Besides the things that come into life's definite plans, there are countless opportunities all along the way for doing little acts of personal kindness and helpfulness which are of untold value.
For illustration, here is a physician, the great work of whose life is that which belongs to his profession. But his helpfulness to humanity, his usefulness in the world, is not confined to his professional acts, when he is relieving pain and curing disease. He is a man as well as a physician, and he has kindly sympathies and gentle humanities which give him large personal influence over those with whom he mingles. He is a Christian man, and has the spirit of the Master who came "not to be served, but to serve." Thus, through all his days, wherever he moves on his professional rounds, he scatters cheer and brightness and helpful impulses. His kind words and his little unselfish acts, do quite as much good in many a sick room as his medicines. He does not set these amenities down as any part of the duties of his profession, nor does he enter them on his book, or put them into his bill. He does not count them up in his summary of the day's doings. Yet it may be that his unpurposed ministry may be the real glory of his day's work—as the beneficent results are gathered up. It may be that, in God's sight, the ministry that counts for most is not the professional—but the human; not the physician's—but the man's.
Or, take a Christian merchant. He spends the whole long day in the excitement of business. He makes some important transactions, and the evening shows a good business statement. He is quite satisfied as he wends his way homeward. But he is thinking only of his commercial and business acts as the achievements of the day.
Yet this prosperous merchant is a man, and as a man has qualities and elements which give him influence over his fellow-men. He spent a brief time with his family in the morning, and by his congenial manner and his loving words, left a little brightness in each heart. He is a Christian man, and in the morning he bowed down before God with his wife and children, and invoked the divine blessing upon them. Then he moved all day among his employees, quiet, gentle, kindly, with a cheering word here and an approving look there.
He meets many people during the day, in business relations or only transiently in passing. He talks to a man who has just had a financial misfortune. Our merchant has a word of strong sympathy as he meets him, and the poor man lifts up his head and is ready to try the battle over again.
He converses with a neighbor who has passed through a sore domestic affliction. The Christian merchant speaks a few precious words of comfort in his ear, as he holds the trembling hand and looks into the shadowed face. It is but the act of a few moments, but the sad man goes out of the store with more hope in his heart and more blue sky in his vision, than he has had since he laid his dead wife away in the grave.
During the day the merchant hears that one of his clerks is sick, and on his way home he calls to see him. In the little room where the young man lies, the merchant speaks a few helpful words, and then prays; and the memory of the encouraging visit lingers like a sweet perfume long after he is gone.
The whole day is literally filled with such unconscious ministries. Most of these have not caused a moment's interruption in business; they have been wrought on the wing, as it were, as the bird's song drops from its throat as it flies. Not one of them does the merchant add up in the day's statement; he puts only money transactions there. Yet in the records of life, as God's recording angel writes them—these are the very things that count. They do not coin into dollars and cents, nor do they build into houses or other forms of property—but they touch human lives and add to the stock of human kindness. They reach up inside Heaven's veil, and write records on imperishable scrolls, and pile themselves away among treasures laid up in Heaven for the good merchant's eternal reward.
Here is a busy mother. Her work is never done. From early morning until late at night, she is hastening from duty to duty. A thousand wearisome tasks fill her hands. There are meals to prepare, garments to make, rents to mend, holes to darn, rooms to sweep and keep in order, and all the countless services that belong to the faithful head of the ordinary household. But is this all that a true, loving mother is for? Is this all that she does?
No, running all through the long day, behind the toilsome tasks, woven in among the thousand common little duties—is a sweet ministry of love that leaves a blessing everywhere. It is the mother-love breathing and pulsing in all the housewifely routine. Everybody knows that even the best housekeeping, is not a hundredth part of mothering. Housekeeping is but the prose—the poetry is the gentle heart that flows everywhere, with its holy warmth and affection and tender cherishing.
At the close of the day, when the tasks are all done, and the children are all tucked away for the night, and when the tired woman seeks her own pillow—what has been the real work of the long, busy hour? Cooking, sweeping, dusting, sewing, mending, darning, marketing, shopping—do these represent the mother's day? No, her real work has been the out-flowing of her love in cheerfulness, patience, gentleness, thoughtfulness, and kindly serving all in the household. This service has never intermitted. In her busiest moments, she has had a sweet word for the little one who trudged after her and held on to her skirts. When she was most weary, she was not too weary to soothe the crying baby. She never forgot to be cheerful.
The fragrance of her life filled her home all day long, and ever poured out to bless others. In the afternoon she found time to run in to see her sick neighbor and carry a dainty bit of food to her, then sat and talked cheerfully with her for half an hour. The work of that long day which counts for most in lasting results—is the work the mother would overlook altogether if she had time to keep a diary and would write down a list of the things she had done.
So it is in every true and godly life. There are two records. There is one record of the things which touch material interests, which leave their mark on tangible things. This is what the world sees, and it is by this that worldly success is measured. It is neither to be underrated nor despised. We are yet on the earth, and must have to do with earthly things. The fact of the superiority of the moral and spiritual, over the material does not excuse us from diligence and fidelity in duties that have to do with the material.
The other record is not written on material interests. It is the ministry of the unseen in us, which touches the unseen around us. It is the service of life for life, heart for heart, spirit upon spirit. It fills all the interstices of the days. It goes on perpetually. It makes impressions that shall never be erased.
To make this unconscious ministry the holiest and most effective, we must seek to be good and pure. Goodness is infinitely better than cold greatness. The more we are filled with the loving, persuasive, transforming Spirit of Christ—the more intense, beneficent, hopeful, and enduring will be this wayside service of our lives.