Learning to Be Thoughtful

In his 1898 volume titled Young People's Problems, J.R. Miller addresses the need for Christians to be thoughtful, gentle people. This is certainly as true today, in the age of social media, as it was over a century ago. Let us consider then what Miller has to say to young persons, and indeed all Christians in these extracts: 

One of the finest things in a complete Christian character is thoughtfulness. It gives a wondrous charm to a life. It makes one a benediction wherever he goes. It tempers all his conduct, softening all natural harshness into gentleness, and giving to his every word and act, and to all his bearing, a spirit of kindliness.

A thoughtful person does not have to be asked to help others — he helps, as it were, instinctively. He is ever ready to do the obliging thing, to say the encouraging word, to show an interest in the life of others, to perform those countless little kindnesses which so brighten the common pathway. He does not make his life an offence to others, a constant irritating influence. He never meddles with other persons' affairs, but respects the individuality and the rights of every one. He curbs his curiosity, and does not pry into matters of which he has no right to know. He is most careful not to touch others at sensitive points. If any one has a physical deformity or any feature which is marred, he is careful in conversation never to refer to it, and seems never to notice it, or to be conscious of it.

Thoughtfulness reveals itself quite as much in what it does not do as in the things it does. Many people make their very goodness so obtrusive as to do harm, and give pain to those they would help. They are too anxious to be helpful. They intrude upon others, pressing their offers of kindness upon them in ways which become, if not offensive and impertinent, at least burdensome. When their friends are in sorrow, they are sincerely eager to give comfort; but they fail to understand the sacredness of grief, or to respect the craving of sad hearts for quiet, and allow their eagerness to become intrusiveness. There is no more delicate test of thoughtfulness than that which sorrow furnishes. Usually love's sweetest and best service then is rendered in the quietest expression of sympathy, certainly with no undue pressing of one's self into the presence of the friends who are in trouble, and with no over-eager offer to help. Then, unless from personal experience of grief one has been prepared for giving effective sympathy, one would better not seek to be a privileged comforter.

Thoughtfulness has a wide field for its ministry in the family circle and in the daily household life. Perhaps few young people come by this grace naturally, are born with it. Usually it has to be learned. Most of us think first of ourselves and our own comfort and convenience, and are not apt to think how our words, acts, and dispositions will affect others. We say what at the moment we feel like saying, not stopping to ask whether it will give pleasure or pain to those who must hear it. We like to say, saying it too with some pride, that we are plain, frank people, honest and out-spoken, not indulging in courtly phrases, but sincere though brusque, not realizing that our brusqueness and plainness ofttimes hurt gentle hearts. We do the thing we feel inclined to do, because it pleases us, not remembering that true love seeks not its own, but thinks first of the comfort and pleasure of others. Without being aware of it, many of us are miserably selfish in our life among others. We practically forget that there are any other people, or that we ought to make any sacrifices, or practise any self-denials, for their sake. Young people at home, for example, will indulge themselves in sleep in the mornings, coming down late to breakfast, not thinking of the trouble they cause to those who have to do the work, nor how they interfere with the order of the household. Thoughtfulness seeks never to add to another's burdens, never to make extra work or care, but always to lighten loads.

In much home conversation, too, there is a lack of thoughtfulness shown. Not always is the speech gentle — sometimes it is sharp and bitter, even rude. Playfulness is to be allowed, and in every family there should be a readiness to take a jest without being hurt by it. Over-sensitiveness is a serious fault. Some persons are so touchy as to demand an excessive thoughtfulness —a watchfulness in all our relations with these over-gentle souls which is unreasonable, which makes friendship with them a burden. Life is too short, and has too many real duties and cares, for us to be held to such exactions of attention and kindness as these good people would demand. Yet always in our relations with others there should be that refined courtesy which is part of the lesson of love that we learn from our Master — "As I have loved you." Rude words never should be spoken, even in jest.

Thoughtfulness will seek always to say kindly words, never words that will give pain, but ever those that will give pleasure. We have no right, for the sake of saying a bright thing, to let loose a shaft, however polished, that will make a loving heart bleed.

These are fragments of a lesson which might be indefinitely extended. Are you thoughtful? — that is the question. Answer it for yourself. Some one has said, "Unless our religion has sweetened us to a very considerable extent — giving us the control of our temper, checked us in our moments of irritation and weakness, enabled us to meet misfortune and, in a measure, overcome it, developed within us the virtues of patience and long-suffering, making us tender and charitable in our judgments of others, and generally diffusing about us an atmosphere that is genial and winsome, — whatever else we may have gained, one thing is sure, religion is not having its perfect work in us; and, even though our Christian life is clear and positive, it is only as a gnarled and twisted apple-tree that bears no fruit, only as a prickly bush that bears no roses, and the very thing which of all others we should have is the very thing in which we are most deficient. A Christian life without sweetness is a lamp without light, salt without savor."

We all know in our own experience the value of sincere and Christly thoughtfulness. We do not like to come in contact with thoughtlessness. We know well how it hurts and how unbeautiful, how unchristian, it seems when we see it in another, and when our heart is the one that suffers from its harsh, rude impact. We all long for thoughtfulness; our hearts hunger and thirst for it. It is bread and wine to us.

We all know in our own experience the value of sincere and Christly thoughtfulness. We do not like to come in contact with thoughtlessness. We know well how it hurts and how unbeautiful, how unchristian, it seems when we see it in another, and when our heart is the one that suffers from its harsh, rude impact. We all long for thoughtfulness ; our hearts hunger and thirst for it. It is bread and wine to us. 

