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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III


Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part V: The Place of Handicaps in Human Achievement

Chapter 2

Thy Rod Comforts Me
(Psalm 23:4)

     TO A YOUNG Christian, eager to do great things for God, anxious to go forward, take risks, and make a sacrifice of life, one of the most disconcerting experiences is to have every sign from the Lord that a certain step is His will and then to find that the way is so hedged about that only partial success is possible. It seems so obvious that total victory must be the Lord's will, otherwise why would the way be opened so wonderfully?
     Of course, partial success may be due to our own failure in total obedience, or it may be due to the opposition of the enemy. But Scripture shows us that this is not always the case. There are occasions in the Bible where total victory was delayed by the same Lord, who nevertheless encouraged His children to press forward with every expectation of it. Sometimes total victory was not even promised, at least not immediately, for reasons which are important for us to recognize personally, since all Scripture was written for our learning.
     Only partial victory was sometimes to be allowed, because total victory would have left the children of God open to subsequent attacks in unforeseen ways, which were not related directly to their faith or their moral behaviour but to certain circumstances entirely outside of their responsibility. Not all hindrances are because of moral failure. Consider Deuteronomy 7:22, for example. Here the Lord is promising victory to the children of Israel who are about to enter into their future home, which at the time was occupied by powerful tribes with far more military experience than themselves, with in many cases far superior weapons, and living in strongly fortified cities. Yet they were told that they should go forward in faith without fear: "Thou shalt not be affrighted at them: for the L
ORD thy God is among you, a mighty God and terrible" (verse 21). In verse 23 the assurance is given: "But the LORD thy God shall deliver them unto thee, and shall destroy them with a mighty destruction, until they be destroyed."

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     Nevertheless, in verse 22, an interim period of incomplete victory is promised them, and it is not predicated at that time on any grounds which could be attributed to them because of their lack of faith or disobedience. In retrospect, long after these events had taken place, one could see how the delays were the consequence of their own failure, but in view of what is said in verse 22, it seems clear that had they not been disobedient, fearful, or unbelieving; the same delays in achieving total victory would still have occurred. Verse 22 reads as follows:

     And the LORD thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beast of the field increase upon thee.

     The danger in this situation was that if they had been altogether successful in conquering the inhabitants of the Promised Land when they first entered it and while their own numbers were still too few to have dominion over the country in every area of it, the wild animals, such as lions and other dangerous creatures whose numbers and predatory habits were at that time being held in check by the present inhabitants would, in the event of these inhabitants being decimated and left without means of defense, have suddenly begun to multiply and become a menace in themselves. Upon occasion this has happened in history. Marco Polo, when he travelled about the Mongolian Empire, observed instances of it. He spoke about people travelling through the province of Tibet, which had been sorely ravaged in the wars by a certain Mangu Khan, in which many towns and villages had been destroyed and the inhabitants either killed or dispersed. He wrote: (19)

    You see the travelers make these fires to protect themselves and their cattle from the wild beasts which have so greatly multiplied since the devastation of the country. And it is this great multiplication of the wild beasts that prevents the country from being re-occupied.

     Returning to the history of the Israelites, we find that God had made allowances for their lack of skills in war and the paucity of effective weapons, since, with the same end in view, in Exodus 23:28-30, He said:

     And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.
     By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.

