Turning Northward # 1
While we live, we must be moving upward. When we stop, we begin to die. Rest is necessary, but only to renew our strength that we may press on again. An anchor is needful for a ship, but anchoring is not a ship's business; it is built for sailing. A man is made for struggle and effort, not for ease and loitering.
There is an incident in the history of the wandering of the Israelites which is suggestive. It was near the close of the forty years in the wilderness. The people had been for some time in the region of Mount Seir, and seem to have been going around and around the mountain. The meaning is not very clear, but the record says they had circled Mount Seir many days. They were constantly in motion, and yet were making no progress, were not getting any nearer the promised land. They would journey laboriously for many days through the wilderness, enduring hardship, suffering pain and weariness, and at last would come to the very place from which they had started. It was a fruitless kind of journeying. Then they were called to cease their going around the mountain and to enter on a course that would lead them to the promised land. "Jehovah spoke unto me, saying, You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn Northward.
There is a tendency among people to do something like this in their everyday life. We are inclined to settle down in our present condition and stay there, when we ought to be moving on to something beyond, something better, something higher and nobler. We let ourselves form the habit of moving around and around in a circle, when we ought to break away from the circular course and start forward. It is easy for us to get into a routine in life which will keep us in the same lines from day to day and from week to week.
Sometimes in the country one sees in an old-fashioned tannery, a primitive contrivance for grinding bark. A horse, attached to a pole, goes around and around, running the bark-mill. For hours every day the patient animal treads on, always moving, but never getting away from his little circular path. So it is that many people plod on in their daily routine of life. They do the same things day in and day out, week in and week out. This routine is not idle. It is really necessary that we do the same tasks over and over, with scarcely a variation from year to year.
The women find it so in their home life; their housekeeping duties are about the same every day. It cannot be otherwise. To break up the routine would be to mar the completeness of the home life and work. To omit any of the little duties of the kitchen, the dining room, or the general housework - would be to leave the work of the home less beautifully done. Most men in their daily task-work must follow a similar imperious routine. They must rise at the same hour, take the same train or car, be at their desk in the office, or at their place of work, at the same time, follow the same order, perform the same tasks, go to their meals at the regular times, day after day. To miss a link anywhere in the routine, would mar the day's work.
Some people fret and chafe over the drudgery, as they call it, of their common lives. They weary of its monotonous rounds, its lack of variety, its never-ending repetition. But really there is a benefit, a discipline, in this very unbrokenness of tasks. The old horse that goes around and around in his circular track, turning the creaking, crunching mill - does his duty well, grinding the bark honestly though he never makes any progress himself. No doubt his work through the years adds thousands of dollars to the world's wealth. The men and the women who rise in the morning and go through the same monotonous round of tasks every day, six days in the week, are doing their work faithfully, and at the same time and forming their own character. That is the way we build our life. It would not be well if we were released from the daily round, though it is so monotonous. We owe much to it. It trains us.
Yet there is always danger that we come to be contented with our routine, and indisposed to go beyond it. We must always do the same daily tasks, never omitting any of them, never neglecting the least duty, however dull or tedious. But, besides this monotonous round, and in it, there should always be something larger and nobler going on. "You have circled - gone around - this mountain long enough: turn Northward!" We must not let our life run forever and only in a little circle, but must reach out, learn new lessons, venture into new lines, leave our narrow past, and grow into something that means more. Our daily walk should be like that of one whose path goes around a mountain, moving in a circle, perhaps, but climbing a little higher with each circuit, pursuing a sort of upward spiral course, constantly ascending the peak, until at last he reaches the clear summit, and looks into the face of God!
Narrowness is a constant peril, especially for those whose lives are plain and without distinction, the two-talented men and women, the common people whom, Mr. Lincoln said, "God must love, because He made so many of them." They must do chiefly, the tasks that are set before them. They do, all their life, some one little thing over and over. It is not easy to live an ever-widening life min such conditions. We are apt to let our immortality shrink into the measure of the little place we fill in the world. Yet it is possible, though our daily round is so small - to keep our mind free and be ever reaching out in sublime flights. There are men who work year after year in some small department of business, and then spend the hours outside of business in some line of work or research in which they are ever growing in knowledge, in mental breadth, into larger, stronger, better, and worthier men.
That is the way the lesson shapes itself for many of us. We must not allow our narrow occupation to dwarf our souls. Our work itself is valuable and noble, and we must never be ashamed of it, and must do it with zest and enthusiasm. Then while we do our little allotment of lowly duty faithfully - we must never permit our minds to dwarf or shrivel, but must continually train ourselves into larger things. Instead of hugging our little mountains and never going off the old paths - we should turn northward and find delight in new fields. This is a large world, and we live most inadequately when we stay all our life in a little one acre lot.
There seems to be in this thought a suggestion for New Years or birthdays. We should not live any year merely as well as we lived the year before. There are people who really never advance in anything. They do their common task-work this year as they did it last year, certainly no better. They keep the same habits, faults, and all. They become no more intelligent, no more refined, no more holy. They seem never to have a new thought, to learn a new fact, to become more useful among men. They grow no more patient, gentle, or sweet. They take no larger place in the community, count for no more, are no more useful among their fellows. They read no new books, make no advance in knowledge. Their conversation consists of the same old commonplaces, they tell the same little jokes over and over. In their religious life, they do not grow. They know God no better, have no more trust in time of trouble, love no more, live no more helpfully, and never get to know their Bible any better. They quote only the same two or three verses which they learned in childhood. If you hear them often, you will get to know their prayers by heart. They live the same pitiably narrow religious life at fifty, at sixty - which they were living at twenty. They simply go around and around the mountain, never climbing up to any loftier height as they journey. They never get the wider look they would get by ascending as they plod.
This is not the way to live. The message comes to us continually, "You have been going around this mountain long enough. Now turn northward!" Northward for these pilgrims was toward Canaan, the new homeland. The wilderness was not their destination - it was only a road on which they were to travel, a region through which they were to pass to reach their land of promise, the good land of their hopes.
~J. R. Miller~
(continued with # 2)