Comfort Through Personal Helpfulness
by J. R. Miller, 1912
Every true Christian desires to be helpful. He longs to make his life a blessing to as many people as possible. He wishes to make the world better, his neighborhood brighter and sweeter, every life he touches, in even casual associations, somewhat more beautiful. It is worth while that we should think just how we must live if our lives—if we would reach this ideal. We cannot come upon this kind of a life accidentally. We do not drift into a place and condition of great usefulness.
The secret of personal helpfulness—is love in the heart. No one can be a blessing to others—if he does not love. Nothing but love will make another person happier, will comfort sorrow, will relieve loneliness, will give encouragement. You never can be of any real use to a man—if you do not care for him, and you care for him only so far as you are willing to make sacrifices to help him, to go out of your way to do a favor. It is never by chance, therefore, that one finds himself living a life that is full of helpfulness. Such a life comes only through a regeneration that makes it new. That is what it meant to become a Christian.
The secret of Christ, was abounding personal helpfulness. We say he gave his life for the world—and we think of the cross. But the cross was in his life from the beginning. He never had a thought or a wish for himself. He never pleased himself. Ever he was ready to give up his own comfort, his own ease, his own preferment, that another might be pleased or helped. With this thought in mind, it will be a most profitable piece of Bible reading, to go through the Gospels just to find how Christ treated the people he met. He was always kind, not only polite and courteous—but doing kindly, thoughtful, helpful things. His inquiry concerning every person was, "Can I do anything for you? Can I share your burden? Can I relieve you of your suffering?"
The Good Samaritan was Christ's illustration of love—and the illustration was a picture of his own life. There is no other way of personal helpfulness—but this way, and there is no other secret of attaining it—but his secret. You cannot learn it from a book of rules. It is not a system of etiquette. It is a new life—it is Christ living in the heart.
It is personal helpfulness of which we are thinking. A man may be useful in his community, may even be a public benefactor, may do much for the race—and yet may fail altogether to be a real helper of the individual lives he touches in his daily associations. A man may do much good with his money, relieving distress, founding institutions, establishing schools, and may not be a helper of men in personal ways. People do not turn to him with their needs. The sorrowing know nothing of comfort ministered by him. The baffled and perplexed do not look to him for guidance, the tempted for deliverance, the despairing for cheer and encouragement.
It is this personal helpfulness, which means the most in the close contacts of human lives. So far as we know—Jesus never gave money to any one in need. He did not pay rents for the poor, nor buy them food or clothes—but he was always doing good in ways which meant far more for them than if he had helped with money. There are needs which only love and kindness can meet. Countless people move about among us these days starving for love, dying with loneliness. You can help them immeasurably by becoming their friend, not in any marked or unusual way—but by doing them a simple kindness, by showing a little human interest in them, by turning aside to do a little favor, by manifesting sympathy, if they are in sorrow. A little note of a few lines sent to a neighbor in grief, has been known to start an influence of comfort and strength that could not be measured.
It is the little things of love, which count in such ministry—the little nameless acts, the small words of gentleness, the looks that tell of interest and care and sympathy. Life is hard for many people—and nothing is more needed continually than encouragement and cheer. There are men who never do anything great in their lives, and yet they make it sunnier all about them, and make all who know them happier, braver, stronger. There are women, overburdened themselves, perhaps—but so thoughtful, so sympathetic, so helpful, so full of little kindnesses, that they make the spot of the world in which they live, more like heaven.
How can we learn this lesson of personal helpfulness? It is not merely a matter of congeniality of disposition; it is not a matter of natural temperament. A selfish man can learn it—if he takes Christ for his teacher. Self must be displaced in the thought and purpose and affection—by "the other man." If love fills the heart—every expression of the life gives out helpfulness.
A young woman, speaking of the way different people had been a comfort to her in a great sorrow, said: "I wish some people knew just how much their faces can comfort others." Then she told of an old gentleman she sometimes sat beside, on the bus. He did not know her—but she was always helped by just seeing his face. There is a great deal of this unconscious helpfulness in the world. Indeed many of the best things we do—we do without knowing we are doing them. If we are full of love—we will be helping others wherever we go—and the things we do not plan to do when we go out in the morning—will be the divinest things of the whole day!
Not only is the life of personal helpfulness most worth while in the measure of good it does, in its influence upon others—but no other life brings back to itself such rewards of peace, of strength, of comfort, of joy. What of love you give to another—you have not really given away—you have it still in yourself in larger measure than before! No gain one gets in this world—is equal to the love of hearts that one receives, from those one serves in unselfish love!