19. Polo, Marco, The Travels of Marco Polo, Library Publ., New York, no date, p.166.

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     It is generally believed that the hornet, mentioned in this passage, is a veiled reference to the Pharaohs (20) who governed Egypt about the time that Moses was leading the children of Israel through the wilderness and it was they who broke the back, as it were, of the powerful tribes referred to in verse 28. At any rate, there is a lesson of great importance to be learned here. Part of the source of our defeat in Christian life lies in the "wild beasts" within ourselves, of which we are often little aware. They lurk there, waiting until our defenses are down, and very often they are held in check, not by our will, but by the world itself. Our lives are sometimes apparently acceptably good to ourselves because the potential wickedness which is in every one of us, saint and sinner alike, is being held in check by society. It seems to be God's method of dealing with these rough spots and undesirable features in our character wherever we have not yet come to grips with them ourselves, to hold them in check and to keep them from multiplying by using the constraints of the world. Sometimes we become impatient with these restraints, which appear to us not so much as God's beneficial appointments for our good, but as hindrances to our becoming what we feel we would like to be or achieving what we think we could for the Lord.
     It is easy to find excuses for "retreating from the world" supposedly to spend more time with the things of the Lord. We may long for the time when the constant friction in the daily round of business, academic, or work-a-day life will come to an end. Hopefully, we shall then be so much more able to spend time in meditation, prayer, and Bible Study, and so on. To be freed of these irritations seems so essential to the "saintly life."
     Every so often the opportunity arises to get apart for awhile from the world, and in some quiet place and in the beauty and sweetness of Christian fellowship on a deeply spiritual plane, where the sense of refreshment and rest is so great, we suppose it would be wonderful to remain there and never return to the frictions of worldly society. In a sense this must have been the feeling of Peter and his friends when they went up into the Mount of Transfiguration. There they saw the Lord in a new and glorious way. And Peter said, "Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. . ." (Luke 9:33). The text says that Peter did not really know what he was saying. But it seems to me likely that he was giving expression to a desire which all such retreats engender in our hearts when they bring us very near to the Lord: "Let's stay here." It happens, in fact, that many conference grounds which over the years

20. Marston, Sir Charles, New Bible Evidence, Revell, London, 1934, p.166.

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have proved a place of great blessing to people do indeed tend to become more permanent sites. Houses are soon built, at first for temporary residence, but later converted into permanent homes. The end result is invariably the same. Visitors to the site at conference time may be greatly blessed still, but those who have put down their roots there seem in time to lose every benefit that they so powerfully enjoyed at the first. And their very presence in the end proves to be a blight which destroys for everyone all that might otherwise have been accomplished. This is true in Canada and in the United States, and it is probably always true. The frictions of human society which stem from the fact that human society is not fundamentally Christian, are essential to the Christian as a means of discipline in his life, a kind of discipline which he cannot impose upon himself.
     It is a fallacy to suppose that saintliness is achieved without stress and strain. This principle, too, is illustrated in God's dealings with the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. So much of their experience reflects the experience of each one of us when we first come into the family of God and begin in an entirely new way the conquest of evil in our own lives. One or two notable victories in the springtime of this wonderful new experience quickly leave us with the impression that we have already "apprehended our apprehensions," that we are well on the way to perfection in the things of God. But then we run up against a nasty defeat just where it was least expected that we should be defeated. And when this happens we have a tendency to seek for the cause inside ourselves. This is only proper, but it may lead us to overlook one aspect of the Lord's dealings with us which it is very important not to overlook -- that human nature has been so constituted by the Fall that pride turns every gain into a loss unless the Lord finds some way of restraining it for us. We would often have victories where we actually have defeats were it not for the fact that we should be greatly in danger of boasting about the victory and taking credit for it, so as to undermine its value. Of all forms of pride, pride of grace is the most terrible and destructive for the child of God. And therefore the Lord, knowing all things and knowing perfectly just how safe or unsafe it is for us to achieve total victory, tempers our victories lest they should become the source of a greater defeat in the end. This principle is reflected in Judges 2:21-23:

     I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died:  That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein. . . Therefore, the LORD left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into the hand of Joshua. . .

