The Song of Solomon is the only book in the Bible dedicated solely to romantic love. It is ironic, isn’t it, that its initials are SOS? Those three letters do not describe all marriages, but they definitely describe those that are dominated by discord. In a cemetery in Middlebury, Connecticut, for example, there is a stone, erected by a widow to her husband, bearing this inscription: “Rest in peace – until we meet again.”

Dr. I.E. Gates, former president of Wayland Baptist College once told the story of a blackmailer who sent a letter to a man that said, “”If you do not place $5,000 in a hollow stump (giving the location of the stump) by six o’clock tomorrow afternoon, I am going to kidnap your wife.” To this letter the man replied, “Dear Kidnapper: I don’t have $5,000 to do as you requested, but your proposition is an interesting one.”

Troubled marriages like the one described by Dr. Gates are often due to the following things: (1) unrealistic expectations, (2) lack of preparation, (3) selfishness on the part of one or both partners, or (4) failure to understand the level of commitment that a strong and healthy marriage requires.

Love in a marriage draws strength from many sources – but first of all from God. A strong marriage does not happen just because a bride and groom say “I do” and make some promises to each other. In a healthy marriage a man loves a woman because he makes a decision to do so. The same is true when a woman loves a man. And every day throughout their lives they keep on deciding to love each other.

Having served as a pastor for more than 60 years I have counseled with many couples who were planning to be married. I have told them that a successful marriage comes from the following things:

  1. Faith. First of all, faith in God, but also faith in each other. The nature of faith is that it trusts. If husbands and wives do not trust each other their marriage easily becomes a battleground.
  2. Ownership. Often couples believe their problems are the result of the other person’s actions. It is easy to avoid responsibility for your problems by blaming your partner. In the long-haul, admitting mistakes and owning up to them is a powerful predictor of turning bad into good. Couples need to realize that it is not who is wrong, but what is wrong and how to correct it that is important.
  3. Hope. Hope believes that good will ultimately triumph. The foundation of hope is belief. Every marriage – without any exceptions – will encounter problems along the way. Couples must believe that the kind of marriage they want is possible. Hope keeps love alive. Stop hoping and marriage dies.
  4. Empathy. In other words, walk in each other’s shoes. A spouse must be aware of what his or her spouse is feeling. Empathy involves both the head and the heart. Many of us do one or the other fairly well. We either feel our partner’s pain with our heart, or we try to solve their problem with our head. To do both can be a challenge. But that is what empathy calls for and is all about.
  5. Forgiveness. Forgiveness heals wounds. In a good marriage, both the husband and the wife are quick to ask for forgiveness and to grant forgiveness. The simple words, “I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?” is magical in a marriage. Forgiveness heals the deepest wounds of the human heart.
  6. Commitment. God designed marriage to be a lifetime contract, not a short term option. Without commitment and the trust it engenders, a marriage often has little hope of lasting. When difficulties arise, the key is to stay committed to your spouse and solve them together. Otherwise, both bride and groom who stood at God’s altar to say “I do” will have to admit, “We said “I do” but we really “didn’t.”

An Old Legend

There is an old legend about three men who carried two sacks around with them wherever they went. Each man carried one sack that he tied around his neck that hung down in front. Each man tied his second sack around his neck and let it hang down his back. If we were to carry two sacks hanging around our neck in today’s world, it would undoubtedly cause a lot of questions to be asked.

When the first man in this legend was asked what he had in his sacks he replied, “Well, in the sack on my back are stored all the good things that my family and my friends have done for me. That way they are out of sight and hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then I stop, open the sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them.” 

It is not difficult to see that because he spent so much time concentrating on all the bad and negative things that had happened to him, he really didn’t make much progress in life. When you accentuate the negative you eliminate the positive. You become a pessimist. Given the choice of two evils, a pessimist will choose both of them. A pessimist has no motor; an optimist has no brakes.

When the second man was asked, “What do you have in your two sacks?” He replied, “In the front sack are memories of the blessings I have received from God, and all the good things that I have done to touch and bless the lives of others that gave me great joy. In the sack on my back I keep all the mistakes I have made. Sure, this sack is heavy, and it slows me down. But you know, for some reason I can’t put it down.”

When the third man was asked what he had in his two sacks, he replied, “The sack in front is great. In it I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I have experienced in my lifetime, and memories of those who have made constructive investments in my life that helped me to become a better person – my parents, my teachers, and countless others. The weight is not a problem. It is like the sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward and adds great joy and meaning to my life.

“The sack on my back is empty. There is nothing in it. I cut a big hole in the bottom so that all the bad things I think about myself or hear about others could leak out. They go in one end of the sack and out the other. So, as you can see, I am not carrying any extra weight at all. Sure, there have been mountains to climb and dark valleys through which I have had to travel during my life that have called for every ounce of energy I could muster. There were times when I wondered if I would have the energy to face the difficulties and the challenges that I faced. But God supplied my needs – every single time.”

