Did you ever consider how children learn the use of the pen for writing purposes? I hardly think you ever heard of anyone being able to write correctly on the first occasion of handling a pen or pencil on account of the very precise and explicit directions which were given by the teacher. The instructions may be most excellent as to the proper posture to be assumed by the body, and as to the respective positions of the right wrist, elbow, thumb and fingers, as well as the mode in which the pen is to be held. But in spite of the most earnest efforts of the teacher in telling the child exactly what to do and how to do it, and even in showing him how to do it, instead of the smoothly rounded "O" which is required an irregular outline appears, looking very much in shape like some of those indented islands on the West Coast of Scotland as they are shown on the map.
"Oh!" you say, "this was only a first attempt." Precisely so. But at the second, or the third, or even at the hundredth attempt, the master can only continue to repeat the directions. Progress in the art of writing depends mainly upon the personal efforts of the pupil to do exactly as he is told. It is only by continually trying that the scholar makes a gradual improvement in his work, slowly but surely attaining to the excellence of "copperplate." But the most able writing-master in the world would be powerless to get good results from his class without individual effort on the part of the pupils.
As it is with the art of writing, so it is with all the arts, meaning by art whatever is mastered only by the doing of the thing. Instruction as to singing or playing upon a musical instrument will never produce a competent performer without personal practice. You could not describe as a landscape painter, a person who was unable to use either water or oil colours. How could you say so-and-so is a sculptor, when he never did any modelling or carving in his life? He may know something of the theory, but the artist is the man who excels in the practice. This is an understood principle in many things, but some persons occasionally forget that it is also enforced in the things of God.
Of course I address you, my young friends, as those who profess to believe in Christ, and I wish to remind you that you will never make advancement as disciples of the Lord Jesus unless you habitually strive to obey His words. You remember what He said: "Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). It is not enough to know what ought to be done. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (John 13:17). Indeed it is a serious matter not to obey; for we read, "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). The Lord also says solemnly, "That servant which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Luke 12:47).
On the other hand, we find from the Gospel of John the Lord attaches a promise of special blessing to obedience. "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him." Such are the Lord's words. And He says again: "If a man love Me, he will keep My word: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (John 14:21, 23).
Now my object in writing thus to you is to appeal to you to be obedient children of God, and persevere with all diligence in carrying out the will of the Lord concerning you. "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22). Take, for example, the matter of prayer. You are told to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). Do you do so? Do you try and try with patient continuance to foster the spirit of prayer? It is not sufficient to pray of necessity nor of habit.
There is such an attainment as "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18). When you read such a text you surely feel that it is a good and proper habit for you to acquire. But does it end with a vain wish? It should rather stimulate you to more frequent intercourse at the throne of grace. For it is only after long-continued exercise that you will offer that "effectual fervent" prayer prayer which "availeth much." In other words, acceptable prayer is the result, of not only hearing the Lord's words, but of doing them.
Christians often act as if they themselves were sufficient for everything, except to meet some great trial, or to cope with some great difficulty, which drives them to their knees, and forces them to acknowledge their weakness and to seek for Christ's strength.
This was not however the case with the apostle Paul. He habitually leaned upon that grace, and not on his own strength. He says, "We are not sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God." His ordinary course was not to go on, like many in the spirit of neglectful, unconscious independence, until some great difficulty made him feel his dependence, and turn to the source of his strength. But even he had to learn that there was a fuller sufficiency in Christ's grace than he had ever yet experienced, or even imagined (2 Cor. 12:9).
His crushing trial drove him to the Lord as his only resource, and the intensity of his feelings is seen in his earnest prayer for deliverance: but he had no thought of a grace that could sustain under it, and make it an occasion for the fuller display of Christ's glorious power. Still, when the answer comes, it shows how simply Christ's glory was his object, and not his own ease, or credit, or anything else. We hear no more of the pricking of the thorn, nor prayer that the messenger of Satan might depart from him but he says, "Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." — Extracted.