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     We need not despair. Victory is to be complete one day: but the Lord does not subdue our enemies hastily, He leaves them to challenge us and to correct us, to be His rod, His sword, His agent of chastening. I'm not talking about the children of God in this role, I'm talking about "men of the world." Consider such passages as the following:

2 Samuel 7:14-15:    I will be his father and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod           of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: but my mercy shall not depart away from him.
Psalm 17:13, 14:      Arise, O LORD . . . deliver my soul from the wicked which is thy sword: From men which are thy           hand, O LORD, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life.
Isaiah 7:20:      In the same day shall the LORD shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by           the King of Assyria.
Isaiah 10:5:      O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.
Jeremiah 47:6, 7:      O thou sword of the LORD, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put up thyself into thy            scabbard, rest and be still. How can it be quiet, seeing the LORD hath given it a charge . . . .
Habakkuk 1:12:      O Lord, thou has ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou has established them for            correction.

     All these passages tell us the same thing. People of the world who seem to be acting as Satan's emissaries in restraining our zeal and probing our weaknesses and challenging our faith are really acting in this way by God's permission, for our good. And it is indeed wonderful how, if we genuinely accept their restraints as part of the Lord's will, these restraints seem to change their character and some of our hostilities disappear. I remember years ago the president of a company where I worked accusing me very forcibly, and quite wrongly, of some mistake for which I was not responsible. Later on, he apologized very graciously, and I told him then that I believed that as a Christian I was to accept these things as part of God's discipline for my life, whether they came to me justifiably or not. The effect of this observation on him was quite curious. For a moment he was silent, and then he said, "Well, I don't like that. I don't want to be some kind of whip for God." And thereafter he never again got angry with me on any single occasion, though he was the most irascible individual you could imagine. At any rate, I believe that David was saying something more profound than we normally allow, when he wrote in Psalm 23:4: "Thy rod and thy staff comfort

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me." The rod I take to be an agent of punishment, as opposed to the staff which is one of protection. The important thing to realize is that both are necessary for the child of God, and whether we believe it or not at the time, the rod could be as much a source of comfort as the staff. If we know for certain that we are the Lord's children, we know that the rod is applied to our backs only as an exhibition of God's love: "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6). Job was even more convinced of this, in spite of the awfulness of his position, for he said (Job 5:17, 18):

     Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:
For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.

     In the New Testament the same truth is reflected, though one sometimes has to read with greater care. Matthew 22:7: "But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city." The important word here is the pronoun his. It is important because the context of this verse makes it abundantly clear that it was the Roman legions under Titus who fulfilled this mission for the Lord. And even the Lord Himself paid homage to this principle when He said to Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power against Me except it were given thee from above."
     So God is sovereign, not merely in the household of faith but among the children of men: and though we are occasionally called upon to punish one another in love, yet for the most part God uses the world to do it. And when we react to their judgments of us and justify ourselves instead of accepting the pain as from the hand of God which they may inflict upon our souls, we are robbing ourselves of part of the expression of God's care for us, of His desire thereby to perfect in us that which He has begun, and indeed, to turn us into the kind of people we ourselves want to be. We are all too frequently prepared to accept the petty annoyances and slights received at the hands of our brethren in the faith, passing them over with the feeling that they are expressions of their immaturity. But when we receive these slights from the world, we are apt to attribute them to the work of the devil. Probably we should give some second thoughts to this matter. The Lord did not pray that we should be taken out of the world but that we should be kept while we are still in it; and to a larger extent than we are often willing to admit, not merely in it but as part of it.
     I doubt if there is any doctrine so full of comfort as this: that God is sovereign. Thus when we seek promotion, we ought to seek it

