Somerset Maugham, the English writer, once wrote a story about a janitor at St. Peters Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered that the janitor was illiterate and fired him. Jobless, the man invested his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop, where he prospered, bought another, expanded, and ended up with a chain of tobacco stores worth several hundred thousand dollars. One day the mans banker said, “Youve done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could read and write?” “Well,” replied the man, “Id be janitor of St. Peters Church in Neville Square.”
- Ask Him Anything, L.J. Ogilvie, Word, 1981, pp. 60ff
- The Upside of Down, Joe Stowell, (Moody, 1991), pp.127ff
The great composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) lived much of his life in fear of deafness. He was concerned because he felt the sense of hearing was essential to creating music of lasting value.
When Beethoven discovered that the thing he feared most was coming rapidly upon him, he was almost frantic with anxiety. He consulted doctors and tried every possible remedy. But the deafness increased until at last all hearing was gone.
Beethoven finally found the strength he needed to go on despite his great loss. To everyones amazement, he wrote some of his grandest music after he became totally deaf. With all distractions shut out, melodies flooded in on him as fast as his pen could write them down. His deafness became a great asset.
In 1832, French engineer Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps was traveling on the Mediterranean Sea. When a fellow passenger became sick with a contagious disease, the ship was quarantined. The confinement was terribly frustrating for de Lesseps. To help pass the time he read the memoirs of Charles le Pere, who had studied the feasibility of building a canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. That volume led the engineer to devise a detailed plan for the construction of the Suez Canal, which was completed under his leadership in 1869. That quarantine 37 years earlier proved to be immensely valuable to de Lessepsand to the world.
My Web of Life
No chance has brought this ill to me;
Tis Gods sweet will, so let it be,
He seeth what I cannot see.
There is a need for each pain;
And He will one day make it plain
That earthly loss is heavenly gain
Like as a piece of tapestry
Viewed from the back appears to be
But tangled threads mixed hopelessly,
But in the front a picture fair
Rewards the worker for his care,
Proving his skill and patience rare.
Thou art the workman, I the frame;
Lord, for the glory of Thy name,
Perfect Thine image in the same.
Positives Amidst Troubled Times
One mans life provides a dramatic answer to the question, can God indeed bring positives out of troubled times? This young mans name is David, and he is an awesome picture of Gods using difficulties for good. For years he viewed trials as something that affected only his external world, and any blow to what he owned or how he looked would discourage him and leave him feeling cheated. Today, David travels around the world, talking with people about how he discovered that no matter what happens to the outside, its the internal life that trials really touch. Just like what happened in Jerrys life (whose story we shared in the last chapter), the bigger the trial, the more potential to see Gods power and peace at work in the inner person.
During the Vietnam War, David went through rigorous training to become part of the ultra-elite special forces team the Navy used on dangerous search-and-destroy missions. During a nighttime raid on an enemy stronghold, David experienced the greatest trial of his life. When he and his men were pinned down by enemy machine-gun fire, he pulled a phosphorus grenade from his belt and stood up to throw it. But as he pulled back his arm, a bullet hit the grenade, and it exploded next to his ear. Lying on his side on the bank of a muddy river, he watched part of his face float by. His entire face and shoulder alternately smoldered and caught on fire as the phosphorus that had embedded itself in his body came into contact with the air.
David knew that he was going to die, yet miraculously he didnt. He was pulled from the water by his fellow soldiers, flown directly to Saigon, and then taken to a waiting plane bound for Hawaii. But Davids problems were just beginning.
When he first went into surgerythe first of what would become dozens of operationsthe surgical team had a major problem during the operation. As they cut away tissue that had been burned or torn by the grenade, the phosphorus would hit the oxygen in the operating room and begin to ignite again! Several times the doctors and nurses ran out of the room, leaving him alone because they were afraid the oxygen used in surgery would explode!
Incredibly, David survived the operation and was taken to a ward that held the most severe burn and injury cases from the war. Lying on his bed, his head the size of a basketball, David knew he presented a grotesque picture. Although he had once been a handsome man, he knew he had nothing to offer his wife or anyone else because of his appearance. He felt more alone and more worthless than he had ever felt in his life. But David wasnt alone in his room. There was another man who had been wounded in Vietnam and was also a nightmarish sight.
