“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We would be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering, through meditation on His Word, spiritual strength for labor in His service.”1 Charles Spurgeon
A father finds many occasions to give advice to his children through the years of life. In our early years as parents we mostly pushed, disciplined, and hurried our children while keeping a personal schedule far too busy for a healthy family or spiritual life. We were too inexperienced ourselves in life to properly evaluate the wide spectrum of examples and imperatives being pushed on us by a busy society, not to mention success-oriented ministries which were all too eager to use our time and talents while they lasted.
In our grayer years we find our fatherly advice leaning heavily on caution, patience, quietness and solitude. Not because these are the things that make up all that is important in life, but because without these we have found we can’t do the others very well. When it comes to the things of God, increase comes in decrease, strength in weakness, fullness in emptiness.
The Spring of this year finds our four children busy in ministry, a new granddaughter, and our third child graduating from college. Commencement addresses abound with proper advice and pastoral concern to which every student should take heed. I thank God daily for Godly influences which He has brought into the lives of our children and for schools, churches and ministries which provide spiritual avenues for growth in godliness.
I want to add to the list of good things which my children will hear this Spring. Whether for new parents, busy lives and ministries or graduating seniors, some admonitions from God’s Word are universal and timeless.
Glorify God and not yourself.
Paul put both of these concepts in order to the Corinthians, But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth (2 Cor. 10:17-18). Paul’s only desire in ministry was unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever (Phil. 4:20). Our culture is a narcissistic culture which has looked only at itself and fallen in love! We are not created to love ourselves but God. Jesus said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind (Matt. 22:37). Any earthly love, including for ourselves, that we place above our love for God will destroy our lives and those around us. Matthew Henry, commenting on Psalm 131, LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty, wrote, “Humble saints cannot think so well of themselves as others think of them, are not in love with their own shadow, nor do they magnify their own attainments or achievements. The love of God reigning in the heart will subdue all inordinate self-love”2
Near the turn of the last century F.W. Farrar wrote a book entitled Seekers After God. It was a popular seller and was in considerable demand. A certain Western bookseller had a number of requests for the volume but had no copies available. He sent a telegram to the dealers in New York requesting them to ship him a number of the books. After a while a telegram came back which read, ‘No seekers after God in New York, try Philadelphia.’3 May it not be so of you!
Seek anonymity not popularity.
In the great kenosis passage of the Lord’s humility and incarnation, Paul relates of Him that He made himself of no reputation and took upon himself the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7). Jesus emptied Himself of divine prerogatives for our sake. God’s work, as the Lamb to be slain, had to be done without an earthly reputation! The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Matt. 8:20).
In his classic book The Imitation of Christ, Thomas á Kempis, has the Lord asking, “And yet, what great matter is it, if thou, who art but dust and nothing, subject thyself to a man for God’s sake, when I, the Almighty and the Most High, who created all things of nothing, humbly subjected myself to man for thy sake?”4 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
John H. Jowett once said, “I am not sure which of the two occupies the lower sphere, he who hungers for money or he who thirsts for applause.”5 A blight on our generation of ministers has been our desire to be great. We have known great men and mistakenly thought that we wanted to be like them. We did not know that great men never desired to be great but only to be men of God and God used them in great ways.
Love the brethren not the world.
Jesus said, If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love . . . . This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you (John 15:10, 12). John also recorded in his epistle, Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15). Keeping the commandments of Christ, which are essentially everything He did and all that is written in His Word, is the way we show our love for the brethren. Those who follow Him are keeping the same commandments and therefore our fellowship has that common denominator.
My mother used to say that it is hard to love the unlovely. We must love the souls of people because God loved them and died for them. We must love brothers and sisters in Christ because we are children of God with them. But our love for “the brethren” is much more than that. It is to love what Jesus wants us to be, it is to love what a Christian ought to be, which will always be unlike the world. In John’s epistle the admonition is for the sinning brother to love “the brethren” and not to “go out from them.” A brother departs the church and goes to the world when he quits loving what Christians ought to be.
