Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stepping Heavenward

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is a favorite book of mine - the book is the journal-like account of a 19th century girl who learns, on the path to womanhood, that true happiness can be found in giving oneself for others, and shares her Christian experiences. My favorite part of the book is the section I shared below, the letter her pastor writes her. I know this is a long post, but I didn't want to break this up, and couldn't find any part I wanted to cut out!

"Today Dr. Cabot has sent me some directions for which I have been begging him a long time. Lest I should wear out this precious letter by reading it over, I will copy it here. After alluding to my complaint that I still "saw men as trees walking," he says :

"Yet he who first uttered this complaint had had his eyes opened by the Son of God, and so have you. Now He never leaves His work incomplete, and He will gradually lead you into clear and open vision, if you will allow Him to do it. I say gradually because I believe this to be His usual method, while I do not deny that there are cases where light suddenly bursts in like a flood. To return to the blind man. When Jesus found that his cure was not complete. He put His hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up ; and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. Now this must be done for you ; and in order to have it done you must go to Christ Himself, not to one of His servants. Make your complaint, tell Him how obscure everything still looks to you, and beg Him to complete your cure. He may see fit to try your faith and patience by delaying this completion; but meanwhile you are safe in His presence, and while led by His hand. He will excuse the mistakes you make, and pity your falls. But you will imagine that it is best that He should at once enable you to see clearly. If it is, you may be sure He will do it. He never makes mistakes. But He often deals far differently with His disciples. He lets them grope their way in the dark until they fully learn how blind they are, how helpless, how absolutely in need of Him.

      What His methods will be with you I cannot foretell. But you may be sure that He never works  in an arbitrary way. He has a reason for everything He does. You may not understand why He leads you now in this way and now in that, but you may, nay, you must believe that perfection is stamped on His every act.

       I am afraid that you are in danger of falling into an error only too common among young Christians. You acknowledge that there has been enmity towards God in your secret soul, and that one of the first steps towards peace is to become reconciled to Him and to have your sins forgiven for Christ's sake. This done, you settle down with the feeling that the great work of life is done, and that your salvation is sure. Or, if not sure, that your whole business is to study your own case to see whether you are really in a state of grace. Many persons never get beyond this point. They spend their whole time in asking the question :

       "Do I love the Lord or no ? Am I His or am I not?" I beg you, my dear child, if you are doing this aimless, useless work, to stop short at once. Life is too precious to spend in a tread-mill. Having been pardoned by your God and Savior, the next thing you have to do is to show your gratitude for this infinite favor by consecrating yourself entirely to Him, body, soul, and spirit. This is the least you can do. He has bought you with a price, and you are no longer your own. 

"But," you may reply, "this is contrary to my nature. I love my own way. I desire ease and pleasure; I desire to go to heaven, but I want to be carried thither on a bed of flowers. Can I not give myself so far to God as to feel a sweet sense of peace with Him, and be sure of final salvation, and yet, to a certain extent, indulge and gratify myself ? If I give myself entirely away to Him, and lose all ownership in myself. He may deny me many things I greatly desire. He may make my life hard and wearisome, depriving me of all that now makes it agreeable?"
"But," I reply, "this is no matter of parley and discussion ; it is not optional with God's children whether they will pay Him a part of the price they owe Him, and keep back the rest. He asks, and He has a right to ask, for all you have and all you are. And if you shrink from what is involved in such a surrender, you should fly to Him at once and never rest till He has conquered this secret disinclination to give to Him as freely and as fully as He has given to you. It is true that such an act of consecration on your part may involve no little future discipline and correction. As soon as you become the Lord's by your own deliberate and conscious act, He will begin that process of sanctification which is to make you holy as He is holy, perfect as He is perfect. He becomes at once your Physician as well as your dearest and best Friend, but He will use no painful remedy that can be avoided. Remember that it is His will that you should be sanctified, and that the work of making you holy is His, not yours. At the same time you are not to sit with folded hands, waiting for this blessing. You are to avoid laying hindrances in His way, and you are to exercise faith in Him as just as able and just as willing to give you sanctification as He was to give you redemption. And now if you ask how you may know that you have truly consecrated yourself to Him, I reply, observe every indication of His will concerning you, no matter how trivial, and see whether you at once close in with that will. Lay down this principle as a law as God does nothing arbitrary. If He takes away your health, for instance, it is because He has some reason for doing so; and this is true of everything you value ; and if you have real faith in Him you will not insist on knowing this reason. If you find, in the course of daily events, that your self-consecration was not perfect as that is, that your will revolts at His will  do not be discouraged, but fly to your Savior and stay in His presence till you obtain the spirit in which He cried in His hour of anguish, 'Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me : nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.' Every time you do this it will be easier to do it; every such consent to suffer will bring you nearer and nearer to Him ; and in this nearness to Him you will find such peace, such blessed, sweet peace, as will make your life infinitely happy, no matter what may be its mere outside conditions. Just think, my dear Katy, of the honor and the joy of having your will one with the Divine will, and so becoming changed into Christ's image from glory to glory!"

But I cannot say, in a letter, the tithe of what I want to say. Listen to my sermons from week to week, and glean from them all the instruction you can, remembering that they are preached to you.
      "In reading the Bible I advise you to choose detached passages, or even one verse a day, rather than whole chapters. Study every word, ponder and pray over it till you have got out of it all the truth it contains."
"As to the other devotional reading, it is better to settle down on a few favorite authors, and read their works over and over and over until you have digested their thoughts and made them your own."

      " It has been said * that a fixed, inflexible will is a great assistance in a holy life.
You can will to choose for your associates those who are most devout and holy."

      "You can will to read books that will stimulate you in your Christian life, rather than those that merely amuse. "

      "You can will to use every means of grace appointed by God."

      "You can will to spend much time in prayer, with- out regard to your frame at the moment.

      "You can will to prefer a religion of principle to one of mere feeling ; in other words, to obey the will of God when no comfortable glow of emotion accompanies your obedience."

      "You cannot will to possess the spirit of Christ ; that must come as His gift; but you can choose to study His life, and to imitate it. This will infallibly lead to such self-denying work as visiting the poor, nursing the sick, giving of your time and money to the needy, and the like."

 "If the thought of such self-denial is repugnant to you, remember that it is enough for the disciple to be as his Lord. And let me assure you that as you penetrate the labyrinth of life in pursuit of Christian duty, you will often be surprised and charmed by meeting your Master Himself amid its windings and turnings, and receive His soul-inspiring smile. Or, I should rather say, you will always meet Him wherever you go."

      I have read this letter again and again. It has taken such hold of me that I can think of nothing else. The idea of seeking holiness had never so much as crossed my mind. And even now it seems like presumption for such a one as I to utter so sacred a word. And I shrink from committing myself to such a pursuit, lest after a time I should fall back into the old routine. And I have an undefined, wicked dread of being singular, as well as a certain terror of self-denial and loss of all liberty. But no choice seems left to me. Now that my duty has been clearly pointed out to me, I do not stand where I did before. And I feel, mingled with my indolence and love of ease and pleasure, some drawings towards a higher and better life. There is one thing I can do, and that is to pray that Jesus would do for me what He did for the blind man put His hands yet again upon my eyes and make me to see clearly. And I will."

If you've made it this far:-) and want to know the rest of the story -
you can read it online here.
Enjoy, and have a good day!

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"Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
Isaiah 55:6,8-1