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The Ministry of Hindrances
J. R. Miller
Some people are vexed and disheartened--by obstacles and difficulties. They look upon them as hindrances in the way of their progress. To them, the ideal life would be one without opposition or antagonism, with only favoring circumstances, with nothing to impede its movement, with no burdensome tasks, no struggles, no hardships, no disappointments.
But even if such a life were possible—he would be most unfortunate who would experience it. None of us know or dream how much we owe to the resistances we meet.
If learning were easy—our mental powers would never be developed. If work were not necessary—our bodies would never grow into vigor and strength. If we were put into this world to do nothing, with no responsibility, with no share of the world's burdens to carry, just to be cared for as the birds are—we would never be anything but children in character and experience. If it were not necessary for us to choose between right and wrong, and good and evil—we would have only the untried inexperience of innocence, with no moral vigor, no tested and disciplined strength. In all of life, growth is attained through exertion, effort and struggle. The easy life makes nothing of itself. Hindrances, at which many chafe, really provides golden opportunities for development.
It is important that we understand well, this law of life. There are those who always regard hindrances as real evils. Some people even begin to doubt God's love, when they find themselves face to face with hard conditions, when they are called to meet losses or sore trials. They are discouraged at finding it so hard to be faithful to God, and loyal to duty.
Really, however, hard things are tokens of God's favor. If our best friend is he who tries to make something of us, not he who would make things easy for us—surely God's friendship is shown in the difficult experiences in which the man or woman in us shall be developed and trained. When God makes it necessary for us to struggle, to bear burdens, to fight battles, to put all our powers to the test—he is giving us an opportunity to grow.
It is worth our while; therefore, to consider the meaning of obstacles and hindrances, as they come into our experience. They are not the work of an enemy. We are not to regard them as meeting us to cut off our progress, to block our advance. At least many of the opposing things which we encounter, are meant to be overcome—that is why they come to meet us. They hold in themselves secrets of blessing, of good, of strength, of experience, which we are to take from them in our own victory over them.
The best things of life are to be won on fields of struggle.
In the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, the glorious honors which are offered, are all prizes for victors. In every case, it is "to him who overcomes" that the blessings are promised. They lie beyond battlefields, and we must fight to get them.
We would miss many of life's best things, therefore, if we regarded all the obstacles in our path—as providential limits set to our progress. Instead of being limits—they are intended to be passed. They hide within themselves, good gifts of God for us—which we shall miss if we make no struggle to master them. Nothing really worth while—can be easily attained. We must pay a high price for all life's best things. It is the treasures that cost us most—that most enrich us. The finest, purest gold—lies deepest and is hardest to find and dig out.
We must make sure, therefore, first of all, that the obstacle which seems to block our path—is not one which God really means us to master, taking from it—its spoil of blessing.
The old story of Jacob's wrestling illustrates this. It was not an enemy who met the patriarch that night by the Jabbok, although he seemed to oppose him and soon grappled with him as in a struggle of life and death. The wrestler was God's messenger, and he had a blessing for Jacob—but it could be gotten only in a victorious struggle. All night, the contest went on. At last Jacob prevailed, not by physical strength—but really through being defeated. He went lame and limping from the place of wrestling—but there was a new light in his eyes and a new power in his heart; he had gotten a blessing—in his struggle.
This story is a parable of all life's hindrances. They seem to be enemies—intent on doing us harm; but really they are our friends—bearing divine gifts and blessings for us which, however, we can get only in victorious wrestlings. Ofttimes, too, we are lamed in the fierce contest—but the shrinking of our natural strength is the mark of new power in us. Limping Jacob was Israel now, a prince with God.
But not always is our wrestling victorious. There are in every earnest life, obstacles which prove impassable barriers in our course. Strive as we may—we cannot surmount them. The door is shut in our face—and we cannot open it. Human strength avails not. We are defeated, and can do nothing but submit.
Now, the question is, Are these unavailing efforts—real failures? Have we sinned in not succeeding? Ought we not to have been victorious? Is there shame—in our being driven back or held at bay? The answer is that if we have done our best to win, and still come short—we may accept our failure as God's will for us. Then we shall find that the blessing which we thought to get in overcoming, becomes ours in defeat. That is, God's withholding from us what we sought—was a better good than the granting of the desired thing would have been. Perhaps it was some earthly favor or treasure we craved. If we had succeeded in getting it—it might not have proved a real blessing after all. Perhaps we were meant to get the blessing in the striving, and then in the discipline of submission, when after all the prize was not grasped.
We believe in God's Providence—that there is a Hand moving amid all life's affairs, so directing and adjusting them, that for each one who loves God—good is continually wrought out. We find comfort in the thought that when we fail—it is our Father who does not allow us to succeed; that it is he who sets up, and bars the gate, in the path we sought so eagerly to enter. We may certainly believe this of hindrances which are invincible– inevitableness is clearly God's will for us. We may believe, also, that the true blessing is, then, in the not having—rather than, as we supposed, in the having.
Some flowers have poison mingled in their cup of fragrance; to pluck the flower would be to breathe death. The place we tried so hard to win, and which we imagined would have been ideal in its honor and opportunity, would have proved a nest of thorns, with complications and perplexities which would have made our life miserable! The money we hoped to have made—would have brought more luxury and ease to us—but we would have lost something of our spiritual earnestness if we had gotten it. With too many people—the growth of worldly possessions, is attained by a corresponding loss of heavenly longings.
Life is ofttimes long enough to allow godly men in later years to thank God for experiences, which in earlier years they wept over as grievous disappointments and irreparable losses. The ploughshare seems to work hopeless destruction, as it cuts its way across the field. But it is not long before it is seen that what seemed ruin—is indeed a process in the renewal of life and beauty. By and by—a golden harvest waves on the field.
We have found a great secret of peace, when we have learned to see the hand of God in the withholding of what we sought—and in the taking away of our cherished joys—as well as in the giving of favors. Job said it was the Lord that took away his property and his children, and in this belief he rested and sang. We may be sure that nothing can be lost in God's hands. When he takes our joys and treasures from us—they are safe in his keeping! And that after a while he will give them back to us in a way in which we can keep them forever!
Of another thing we may be sure also, when we see God's hand in the taking from us of the things we love—that there is compensation, some better thing in place of that which is removed. We may be poorer for what has been taken away—but what God does for his children—he does in love. We need not trouble ourselves to seek his reasons—it is better for us to believe so confidently in our Father's love—that not a shadow of doubt or fear shall ever pass over us, whatever the disappointment, or the failure of hope may be. When God shuts a door—it is better that it be shut—we could find no true good in forcing it open. When God takes anything from us—it is better so—let us not doubt it. Some day it will all be plain to us—partly in this world, no doubt, and all of it from the hilltops of heaven.
We need never fear that God in his love mars any of our blessings. Sometimes we are tempted to think that he does. He gives us something very sweet, and just when we have begun to admire its value, and when it has become necessary to our happiness, almost to our very life—he takes it away! In our deep sense of loss—we say we cannot see how there can be goodness or love—in such taking away of a necessary gift. We cannot see—but we may safely trust God—who both gave—and then took it away. When we get the blessing again—it will be all the better for having been withdrawn for a time.
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