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    a sunbird peering out of a nest

    Your Chief Love and Friend

    Christ teaches us in a thousand ways every day. A missionary to India finds these lessons in a delicate bird’s nest and an empty seashell.

    By Amy Carmichael

    May 4, 2023

    This is from That Way and No Other: Following God through Storm and Drought, which brings together quotes from a dozen of Amy Carmichael's many books.

    Listen to him, my children. He speaks to you, he teaches you in a thousand ways every day. Through the love of those who love you and live to help you, he touches you, and he speaks to you. In the sunrise and the sunset, and in moonlight, through the loveliness of the things that he has made, through the thousand joys that he plans for every one of you, through the sorrows that come, too – in all these things, through all these things, he who loved you unto death is speaking to you. Listen; do not be deaf and blind to him; as you keep quiet and listen, you will know deep down in your heart that you are loved. As the air is round about you, so is his love round about you now. It is enough. Trust that love to guide your lives. It will never, never fail.

    Outside my room in Dohnavur a sunbird has hung her nest from a spray of valaris. The spray is as light as a spray of honeysuckle and grows in much the same careless way. The nest is attached to the spray by a few threads of cobweb, but so delicately that the touch of a child would detach it; a cupful of water thrown at it would sweep it down. It is a mere nothing of a nest. But it took a week of patient mothercraft to make it. It is roofed, it has a porch, and set deep within is a bed of silky down.

    We know now that we were foolish, but we could not help being anxious about the fate of that wee home; for our northeast monsoon was due, and the nest hung in the eye of the wind and beyond the eaves of the house. There was no shelter from the wind and the rain. And how would the tiny mother find her food in the weather that would soon be upon us? The father bird would feed her if he could, but in rain the convolvulus and other nectar-carrying flowers are dashed and sodden. How could those little jewels on wings survive, much less bring up a family? It seemed as if bird wisdom for once were at fault.

    a sunbird peering out of a nest

    A sunbird peering from its nest. Photograph by yod67.

    The day the mother began to sit upon the two or three comfits that are her eggs, the monsoon broke. First came the wind; the spray swung from the branch and the nest swung from the spray. The wind did it no harm. Then the rain poured down in sheets; and still it swung in peace, for the four narrow leaves from whose axil the nest depended were so disposed that they turned into green gutters and carried off the water as quickly as it fell. Exactly where no rain could hurt it, that nest hung; and the little mother sat calmly through those floods, her dainty head resting on the threshold of the porch which she had made on the south side – the sheltered side. If a drop of water fell on her long, curved beak, she sucked it up as though it had been honey. And always, somehow, she was fed.

    I think to more than one of us the Father spoke then. There is something very precious about a little bird and her nest, but “Ye are of more value than many sparrows” – than many sunbirds.

    I want to learn to pour out each several cupful of natural longing as well as natural love before the Lord. Almost every day gives a chance to do that.

    If monotony tries me, and I cannot stand drudgery; if stupid people fret me and little ruffles set me on edge; if I make much of the trifles of life, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

    If I am inconsiderate about the comfort of others, or their feelings, or even of their little weaknesses; if I am careless about their little hurts and miss opportunities to smooth their way; if I make the sweet running of household wheels more difficult to accomplish, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

    We cannot be less than an empty shell lying on the beach. But the sea can flow over that shell and fill it full.

    If interruptions annoy me and private cares make me impatient; if I shadow the souls about me because I myself am shadowed, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

    If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

    It is a very good thing to learn to take things by the right handle. An inward grouse is a devastating thing. I expect you know this – we all do – but it is extraordinary how the devil tries to “get” us on the ordinary road of life. But all is well if only we are in God, deep in him, and he in us our daily strength and joy and song.

    We have all known the gentle solace of human love. There has been a trouble, and we have braced ourselves to live through the day without letting anyone know. And then there was just a touch of a hand, or a word, or a penciled note – such a trifle; but that trifling thing was so unexpected, so undeserved, so brimful of what our beautiful old English calls tender mercies, that the heart melted before it, all the hurt gone. And there was a sense of something more. “Lord Jesus, what was it?” “My child, it was I; it is I.”

