Who do writers read? Who inspires the teacher? Where do you turn for encouragement?
Over the years I have accumulated a treasure trove of quotes, stories and illustrations that nourish my heart and mind. Some I use only once, but others I review so frequently I’ve nearly memorized them. Here’s one of those precious gems from Charles Spurgeon.**
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) preached in The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London to over 5,000 people several times a week during his ministry. He was a preacher’s preacher and a teacher of preachers. It’s no small matter to have the respect of your peers.
In this passage, he addresses the discouragement so common to this calling. I realize the vast majority reading this are not preachers. Still, this speaks to all of us in our need for perspective and for continual growth in trusting God as we witness and serve our Lord. (I have slightly altered this quote so that it better applies to all followers of Jesus, not just preachers).
Spurgeon begins immediately with the positive outcomes of struggle. Like gold refined by fire (1 Peter 1:7), our lives are matured by trials.
By all the castings down of his servants, God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields him praise. They speak all the more sweetly of God’s faithfulness and are the more firmly established in his love. Such mature [saints] as some elderly [believers] are, could scarcely have been produced if they had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and made to see their own emptiness and the vanity of all things round about them. Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.
Based on the fruit that comes from trails, Spurgeon instructs us to dismiss the idea that we should be immune from “soul-trouble.” He warns against the false expectation that we should always be walking in sunshine and soft breezes if God truly loves us. That is far from the experience of God’s people in all ages and all times.
The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary…experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him.
Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—aye, by the hour. Put not trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement.
Trust in God alone and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in [people]: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers: as they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure.
This reminds me of the counsel and promise of the 1 Peter 5:9, “Resist [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
Spurgeon then exhorts us to press on, trusting God with the results.
Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Set small store by present rewards; be grateful for earnests [small rewards] by the way but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you.
Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue.
Life is not all sunshine and soft breezes. Trust God and keep going.
**[Charles H. Spurgeon, quoted in John Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1986, p.226-227]