Things may be stumbling-stones or stepping-stones to us. They may be hindrances or helps -- trials or blessings. What they prove to be depends not so much on their nature as upon our attitude toward them. It is not our opportunities that count, but the use that we make of them. It is not how much money we possess, but the wisdom we display in its expenditure. It is not how many obstacles we meet in life, but the manner in which we meet them. It is not the soul who has the fewest trials and difficulties that prospers most, but the one who meets them with courage and confident trust. Some are crushed down and made to despair by the very things that stir others to renewed effort and courage.
What our trials are to us depends on what we are to them. This is well illustrated in Elijah's experience. The king and queen were his bitter enemies. He feared them and fled away and lived in hiding.(2) He was afraid, lest he should be betrayed to them. He looked to his enemies; he saw their power; he looked at himself and saw his own impotence. And so he dwelt in fear. But the time came when God spoke to him, and as he looked to God he began to see His greatness and his soul was lifted up with courage. His own weakness and the might of his enemies faded away from his gaze. He came out boldly and challenged the idolatrous party to a test of strength. Single-handed and alone, we see him walk out before the assembled multitude, superior to them all. There is no fear in his heart now. He is not in the least daunted by his adversaries. He can look them squarely in the eyes without shrinking. His heart is full of confidence. He knows whom he is trusting. Throughout the long day while the priests of Baal are calling so earnestly upon their powerless god, the prophet is the calmest man of all the many witnesses. He is looking on God's side now, and he is conscious master of the whole situation. He even grows ironical toward his enemies.
The outcome does not surprize us, for we know the God he served. He was victorious now, but let us look at him a few days later. Under a juniper-tree in the wilderness sits a man, weary and dejected. He has fled for his life, but now even his life has lost its value, and he says, |It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life.| Elijah has fallen from the summit of victory to the depths of despair. What occasioned this great change? Things did not turn out as he had expected them to. Instead of the queen being humbled by the display of God's power, she was only made harder and her anger became more fierce. And when Elijah heard her threat to kill him, he lost sight of God and saw only the anger of the queen and his own weakness and danger; so his heart was filled with fear, and he fled as does a hunted animal to the depths of the wilderness. So long as he looked to God, he was victorious over his enemies and fearless as a lion; they could not harm him. But when he looked upon the strength of his foes and his own weakness and lost sight of God, he was overcome with fear and fled terror-stricken.
What made the difference in his conduct? Were not his enemies the same? Was not their wrath to be feared as much one time as another? Was not God protecting and keeping him all the time? Had he need to fear them more at one time than at another? The secret of his different behavior was his attitude toward them. When he feared them, they were stumbling-stones to him. When he feared them not, their enmity became the stepping-stone by which he was raised to the lofty height of victory.
The same principle is true in our lives. If we approach a conflict or trial with fear and trembling and shrinking, it will very likely prove a stumbling-stone to us; but if we approach it with calm confidence in God and a settled determination to overcome, we may make it a stepping-stone upon which we may mount to higher and better things.
Sometimes things that are at first very discouraging to us afterwards become sources of help and encouragement; not that the things themselves change, but because we see them from a different angle. This is well illustrated by the effect of my long affliction. One of the worst things that I had to face in the first two or three years was the consciousness of the depressing and discouraging influence that it was having upon others, not only upon those about me, but upon many persons here and there, as evidenced by numerous letters showing that the effect was wide-spread. It seemed to be a hindrance to the faith of many people. But in the last two or three years I have received many letters telling me how greatly the writers had been encouraged and helped by my affliction. The affliction itself was the same; the change was in them; for that which was once a source of discouragement would have continued so had they continued to look at it as they had formerly done. The fact that the changed point of view, or changed attitude, changed the effect shows that it is not so much the thing itself as our attitude toward it that affects us.
It is so in regard to all things. We have need to learn the lesson that one sister learned. Speaking of the early months of my affliction, she writes, |At that time it was a hindrance to my faith; but it has ceased to be so, for I have learned not to ask why, but to have faith in God and wait and trust.|
Learning to wait and trust is the secret. This gives God the opportunity to bring out that which is best. How could we know the virtue of patience if no one had a trial of his patience? If we looked only at the trial, where would be the blessing? We often must look beyond the things that first appear. We must often look at |the things which are not seen| that we may have courage to meet the things that are seen. It is when we do this that our trials become blessings; our stumbling-stones, stepping-stones.
When we face things courageously and hold to our course steadily through the storm, or when we bear opposition and trials patiently and hold fast our integrity through temptation, it is then that we mount up by means of these very things to a loftier height and a broader outlook. When we try to lift up ourselves by expending our forces upon ourselves, we make but little progress. How hard it is to keep good resolutions! How hard it is to make ourselves better or stronger by the study of abstract goodness or by wishing ourselves something else than we are! We may look to the heights above us and long to be there; we may think of the noble outlook were we there, but there is but one way to attain those heights -- by the slow, laborious, and wearisome process of climbing; and the things upon which we must set our feet are the difficulties that we have overcome.
It is easy to go down toward the valley of discouragement. It takes no effort to let a thing weigh us down. We can easily let our courage and our confidence slip if we will. It is sometimes easier to go down-hill than it is to stop in our going. But in life it is the up-hill going that counts. Every time you overcome or trust clear through to victory, you have made progress upward. If you see a trial coming, do not shrink and do not fear. Do not say, |Oh, how shall I bear it!|
God designs that your trials shall help you, not hinder you. He could keep you from having them if it were wise; but he sees that you need them, yes, that you must have them, or you will never rise above your present level. Look for the good in them; count them blessings. Meet them bravely, and you will find them in truth stepping-stones, not stumbling-stones.