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primarily at the hands of God. And if our handicaps prevent us from achieving it, we must learn to accept the fact that it would not have been for our good in the long run. This is true whether we fail in our objective because of personal unworthiness at the time or because of unforeseen dangers in the future. We can only examine our own lives, seek the cleansing which is promised, and submit ourselves humbly to the will of God. For all the failures in my own life, I can nevertheless say with absolute confidence that there is only one way to succeed in anything that concerns our progress in life, and that is to humble oneself under the mighty hand of God: to accept the situation when we are not promoted, to be quiet, if possible, when we are falsely accused, to allow others to receive credit due to us unless co-workers will be injured by it, and in no way to seek to promote oneself. It really does work, and if it failed to do so on any occasion, I have always found upon reflection that I was not fulfilling the conditions sufficiently.
     I think it was Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, who said that there is no knowing how much good might be done in the world if only it didn't matter who got the credit for it. Virtually everything good that we do can become a source of pride and thereby turns out to be an evil thing for ourselves -- even victory over our enemies. The achievement of humility is the most difficult of all tasks, yet the crowning glory of the Christian life. But it is a by-product, a goal that is reached by an indirect route: and handicaps of one kind or another are fundamental to its achievement. There seems to be no other way.
     It is well, I think, to remind oneself constantly that what God is trying to do with us is to humble us and not to humiliate us. It is when we resist the gentleness of God in hindering our own pride that we are apt to become humiliated. There is no question in my mind, absolutely no question whatever, that the secret of success in life, whether one has in view Christian virtue or promotion as the world sees promotion, the only way for the child of God, is to humble himself before God. This is where promotion is to be sought (Psalm 75:6). This is why those who seem to have the greatest gifts and the fewest limitations so often fail in the things of God, while those who seem to have no advantages, whose social background is poor, whose speaking voice is far from attractive, who "murder" the English language (or their native tongue, whatever it may be), whose appearance is unimpressive, who lack any grace or seem, in short, the least likely to achieve very much, often do indeed achieve a great deal for the Lord. And if one stands aside and studies "how they navigate", as it were, it soon becomes evident that it is their very weaknesses which are the source of their strength simply because they have so little which tempts them to be proud. And God has ways

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which are seldom foreseen of promoting, of advancing, those whom He sees fit to advance.
     The problem often is one of self-confidence; perhaps I should say rather of knowing when to be self-reliant and when not to be. The difference between the two men who were commended for increasing the value of their talents and the one who was judged for not doing so, lies in this: that they had the proper self-confidence which the other did not. So that there is a place for self-confidence.
     Throughout Scripture God seems to have delighted to use people who would have been the least likely choice if we were left to make the decision. I do not mean by this that anyone who has gifts should seek to bury them in order to become by artificial means "a creature of nought" fit for the Lord's use. The man who buried his talent was strongly reprimanded. What I do mean is that we should never suppose that the possession of any kind of talent is a credit to ourselves which will give us a special advantage in serving the Lord. It is far more likely to be a source of danger and therefore something about which we must go to the Lord with greater concern.
     Consider now a few of the people who were singled out to serve the Lord in a special way, and consider a few of the "weapons" which they used to do great things. Some of the greatest leaders in Israel's history and some of their greatest prophets were men who felt their total inadequacy very keenly. Perhaps Moses was the most outstanding example, and his history is particularly instructive in this respect. His qualifications seem to have been the very best that society could afford, both in respect to education as a child and military training as a young man. Added to this was his social background which resulted from his having been brought up at the Egyptian court under the special protection of one who is not merely princess (Exodus 2:5-10),but quite possibly the Princess Royal (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, II, ix, 7). We know from Scripture that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). There is also a tradition widely held by the Jewish people, and not unreasonably so, that Moses was made a general and led a victorious campaign against the Ethiopians who were harrying the Egyptians along their southern border. His campaign tactics so impressed the enemy that he is said to have married, at her proposal, the daughter of the Ethiopian king.
     When he was forty years old and while the rest of his people were now in a state of slavery, he defended one of them who was being abused, and in his anger he killed an Egyptian taskmaster. Evidently he had been brooding over the lot of the Hebrew people, perhaps having learned in his childhood that he was himself one of them. From his

