by J. R. Miller
(About the Author: James Russell Miller (1840-1912), an American Presbyterian clergyman and author, was educated at Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and the Allegheny Seminary of the United Presbyterian Church. Following graduation in 1867 he was ordained a minister of that denomination. He was editorial superintendent of the Presbyterian Board of Publication in Philadelphia from 1887 until the time of his death. Dr. Miller was the author of more than 60 devotion books. One, Devotion Hours With the Bible, published in eight volumes from 1909 to 1913, sold more than a million copies.)
It seems strange to have God refuse service offered to Him. David had been king for a number of years and had built for himself a house of cedar. One day as he sat in his luxurious home, a shadow fell over him. He began to feel a sense of shame as he thought of the fine house he had built for himself, and then, in contrast, thought of the weather-beaten tent in which the Ark of God was dwelling. He felt that a dwelling-place should be provided for the holy Ark of the Covenant at least as costly and as beautiful as the house in which he himself was living.
It seems strange to read that after David had conceived such a noble thought for the honor of God, God declined to let him carry it out. "Thou shalt not build me a house" (1 Chr. 17:4). Yet as we read the story through, we see that the decision was right. David was not blamed for his desire. God did not refuse the temple-He approved it. He only said that David should not build it.There may be some noble work you long to do. It may not be permitted to you to do it, yet it is commendable and will be done by another. We should be content with our own place in life and our own work. We should not fret because we are not allowed to do some particular piece of work that we had set our hearts on doing. It is glory enough to have anything, even the smallest task, to do in the building of God's great temple. If some other has a part which seems greater, more conspicuous, we need not complain. We ought to be satisfied to have the beautiful work done, whoever may do it. Whittier's lines tell the story:
"Others shall sing the song,
Others shall right the wrong,
Finish what I begin,
And all I fail of win."
"What matter I or they,
Mine, or another's day,
So the right word is said
And life the sweeter made?"
We all have our limitations. Our thoughts are greater than our powers to achieve. None but Jesus Christ ever made his achievements up to his dreams and intentions. No one of us has lived as nobly or has wrought as finely as we intended to do. We have not the skill to fashion all the loveliness that our souls dream. No poet writes in his verse all the beauty of thought that shines in his glowing mind-his pen is not equal to the task. No artist puts upon his canvas all the splendor he conceives in his vision. No one of us is as good as we meant to be when we bowed in our morning prayer. But it is well the beauty is in our heart, that we mean to please God. "God finishes the work by noble souls begun."
God treated David very graciously when he declined the service David offered him. God is a most gentle Master. He could not accept David's desire to build a temple, but He so lifted up his heart with joy and hope that he almost forgot his disappointment. David could not build the temple, but, instead, God would build him a house, that is, make him the head of a line of kings, ending at last in the Messiah. Whatever disappointment he had at God's declining the service he meant to do, he is made now to rejoice at God's wonderful goodness.
All of us sometimes have our desires and hopes thwarted. The things we want to do for God He declines to have us do. The requests we make of Him He will not grant to us. The temple we seek to build for Him He will not allow us to build. Earnest prayers of ours He will return unanswered. But He will deal with us so patiently, so graciously, so gently, with such kindness, that we will forget our requests have been declined.
It is told of President Lincoln that in one of the dark days of the Civil War a poor woman came to plead that her husband or one of her five sons in the army might be released to care for the little farm and be a comfort to her. Mr. Lincoln spoke to her with deep emotion of the great crises through which the country was passing, telling her that not one soldier could be spared. Then he spoke of the noble part she was doing in sparing her husband and all her sons to the country. He told her he thought that in the great need she would not want to take back even one of them. As she listened, her patriotism rose, and she withdrew her request, and went back home to share loyally and gladly in the saving of the country.
So it is that God appeals to us when we seek relief from crosses or sorrows, until we are ready for His sake to go on in our life of greatest self-denial and sacrifice. Our unanswered prayers seem better than if they were answered. We are not permitted to build the temple for God, to render the service we wanted to render, but we are able to rejoice and praise, seeing that God's way is better than ours.
We may learn then to take our place in the plan of God and to do what He has purposed for us to do. We may think we can do great things, but when we try we soon find that we are small and can do but little. All God expects of any of us is just some fragment of the whole. All that some of us can do is to have a good purpose in our heart which some other coming after us may work out. This is a great world and its vast work is one; all any of us can do is just a few strokes, a block or two in the wall, a touch in the adornment of some panel, or perhaps only a word of cheer to the builders.
Yet no life is unimportant. The smallest individual life has its essential place. If you drop out, no matter how little the place you fill, you will leave that place empty. Our part then is simple faithfulness. Accept your place in life and the work that is given you to do. Have large plans and great purposes. Seek to build temples for God. But if He declines the service you offer, do not fret, do not be discouraged. Perhaps your limitations may make it impossible for you to do the thing you long to do. One would preach, but lacks the qualities that are essential in a preacher. One would go as a missionary to a heathen land, but he has not the strength for endurance, and his consecration is declined. A young man offered himself as a volunteer missionary. He was almost ready to go to the field when his father died and it became his duty to stay at home and care for his widowed mother and the children; so his devotion to missionary work must be given up. He grieved, but the other duty was as sacred as the missionary service could have been.
Life is full of rejected service, of thwarted intentions. Thousands and thousands of people are not permitted to do the things they had set their hearts on doing. What then? Let them do what God plans for them to do instead of what they had planned for themselves. The thing you thought you were made to do was really some one else's task, as the temple was Solomon's work, not David's.
Sitting in our house of cedar, with marvellous goodness filling all our life, let us look out and see the needs of God's work about us. Let us think of the many things which wait for loving hearts and willing hands and promise God our best, all we can do. Let Him choose what He would have us do, and because our particular dream of service is declined, let us not fold our hands and close our heart-rather let us pour out our life in the work the master sets for us to do.