    I think often we miss much by not being simple enough. Don’t you think so? The little-child confidence is what God wants. It is true we are nothing, just nothing, but then he doesn’t love us because we are something. He has called you. Of that I have not one atom of doubt, and whom he calls he justifies … And go on, it is simply wonderful. “What shall we say then to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:30–31). Not even our own selves, our I that we feel is so distressingly against all we long to be. Live in Romans 8 and let the rest go by. That is your abiding place, not Romans 7.

    “But when he was yet a great way off, his Father saw him and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). So does our Father see and run (O word of mystery!) to meet our heart’s deep longing; so does his love embrace. For he meets us everywhere. If I am in trouble because of my sin, there is forgiveness with thee, O my Father; if I am cast down, with thee is lifting up; if I am athirst, with thee is eternal refreshment. Always thy word to me is that tender word, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” (Luke 15:31).

    We all know that a curious sort of dullness can creep over the soul at times, and I have been finding all sorts of help in Psalm 30:11, which seems to have been written for such occasions, and probably was. “Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy; thou hast torn off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.” Could anything possibly be more delightful and more vigorous? I do like the “torn off.”

    So if any of us feel that scratchy sense of sackcloth on the inner man that makes for heaviness, let us change the tense, as we always may, and fastening our eyes on the Lord our Strength say, Lord, tear off my sackcloth, gird me with gladness, to the end that I – yea, even I – “may sing praise to thee, and not be silent.”

    God loves the “things that are not.” We cannot be less than that. We cannot be less than an empty cockle shell lying on the beach. But the sea can flow over that shell and fill it full.

    Not in one sudden outpouring, but rather with the quietness of light that falls upon our western hills and waters at eventide, a loveliness that she had often watched, Kohila came to the place where Christ and his love became her blessed all. She was still a shy soul. Deliverance from the kind of reserve which holds one back as by a silken thread was not hers yet, but it was coming. And those who loved her saw her opening, not as our blue morning glories and our white moonflowers open, as though moved by one gentle, all-pervading impulse, but more as our large purple passionflowers open, a little at a time. Their sepals and petals move separately and slowly, and there is a kind of stickiness about their stamens; they do not at once shake themselves free. But in the end, as you watch, you see them, and every other part of that symbolic flower, each in its several place. And the whole flower opens its heart to you and pours out its perfume.

    Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. Cast it not away when grief is a companion with whom you must learn to become acquainted – “acquainted with grief”; the words are real now.

    Two friends are bound together in love; the call to go to a foreign land for Christ comes to one; it does not come to the other. There must be renunciation then, or eternal loss. Or something even more poignant happens. Both hear the call; one goes abroad. The other prepares to follow. But the providence of God holds that one at home. Constraint that nothing can weaken holds the other abroad. Who can measure spiritual pain? Who can weigh the exceeding and eternal weight of glory
    that is being wrought while the eyes of faith are fixed, not on the pain, but on that which lies beyond it? But of this good thing they see nothing yet, not even the shadow. Only they know they will not serve their Lord together now.

    Very tender comforts are prepared for such as these. They will find them as they go on.

    Feelings can be shaken and the fight can be fearfully discouraging, for sometimes we seem to be losing ground and all seems to be going wrong. Then the devil comes and paints glorious pictures of what might have been. He did to me – I can see those pictures still. But as we go on steadfastly obeying the word that compelled, we do become aware that it is all worthwhile. We know it, we know Him with us, and that is life.

    But if we are defeated? “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Ps. 130:4). When I was small I used to wonder why the word “feared” was used there; why not “loved”? But the Spirit of God chooses the words he uses in the scriptures, and there is a solemn truth in this word “feared.” … It means the kind of love which has fear and reverence in it, and that kind of love will never think it is a little thing to grieve our holy God.

    “And he had in his right hand seven stars … And he laid his right hand upon me saying, ‘Fear not’” (Rev. 1:16–17). Do you not sometimes find yourself almost thinking, “How can he, who has the whole world to care for, attend to this tiny matter that troubles me?” It seems almost unreasonable to ask for such attention. Sometimes it seems almost selfish. But here we have the truth we know so well in a great picture – the hand that holds the seven stars is the hand that is laid upon us.