An error of our day is to think that God accepts us just as we are. But God is in a continual process of changing us from what we presently are. He couldn’t accept the lost person as he was, He could only accept him in Christ’s righteousness. He doesn’t accept the believer as he is, He prunes and chastises him to be better. R.C. Sproul wrote,
The preacher who smiles benignly from his pulpit, assuring us that ‘God accepts you just the way you are’ tells a monstrous lie. The kingdom of God is far more rigorous in its requirements than Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood. The gospel of love may not be sugarcoated with saccharin grace. God does not accept the arrogant man in his arrogance. He turns His holy back on the impenitent.6
A believer’s priority in this life is to be like Christ and to love all who desire the same. We may love the souls of men, but save [them] with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 23).
Develop a quiet, not a boisterous, spirit.
Paul told the Thessalonians to study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you (1 Thes. 4:11). He told Timothy to pray for national leaders so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1 Tim. 2:2). Quietness is not weakness anymore than meekness is weakness. It is to be as James admonishes, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God (Jas. 1:19).
A tool of success in our time is to be loud enough to get attention; to push our way forward and upward; to take the initiative and to even take chances by jumping into things we know little about. In contrast, Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, said, “God chose me because I was weak enough. God does not do His great works by large committees. He trains somebody to be quiet enough and little enough and then He uses them.”7 Elijah would not be used of God until he was quiet enough to hear a still small voice; John spent 30 years in the desert so he could spend one great year of ministry; Paul spent eleven years in Tarsus before embarking on his first journey. There is no preparation for ministry like a quiet spirit with the Word of God in our hands, and the Holy Spirit in our heart.
Expect hardship not affirmation.
We are to endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). Paul had to prepare the Philippians that It is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29). On his first missionary journey, after being stoned and left for dead, Paul preached, We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Malcom Muggeridge admitted,
As an old man looking back on one’s life, it’s one of the things that strikes you most forcibly — that the only thing that’s taught one anything is suffering. Not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about — the joy of understanding, the joy of coming in contact with what life really signifies — is suffering, affliction.8
Though the primary Biblical meaning of suffering is to suffer for the gospel’s sake, all hardship is a divine classroom if our heart is in a position to receive instruction. As John Bunyan was taken from the courtroom to the prison, he turned to Justice Wingate and said, “It is a mercy to suffer in so good a cause. It is better to be persecuted than persecutors.”9 Similarly, Matthew Henry, after being robbed confessed, “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.”10
The ministry, like much of Christian life, is not a place for the soft and affluent. Jesus said of those who thought John’s situation was odd, But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold they that wear soft clothing are in king’s houses (Matt. 11:8). If we desire and expect those things, we will miss the very joy of serving the Lord.
Anticipate things above, not things below.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. 3:1-2). Someone said if God would give us just a tiny glimpse of heaven none of us would want to live any longer! That is why God has ordained that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
It is hard for mortals not to cling to this earth. We are made to be survivors and we fight for life and relief. But our faith tells us that all these things are temporal and will not transfer to the real life. The creature is waiting for the next life (Rom. 8:21); the sufferer is waiting (Rom. 8:18); and even the apostles desired the next life over the present (Rev. 22:20).
And So . . .
“Wherever Christianity has been a real force, working to success, it is because it has been spiritual. The wheels of the chariot are clogged by all attempts to make arrangements to help God. They are speeded, when, self forgotten, the Spirit that indwells is permitted to have unquestioned and absolute control.”11Notes: 1. Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1948) 296. 2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, vol. III (Old Tappan: Revell, nd.) 741. 3. Taken from The Sword of the Lord, 1/31/03. 4. Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1984) 157. 5. Quoted by J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody, 1971) 40. 6. R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1990) 168. 7. Quoted by William Petersen, ed. C.S. Lewis had a wife; Catherine Marshall had a husband (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1985) 69. 8. Quoted by David Jeremiah, A Bend in the Road, 17. 9. Lina Cooper, John Bunyan: The Glorious Dreamer (London: Sunday School Union, nd.) 80. 10. Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations (Rockville, MD, 1984) 1456. 11. G. Campbell Morgan, Understanding the Holy Spirit (AMG, 1995) 138.