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INDISCREET IMPORTUNITY.






From: HOW TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST

"I gave thee a king in mine anger."
HOSEA xiii. 11.

"Ye know not what ye ask."
MATTHEW xx. 22.

PSALM lxxviii. 27-31.

That God sometimes suffers men to destroy themselves, giving them
their own way, although He knows it is ruinous, and even putting into
their hands the scorpion they have mistaken for a fish, is an
indubitable and alarming fact.

Perhaps no form of ruin covers a man with such shame or sinks him to
such hopelessness as when he finds that what he has persistently
clamoured for and refused to be content without, has proved the
bitterest and most disastrous element in his life. This particular
form of ruin is nowhere described with more careful, and significant
detail than in the narrative of Israel's determination to have a king
over them like other nations. Samuel, forseeing the evils which would
result from their choice, remonstrated with them and reminded them of
their past success, and pointed out the advantageous elements in
their present condition. But there is a point at which desire becomes
deaf and blind, and the evil of it can be recognised only after it is
gratified. God therefore gave them a king in His anger."

The truth, then, which is embodied in this incident, and which is
liable to reappear in the experience of any individual, is this, that
sometimes God yields to importunity, and grants to men what He knows
will be no blessing to them. "It is a thing," says South, "partly
worth our wonder, partly our compassion, that what the greatest part
of men most passionately desire, that they are generally most unfit
for; so that at a distance they court that as an enjoyment, which
upon experience they find a plague and a great calamity." It is
astonishing how many things we desire for the same reason as the
Israelites sought a king, merely that we may have what other people
have. We may not definitely covet our neighbour's house or his wife
or his position or anything that is his; but deep within us remains
the scarcely-conscious conviction that we have not all we might and
ought to have until our condition more resembles his. We take our
ideas of happiness from what we see in other people, and have little
originality to devise any special and more appropriate enjoyment or
success. Fashion or tradition or the necessity of one class in
society has promoted certain possessions and conditions to the rank
of extremely desirable or even necessary elements of happiness, and
forthwith we desire them, without duly considering our own
individuality and what it is that must always constitute happiness
for us, or what it is that fits us for present usefulness. Health,
position, fame, a certain settlement in life, income, marriage; such
things are eagerly sought by thousands, and they are sought without
sufficient discrimination, or at any rate without a well-informed
weighing of consequences. We refuse, too, to see that already without
those things our condition has much advantage, and that we are
actually happy. We may be dimly conscious that our tastes are not
precisely those of other men, and that if the ordinary ways of
society are the best men can devise for spending life satisfactorily,
these are scarcely the ways that will suit us. Yet, like petted
children, we continue persistently to cry for the thing we have not.
Sometimes it is a mere question of waiting. The thing we sigh for
will come in time, but not yet. To wait is the test of many persons;
and if they are impatient, they fail in the one point that determines
the whole. Many young persons seem to think life will all be gone
before they taste any of its sweets. They must have everything at
once, and cannot postpone any of its enjoyments or advantages. No
quality is more fatal to success and lasting happiness than
impatience.

This being a common attitude of mind towards fancied blessings, how
does God deal with it? For a long time He may in compassion withhold
the fatal gift. He may in pity disregard our petulant clamour. And He
may in many ways bring home to our minds that the thing we crave is
in several respects unsuitable. We may become conscious under His
discipline that without it we are less entangled with the world and
with temptation; that we can live more holily and more freely as we
are, and that to quench the desire we have would be to choose the
better part. God may make it plain to us that it is childish to look
upon this one thing as the supreme and only good. Providential
obstacles are thrown in our way, difficulties amounting almost to
impossibilities absolutely prevent us for a while from attaining our
object, and give us time to collect ourselves and take thought. And
not only are we prevented from attaining this one object, but in
other respects our life is enriched and gladdened, so that we might
be expected to be content. If we cannot have a king like other
nations, we have the best of Judges in abundance. And experience of
this kind will convince the subject of it that a Providence shapes
our ends, even although the lesson it teaches may remain unlearnt.

