In the Commonplace
By William B. McGrath
When I entered Christian missionary service at 20 years of age, I held a deep desire to find a notable, special niche. I wanted the Lord to use me for something special, wherewith I might prove to myself and to others that I really loved the Lord and was deeply dedicated. I yearned to have what I saw others have: a great talent for playing music, or maybe a special gift for art illustration, or maybe just that charisma for being a leader and inspiring others. I wanted a notable position of responsibility or a recognizable talent that others would see.
My inward battle lingered on when it seemed that it just wasn’t going to happen, at least not anytime soon. I became more aware that I just didn’t have any of those gifts and talents that I envied in others. Yet at the same time, I truly loved Jesus, and I’ve always believed in giving Him my best. It took me quite some time to learn that I could be close to the Lord and find great fulfillment without having any of those notable gifts that I saw in others, and everyone struggles with their own set of challenges regardless of their gifts or callings.
God comes to us in our sufferings, in our lacks, in our spiritual hunger, when we’re rejected, isolated, or suffering from some injustice. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”1
We read that the angels came and ministered to Jesus, and strengthened Him when He was sorely tempted in the wilderness for 40 days; and then again, when He was in the garden of Gethsemane.2 Various other Bible accounts depict God or His angels showing up for people when they are in a real predicament. That special ministering and strengthening from heaven is what the Lord told the apostle Paul would sustain him.3 God’s grace has sustained many saints, and can sustain each one of us, and even make it possible for us to draw on the Lord’s joy, amid our earthly sorrows and hardships, and to rejoice always.4 Our deep and lasting joy is not temporal or dependent on circumstances, but it comes from the light of the gospel that shines in our hearts.5
For quite some time, I used to pass off as unattainable the Lord’s “blesseds”—the beatitudes that Jesus spoke at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount.6 I could partially understand how it could be blessed to be a peacemaker, or to hunger and thirst after righteousness. But to be poor in spirit? To mourn? To suffer persecution? To be reviled? To be meek and mild in the face of cruelty? This went so contrary to what others had tried to impress upon me, so contrary to what my own heart would whisper, so contrary to the narrative of this world’s culture.
The “blesseds” that Jesus spoke of, the graces He put forth in the beatitudes, describe the heavenly life into which we have only begun to be fashioned.
J. R. Miller writes:
Meekness is not an easy grace. Indeed, no grace comes easily. It is the heavenly life into which we are being fashioned, and nothing less that a moral and spiritual revolution will produce in us the heavenly qualities. The old must die—that the new may live. Spiritual graces are not merely amiable traits of human nature trained and cultivated into gentleness—they are transformations wrought by the divine Spirit.
An old prophecy, in a vision of the reign of the Messiah, pictured the wolf dwelling with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion in close companionship. Whatever we may say as to the literal fulfillment of this prophecy in the subduing and taming of ferocious animals—it has its higher fulfillment in the regeneration of a human soul, which is wrought through the gospel. The wolf in men’s disposition and temper is changed into lamb-like gentleness.
Christian meekness, for example, is a converted wolf. Human nature is resentful. When struck—it strikes back. When wronged—it demands reparation. “An eye for an eye—a tooth for a tooth” is its law. It is not natural for anyone to bear injuries patiently, to submit without bitterness to unkindness, to forgive personal wrongs or insults, and not to nourish grudges. 7
After years of waiting to understand, at least to a greater extent, the meaning of the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, two inexpensive books came my way by mail, and they brought the insight I had been seeking! The Master’s Blesseds, by J. R. Miller, and Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Oswald Chambers.
It is well for us to study carefully the beatitudes that fell from our Lord's lips, while He was here. We are struck at once with their unworldliness. They are altogether different from men’s beatitudes. They run directly counter to the maxims which rule in human society and give impulse to human ambitions.8
We can forget how strong the world pulls on us to conform to its way of thinking and seeing things, and how, in subtle ways, it will belittle what the Lord teaches in His Word. Only by staying close to Jesus can we continue to emulate the qualities of the kingdom of God of which He spoke.
When starting out in the Lord’s service, I spent hours trying to develop my artistic talent in hope of becoming a notable illustrator. It took months before I realized that just wasn’t going to happen. Later came a time when I thought maybe I could develop my guitar talent and become a “celebrity” at that. I spent many hours at it, until, again, I finally realized that would never happen.
So, I came to accept my commonplace position and duties, and with the passing of the years I have realized that my youthful letdowns served to draw me closer to the Lord, to know Him in a deeper and more satisfying way. I’ve learned that the door to service for Him ties together with the development of a strong and intimate relationship with Him. You don’t have to have a noteworthy talent or position. The prerequisite to an effectual door of service is simply having a great love for Jesus. In my case, God gently showed me that the virtues and strengths that I once thought could be so great were not His plan for me, so that I could come to be more dependent upon and in touch with Him and develop His virtues.
1 Psalm 34:18.
2 Matthew 4:11, Luke 22:43.
3 2 Corinthians 12:9.
4 Philippians 4:4, 1 Peter 1:6, Colossians 1:24.
5 2 Corinthians 4:6.
6 Matthew 5:3–11.
7 The Master's Blesseds: A Devotional Study of the Beatitudes, by J. R. Miller, 1905.
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