What we long for in others, in their relation to us, we should be ready to give to them. What in others hurts us, gives us pain, we ought to avoid in our contact with others. Thoughtfulness is one of the finest, ripest fruits of love, and all who would be like the Master must seek to learn this lesson and wear this grace. 

Lessons from Job by William S. Plumer

The person of Job is referenced in many ways throughout William Swan Plumer's classic volume Jehovah-Jireh: A Treatise on Providence (1867), but there is one chapter where lessons are gleaned in particular from his remarkable experience that we can greatly benefit from today.

 In chapter 15, titled "Alternate light and darkness in providence, illustrated in the case of THE GREAT MAN OF UZ," Plumer examines the doctrine of providence as reflected in the life and trials of the patriarch. The chapter is brief but golden; it is a short but profitable read. The concluding observations are very valuable and practical lessons from which we can all benefit. 

1. How vain are all merely earthly possessions! How unstable is popular favor! How uncertain are riches! How soon our pleasures may be followed by pains! When parents rejoice at the birth of a child, they know not how soon they may weep over his dead body without an assurance that his soul is saved. Solomon thoroughly tried the world. His sober inspired judgment was that all was vanity. The sooner we reach that conclusion ourselves, the wiser shall we be.

2. Let us always be more afraid of sinning against God than of offending our nearest earthly friends. Job instantly repulsed the wicked assaults of his wife, saying, "Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh." Job ii. 10. To his own disciple, Peter, Jesus was compelled to say: "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God but those that be of men." Matt. xvi. 23. No human friendship may for a moment interfere with our fidelity to God.

3. Although God generally chooses the poor as his children, yet he offers mercy to the rich, and receives all such as humbly seek his grace. Job's riches did not debar him from the kingdom of heaven. By reason of depravity riches tend to alienate the heart from God; yet sovereign grace can remedy that evil. He, who is rich in this world's goods, and also rich in faith and good works, is loudly called to sing the praises of Jehovah. Nothing but almighty power could thus make the camel go through the eye of the needle, or preserve the soul from the burning flames of insatiable covetousness.

4. Weight of character and a high order of talents are by no means confined to the enemies of God. "Why should they be? Piety is wisdom. Who ever stood higher for wisdom in council, for soundness of judgment and for prowess in war than did the man of Uz? In proportion to the number of consistent professors of religion, there cannot be found any number of men who surpass God's people for calmness of inquiry, soberness of mind and practical wisdom. True religion is worthy of the most earnest and solemn attention.

5. Good men are not always good in proportion to the degree of light which they enjoy. Job is supposed to have lived before the time of Moses, under the obscurity of the patriarchal dispensation; yet he was a burning and a shining light. He neither saw nor heard many wondrous things well known to us. Yet how far did he and Abraham and Enoch and other ancient worthies excel the great mass of even good men of these latter days. Truly we ought to blush for our short-comings. Guilt is in proportion to light. Surely then we must be very guilty for our sad deficiencies.

6. When malice, or envy, or suspicion, or evil sur- mising exists, no established reputation, no want of evidence of guilt can "tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue." By a long and holy life Job had given incontestible evidence of the purity of his character. His friends could bring no proof of his criminality in anything. Yet they charged him with cruelty, rapacity and hypocrisy. Such wickedness has not yet left the earth. It is no new or rare thing for the best men to be charged with the basest plans, principles or practices. It will be so until grace shall reign through Jesus Christ over all hearts. A propensity to evil thoughts and evil speeches is among the last faults of character from which even good men are delivered.

7. If friends accuse us falsely and act as enemies, let us not forget to pray for them. Job set us the example: Job xlii. 8. Enmities arising between old friends are generally more violent than others. "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle." Prov. xviii. 19. But we must not yield to passion. We must forgive and seek blessings on those who falsely accuse us and cruelly entreat us. It was not till Job prayed for his accusers that God turned his captivity. Let us never carry a load of malice in our hearts. It is worse than any evil we can suffer at the hand of man.

8. When our characters are assailed, we are at liberty to use Christian measures to remove an evil report. It is then best to leave the whole matter in the hands of God. Lawsuits for character may be lawful and sometimes expedient. But when bad passions are excited no character is so unspotted that malice will not spew out its venom against it. We may deny our guilt; we may call for evidence against us; we may bring evidence of innocence; but with men of heated imaginations and strong prejudices, evidence never has its just weight.

9. It is very dangerous to become involved in a labyrinth of reasoning concerning God, his character and providence. Things which are revealed belong to us and our children. We may safely follow where-ever revelation leads; but we are no judges of what is proper to be done under the government of God. The attempt to criticise the divine proceedings is always a failure and iniquity.

10. It is important to study the Scriptures and learn all we can concerning the plans and providence of God. Had Job clearly known what we by patient study may learn, it would have removed much of the pungency of his grief. God's word is a light and a lamp. Let us walk by it.

11. What is the grief of each one? Is it poverty, poor health, want of reputation, loss of religious comfort? Whatever it be, take for an example of suffering affliction Job, the narrative of whose trials was written for our comfort. Like him, let each one say of the Almighty, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Job xiii. 15. Never was pious confidence in the Lord misplaced. Never did any trust in him and was confounded.

12. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. The greatest secret God ever reveals to his people is the mystery of redemption. Of this Job was not ignorant. By this he triumphed. His own language is explicit: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold and not another." Job xix. 25-27.