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
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
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.