He had lost an arm and a leg, and his face was badly torn and scarred. As David was recovering from surgery, this mans wife arrived from the States. When she walked into the room and took one look at her husband, she became nauseated. She took off her wedding ring, put it on the nightstand next to him, and said, Im so sorry, but theres no way I could live with you looking like that.” And with that, she walked out the door. He could barely make any sounds through his torn throat and mouth, but the soldier wept and shook for hours. Two days later, he died.
That womans attitude represents in many respects the way the world views a victim of accident or injury. If a trial emotionally or physically scars someone or causes him to lose his attractiveness, the world says “Ugly is bad,” and consequently, any value that person feels he has to others is drained away.
For this poor wounded soldier, knowing that his wife saw no value in him was more terrible than the wounds he suffered. It blew away his last hope that someone, somewhere, could find worth in him because he knew how the world would perceive him.
Three days later, Davids wife arrived. After watching what had happened with the other soldier, he had no idea what kind of reaction she would have toward him, and he dreaded her coming. His wife, a strong Christian, took one look at him, came over, and kissed him on the only place on his face that wasnt bandaged. In a gentle voice she said, “Honey, I love you. Ill always love you. And I want you to know that whatever it takes, whatever the odds, we can make it together.” She hugged him where she could to avoid disturbing his injuries and stayed with him for the next several days. Watching what had happened with the other mans wife and seeing his own wifes love for him gave David tremendous strength. More than that, her understanding and accepting him greatly reinforced his own relationship with the Lord.
In the weeks and months that followed, Davids wounds slowly but steadily healed. It took dozens of operations and months of agonizing recovery, but today, miraculously, David can see and hear. On national television, we heard David make an incredible statement. I am twice the person I was before I went to Vietnam. For one thing, God has used my suffering to help me feel other peoples pain and to have an incredible burden to reach people for Him. The Lord has let me have a worldwide, positive effect on peoples lives because of what I went through. I wouldnt trade anything Ive gone through for the benefits my trials have had in my life, on my familys life and on countless teenagers and adults Ive had the opportunity to influence over the years.
David experienced a trial that no parents would wish on their children. Yet in spite of all the tragedy that surrounded him, God turned his troubled times into fruitful ones.
Nothing Happens By Chance
F. B. Meyer was scheduled to preach at Chiswick Baptist Chapel, but when he arrived, he discovered the church door shut and locked. Somebody had made a mistake and announced the meeting for the following Thursday and the pastors letter to Meyer had arrived too late to prevent Meyer from coming. In reply to the pastors letter of apology, Meyer wrote: “Do not trouble, nothing happens by chance, and the rather long walk, in the calm autumn air, did me good.”
A Thing of Beauty
In a small pub in the highlands of Scotland a group of fishermen gathered one afternoon and were enjoying a round of ale. Just as one was showing, with his hands, how big one fish was that had gotten away, a waitress passed. His hand hit a glass of ale she was carrying on a tray and some of the dark brew spilled on the white wall of the pub. It began to run down.
The waitress hastily took a cloth from her apron and began to wipe, but the ale had left an ugly dark stain. At another table, a man rose and came over. He took a crayon from his pocket and as all in the pub watched, began to sketch around the stain. In a few moments, he had drawn the head of a magnificent stag with spreading antlers. Under his hand, the mistake had become a thing of beauty. The artist was Sir Edwin Landseer. At that time he was Englands foremost painter of animals.
It Holds True
Professor E. C. Caldwell ended his lecture, “Tomorrow,” he said to his class of seminary students, “I will be teaching on Romans 8. So tonight, as you study, pay special attention to verse 28. Notice what this verse truly says, and what it doesnt say.” Then he added, “One final word before I dismiss youwhatever happens in all the years to come, remember: Romans 8:28 will always hold true.”
That same day Dr. Caldwell and his wife met with a tragic car-train accident. She was killed instantly and he was crippled permanently. Months later, Professor Caldwell returned to his students, who clearly remembered his last words. The room was hushed as he began his lecture.
“Romans 8:28,” he said, “still holds true. One day we shall see Gods good, even in this.”
He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see thisHis way was right.
