When We Are Laid Aside

by J. R. Miller, 1912
 

We do well when we let God shape our lives. God "writes straight on crooked lines." He has a plan for every life, and his plan goes on without interruption,, through all the ambitions, the mistakes, the failures, of our aims and strivings. The problem of faith is to accept God's will--when it breaks into our will, and believe that always it is right, and that there can be no mistake and no failure when it is his way we take. It is here too often, that our faith fails.

A Christian man was telling how hard it is for him to maintain the peace and joy of his life, in the experiences through which he is passing. For long years he had been in Christian work of great importance. He had devoted his best energies to the development of this work, and seemed about to see all his hopes realized. Then his health gave way, months he has been compelled to lie on his bed unable to do anything. It is by no means certain that he can ever again resume his work and carry to completion, the plans and schemes upon which he has been so long engaged. He was speaking to a friend of his condition. "It is very hard," he said, "to remain quiet and be at peace in all this uncertainty. It is hard to be still and do nothing, while there is so much yet to be done. It is hard, after having wrought so long in the work, to lie still in a sick-room, inactive, not taking any part in the work to which he has given his strength all his years, letting others carry it on."

In varying forms, this is a problem of faith which very many people are going through. We are in the midst of pressing activities which fill our hands and require our best energies every hour. What we are doing seems essential. If our hands should willingly slack, there would be a blank in the work we are doing, and this would be disloyalty to God. Besides, it requires the full wages of all the days, to provide for our family. Then suddenly one morning we cannot leave our bed to go to our work. The doctor says it will be weeks before we can leave our bed. We are in consternation.

We were happy in our trust before this interruption. All things were going well. We thanked God every day that he was providing for us so abundantly. But how shall we meet this new problem? The first thing to remember is--that this is our Father's world, and that all its events are in his hand. He is not dependent, in his care of us, upon what we can do for ourselves. He indeed needs us; and, while we are able to do our part, his providing for us depends on our doing our part. If we fail to do our part, and, growing indolent, drop our tasks while we have strength to do them, we are proving unfaithful, marring God's plan of providence, and must suffer. But if we are stricken down and can no longer go on with our task, God is not at the end of his power to care for us. We may trust his love to provide for us--when we cannot do it.

The sick man thinks he is losing time when he must stay on his bed and do nothing, day after day, for weeks. But really he is not losing. He is no longer essential. Nothing will suffer because his hands are not doing his accustomed tasks. Work in stone or wood--is not all that the builder is in the world for. There is building to go on in his own life and character, which is far more important than what he does in the house on which he is working. Sometime he will know that his days of illness--were his best building days. As to his family, God has a way to provide for them while the natural bread-winner is not able to do it. While he was busiest in material things, accomplishing most in earthly labors he was leaving untouched the work in his own life and character, which was absolutely essential to the spiritual completeness of his life according to God's purpose.

One of the busiest men of our generation, busiest too in the best things, who has devoted his life to others with self-forgetful ability, said the other day to a friend--that he was discovering he had left a whole section of his life-work undone. While he was caring so diligently for the comfort, the good and the spiritual culture of others, he had not been giving due attention to his own inner life. When he was shut in and the work for others could not be done as heretofore, he found quite enough to do in the things that were waiting for his hands. The months when he was laid aside from active duty, he had found serious work to do in getting right within--in the cultivation of the graces of humility, and love, and patience, and unselfishness. If he had come to the end of his life when he had finished his active tasks, he would have stood before God most incomplete in spiritual maturity. He needed the period when his hands must be still and he must suffer, in order to make his life complete. This was not lost time.

The principle thus stated, applies in all relations of life, whatever the circumstances may be. While we are able to work, we way never slacken our diligence. Our own hands must earn our daily bread. But when we cannot longer work, work is not our duty; God does not require it of us. It is some other one's duty then, not ours. If you are a teacher, you cannot evade the responsibility of meeting your class regularly, if you are well enough to do so. But if you are really ill and cannot be in your place, you have no duty there, and no responsibility. If you are a minister and for years have never missed a service, and then are sick and unable to get to your pulpit, your Master does not expect you to be there; he has no message for you to deliver to the people that day, and nothing will go wrong with your work because you are not there.

A pastor who had wrought long and had hardly ever been absent from his church, was broken down and for months could not come to his accustomed place. During his long absence he wrote to his people words like these: "I understand that when I am physically unable to do the work I would be doing gladly if I could--it is not my work at all. It would have been mine if I were well—but now my only duty is to be quiet and still. Duty is not all activity; sometimes it is to wait patiently. Nothing is going wrong in my life because I am not in what would be my place, if I were well. My ministry is not broken or even interrupted by this experience. My work for my Master has not been stopped—its form only has been changed." No doubt this pastor was doing as much for his people those quiet days away from them--as he had ever done in his active days in their midst.

We dare not take comfort from this teaching--if we are not called from our duty in some providential way. Some of us are too easily taken away from our work. Small excuses are allowed to draw us away. Obstacles are not always meant to interrupt our efforts—ofttimes they are meant to be overcome, making us more earnest and persistent. There is altogether too much resignation in some Christians. Their resignation may be indolence. We must be sure the Good Shepherd calls us to "lie down in green pastures" before we stop in our service. But if lying down is our duty, then we must do it as joyfully as ever we listened to a call to move strenuously forward.

This lesson is not easily learned. For many it is very hard to accept interruptions in happy activities, without chafing and fretting. It is hard for a man to break down in the midst of some great task, and be as trustful and songful in his disappointment, as if he had been allowed to go on in his busy way. Some people find it very hard to grow old, to let go the work of years, and see others do it. The lesson is, that our faith shall not fail when interruptions of any kind break in—but shall keep our hearts brave and sweet and strong in all human weakness and disappointment. We must take care that our religion does not fail in these testings. We say that Christ will suffice us in every experience; we must show that he does. If he does not--the trouble is with us.

There is marvelous power in a witnessing life. A young Christian woman wrote to a teacher who through years had taught her to love Christ and trust him, and who was now broken in health and a sufferer—but joyous as ever: "I want to thank you for teaching me this beautiful lesson of all your life, this peaceful and joyous acceptance of all trouble. You are living out now, all that you have taught me. I am glad you let Christ speak so plainly through you." Suppose this teacher, having taught the lesson of faith and trust and peace for years, had then in pain and loss and trouble--chafed, complained and fretted--how different would the effect have been upon the pupil!

We may be laid aside from our active work--but God never lays us aside for himself. So we need never lay aside our joyous witnessing for him, his love, and his keeping power. If that witness has counted for much when we were active, it can count for more in our inactivity. If we wasted the days of our activity by failure to witness for him, we may yet, in Christ's strength, start today, in our new helplessness, upon a showing forth of God's presence in a life that shall gladden him and change his world.