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quite exalted position in Egyptian society and possibly remembering his past training as a commander, he would have felt he was in a particularly favourable position to lead them out of their bondage and set them free. Acting on this supposition, he defended the afflicted slave. But Acts 7:25 shows clearly that the very people whom he felt so well fitted to champion rejected him entirely. As a consequence, and in what must have been a very confused frame of mind, he fled the country and ended up in the wilderness of Midian. It was not the result of cowardice, for shortly after his arrival an incident occurred which showed that he was a brave man, a man of stature, well able to command a situation though the odds were against him. He apparently single-handedly drove off the rough Arab shepherds whom he found harassing the daughters of a certain Midianite priest (Exodus 2:16, 17).
     Forty years later, a life-time in terms of our own experience today, he received a call to undertake the very thing he had long ago dismissed from his mind as visionary and impractical. The record of this call is found in Exodus 3. His first reaction shows how fundamentally his character had undergone a change. He no longer had the self-assurance of his early manhood, nor the command of language which his education had engendered. "Who am I," he asked at once, "that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" God assured him that He would be with him and that his mission would succeed: yet, Moses persisted in excusing himself. The court would never listen to him, he had entirely lost the courtly manners and graces that he once had. His eloquence and his sense of "command" had gone. "O my Lord, I am not eloquent," he said, "but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (Exodus 4:10). And evidently he was quite right. Indeed, the Lord said, in effect, "I know you are, but whom do you suppose made you that way?" Because of his persistent refusal, the Lord became vehement and said, "Alright! Then I will give you someone to be your spokesman, a mouth for you. You give him your orders, and he will see that they are carried out." So Moses finally went at the Lord's bidding and with great success, as we know from Scripture. Yet he remained essentially a man of very great meekness indeed, "above all the men that were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers. 12:3). What a change had therefore taken place to render him a fit instrument for God's purposes! So long as he experienced no handicaps, Moses was apparently not yet an acceptable vehicle of God's power and mercy. But after forty years the old self-assurance had gone and Moses was at last ready in God's sight, though no longer ready in his own sight.
     We have another example of how God chooses the weak things of

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the world to confound the strong: Gideon. God called Gideon for a task requiring courage and leadership. But the record seems to go out of its way (Judges 6) to show that Gideon was not a particularly brave man. And because leaders are more commonly chosen from among those whose background suggests some kind of natural superiority, Gideon was ill-qualified, and he knew it. When the call came to him, he said, "Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." And Manasseh, as a tribe, was the least important one in Israel's history -- in spite of a few heroes it produced, such as Gideon and Jair, and perhaps Jephthah. Nor was Gideon a man of great and instant faith. He needed signs, as so many of us do, before stepping out on the promises of God.
     So here, again, everything agrees together in bearing witness to the fact that from a worldly point of view Gideon was an unlikely winner. He was the youngest member of a poor family in the least notable tribe in Israel. And he was not very brave, for we may note that because of his fear of his family and the people in his community (verse 27), he decided to begin his task under cover of darkness. Yet for all that, God called him as he threshed the grain and had said to him, "Go in this thy might. . . ." Clearly our evaluation of our own worth cannot be viewed as being too important when it comes to the doing of God's work. It is not by our own estimated might, nor by our own self-confidence, but by His Spirit that acceptable service is done for the Lord: a truly difficult lesson to learn.
     Ought not we to make some attempt to be consciously fit for the Lord's service? But how is this to be done, if not by assessing our strengths as well as our weaknesses? Or are we by contrast to embellish our handicaps? Surely not! Scripture gives us no grounds for supposing that handicaps of one kind or another are an advantage in themselves and pre-requisite to acceptable service. Many of God's great people, like Joseph and Daniel, for example, do not seem to have been handicapped in any way.
     I think the key is to be found in the fact that we are so easily made proud as soon as we accomplish anything notable in the Lord's service. And because it is His purpose to perfect in us a Christ-like character, in which pride has no place, He will not permit us to succeed, if the achievement of this objective is really what we desire. And so we are handicapped in one way or another while the danger persists. If it happens that we are of such a nature that the danger of becoming boastful of success is very small, then these restraints upon our progress need not be imposed on us. There is no evidence that Joseph or Daniel were ever afflicted with pride or ever sought to assert 

