By the Still Waters
- Stay at the Altar! 8
- Bible Window-Shopping. 11
- The Desires of Thine Heart 14
- God’s Cure for Fainting. 17
- “All These Things Are Against Me” 20
- “According to Your Faith” 23
- Faith in Prayer, or Prayer in Faith?. 26
- A Bottle in the Smoke. 28
- A Voice from Heaven. 31
- The Shrunken Sinew. 34
- God’s Hand. 37
- “One Thing—” 40
- The God of the House of God. 43
- “Understandest Thou?” 46
- A Morning Concert 49
- When “The Good Die Young” 52
- A Pastor’s Revery. 55
- Good News from a Far Country. 58
- Lazy. 61
- A Deep, Settled Peace. 63
- The Yakima and You. 66
- “The Well Is Deep” 69
- The Crises of Abraham.. 72
- Knowing the Bible “By Heart” 75
- “There Is Yet One Man—” 78
- “A Cloud Like a Man’s Hand” 81
- The Disciple Who Stayed at Home. 84
- God’s Post Office. 87
- “Back Home” 90
To MY MOTHER
AS A COUNTRY preacher in the lowlands of eastern Carolina I lived literally by still waters. Here is a serene retreat for him who cares to live a day at a time with leisure to “linger, list and dream”: cypress swamps low-hung with moss; lazy waters where fishing-boats float carelessly; darkies abundant—another proof of leisureliness!—and everywhere the calm of restfulness that seems to drift in with the tide from the nearby sea.
For one who easily grows tired of modernity’s mad masquerade it is pleasant to return to these tranquil lowlands. Nothing is more restful than a stroll beside these still waters while the wood-thrush serenades from the cypresses, while cattle amble homeward along pasture-lanes, and darkies hum their way from the fields at sundown.
Is it not significant that most of the men of God in the Bible knew best the fields, the pastures, the woods and waterways? Abel, the keeper of sheep; Abraham, Joseph, Moses, learning their deepest lessons among the flocks; David, the ideal shepherd-boy, whose later psalms breathe so often the spirit of early days among the quiet hills; Amos, the herdsmen, John the Baptist, the fishermen-disciples, and, above all, the Lord Jesus—these knew the way of the still waters.
But drowsy waters alone cannot rest the soul. Yet these pleasant waterways of earth have their counterpart in the Word: “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” In the terrific pace of this age men break in body, mind and spirit, and he who knows not God’s waters of quietness knows no peace at any price. By Stoic hardihood, by “drowning their troubles,” by forced optimism, by psychologic fads and freakish mental calisthenics, men seek
“That blessed mood
In which the burden of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world Is lightened.”
But they find it not. Partly, because it is not a mood, “a feeling fond and fugitive.” It is a matter of faith, taking God at His Word. We reach the still waters when we cease being Ponce de Leons, looking for an elusive fountain of youth, and humbly follow the Good Shepherd to the green pastures. Men call that foolish, crude, childish—there are so many newer, more up-to-date recipes for peacefulness. Everywhere fine boulevards lead to the popular resorts of this “ism” and that, where with clever new methods earth’s doctors seek to treat the soul. But how often scholars ransack libraries looking for the secret of peace while the janitor may have found it long ago by the way of the Cross!
Do you know the waters of His rest? We do not mean that daily you will bask in happy circumstances. “In the world ye shall have tribulation” Our Lord’s life was full of storm and tempest, yet in the darkest days of all He bequeathed to us His legacy of peace (John 16:33). His rest is no imaginary escape from reality. His peace is that blessed consciousness that in the midst of trouble our real lives are beyond the reach of circumstance hid with Christ in God.
Blessed experience, possible for the humblest believer here and now! And blessed prospect still ahead for us when this mortal shall have put on immortality: “A pure river of water of life, clear as crystal proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb!”
1. Stay at the Altar!
IF YOUR PRAYER through the years has been unanswered, if your castles have tumbled and fond dreams have failed and now it seems impossible for God to do mighty works in your life, go back and read the first chapter of Luke. It is never too late with you this side of death for God to work His wonders.
Zacharias and Elisabeth were remarkably qualified for a life of blessing. They had good ancestry, and that has its place even though the wag says ancestry is like potatoes—the best part is always under the ground! They were “righteous before God,” not merely before men. They walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, not faultless but living up to their light.
With all that in their favour we might expect every fortune to smile upon them. But “they had no child.” Have you sought to do His will through the years and to walk in His commandments blameless, yet your poor life is barren: you can point to no definite, visible results, no fruit for all your faithfulness? You know in your heart that your desire has been to be righteous before God, yet “there is no child,” your piety has borne no progeny.
Zacharias had been praying all his life for a child and now, from the natural point of view, it was too late, but he never forsook his altar. His task may have grown tiresome and his heart heavy with the disappointment of lean, unfruitful years, but he kept offering incense, the symbol of thankfulness, when he had, it seemed, so little to be thankful for. Never desert your altar, drooping heart, though Heaven seems brass to your cry; never forsake your incense, and the angel will yet appear!
Now comes the herald from Heaven announcing to Zacharias that his prayer is heard, he shall have a son! God often waits until by every natural reasoning it is too late for the blessing, waits until with men it is impossible, then when we are broken and undone the angel comes! It is all so astounding that poor, human Zacharias doubts after all his years of praying. Because he doubts he is stricken with dumbness, for doubt always leads to dumbness. When we do not trust the Lord we have no testimony. But though Zacharias fails, God does not: the baby is born, and when neighbours would honour his father by naming the son for him, Zacharias puts God first and names him by the divine direction. Never dare to name things after yourself, give God the glory! And when God’s will is done, dumbness gives way to delight; Zacharias speaks, and so will you! Putting God first will always loosen your tongue and give you a message!