The story of the three men and their sacks is just a legend, but it has a message for every generation. Let us remember our good times with gratitude and joy. And let us face our difficult times with faith, knowing that God is always both able and willing to supply our need. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:19 assures us that this is true: “And my God will meet all your needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

What are you carrying around in your sacks?

Who are you carrying around in your sacks?

Which sack is full, the one containing your blessings or the one hanging down your back?

One of the basic human needs is for peace. Genuine peace is not the absence of conflict. Otherwise, Washington, D.C. would not have such a large assortment of peace monuments. One is built after every war. Peace is an inner possession, and lasting peace can only be supplied by God.

Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:6-7, elaborates on this when he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

The word “guard” in these verses literally means “to stand as a sentinel, to serve as a lookout.” When Paul penned these words, he was a prisoner of Caesar, guarded constantly by a Roman soldier. In today’s troubled world our lives need to be garrisoned by God’s peace, don’t they? The nearness of God as He guards our hearts and minds is what makes possible the admonition, “Do not be anxious about anything.”

Theologian Dr. Halford Luccock, in one of the books I studied while in seminary way back in the mid-1950’s said, “Telling someone not to be anxious is a little like telling someone sitting on the edge of the crater of an active volcano not to worry.” Genuine and lasting peace can only be provided by the Prince of Peace.

Jesus, after He predicted His death upon the cross, said to His disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:25-27).

“The peace that passes understanding” described in God’s Word is available, but millions of people are looking for it in the wrong places – in a pill, in a bottle, at the end of a needle, in pursuing pleasure, or in countless other places where peace is often promised, but not delivered. The Bible makes it clear to all who read it that freedom from anxiety, though often promised by the world, is not delivered.

The prospect of world conflict, of course, is not the only source of anxiety that people experience. Many who are facing burdens and tensions are looking for a place to hide. But there is no place in our world where they can hide. Their difficulty is that they are trying to hide from themselves.

A scholar in Australia in the 1930’s accurately foresaw from his observation of global events that a worldwide war would soon break out. He also recognized that Japan would be one of the belligerent nations. Very few Americans, if any, foresaw that fact. Otherwise we would not have sold millions of tons of scrap iron to Japan in the late 1930’s. That scrap iron was turned into weapons that attacked Pearl Harbor.

That Australian scholar studied his atlas in search of the perfect hiding place, the best possible island to escape from the storm about to break across the civilized world. By the employment of careful logic and the process of deduction, he finally selected the ideal spot to escape the coming conflict – an obscure Pacific island. In the summer of 1939 he went ashore there. The name of that island was Guadalcanal.

Escape is not the answer for dealing constructively with anxieties. Apostle Paul knew the secret: It is “through prayer . . . with thanksgiving . . . presenting our requests to God.” When we follow this pattern “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts through Christ Jesus.”

“The living know that they will die” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) – even so, many of us find that fact difficult, if not impossible, to talk about. We know that the biblical dictum is true: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). When describing the universality of death we find it easy to use euphemisms – such as “she has gone to heaven” or “he has kicked the bucket.”

Paul Tillich, the German theologian, in The Eternal Now, observes that “it is our destiny and the destiny of everything in our world that we must come to an end.” This is true, but we want to live as long as we possibly can, and we are shocked when a loved one or a friend is taken suddenly from us as the result of an accident, violence, or war. Ambivalence – fear of dying and yearning for immortality – has characterized our struggle to come to terms with our demise.

The Greeks had a legend of a young man named Tithonus, who was made immortal when he married a goddess. But the gift of immortality did not prevent him from aging. Finally, the very old and senile Tithonus became unacceptable to his wife, who shut him away. A poem by Lord Tennyson permits the deified Tithonus to beg for restoration to that mortal condition “of happy men that have the power to die.”

One of the realities of living is to know that one day our journey on earth will come to an end. The pre-Christian view of death is revealed in the reasoning of a woman of Tekoa who said to David, Israel’s king: “We shall surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again” (2 Samuel 14:14). Allusions to life in wisdom literature describe life aslike grass . . . a flower . . . the wind . . . like a river wasting away (Psalm 103, Job 14, and Psalm 78).

Even a newborn child is old enough to die – an Rh factor gone awry, suffocation or strangulation, congenital malformation, or birth trauma. For other persons, dying is drawn out over months of waiting – cancer, stroke, heart disease, etc. Life on earth is temporary. Knowing that, it is extremely important to discover what life is all about, and how it can be lived to the fullest in the most constructive way.

The tragedy is that multiplied millions of people never discover what life is all about. They have not yet accepted the fact that we were created by God, and that purpose and meaning in life can only be discovered and experienced when we develop a faith relationship with the One who created us. It was for this purpose that God sent His Son into our world.