Snoballs in Summer
Stanley Arnold was a man with million-dollar ideas. Peter Hay tells us about one of them in the Book of Business Anecdotes (Facts on File Publications, NYC and Oxford, England). Some years ago, Arnold was managing one of his fathers 15 Pick-N-Pay stores in Cleveland, Ohio, when a blizzard hit town. The city was paralyzed, and all 15 stores were empty. Employees who had reported to work didnt have much to dountil Arnold came up with his idea. He had the employees make snowballs7,900 of them. They he had the snowballs packed into grapefruit crates and transported to a deep-freeze facility. Then he asked the Weather Bureau when he could expect the hottest day of the year. They told him mid-July. Armed with this information, Arnold took a train to New York and went to see Charles Mortimer, then president of General Foods. He proposed a joint promotional sale of General Foods newly introduced Birds Eye frozen foods. The sale was to be held in mid-July, and young Mr. Arnold wanted General Foods to provide an array of prizes. The sale was to be called “A Blizzard of Values.” As his contribution, Arnold proposed to give away snowballs. General Foods agreed to cooperate.
Summer came, and it turned out to be 100 degrees on the sale date. Police had to be called to control the crowds. During the five days of Pick-N-Pays “Blizzard of Values,” some 40,000 General Foods samples were given away, along with 7,900 grapefruit-sized snowballs. Thousands of customers were introduced to the new products, and the food industry discovered what excitement could do for sales.
It was 1818 in France, and Louis, a boy of 9, was sitting in his fathers workshop. The father was a harness-maker and the boy loved to watch his father work the leather. “Someday Father,” said Louis, “I want to be a harness-maker, just like you.”
“Why not start now?” said the father. He took a piece of leather and drew a design on it. “Now, my son,” he said, “take the hole-puncher and a hammer and follow this design, but be careful that you dont hit your hand.”
Excited, the boy began to work, but when he hit the hole-puncher, it flew out of his hand and pierced his eye! He lost the sight of that eye immediately. Later, sight in the other eye failed. Louis was now totally blind. A few years later, Louis was sitting in the family garden when a friend handed him a pine cone. As he ran his sensitive fingers over the cone, an idea came to him. He became enthusiastic and began to create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so that the blind could feel and interpret what was written.
Thus, Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blindall because of an accident!
- Difficult Passages in the Epistles, R. Stein, Baker, 1988, p. 71,
A Faithful Father
I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world. He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.
I once read about farmers in southern Alabama who were accustomed to planting one crop every yearcotton. They would plow as much ground as they could land plant their crop. Year after year they lived by cotton.
Then one year the dreaded boll weevil devastated the whole area. So the next year the farmers mortgaged their homes and planted cotton again, hoping for a good harvest. But as the cotton began to grow, the insect came back and destroyed the crop, wiping out most of the farms. The few who survived those two years of the boll weevil decided to experiment the third year, so they planted something theyd never planted beforepeanuts. And peanuts proved so hardy and the market proved so ravenous for that product that the farmers who survived the first two years reaped profits that enabled them to pay off all their debts. They planted peanuts from then on and prospered greatly.
Then you know what those farmers did? They spent some of their new wealth to erect in the town square a monumentto the boll weevil. If it hadnt been for the boll weevil, they never would have discovered peanuts. They learned that even out of disaster there can be great delight.
Auguste Bartholdi went from France to Egypt in 1856. He was awestruck by the grandeur of the pyramids, the magnitude of the mighty Nile, and the beauty of the stately Sphinx of the desert. His artistic mind was stimulated. While on this trip he met another visitor to Egypt, Ferdinand de Lesseps. Ferdinand was there to sell an idea. An idea to cut a canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea that would save merchant ships the long journey around the tip of the African continent.
Auguste was taken by the concept. He decided to design a lighthouse to stand at the entrance to this canal. It wouldnt be an ordinary lighthouse. It would symbolize the light of the Western civilization flowing to the East. It took 10 years to build the Suez Canal. For 10 years Auguste worked on his idea. He drew plans, made clay models. He scrapped plan after plan. Then he had the right one. It was the perfect design. Only one problem remained. Who would pay for it? He looked everywhere, but no one was interested. The Suez Canal was openedwithout a lighthouse.
Auguste went back to France defeated. Ten years of toil and effort wasted. You would have liked his idea. It was a colossal robed lady that stood taller than the Sphinx in the desert. She held the books of justice in one hand and a torch lifted high in the other to light the entrance to the canal. After Auguste returned to France, the French government sought his artistic services. His planning and designing culminated in the Statue of Liberty lighting the New York harbor. His disappointment had turned to delight.