Chapter 9 of Soul-Help Papers
When the gloomy shadows gather ‘round your way,
And the clouds of sorrow hide the sun’s bright ray,
Keep your faith unshaken, tho’ all ills combine;
When the days are darkest, That’s the time to shine.2
and make us try our wings for a new experience
and wider field of usefulness!3
Poor Elijah! The hot sun lay on all the plain burning with an oven-like heat. The grass was withered and dust covered. The fig-tree had cast her fruit. Animals and men hunted the springs for a few drops of water. The children cried piteously. The little lambs lay dead on the hills. The prophet’s retreat by the Cherith brook became besieged with thirsty men and furious animals, fighting for its fast-failing waters. The prophet’s refuge was being taken away. The famine was everywhere. That morning the ravens came no more with the miraculous supply of bread for the man of God. He went for a drink and lo! the waters had ceased to flow. In despairing mood he knelt at his accustomed place of prayer and looked to the hills. The early twilight diffused the cloudless sky, and all nature seemed again to be holding a prayer meeting in which petition was voiced in one word, “Rain, Rain, Rain.” As the rim of the red sun shone first over the east Jordanic hills, the mulberry trees above his head changed their usual “going” as they murmured their petition, and a voice clearly said, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there; behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.”4
It was better Elijah should be helping a poor widow than be sitting in the shade of the brook with a flock of ravens furnishing him with free board. Too much rest is no better for one than too much work. Our proneness is to like rest and easy going and easy places. Elijah seems to have been a “man of like passions” with us in this respect.5 Under the juniper tree he found a safe resting place, and slept on until an angel came and got dinner for him, and still he never wakened. So the angel waited and waited. Perhaps the dinner was spoiling, so he touched the sleeping prophet.6 So now, the Lord broke up the cozy Cherith camp, and the prophet must strike his tent and march under the blazing sun away towards the great sea.
I wonder if God’s plan for us is not much the same as it was for Elijah! How often He finds it needful to “stir up our nest”7 and make us try our wings for a new experience and wider field of usefulness!
It took me a long time to find that it was a good thing to have my Cherith camp broken up, the brook dried up, and the ravens called off. I did not know I had to be brought out in order to be brought in. I thought the nest unstirred was the best place for the young eagle.
It takes heroic treatment to bring us better things than we have. We cry for the loss of our easy places, not seeing through our tears that the less is taken away because God has something better for us. How hard it is to give up Ishmael before there is an Isaac to take his place!8
You see, if God did not stir up our nest, we would just sit around and enjoy the shade, look at the rippling brook, wait for the ravens, and take another nap. There are times when we ought to rest, and can rest, but life is not made for resting. To be on the wing is better than to be in the nest. Action is better than idleness. The campaign decides the great issue, not the winter quarters.9 Only the faith that is put to the test can be the victorious faith. The love that has a chance to express itself is the satisfying, absorbing love. The storage of power may be a necessary arrangement at times, but stored power is always dead and inactive. Thought afield is always better than the book on the library shelf. Present experience is the living, effective experience. The “stored” (past) experience is good for illustration, but it is a “narrow gauge” road whose coaches will not fit the “standard gauge” overland express on time today.10
In due time Zidon is always better than Cherith, and a barrel with always enough meal in the bottom for dinner for three is better than mulberry groves, running brooks, and shining ravens carrying loaves of bread. How glad that widow must have been that the prophet ever came to Zidon! It meant life to her and her son. What all this must have meant to the people of Zidon, who can tell? How many other souls Elijah helped and blessed, who can tell? In any case, the Zidon stay was better than the Cherith camp.
