But the refining effects of pain and grief, sorrow and suffering, are not confined to the afflicted. Even as we share with them by sympathy in their affliction, so also we are intended to benefit by the blessings which they, if submissive, undoubtedly receive. In this way there is a ministry in suffering, and suffering is a service. It does something for others, no less than for the sufferer.
What it does may be hard to explain, harder still to define, but that there is a reciprocal ministry in every sick-chamber no one can doubt. Who has watched by the bedside of one stricken with pain, and seen the patient fortitude of a resigned will, without learning how to be patient and strong? Who has seen the weak in body strong in spirit, or the diseased and afflicted bright and happy, without feeling himself somehow stronger and better? Who has visited the sick-chamber and beheld the radiant glory of the victory of faith without returning inspired by the vision? The ministry of suffering may be full of mystery, but it is none the less real and powerful.
"The world grows richer for the noble faces Stamped with the seal of sorrow bravely borne."
Much more might be said under this head, but enough has been expressed, or suggested, I trust, to comfort every invalid who reads what I have written with the thought that every life has a mission, that the highest mission in life is service, and that the ministry of the invalid life is pregnant with great possibilities for good. If only the sufferer's heart be surrendered to the will of Him who "is love," her sufferings are not in vain. By a brave, patient, and trustful endurance, she is helping others to be true, and strong, and kind. Her suffering is a ministry.
If only we knew it, the greatest power we possess in life is prayer. To pray is simply to ask our Heavenly Father for whateve we desire. True, our desires are sometime
Religion fooiish. and often selfish; but if we, "being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children" when they ask for things which are not good, so our Father in answering our prayers denies in love our mistaken requests. But even so, we must pray, for prayer is a condition of many blessings, even though manv are given without the asking. "Ask and ye shall receive." "Ye have not because ve ask not."
What inexhaustible treasures are waiting for our pravers - treasures which, if given before they are wanted, would only be wasted. And so God, who cannot waste, waits to be gracious, is waiting to give if onlv we would pray.
But if prayer be our greatest power, intercession - i.e., prayer for others - is our highest privilege.
"More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of."
Indeed, one of the wonders of heaven will be the achievements of the praying saints. Why, then, do we not pray more ? Many answers might be given to this question, but space forbids. One only must suffice. Life is increasingly strenuous with some and alarmingly fickle with others. We are getting too absorbed, some with the pursuits and others with the pleasures of life, to pray as we ought. It is here that the invalid state opens up vast possibilities of service through the ministry of intercession.
Those who are permanently laid aside are necessarily detached from the pleasures and pursuits of the world, and have thereby greater facility for concentrating themselves on the things which are spiritual and eternal. Why should not these possibilities become actualities? Why should not every invalid be encouraged by means of cycles of prayers, lists of intercession, to supplicate, not for themselves so much as for others. At any rate, I have found again and again that a new interest has entered into an invalid life by suggesting subjects for prayer at specified times. There rises, even as I write, before my mental vision a dear old invalid who, bedridden for many years and weary of earth, was always longing for heaven, found a new mission in life, as on each occasion of my visit I left with her special requests and subjects for intercessions. The consciousness that she was not so ' useless " as she thought, that she could still ' do something " for the Lord she loved, brought with it the joy of service.
So I would say to every invalid woman: Try and realise the power and privilege of intercession. Make your sick-room a sanctuary of prayer. Then your suffering will become a blessed ministry for God and others.
Let us now pass from the practical service of sanctified suffering and the potential nature of intercessory prayer to the possibilities of personal effort in the invalid life. We have before suggested the solace that would come to the weary hearts of invalids if, instead of being doomed to inactivity, they were inspired with the thought of ministry. But, alas! in too many cases the solace has been denied, or, rather, it has never been realised, because the possibility of service has never been suggested. It is here that we feel the need for a widespread movement to enlist the services of invalids. Why should not clergy, doctors, nurses, relatives, and friends, combine to encourage personal effort on the part of the permanently sick? What inconceivable benefits would result from such a movement.
Making Garments for the Poor
Foremost amongst practical plans which suggest themselves when we think of what invalid women might do is plain and fancy needlework, useful garments for children, for poor mothers, for sick ones in city slums, for less-favoured invalids, also things ornamental no less than useful, all the many pretty articles which the deft fingers of women are able in these days to make for sales of work and other allied objects. In many cities there are what we value so much in Birmingham - needlework guilds, to which each member contributes at least two garments for the poor, while in every great town there are clergy who are at their wits' end to know how to help the thrifty and deserving poor of their parishes. It ought to be possible to work this mine to comparatively unworked wealth in the invalid world to the great enrichment of all concerned. Difficulties, of course, there are; but these never deter, but only inspire the earnest worker. What is needed is enthusiasm, and the initial difficulties would be easily surmounted.