken." Words that come to mind are endurance and steadfastness and unwavering. "...We consider blessed those who have persevered" (James 5:11a). The outstanding example of fortitude is Job, even though he understandably went through a period of peevishness. Actually Job was not so patient as he was persevering. He was afflicted with a variety of intense griefs and yet could still bless God and go on. The most effective way to endure the ills that beset all is to look to the end of them, for "This, too, shall pass." At the time it may not seem so, but God is going to wipe away all tears (Revelation 21:4).
"When he drank some of its wine, [Noah] became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent" (Genesis 9:21). Abraham passed off his wife as his sister--twice--and he rationalized that it was true, for Sarah was his half-sister; he also gave in to Sarah's plea for a child through her maid. David, "the man anointed by the God of Jacob" (2 Samuel 23:1), the beloved of God, fell to the depths and committed just about every sin in the Book. But God forgave David--and He forgives us.
How the heart yearns for quietness and harmony! We are drowning in din. We are bombarded with rock music and loud ads and obnoxious TV programs with their senseless laugh tracks. The stupidity is appalling. "Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while..." (Isaiah 26:20). The Word asks us to pray for those in authority that the rest of us may lead tranquil and quiet lives in godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:1,2). Our guarantee is in Isaiah 30:15: "In quietness and trust is your strength." Remember, God is the author of peace, not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
“So live, that when thy summons comes to join/The innumerable caravan, which moves/To that mysterious realm, where each shall take/His chamber in the silent halls of death,/Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,/Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed/By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,/Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch/About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” (Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant). How shall we then live?
Abraham Lincoln said, "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my great concern is to be on God's side." In 2 Corinthians 4:8 Paul tells us, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed..." It is because Paul is on God's side that he can declare such peace of mind when troubles press in from all sides. Lincoln knew that we need only to be on God's side--to know and to do His will--and then we need not worry about God being on anyone's side. After all, God is the Father of us all. He loves all equally and is impartial, which means He is just. That takes care of our need for man's justice, for we have God's truth.
God means for us to be active. It is against the nature God gave us for us to seek ease and the easy way out. "The only thing in which we can be said to have any property are our actions. Our thoughts may be bad, yet produce no poison; they may be good, yet produce no fruit. Our riches may be taken away by misfortune, our reputation by malice, our spirits by calamity, our health by disease, our friends by death. But our actions must follow us beyond the grave; with respect to them alone, we cannot say that we shall carry nothing with us when we die, neither that we shall go naked out of the world" (Colton).
The disciples of Jesus progressed from common men into uncommon revolutionists who changed hearts and attitudes. When we envy others their success, or seeming success, let us think of this small band of men who Jesus chose to be His first pupils. And let us remember that these His followers thought Jesus had failed when He was raised up on the cross. But O! that glorious testimony of the Son of Man, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all...to myself" (John 12:32). In the lifting of that cross from earth to heaven is the accomplishment and vindication for us all. From that seeming greatest defeat of all came the consecrated and perfect success for humanity. Thank You, Jesus!
"God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters" (Dr. Jowett). When we look back on our times of trouble we know that God uplifted us. What He gave was strength as well as consolation. His comfort is not a sedative to desensitize but a brace to fortify our spirit so we might then share courage with others in their time of distress. The cup of grief is full for our friend, and our tenderness is sorely needed, but with that compassion we can tell our friend about His Passion, and thereby help that person to see a reason to live through his or her sorrow.
Our present generation (and probably every generation) disdains rules. Some have complained that it cramps their style and makes them feel hemmed in. Wilbur Chapman sums it up it for the Christian: "The rule that governs my life is this: Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult, it is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it." Jesus sums it up ultimately: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30,31). These are our rules for life.
"For Christ's sake..." We cringe when we hear it used wrongfully but in prayer what a splendid purpose it has. "For Christ's sake" we are to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32); serve one another (2 Corinthians 4:5); accept our weaknesses and difficulties (2 Corinthians 12:10); pray for each other (Romans 2:3); and be fools for His sake (1 Corinthians 4:10). God has mercies for our sakes: "For the sake of ten I will not destroy [Sodom]" (Genesis 18:32). Man pleads in His name: "For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great" (Psalm 25:11). Too, we will be hated of men for His name's sake (Matthew 10:22).
Arthur M. Moore, in his book, The Mighty Savior, relates the following: "I heard of a boy converted at a revival meeting...who had to leave next day to work three months in a tough labor camp. The people of the church were anxious about him lest he go down there and lose his experience and fail to give his testimony. So they had daily prayer meetings for him until he returned. `How did you get along? How did they treat you?' they asked. `Fine,' he replied. `My associates never found out.'" Was this young man a void page? "You are our letter...known and read of all men..." (2 Corinthians 3:3 ).