The soul that goes God’s way never goes other than from better to best. Yet this is a difficult lesson to learn. We naturally think when we have toiled our way up the hill to somewhat of comfort of circumstance, and dwell in our “cieled houses,”11 and our fields yield their increase and our barns burst out with plenty, that we have reached the climax of our mission and feel safe to say of life’s burdens and toils, “Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and rest.”12 About this time One who cares for us more than we know to care for ourselves comes into the field of our circumstance, and we wake some fine morning to find, as Job did, the Sabeans driving away the sheep and cattle, the Chaldeans raiding the camels, and the cyclone wrecking the house on the children.13 The marching orders have come, and up out of deeper sorrows than we have ever known, out of greater loss, out of more anguish of spirit, we walk forth into liberty unknown in the past, away from hindrances to be known nevermore, and up into spiritual uplands our feet never trod in all the travail of the preceding years.
And yet, it is hard to keep from crying when our gourd-vines are taken away in the dew of the morning.14
The cure for the sorrow of the breaking up of our Cherith camps lies almost wholly in our point of view. Let me suggest:
- Knowing we are truly God’s children, and that we are now in His order, it is always safe to conclude that the way we go is not a defeat—nay, but an advance way. This means that Sabeans’ plundering, and Chaldees’ marauding, and the cyclone making a death march, in the long run only means that the “latter end” is more than “the beginning.”15
- Count today the best day you ever had, and consider it a link that will bring your tomorrow and certainly determine more or less of its moral measure. Look at it as one of the days the Lord has made—made for you.16 Through this day you will reach your tomorrow, and to begin tomorrow right you must go out of today hand in hand with God, Sabean raids or not.
- Count all camp-breaking, and nest-stirrings, and all marching orders as times to shine and rejoice in, for these are times of something better.
Sing amid the shadows of the fleeting years,
Bravely meet the conflict, conquer needless fears.
Trust the hand that leads you, tho’ all joys decline;
When the days are darkest, that’s the time to shine!17
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, Soul-Help Papers, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's Soul-Help Papers. ↩
- Here Reid quotes the first verse of Lanta Wilson Smith's lyric exhortation, The Time to Shine. ↩
- Title image created using a photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on https://unsplash.com/@eberhardgross. ↩
- 1 Kings 17:1-9 ↩
- James 5:17 ↩
- 2 Kings 19:5-8 ↩
- The reference is to Deuteronomy 32:11. ↩
- In the Biblical narrative of the life of Abraham (Genesis 12-25), one of the important themes is the family tension over the roles of Ishmael, Abraham’s legitimate son by his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar, and “the son of promise,” Isaac, Abraham’s heir by his wife Sarah. ↩
- “campaign…winter quarters”: These, of course, are military terms, words that would have been still in general circulation among the American population less than four decades after the American Civil War. Two of Reid's brothers served in the Union Army during “that late, great unpleasantness” (as Southerners are still apt to call it). Surplus military equipment from that war, especially tents, served many an evangelistic campaign (there's that word!) and camp meeting into the 1870s. ↩
- These gauges are railroading terms. Standard gauge is the American national standard for the distance between the two rails—4 feet, 8½ inches (1435 mm or 1.435 meters). Narrow gauge (typically 3 feet or 914 mm between the rails) and other non-standard-gauge railroads existed for much of the 1800s, but the differences in gauge caused frustrating, costly delays when people and goods from one railroad with one gauge had to be physically transferred to cars of a railroad with a different gauge. Eventually, as the national standard was adopted shortly after the end of the American Civil War, narrow-gauge rails were employed primarily in mountainous regions where trains had to run with very restricted right of way (for example, on narrow mountain ledges). Reid’s point is that tying ourselves to “narrow gauge” (past) experience hampers our “standard gauge” (present) progress. ↩
- Haggai 1:4. Note that Reid faithfully reproduces the archaic spelling cieled from the King James translation, rather than the modern orthography of ceiled. ↩
- The reference is to Luke 12:19 ↩
- Job 1:13-19 ↩
- Jonah 4:5-10 ↩
- See Job 42:12-14. ↩
- Psalm 118:24 ↩
- Reid closes with the last verse of the hymn he quoted at the beginning, The Time to Shine. ↩