Obedience That Pleases Christ
It is not enough to begin; the true test of life is whether one perseveres to the end. To be sure, a good beginning is important, and the trouble with many people is that they do not begin at all. They listen, ponder, dream, and resolve—but never take the first step. That is the way multitudes of people with splendid possibilities fail to make anything of their life. Promptness in beginning the task at hand is a virtue of great value. In many matters of great importance, failing to begin it at the moment presented is to lose the opportunity of doing it at all.
But it is not enough to begin. The paths of life are littered at every step with the unfinished work of those who made a start. It is perseverance which alone wins the prize. Jesus said to certain people who had believed on Him, “If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples.” (John 8:31)ASV To abide in Christ’s word is to be always faithful to it. The one great duty of discipleship is obedience. The word abide has the thought of home in it, and suggests also a willing and loving obedience, hearty, trustful, and joyous.
Jesus said of His own obedience, “My [food] is to do the will of him that sent me.” (John 4:34) Obedience was the nourishment of life to Him. We must abide in Christ’s word. It may sometimes cost us a great deal to obey—it would be much easier to listen to the voice of ease or self-indulgence. But the question of ease or selfish inclination must never be considered. The only question is: “What is the Master’s plan for my life?”
The highest and noblest success possible for anyone is in realizing—making real—the divine purpose for their life. Whatever else we may do and whatever praise we may win from men for our fine attainments and our splendid achievements, if we miss filling the place God made us to fill, and doing the work God made us to do, we have missed the true glory of our life, for it is the only glory will not be left behind when dust returns to dust. The most triumphant word anyone can say at the end of his life is, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:4) And it is the only way to receive the approving verdict, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:23)
It is most important, therefore, that we find the will of God for our life, and accept it sweetly and gladly. Some people are always at odds with their circumstances. Those they have to live with or work with are uncongenial and disagreeable. The conditions in which they find themselves are uncomfortable and distasteful. In response they chafe and fret and are full of discontent. All this unhappiness could be cured if they would accept their circumstances and get their own spirit in proper harmony with the will of God.
When Paul could say, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,” (Philippians 4:11) he had found the secret of sweet and joyous living. You cannot change the people about you and make them agreeable to live with, but you can learn to keep sweet yourself, however irritating others may be. You may not have power to make your surroundings pleasant and congenial, but by the power of God’s grace you can bring your own mind and heart into such patience, such cheerfulness, such self-control, such peace that in whatever circumstances you are in, you will be content. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Philippians 4:12)
Many people are unhappy because they cannot do the large and fine things which they see some other people doing. But we should remember that the things that God has given us to do, however small they may be, are really the greatest things we can possibly do (Matthew 10:42). Surrender ourselves to God, though our fondest ambition is laid down, is in God’s sight really the noblest thing we can do with our life. Just because we cannot achieve the things our heart may count as great and desirable does not mean our life will be a failure—the folding of our hands in trust and resignation may be a greater act in God’s sight than the finest work those hands might have done in the eyes of man.
At least, if we would reach the highest and best possibilities of Christian discipleship, we must put ourselves in full harmony with the will of God for us. We must be content to let God use us how and where He will, and to do what He would have us do. Many people make almost nothing of their lives, do little that is worthy or beautiful, because they are not willing to do the plain, lowly things that are ever waiting close to their hands, but only strive to find great and conspicuous things to do so as to get praise of men. If you would leave behind you when you die a beautiful story of good done, things which have made the air sweeter, and the world better and happier, do what the Master wants you to do!
Christina Rossetti’s little prayer to be used is very beautiful:
“Use me, God, in Thy great harvest field
Which stretcheth far and wide like a wide sea;
The gatherers are so few, I fear the precious yield
Will suffer loss. Oh, find a place for me—
“A place where best the strength I have will tell;
It may be one the other toilers shun;
Be it a wide or narrow place, ’tis well,
So that the work it holds be only done.”
If we would make our discipleship what we should make it, we must keep self out of it. We cannot live for both ourselves and for Christ. We must also learn the lesson of love for others. Self-seeking is nowhere so unseemly, so unlovely as it is in the life and work of one who claims to be a Christian.
Christian work can only be done well by a godly person. If we would reach the great possibilities of discipleship, we must seek purity of motive, holiness of life, devotion to God’s ways, and self-forgetfulness in striving for worthy ends. We must be godly if we would do good. We must realize Christ in our own life before we can show others His glory and beauty. In order to fulfill our discipleship, we must concentrate all our energy and strength upon it. We must make it the first thing in our life to be Christians. That is what Paul meant of himself when he said, “To me to live is Christ,” (Philippians 1:21) or when he said again, “One thing I do… I press toward the goal.” (Philippians 3:13-14)ASV He did a great many things, but in them all he was living Christ, and reaching toward the goal of completion. The surest way we can do this is by giving Christ our days one by one as they come. For as our Lord taught us by the parable of the soils, “That which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:14-15)
When a businessman was asked the secret of his success in doing things so well, he replied, “I do not know, unless it is that whatever I am doing any moment, however small a thing it may seem to be, I bring all my mind and heart and strength to it.” The poet bids us, if we write but one line, to make that sublime. Paul reminds us, “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” (Colossians 3:23) Let us learn to bring all the strength of our life even to the smallest details of our duty. Let us make the moments beautiful, and then the hours will be radiant and the days glorious!