Face to Face with One's Own Life
by J. R. Miller, 1912
A writer in one of the magazines said recently, that if he were a preacher he would raise his voice in behalf of the individual life. He thinks the individual is lost sight of by too many preachers, in considering the needs of Society in general. The personal human soul is starving--while men are discussing the problems of mankind. "If I were a preacher," he says, "I would talk usually just to one person." Everyone who has received any good thing, ought straightway to begin giving it out that others may have it too. But one must receive--before one can give.
So the personal life must come first. You must feed your own soul--or you cannot feed another's soul. This is universally true. There is the duty of helping others—the strong are bidden to help the weak—but one must have in himself the ability and the resources of helpfulness, before he can do for others what they need. If you are to teach others, you must be taught yourself. Before you can lead men, you must know the paths yourself. No one about to climb mountains, would accept a guide who had never acquired skill in mountain-climbing in experiences of his own.
You must face life's problems yourself and master them. No one can do it for you. "Each man shall bear his own burden," says the Scripture. Another Scripture says, "Bear one another's burdens." There is no conflict in these teachings, which seem contradictory. It is everyone's duty, always, to put his shoulder under his brother's load—but always it is true, that everyone must bear his own burden, and that no one can bear it for him.
Each man must build his own house. The work is continually going on. Every life we touch, leaves something of itself in us. Every book we read, puts some mark on our character. Every temptation either makes us stronger--if we resist it; or weaker--if we yield to it. Every sorrow which befalls us--either makes us better--or spoils our beauty. The effect of all these experiences upon us, is not accidental, but depends upon the way in which we receive them.
God's purpose in all our life, is our spiritual maturity. This up-building is not all wrought out in church services. Christ is building men all the while--in love filled homes, in places of labor, in daily companionships and associations, as well as at church meetings.
We say that the business of a carpenter, is to make the things which a carpenter usually makes. But God's purpose for the carpenter, is the making of a man. The work of a farmer, we say, is to till the soil and reap harvests. But the thought of God in the farmer's work, what He looks for as the real outcome, is a beautiful life. If this result is not reached--the farmer's life is not successful, however prosperous he may be as a farmer. We say that a man's circumstances make him; but at the center of all the circumstances the real, determining factor, is the man himself. Whether the hard knocks you experience through the years makes a man of you, or wrecks your life--depends upon the way you meet them! It is you, not your circumstances, which will determine the outcome in your life!
There is need, therefore, for personal preaching at this point. It will not do to tell men merely that their lives are plans of God, that God thought about them before he made them, and then made them to fill a certain place and to do a certain work. This is not the whole truth. The other part of the truth, is that we have now to fulfill this divine purpose and live out this divine plan. We can spoil God's beautiful plan for our life—every man does who lives in sin, rejecting the will of God for him and taking his own way instead. We can fall far below God's perfect plan for us--by living indolently, self-indulgently. Every man is required to do his best, if he would measure up to the divine plan.
An English writer says the three words, "That will do," have done more harm than any other three words in the language. Men get easily into the habit of looking at something they have made or done, and, though knowing it is not what they ought to be, or what they could make it—yet indolently let it pass, saying, "That will do." Thus they allow their work to deteriorate in quality, and fall far below God's plan, which requires the best. It is said that the great violin maker, Stradivarius, would never allow any violin to leave his hands which was not as nearly perfect as he could make it.
We rob God, when we do any of our work less well, than we could do it. God will help us to do our best—but we must work with him. He will not do our work without us. He will not do our best for us--if we work indolently. "He could not make Antonio Stradivarius' violins, without Antonio." Thus at every point we need this lesson of individual responsibility. We must meet life as individuals. We are responsible in a certain way for the good of all men. We owe a duty to "the other man" which we dare not fail to pay. But we must not forget, that our first duty is to let God have his full way with ourselves. Keeping other people's vineyards will not be enough, if meanwhile we have neglected our own. Doing a great work for others is not enough, if we have not let God care for our own life.