In His Steps: Chapter 12 – Preparation for Trial
By J.R. Miller
Trial lies somewhere in everyone’s path. To the young it may seem far off–and even thinking of it may be unwelcome. “Why should we stain the blue of our skies,” they ask, “with anticipations of trouble that may not come for years?” We are specially commanded by our Lord himself–not to worry about tomorrow. The true rule of a life of trust–is to live day by day.
Yet there is a sense in which even in their happiest days–the young should anticipate trial. The man whose garners have been filled from this year’s golden harvest should not be anxious about next year’s bread–but he must forecast his future needs–by sowing in time to have another harvest. We need not sadden our days of joy–by anticipations of coming sorrow–but we ought, even in our sunniest hours, to be preparing for the times of gloom, so as to be in readiness for them when they come. We ought in our plenty years to store away provision to feed upon, in the famine years which will follow. We ought in the glad springtime, amid plenty–to sow the seeds whose fruit we shall need in the dreary autumn. In the pleasant summer days, when we have no need for fuel, we ought to gather the wood which by and by we shall need for our winter fires.
The attendants went through the train at midday and lighted the lamps in the cars. It seemed a strange and altogether useless thing to do, and many facetious remarks regarding it were made by the passengers. But soon the train rushed into a long, dark tunnel, and then the lighting of the lamps appeared no longer either a strange or a useless thing; nor was their light despised. Just so, it may seem idle and unnecessary now to the young and joyous–to hang up lamps of comfort in their hearts, while the sun of earthly blessing shines brightly upon them and while their path lies amid the flowers and through smiling valleys; but there are dark places farther on, unseen as even unsuspected–into which they may plunge suddenly without time or opportunity to find the lamps of comfort, and light them, and in which they will be left in utter darkness if they have made no provision in advance. But if, while they moved along in the brightness, they have wisely prepared for the dark passage, then the lamps will pour their grateful light about them and cheer the gloom.
There is a wide difference between being anxious about coming troubles–and being prepared beforehand for troubles which may come. Worry is a sin; preparation is a duty. Those alone can truly live in quiet peace, without worry–who have already made preparation for anything which may come to them. No one can find real pleasure on the sea in the calmest weather–who is not confident that the ship on which he is carried has been built and rigged for the fiercest tempest which may arise. No one can enjoy life in the fullest measure–who is not prepared for sudden death. And no one can get the best out of joy and gladness–who has not made provision for sorrow.
What preparation can we make in advance, for trial? For one thing, there are certain great foundation truths which, if firmly stored up in our minds, will prove abiding sources of comfort in any trial which may come. One is the Christian doctrine of providence. There is no “chance” in this universe–there are no “accidents”. God’s government extends to “all his creatures–and all their actions.”
So personal and minute is God’s care, that amid all the vast and complicated affairs of the universe, not one of us is overlooked or forgotten; nor are the smallest interests of the least and humblest of us, neglected.
The firm fixing in our minds of this great truth, prepares us to receive without doubt or alarm, whatever God may send–and sweetly and trustfully to submit to his will.
Preparation may also be made in times of joy and gladness, for the days of trial–by filling our hearts with the truths of the Scriptures. The wise virgins were not left in darkness when their lamps had burned out, because they had a reserve of oil in their vessels. If we have a store of divine promises and consolations hidden in our heart during the sunny days–we shall never be left in darkness, however suddenly the shadow may fall upon us. Words of Scripture in which we have never before seen any special comfort–will then shine out with bright luster, like stars when the sun has gone down, pouring heavenly light into our souls. God will then speak to us in his own words, and we shall hear his voice of love and be cheered and strengthened by the assurances he gives. We shall find among the treasured comforts, the very help we need–a staff to support us in the rough path, a lamp to lighten the bit of dark road, an arm to lean upon if we are weak and faint, a hand to guide if we do not know where to go, a word of hope if we are cast down, a bosom to rest upon if we are weary and crushed, a balm of healing if our hearts are wounded or broken!