For man's will is never forced: and therefore if we continue to pin
our happiness to this one object, and refuse to find satisfaction and
fruit in life without it, God gives in anger what we have resolved to
obtain. He gives it in its bare earthly form, so that as soon as we
receive it our soul sinks in shame. Instead of expanding our nature
and bringing us into a finished and satisfactory condition, and
setting our life in right relations with other men, we find the new
gift to be a curse to us, hampering us, cutting us off in unexpected
ways from our usefulness, thwarting and blighting our life round its
whole circumference.

For a man is never very long in discovering the mischief he has done
by setting his own wisdom above God's, by underrating God's goodness
and overriding God's will. When Samuel remonstrated with Israel and
warned them that their king would tyrannise over them, all the answer
he got was: "Nay, but we will have a king to rule over us." But, not
many days after, they came to Samuel with a very different petition:
"Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not; for we
have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king." So it is
always; we speedily recognise the difference between God's wisdom and
our own. What seemed neglect on His part is now seen to be care, and
what we murmured at as niggardliness and needless harshness we now
admire as tenderness. Those at least are our second and wiser
thoughts, even although at first we may be tempted with Manoah when
he saw his son blind and fettered in the Philistine dungeon, to
exclaim,

What thing good
Pray'd for, but often proves our woe, our bane?
I prayed for children and thought barrenness
In wedlock a reproach;
I gain'd a son And such a son
as all men hail'd me happy.
Who would be now a father in my stead?
Oh, wherefore did God grant me my request,
And as a blessing with such pomp adorn'd
Why are His gifts desirable, to tempt
Our earnest prayers, then giv'n with solemn hand
As graces, draw a scorpion's tail behind?

Such, I say, may be our first thoughts; but when the first bitterness
and bewilderment of disappointment are over, when reason and right
feeling begin to dominate, we own that the whole history of our
prayer and its answer has been most humiliating to us, indeed, but
most honouring to God. We see as never before how accurately our
character has been understood, how patiently our evil propensities
have been resisted, how truly our life has been guided towards the
highest ends.

The obvious lessons are:-

1. Be discreet in your importunity. Two parables are devoted to the
inculcation of importunity. And it is a duty to which our own
intolerable cravings drive us. But there is an importunity which
offends God. There is a spiritual instinct which warns us when we are
transgressing the bounds of propriety; a perception whereby Paul
discerned, when he had prayed thrice for the removal of the thorn in
his flesh, that it would not be removed. There are things, about
which a heavenly-minded person feels it to be unbecoming to be
over-solicitous; and there are things regarding which it is somehow
borne in upon us that we are not to attain them. There are natural
disabilities, physical or mental or social weaknesses and
embarrassments, regarding which we sometimes cannot but cry out to
God for relief, and yet as we cry we feel that they will not be
removed, and that we must learn to bear the burden cheerfully.

2. On the other hand, we must not be false in prayer. We must utter
to God our real desires in their actual intensity; while at the same
time we must learn to moderate desires which we see to be unpleasing
to God. We must learn to say with truth:

Not what we wish but what we want
Thy favouring grace supply;
The good unasked, in mercy grant,
The ill, though asked, deny.

Learn why God does not make the coveted blessing accessible to you,
and you will learn to pray freely and wisely. Try to discover whether
there is not some peculiar advantage attaching to your present
state--some more wholesome example you can furnish, some more helpful
attitude towards others; some healthier exercise of the manlier
graces of Christianity, which could not be maintained were your
request granted.

3. If your life is marred by the gift you have wrung by your
importunity from a reluctant God, be wise and humble in your dealing
with that gift. If you have suddenly and painfully learned that in
the ordinary-looking circumstances of your life God is touching you
at every point, and if you clearly see that in giving you the fruit
of your desires He is punishing you, there is one only way by which
you can advance to a favourable settlement, and that is by a real
submission to God. Perhaps in no circumstances is a man more tempted
to break with God. At first he cannot reconcile himself to the idea
that ruin should be the result of prayer, and he is inclined to say,
If this be the result of waiting on God, the better course is to
refuse His guidance. In his heart he knows he is wrong, but there is
an appearance of justice in what he says, and it is so painful to
have the heart broken, to admit we have been foolish and wrong, and
humbly to beseech God to repair the disasters our own self-will has
wrought.





Next: SHAME ON ACCOUNT OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE.

Previous: THE TRANSFIGURATION.



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