There are moments in which I wonder, “If only I had. . .maybe then I would. . .” Usually I’m feeling a bit low and thinking about various choices I’ve made in the past—thinking regretfully. One of my favorites is “If I’d gone running to that alter call back in eighth grade. . .”
It was during my first year in military academy. Two of my teachers were Christians and took a bunch of us up to a weekend retreat. I remember that I volunteered to help out, and was assigned the task of cleaning the bathrooms. I don’t recall too much of the weekend, except how hard cleaning toilets is, and the Sunday morning Church service. I’d never been to one quite like it. I’d been in Church regularly since birth, but Episcopal, not Baptist. I know that I liked this service. I know that at the end, when everyone was told to bow their heads and close their eyes and raise their hands if they wanted to accept Jesus into their hearts, I responded—I’m sure I did, at least I think I did, I want to think I did. But when the pastor asked for all those who raised their hands to come forward to the alter, I hesitated. Then it was over and everyone was leaving and I just exited along with them, having not been able to make it to the alter. I felt guilty about that moment of indecision, of cowardice, of fear.
I still do—at times. I wonder how my life might have been different. It’s as if I think the physical act of approaching an alter would have made a difference in my life—making it somehow better, me better, or at least a bit easier. Perhaps I’d have become somebody famous, or rich, or powerful. Perhaps I’d have had the drive to finish college after high school, rather than wait twenty years. Perhaps I’d have accepted the position that I was offered as a management apprentice, rather than wanting to drive truck. Perhaps. . .I’d have been wise. I think that’s what I would have wanted if I’d known to ask. Wisdom. Like Solomon asked for from the LORD.
Or perhaps I’d just have avoided some mistakes, not have wandered around as much. Perhaps I’d have been more focused in ministry. I know, intellectually, that one can’t change the past. I know that my “better choice” thinking isn’t necessarily a particular best choice. In my heart I know that who I am, I am as a result of G-d’s desire to take all that I am and have ever been, the real person I am, and make it work for the good in the overall scheme of things. If I were to right one perceived mistake, it might upset something else that came later. At least I can rationalize it that way.
I really admire John the Baptist. He made it big, getting to baptize Lord Y’shuaJesus with water. And he made an important choice as “his” ministry slipped away, he let it go. He understood an important principle (John 3:27):
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
Matthew Henry commented that “different employments are according to the direction of divine providence, different endowments according to the distribution of the divine grace. No man can take true honor to himself, Hebrews 5:4. We have as necessary and constant a dependence upon the grace of G-d in all the motions and actions of the spiritual life as we have upon the providence of G-d in all the motions and actions of the natural life.”
Perhaps success that eludes does so to spare us magnifying our own selves. “Had I just. . .’ is simply another way of taking responsibility for my own success. “If I had,” then I’d have had to fail in other ways unless I was well fortified, and able to pass on all credit to the Lord. Success is not easy. Staying humble while in the limelight of applause and flattery is daunting. I do not envy Christian musicians who, after struggling for success, gain it, only to grasp hold of the honor to themselves. Then things happen, like falling flat. Or pastors who begin to think themselves above sin, and into the depths they plummet.
Then there is the thought that things might have been easier, perhaps, for me had I just run, not walked, to the alter that weekend. Perhaps I’d have somehow been a better person, and made less mistakes. Maybe I’d have not had some of the really tough moments I’ve experienced. And yet it is during those hard time of my life that I can, now, I look back upon and see the Lord at work in me, watching over me, caring for me. Hard times are. . . just plain hard. But perhaps they are the furrowing of our spiritual garden that allow great things to grow—spiritual growth as well as physical.
Lord Bless, Keep, Shine. . .