There is consolation in the Bible for every possible experience of sorrow. If we but have the divine words laid up in our heart–we shall find them as we need them, and they will sweeten our Marahs (our bitters) for us. They will come to our aid at the right moment, and will prove God’s very angels to us, with their light and their help.
The same is true of preparation for meeting temptation. This is best made by storing the heart with the commands and promises of God’s Word, which may be brought out in the hour of need, and made available for defense. When our Lord was tempted, he made use of the words of divine truth in resisting the tempter. If we would meet and overcome temptations, we must follow the example of our Master. But to do this, we must have the Scripture words hidden in our heart, ready for use at any moment of need or danger. Our Lord did not open his parchment scroll at that moment, find, and then read, the divine sentences which drove the tempter away. He had pondered the holy book in the quiet days, before the enemy tried him–and had its words stored in his heart, ready for instant use when the hour of need came.
In Holman Hunt’s great picture “The Shadow of Death,” which represents Jesus as a young man in the carpenter’s shop stretching himself at the close of a weary day, and with his outspread arms making the shadow of a cross on the wall, there is a minor feature that is full of suggestion. On a shelf is a collection of books. They represent the library Jesus used–the books of the Holy Scriptures. They are there in the shop where he worked, suggesting that in his leisure moments, he turned to them to ponder their great truths and store away their principles in his memory and in his heart. No doubt the picture truly represents the daily habit of his life, in those quiet years when he was preparing for his great public work. Thus it was that when the tempter came, there was no need for feverish haste in preparing for defense. The weapons were ready, and the victory was easy.
From this example of Jesus we should learn to prepare in advance for temptation–by filling our hearts in the days of youth and early life with the truths of God’s Word. The soldier cannot learn the art of war–when the battle is upon him; if he is not already trained–he can only suffer defeat. When the tempter has come, there will be no time to search out texts with which to ward off his blows; but if we have the sacred words treasured in our heart, it will be easy to draw them forth, as arrows from a quiver, for use at any moment of danger.
Another preparation for trial–is a close walk with God. Nothing adds more to the bitterness of any grief–than the memory of a careless or a sinful life; while nothing alleviates the pain of affliction so much–as the remembrance of faithfulness in duty, and the consciousness of divine approval. If our habitual daily life has been near to God, we have no trouble in finding God, when in some sore distress, we greatly need him. But if we have been living far from God in the bright day, neglecting our devotions and our duties, it takes a long time, when trial comes, to get into such close fellowship with God–that we can receive the tender personal comforts which he imparts to those who in intimate friendship, lean upon his loving heart.
Our habitual treatment of our friends in the season of unbroken fellowship, has very much to do with the comfort we shall get, when we are called to mourn the death of these friends. If we have been unkind, selfish, thoughtless, or harsh; if we have failed in any duty to them; if we have caused them pain or trouble; if we have wronged or injured them in any way–no fullness and richness of divine comfort will altogether take away the pang from our heart when we stand by the cold clay and it is too late to ask, or to receive forgiveness. But if we have been faithful and true to our friends in all ways; if we have been thoughtful and kind; if we have let our love flow out in fond expression and unselfish ministry–when they leave us, our sorrow at the loss may be no less sore–but it will have no bitterness in it. Loyal and tender friendship, is a preparation for sorrow; its memory is a sweetener of bereavement.
To all of us, sorrow will come in some form or other. But we may so lay up in store, the resources of comfort that in whatever way it may come, in whatever measure or however suddenly–we shall not be crushed by it–but shall welcome it as God’s messenger, and receive the message our Father sends to us in it, and the blessing which it brings to us from heaven.
In God’s plan for each life, one step is always designed to prepare for the next. One day’s faithfulness lifts up to the next day’s duty–and fits for the next day’s trial. Faithfulness–simple faithfulness–each hour, each moment, is all that is necessary to prepare for any future trial. Then, at the end, such a life will stand approved and complete, ready for the crowning, at the feet of Him who is Redeemer, Lord, Pattern, Helper, and Friend!