    You often remind me of myself. Too much of your nature is exposed to the winds that blow upon it. You and I both need to withdraw more and more into the secret place with God. Do you know what I mean, I wonder?

    Often our flash of haste means little. To read a book in an hour (if the book has taken half a lifetime to write) means nothing at all. To pray in a hurry of spirit means nothing. To live in a hurry means to do much but effect little. We build more quickly in wood, hay, and stubble than in gold, silver, and precious stones; but the one abides, the other does not.

    If he who feels the world is too much with him will make for himself a little space, and let his mind settle like a bee in a flower on some great word of his God, and brood over it, pondering it till it has time to work in him, he will find himself in the greenwood.

    There comes a time when the personal falls from us and we cease from the weariness of being entangled and encumbered in ourselves and do, with all our hearts, desire to be perpetually lifted up in spirit above ourselves. But the trouble of a loved one can throw us into a fever of agitation. And yet to lose our peace is to lose our power to help. The energies which might have been turned to power are wasted in effectless grieving. Our very thoughts by their teasing reiteration, like low, eager voices that will not stop talking, tire us out …

    But there is a peace that must be ours if we are to prevail. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

    We have each our own private magic casement. The first glimpse of a snow mountain, or a stretch of purple heather, the tang of that same heather, the bittersweet scent of certain aromatic herbs, the sharp smell of seaweed, the soft breath of a meadow in clover, the sound of running waters, birds flying high in transparent blue, the first violet or primrose or patch of wood sorrel, a cushion of ferny moss, a spray of wild rose – the heart knoweth its own casement. For some of us in Dohnavur it is just the whistle of the Malabar thrush.

    This bird is a friend of rocks and rivers in deep woods, and when we go to our forest on the mountains, we know that the blissful moment between sleeping and waking of our first morning in that beloved place will thrill to the clear whistle just outside our windows, and we shall be caught away on the wings of a dream – whither? Who can tell? Only we know the casement is open and the air is golden and full of the flutings of a bird.

    I think often we miss much by not being simple enough.

    But it may be far from golden in the forest. It may be wild weather. Then slashing rain whips the low, tiled roof, and furious gusts tearing down the ravine threaten to uproot the houses that have dared to perch up there. The branches of the trees strike each other with a sound of loud complaining. Their leaves are colorless. A palm, thrusting through his lesser neighbors, tosses black plumes like ostrich feathers against the gray smear that is the sky. On such a morning a heavy gloom broods over the forest, a gloom like a pall. The place may be swept with cloud, or smothered in mist, and there may not be one cheerful thing to look at anywhere, except the log fire on the open hearth, and probably it smokes.

    It may be a most melancholy morning, but nothing makes any difference to that bird. He whistles his inconsequent tune, never twice the same, never hurried; it is the most leisurely thing imaginable. The key is continually changing (like life). You cannot follow him or ever anticipate him; you can only listen and love him.

    On a rainy day in the forest, after the first burst of the monsoon is over, a surprising thing is often seen. The rain then is … quite heavy enough, one would think, to destroy in a moment such a fragile thing as a butterfly.

    And yet you may see the black-and-yellow Papilio minos of the forest out in the wet, hovering over the flowery bushes, lighting on one for a dripping moment, then fluttering off and across some open space. The spread of her wings is five or six inches from tip to tip; you watch half incredulously those five or six inches of delicate tissue borne down perhaps, sometimes, but always rising again, soaring again.

    If God can make his birds to whistle in drenched and stormy darkness, if he can make his butterflies able to bear up under rain, what can he not do for the heart that trusts him?

    We returned from that village knowing that we had been walking over roads where our Lord had walked before we had even heard of the place. What if suddenly, on the soft carpets in great houses, on the well-swept city streets, on the highways and the byways of smaller towns and scattered little villages, on the decks of great ships, on the very waters about them and in the room where we work today, these unseen footprints should appear, how would it be? But our seeing them would make them no more there than they are now.

    Without him, lover of all lovers, life is dust. With him it is like the rivers that run among the hills, fulfilled with perpetual surprises.

    Contributed By AmyCarmichael Amy Carmichael

    Amy Carmichael, a Christian missionary to India, spent fifty-five years being a mother to hundreds of orphaned children and writing books on discipleship.

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