We have heard the phrase, "We are our own worst enemy." Let's rephrase that to, "We are our own best friend." Of course the Christian knows that Jesus is his or her very best Friend, but it might make us feel better, when others disown us for a time, to know that we are friends with ourselves. Abe Lincoln said, "I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I have come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me." If we stay friends to our principles, then we can remain friends with ourselves.
"Our youths love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders, and have to chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers" (Socrates, 400 B.C.). Doesn't this sound familiar? Apparently human behavior is consistent through the centuries. But our God tells us that He wants to give us a new character; He wants to give us a heart of flesh and take away our hard heart (Ezekiel 36:26).
A lady realized that her fears were running and ruining her life so she made for herself a "worry table" in which she tabulated all her anxieties. She came up with the following figures: 40%--will never happen because fear is the result of a tired mind; 30%--about old decisions which I cannot alter; 12%--others' criticisms about me, most untrue, made by people who feel inferior; 10%--about my health, which gets worse as I worry; 8%--"legitimate," since life does have some real problems to meet. (From Thomas S. Kepler, Jesus' Spiritual Journey and Ours).
"And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends..." (Job 42:10, KJV). When we are angry toward others then we are captive to ugly feelings. "There is nothing that makes us love someone as praying for him, and when you can do this sincerely...you have fitted your soul for the performance of everything that is kind and civil toward him. Be daily on your knees... praying for others in such form, with such length, importunity and eagerness as you use for yourself; and you will find all little, ill-natured passions die away, and your heart will grow great and generous" (William Law). What a beautiful thought!
Hands! Do we appreciate our hands? "He showed them His hands..." (Luke 24:40). The hands of Jesus were human hands, hands that once were baby hands; hands that toiled in a carpenter's shop; hands that blessed, motivated by a love that finally literally killed Him. His hands hallowed the little ones; His pure hands touched the sick and made them well in mind and body. But most important of all are His saving hands: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). To think that our Savior took to heaven wounded hands that were used only to bless us....!
Sometimes we sink to our knees in sickness of body and mind, unable to gather our forces to go on. This little story should help us in these times. A small boy was struggling to lift a heavy stone, but he couldn't budge it. His father, passing by, stopped to watch his efforts. Finally he said to his son: "Are you using all your strength?" "Yes, I am," the boy cried, exasperated. "No," the father said calmly, "you aren't. You haven't asked me to help you." Even Jesus asked His Father for help that terrible night in the Garden: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
Benjamin Franklin, printer, publisher, author, inventor, scientist and diplomat, published Poor Richard's Almanack in which he coined numerous proverbs praising prudence, industry and honesty. He wrote: "When confronted with two courses of action, I jot down on a piece of paper all the arguments in favor of each one. Then, by weighing the arguments pro and con and canceling them out one against the other, I take the course indicated by what remains." There are legitimate gray areas of life when it is a good idea to do this. It's choosing the better of two goods, when two options are equally honorable.
There's a story about a cow and a pig. The pig was complaining because he was so disliked. He told the cow that people were always talking about how gentle and kind the cow was. The pig admitted that the cow was quite generous with her milk and cream, but he told the cow that actually the pigs gave much more. The cow thought a while and then said, "Maybe it's because I give while I'm still living." Proverbs 11:25 KJV says, "The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself." It's a good idea to open hand and heart while living; one of the rewards is both others' happiness and ours.
We should read Psalm 8 on days when we wonder if God cares about His creation. "... What is man that you are mindful of him...You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor" (Vss.4,5). The responsibilities and possibilities are awesome when one does consider what man is. Hebrews 2:9 tells us, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death..." The greatest favor and honor to man was the incarnation and resurrection of the Son of Man. In this lies our value.
A father gave prudent advice to his son who had just graduated from college and was about to go into his profession. "My boy," he said, "remember there are three bones, and you will never have any trouble." "How will three bones keep me out of trouble?" the boy asked, puzzled. "There is a wishbone, a jawbone, and a backbone," the father explained. "The wishbone keeps you going after goals. The jawbone helps you find out how to go after them if you are in doubt, and the backbone keeps you at it until you get there." Lord, we pray for one more bone, a firebone of love from the Holy Spirit, that we may glorify You.
Richter defined time as the chrysalis of eternity. What an unusual and exquisite concept this is. The dictionary defines chrysalis as the third stage in the development of an insect, the pupal stage; also, anything still in the process of development. It is during pupation that larval structures of insects break down and adult structures form: wings appear for the first time. The adult emerges from the cocoon; the caterpillar is transformed into the butterfly. God is giving us this chrysalis to develop our wings. May we use our time wisely that we may have it for eternity.
Ecclesiastes 1:9c tells us there is nothing new under the sun. But whatever the current population is, that is how many newnesses there are. Martin Buber said: "Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique...There has never been anyone like him in the world, for if there had been someone like him, there would have been no need for him to be in the world. Every man is a new thing in the world and is called upon to fulfill his particularity in this world." So let us not doubt that God has His good reasons for our being.