In the early days of Europe's maritime explorations many a valiant effort was made to negotiate the difficult passage around land's end at the southern extremity of the African continent. For a long time there was no success as one after another of the frail sailing vessels were gripped in the teeth of the terrible Cape southeasters and crushed. The area became one of the most dreaded in the seven seas and was appropriately named Cape of Storms. Finally, Bartholomew Dias, the great Portuguese sailor and explorer, was caught in a storm and blown around the Cape, but he later made the return passage successfully and reached Europe safely. Thus was opened up the sea route to the vast treasures of the East. Soon thereafter the name Cape of Storms was optimistically changed on the old charts to that of Cape of Good Hope.
So it should be with our trials. Often the gales of difficulty lash at our frail craft until we feel that the whole of our existence is a "Cape of Storms." However, we need not despair, for Christ has successfully sailed these stormy seas and has shown us that such experiences can become for us a spiritual "Cape of Good Hope," opening for us all the priceless treasures of eternity.
A Personal Application
This is far from being a new thought, and in itself might well constitute nothing more than another illustration for one of the many sermons on trials that we as ministers from time to time preach to our congregations. But there comes a time in the experience of every worker when he faces the challenge of conquering his own trials—when all his well-illustrated sermons seem like broken crutches, wholly unable to stand the weight of his own hurt and fractured spirit.
It is one thing to impart comforting platitudes to our church members when they come to us with their heavy hearts, but it is another thing when we have to meet the devil's attacks personally. What are our reactions? How do we stand up to the punishment of personality conflicts with other workers on our mission station or within the institution where we work? Or how do we feel toward the factions in our churches who send delegations to protest about us to the conference president, and who seem to oppose us at every turn in our church program?
There is no place like the close confines of a mission station or denominational institution for interworker problems to develop. We get well acquainted with one another and then become conscious of the weaknesses of the different personalities and their ways of doing things. There are often people with whom we work who are, to a degree, selfish and ambitious, or at least so it seems to us. Resentments are the human reaction, and jealousies develop.
Sometimes administrators jerk the reins of authority rather sharply and the bit of service digs deeply into our tender feelings. What do we do then, and how do we feel?
Often what happens is that we workers get together and share our grievances, and as we stir the coals the flames of discouragement or bitterness burn brighter. Or perhaps we go home and discuss it all with our wife (or husband), and the deeper we sink into the problem, the more miserable we become.
The results of such experiences and trends are of considerable magnitude. They have been the undoing of many a fine worker and have cost the cause of God not a few talented men. On the personal level they have permanently distorted many Christian experiences and have been the cause of some completely losing their way. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that herein lies one of Satan's most effective deterrents to the success of our work.
Often when in the midst of such experiences we lose our perspective and need to learn the practical application of Peter's admonition to "think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" (1 Peter 4:12). "Trial is part of the education given in the school of Christ, to purify God's children from the dross of earthliness. It is because God is leading His children, that trying experiences come to them. Trials and obstacles are His chosen methods of discipline, and His appointed conditions of success."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 524.
This is just as true in the case of the gospel worker as it is in that of the layman, in fact doubly so, for we as leaders should show the way in this phase as well as in other phases of the faith. "God permits trials to assail His people, that by their constancy and obedience they themselves may be spiritually enriched, and that their example may be a source of strength to others."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 129. Furthermore, these experiences are intended for our training and professional improvement. "It is by dose, testing trials that God disciplines His servants. He sees that some have powers which may be used in the advancement of His work, and He puts these persons upon trial; in His providence He brings them into positions that test their character, and reveal defects and weaknesses that have been hidden from their own knowledge."—Ibid.
God Uses Environmental Circumstances
Probably without these quotations all would agree that these assertions are undeniably correct. But let us ask ourselves, From where do we expect these trials to come? The great days of religious persecution lie decades behind our lifetime, and few of us live in places in the world where we meet any such obstacles today. The great time of trouble lies ahead, just how far we are not able to say with complete certainty. Some of us may not live long enough to be blessed by its harrowing experiences, and those who do will have already endured somewhat in order to be strong enough to withstand the trials of that time.
It seems inconceivable that Providence is going to work some special miracle to provide us with these soul-strengthening trials that we must all have. Rather, God will use the circumstances of our natural environment to provide us with these vital, though distressing, experiences. Hence, when we find ourselves in what might be termed a cocoon of denominationalism, when our association is almost entirely with our own brethren and all our affairs are linked with the organization, from where else do we expect our trials to come? "All experiences and circumstances are God's workmen whereby good is brought to us."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 489. (Italics supplied.)
Without a doubt it is true that "the trials hardest to bear are those that come from our brethren, our own familiar friends"; and every pastor will confirm the fact that "even the members of the church to which you belong will say and do that which will grieve you."—Testimonies, vol. 8, pp. 128, 129. But in this our Lord is simply employing the only workmen that our environment affords to strengthen and purify us for eternity. We know that God's earnest desire for us is that we "shall enter the city of God, not as a culprit barely pardoned, but as a conqueror."—Ibid., p. 125.
Why then should we feel resentment or the inclination to retaliate, or why should we become embittered or get angry with God's chosen agents for our salvation, even when those agents are our brethren or fellow workers?
If we can learn this important lesson, there will be far more of the spirit of heaven seen in our work for God. Our own lives also will be much more happy and peaceful. Indeed this vale of tears, our personal "Cape of Storms," will become our "Cape of Good Hope."