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themselves. We can see about us today people like them serving the Lord with amazing success, yet remaining unharmed by the blight of pride.
     I think there is one particular "handicap" that the Lord delights to overcome above all others. Perhaps it would be better to say that He delights to obviate. This is the lack of eloquence. He did it for Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5-8). He did it for Paul (1 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 10:10). And He did it for Moody whose homespun English was not naturally appealing to educated people in England, though they heard him gladly. There are also some modern evangelists whose power to communicate the things of God is extraordinary, and yet whose voice and elocution generally are offensive at first to many of the people who are most blessed by their ministry. It does not seem likely that anything could be done to make their ministry more effective by taking courses in public speaking, as many politicians have done with great success. All we can say with assurance is that each of us must do for the Lord the very best we possibly can with the talents we have. We must never make the mistake of supposing that handicaps necessarily present any barrier to acceptable service for Him, nor that natural endowments, or even acquired ones, are in any sense requisite.
     Though it is true that the more talents we have, the more we can do for the Lord, provided He sees it is safe for us to use them, it is equally true that He often delights to take the least well-equipped servant and use him gloriously. Scripture is full of examples of the least likely subjects, whether men, animals, inanimate objects, or even circumstances, being used by God to achieve ends for which they seemed by nature to be utterly unsuited.
     Among rocks, flint is one of the hardest and densest, and yet it was out of flint that God gave Moses water (Deuteronomy 8:15; Psalm 114:8). The dumbest of creatures, the ass, was God's mouthpiece to speak words of wisdom to a disobedient messenger (Numbers 22:30). A greedy bird whose very character has given us the word "ravenous," carried food in its mouth without swallowing it, in order to supply the need of an exhausted prophet (1 Kings 17:6).These three: the hardest rock, the dumbest beast, the greediest bird . . . chosen of God to serve as most unlikely channels.
     When the children of Israel reached the critical gateway to the Promised Land, the river Jordan, they were told to go forward. Yet at that very moment the river was in full flood, overflowing all its banks (Joshua 3:15). Humanly speaking, one might have thought that to get such a multitude of people across a river, God would surely have chosen a time when its flow was at a minimum. But the wonderful thing is that the very fact of its being in flood at the time was possibly the  

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direct cause of its suddenly drying up! Upstream some miles the river, even today, undercuts an overhanging cliff of loose mud and clay at a place called el Damieh with the result that the bank may collapse and dam up the river for several hours. This situation only occurs when the river is in full flood. Therefore the miracle of this crossing of the Israelites may have been to a large extent a miracle of timing. This is particularly apparent when one reads in the record that it was not until the feet of the priests actually stepped into the water that the water ceased to flow. In the present context, the striking truth is that they were able to cross dryshod not because the barrier to their crossing was at its lowest ebb but because it was at its peak.
     And how small, and insignificant sometimes, were the weapons or the tools by which the saints of special mention did their work for the Lord. David had a sling, Samson had the jawbone of an ass, Dorcas had only a needle. Each of us is given some gift (1 Corinthoians 12:18), and some of these seem small enough. Yet these are the very gifts that are singled out as of greater importance (1 Corinthians 12:22). And the less remarkable they are, the higher the honour that seems to be attached to their use (verse 24). There may indeed be a sense in which, if we turn to good account our small gifts, we may end up by receiving from the Lord greater commendation than is attached to the labours of those who have large ones. I cannot believe that any child of God has a non-essential role to play in the Body of Christ. Nor do I believe that we are ever so hedged-in with handicaps that we cannot put to good use what gifts we do have. Indeed, it is probably true that a small gift employed for the Lord against large odds is more greatly approved by Him than the large gifts of others which have been put to work without great effort. These small things are like the widow's mite. She had the great reward of having done all that she could, and therefore having done "more than all of them" (Luke 21:3 RSV).

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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