If in your life “there is no child,” no spiritual fruitage after all the years of faith, if you have prayed until it seems too late, I beg you, stay at the altar! As a boy I used to hear a saintly old mother rise in the little country church back home and ask for prayers for the conversion of her sons. I thought it was useless, so worldly and indifferent they seemed. Today, she has passed on, but three of those sturdy boys are faithful Christians in that same little church, and one is a deacon and leader. That mother knew what I had not learned, to stay by God’s altar.
If most of life has gone and what is left looks bleak and desolate, if by very earthly reason it is too late for your prayers to come true, do not give up your place before the Lord. God never forgets His appointments. The angel will come!
2. Bible Window-Shopping
A FAMILIAR FIGURE on the streets is the window-shopper who moves along gazing fondly in each show-window but buying nothing. In the realm of things spiritual we have with us the Bible window-shopper. He moves along through the Book reading its precious promises, hearing its high challenges, looking at its deep messages of peace and power and victory. But he never makes them his own. He appreciates but does not appropriate. He respects his Bible, argues for it, counts it dear, but its rich treasures never become living realities in his own experience. He is a window-shopper amongst the storehouses of God’s revealed truth.
On the way, he passes by where is displayed such a choice jewel as “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose ” “What a rare pearl that is!” he exclaims. “What a lofty faith one needs to believe that!” So he moves on and the treasure stays on exhibition. He does not go in and claim it, though, if he be a believer, it is his and is there for him. He is only window-shopping.
How many believers loiter along the Bible stores and come away empty. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” One reads that devoutly and an hour later is worrying about adversity and bemoaning his hard circumstances! “They which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ” Another looks at that gem and lives like a pauper when God meant him to be a prince. “All things are yours there are many who behold that free pass to all God’s unlimited stock, yet live spiritually almost bankrupt. Window- shoppers!
The storehouse of God’s Word was never meant for mere scrutiny not even primarily for study but for sustenance. It is not simply a collection of fine proverbs and noble teachings for men to admire and quote as they might Shakespeare. It is rations for the soul, resources of and for the spirit, treasure for the inner man. Its goods exhibited upon every page are ours, and we have no business merely moving respectfully amongst them and coming away none the richer.
The window-shopper upon the streets often has a very good reason for not buying: he has not the wherewithal. But no believer can say that of God’s riches, for the treasure of His Word is without money and without price. Whosoever will may drink freely. Some window-shop because they never have fully realized that the things of the Spirit can be made actual, living realities here and now amidst this humdrum, daily round of commonplace duties. Others loaf along, indifferent to their inward poverty, faring scantily when the banquets of God are at their disposal. And some substitute wishful longing for the practical realization of the Christ-life.
The Lord is rich unto all who call upon Him. Let us have done with this idle window-shopping. Let us go into the deep stores of His Word, rummage among its treasures new and old, and come forth from each excursion laden with the bounty in the Book.
3. The Desires of Thine Heart
LIFE, FOR THE Christian, does not always run along in story-book style. The hero is not always crowned, the honest do not always get rich, nor does the noble knight invariably claim the princess and live happily ever after; sometimes it happens, but oftener it does not.
This leads weak believers to question God’s promises and live in the doldrums because their faith is not the password to every garden of desire. They fail in business, they get sick, they lose their dearest ones, they plug along at some mediocre job, and then because their trust in God did not pull down the plums, they charge the Almighty with sending them crab-apples.
I know how such people feel, for I, too, have been familiar with tumbled castles and fading dreams. I used to read (Psalm 87:4): “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart”; and I wondered how it could be true. It did not seem to work in my case. Most of the things I’d craved seemed to have gone to somebody else. I stood in the harbour and watched others unload the cargoes of dreams come true, but my ships did not come in.
Today I believe more than ever in the promises of God. For one thing, God has promised us that we shall have trouble in this world. “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). These are promises just as surely as are the assurances of good things. We must take all the promises into our calculations. God has not guaranteed to save me from the adversities common to man, but He has written that He will keep me in the midst of them. So, when I have trouble, that is one promise being kept, and when He sustains me in trouble, He is keeping another promise. Remember that when Jesus said we should have tribulation in the world He added, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”
What about the desires of mine heart? If I delight myself in the Lord and want a million dollars, shall I get it? Faith in God is not an easy path to self-satisfaction. What is the true desire of one whose delight is in the Lord? “Not my will, but Thine.” When we are living in Him our wish is that His will be done. And when this is the desire of our hearts, He will give us our desires.
Faith in God will not get for you everything you may want, but it will get for you what God wants you to have. The unbeliever does not need what he wants; the Christian should want only what he needs. And God has promised to supply our need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. That is enough, for what we do not need can do us no good.
The believer should pray, “I want this thing, if it be in Thy will.” If he does not get it, then it will be because it was not in God’s will; and if it was not in His will, then he did not spiritually desire it. In this blessed state that delights in the Lord there can be no disappointment.
If you are doubting Psalm 37:4, the trouble is not that the promise has failed. You simply are not keeping the first half of the verse, the condition of the promise. If you really delight in Him, your desires will be the kind He has promised to satisfy.
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