J. R. Miller, 1902
We are to serve others. When we find God--we at once think of our brother. We begin to be like Christ--only when we begin to be helpful. But many mistakes are made by those who are only learning this lesson. Our very eagerness ofttimes leads us to try to help unwisely.
A friend tells of a young girl who recently became a Christian, and at once felt that she must serve somebody. But she did not know where or how to begin. She looked about among her companions--she was then attending a large girls' school--to see if there were any to whom she could be of use. There was one girl who was greatly burdened with her school-work. This eager young Christian thought she might do for this girl services which would relieve her. So she began to help her, in caring for her room. But she soon learned that her assistance was not welcome; indeed, it was resented. She found that she had hurt her friend's feelings, and that she could not continue the help she had begun to give.
Her mistake was that she was doing service merely for the sake of service. She wanted to be helpful, and looking around, saw that here were things she might do. But the serving had not come naturally.
The incident suggests that help may never be rendered, merely for the sake of doing something. We may not go out some morning, saying that we want to do two or three kindnesses before the sun sets, and choose certain people to whom we will do these kindnesses, without reference to their necessity, or our own duty to them. We give a man some money, for example; but if he is in no real need we have done him no kindness. A young man, in his eagerness to be useful, may help his younger brother with his school homework, working the problems for him. But that is mistaken kindness; the boy would better be left to work the problems for himself, with no more than a helpful hint.
Or take, again, the case of the young girl in school. She was eager to express her love in some service, and she supposed she had found an opportunity. But her friend did not need this help. She was not sick; if she had been, the serving would have been beautiful and natural, and no doubt would have been gratefully accepted. As it was, however, the ministering, though well meant, was little short of impertinence. It was unwelcome and weakened, rather than strengthened the bond of friendship between the two girls.
It requires wisdom, as well as tact--to help others in truly good and beneficent ways. There is always danger of over-helping. There are some people who never decline a favor that anyone is disposed to render to them. Children naturally accept whatever is given to them. Then there are adults who seem always to have a hand stretched out for help. Indolent people never refuse to allow others to do their work for them. They are ready to accept gifts, to have their burdens lightened, to have their hard tasks done for them. But much of the help given to such people--is really, unkindness to them. Too much giving to children--only teaches them wrong ways of living, gives them false ideas of their own duty and responsibility, and of what they should expect from others, and makes them less strong and self-reliant.
Many a father says, "I had a hard and toilsome youth. I had to fight my own battles unhelped. I am not going to have my children do as I had to do." So he makes life wondrously easy for his boys, has everything possible done for them, and indulges them in every wish. The man forgets that whatever is noble in his own character and worthy in his career--he owes to the very hardships of his young days. It was in those struggles, tasks, and self-denials, that he got his manly strength. Then he is surprised that his boys do not turn out well, do not become strong, heroic, and useful men. It is the father's over-helping that is responsible for their failure! If he had trained them to bear their own burdens, to do their own work, to restrain their desires, to endure hardships, to learn self-discipline, he would have been a far better and wiser father to them.
There are many other examples of similar mistakes in helping. Much of the fashionable charity of the day belongs to the same class. It is not wise help. It may make life easier for a day, for its beneficiaries--but it makes them less able to struggle on in the long years to come. At the beautiful gate of the temple, Peter found a beggar asking alms. Instinctively the beggar held out his hand when Peter came up. But instead of putting a coin into the man's greasy palm, Peter began to talk to him. He told him he had no money to give him--but instead he would do something for him which would make it unnecessary for him ever to beg anymore. So in Christ's name he cured his lameness. Surely what Peter did for the beggar--was far better than any number of coins he might have piled in his hand.
We cannot work miracles like this--but ofttimes we may do that which will be as good as a miracle. Instead of giving money to one who has a pressing need, we may find him something to do--which will make it unnecessary to give him the money. Or we may put cheer and courage into a man's heart, enabling him to earn the money he needs. Either of these ways of helping, is far better than giving money would be! The man's spirit of independence is preserved. He is trained in self-discipline. His self-respect has not been impaired. Then he is stronger now for life, in all the future. Over-helping is unwise helping--it does harm, rather than good. Our best friend is not the man who makes life easy for us--but the man who inspires, impels, even compels, us to do our own best!
In the minds of many people who really need help, there is a repugnance to being helped which makes is difficult to do anything for them. They deem it inconsistent with a fine spirit of manliness, to accept help from anyone. It is a noble spirit in them--which inclines them to want to live thus independently, although it may assert itself too energetically. The spirit of love, which seeks to minister rather than to be ministered unto, to give rather than to receive help--should not obstinately refuse to accept all kindnesses. It should allow others the privilege it prizes so highly--and seeks so earnestly for itself.
Jesus, while living to serve, did not reject the service of love which His friends were so glad to render to Him. He did not decline the ministry of the women friends who followed Him from Galilee, devoting their means to providing for His needs. He accepted the hospitality of Martha and Mary and others, with grateful spirit. Even if the service offered to Him was of small value, He yet received it in such a way as not to disappoint or hurt the heart which had prompted it.
It is not a beautiful spirit, therefore, which rejects all favors, and refuses to give others the pleasure of ministering to us. We should be willing to receive--as well as give. When love or gratitude is eager to do something for us to express its feeling--we should show the most delicate appreciation of the spirit, and should be careful not to mar the pleasure which our friend has in ministering to us. Even if the thing done is itself something distasteful to us--we owe it to the sentiment prompting it--to accept it gracefully and gratefully.
On the other hand, in helping or serving others--we need to exercise great wisdom. Many a new growing friendship is hindered by over eagerness to be of use. Favors are pressed with and earnestness that is sincere enough--but indelicate; and the result on our friend is a shrinking from an intimacy which promises to be too urgent. There should be a prudent reserve in all showing of kindness. We should not be too eager: eagerness may seem meddlesomeness. We should not help too soon. Over doing is worse than under doing. We should respect the personality of our friend, and not put him under obligations. Even when there is need for help--we may not be the friend who should render it. Relations of helping and serving must be mutual, and we should not seek to outdo our friend in kindness. This would destroy the balance of friendship which must always be maintained if the relations are to be kept free from embarrassment.
What is wanted, after all, is a heart of true love--love learned from Christ. This will make us ready to serve always everyone who comes within the circle of our life. It will save us from all pride; for love is lowly, seeking not recognition and praise--but seeking only to honor Christ and do good. It will save us from all invidiousness; for love asks not who it is that needs help--but finds in everyone a brother. It will save us from all selfishness; for love forgets and loses itself in the one desire to do good, pouring out its best and sweetest blessing on the lowliest and least worthy.