The apostle Paul wrote, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All of this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself“(2 Corinthians 5:17-18, RSV). This turning from darkness to light is called “conversion”. Salvation continues as the new Christian receives nurture, guidance, and strength for life.

Spiritual growth is designed by God to follow the new birth. Paul wrote: “The moment when we will be saved is closer now than . . . when we first believed (Romans 13:11, TEV). The experience of faith is neither temporary nor static, and it is through faith that the joy of living becomes more and more meaningful throughout life. Then, when the end of life’s road on earth becomes inevitable, we know that it is merely the door into life on a fuller scale.

H.M. Reasoner expresses this thought extremely well in his poem entitled, “Friends that Traveled with Me”:

“Many friends that traveled with me
Reached heaven’s portal long ago;
One by one they left me battling
With the dark and crafty foe.
They are watching at the portal,
They are waiting at the door;
Waiting only for our coming
The beloved ones gone before.”

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a young Puritan pastor becomes sexually involved with a woman in his congregation. He goes to great lengths to keep the affair from being known by the public and, for the most part, is able to do so.

The guilt he carries deep within his heart, however, diminishes his ability to preach with passion. The fear of being exposed makes him a captive to mediocrity. The brilliance that once marked his powerful sermons all but disappears. He loses his concentration and his inability to sleep at night renders him listless. It is not until he confesses his sin that he is able to recover the passion and zeal for God that had formerly marked his ministry.

There are basically two kinds of guilt: conscious and unconscious. Psychologists tell us that awareness of sin and guilt is a prerequisite to mental health. Unfortunately, we often try to handle our guilt by repressing it. We push the awareness of what we have done into our subconscious mind.

In other words, we try to forget it. We attempt to move forward with our lives as though nothing happened, especially if we believe we have gotten away with it. We try to put it out of our conscious thoughts, but it keeps reappearing again and again in our conscious mind. We would like to think it is gone, but it isn’t gone. There are basically three improper ways we often try to deal with our guilt: we refuse it, we abuse it, and we try to excuse it. None of these deals with the guilt that we have as a result of sins we have committed.

Repressed sin causes us to be less than we should be and can be. It causes the cup of joy to spring a leak and this generates sadness. It dampens our spirit, and frequently leads to depression. A pall of despondency hangs over us because of the repressed memories of the sins we have committed. And what makes matters worse is that we do not even know why we are depressed.

It needs to be said at this point that all depression is not caused by the repression of the consciousness of sin. Modern scientific research provides ample evidence that clinical depression is often the result of other factors such as chemical imbalances in the body which can be treated by prescription drugs.

This does not change the fact, however, that what the Bible calls sin, when pushed into the far recesses of our memories, can come back to haunt us. How often have you heard someone say? “I don’t know what is wrong with me. I have everything I ever wanted – a wonderful marriage, lovely children, a good job, and more material blessings than I have ever dreamed I would have. And I am still unhappy!”

Have you ever made such a statement? If so, it is possible that you have pushed the guilt of some past sin so deep into your unconscious mind that all the vitality you once knew has been sucked out of your life. What you have tried to forget keeps reappearing in your conscious thoughts to rob you of the joy of living.

You need to know that you can be set free from the guilt of any and all sin you have committed in your past. The good news is that both the sin of which you are conscious and the sin which you have pushed into your subconscious mind can be taken away. There is definitely a cure! You will never be able to free yourself from the guilt of your sins – not by suppressing it into your subconscious mind, or by blaming it on somebody else. Rather, the guilt must be acknowledged, and the sin that produced it must be confessed (Psalm 32:1-7). Only God can cleanse you of the sins you have committed.

God’s Word gives this assurance: “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9 KJV). Notice that it says: “ALL unrighteousness,” not just “SOME unrighteousness.”

In other words, you can get out of jail! Deliverance comes from “CONFESSION”, not “REPRESSION!”

The Texas Rangers baseball team several years ago had just gone through a 13-game losing streak. One afternoon their manager, Whitey Herzog, slipped away to a little league practice field. From a distance, he sat and watched the coaches teaching boys the fundamentals of the game.

Suddenly he realized why his team had lost 13 consecutive games – they needed to get back to the basics. He took a fresh approach in his management, and after a few days the team began a turnaround that resulted in a 10-game winning streak.

Famed football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Excellence begins with perfection of the basics.” His emphasis on the importance of the basics enabled him to become a successful coach. The basics are as important in our Christian walk, if not more so, than in athletics. So, what are they?

BIBLE STUDY: A careful and regular study of God’s Word is essential to the development of a person’s spiritual life. Growth in any area depends on what is true, on what works. Departure from truth always leads in wrong or counter-productive directions. A Bible that is known is worth more than a dozen merely owned. Those who do not read the Bible have no advantage over those who cannot read it.

Other books contain information; the Bible was given for our transformation. This is undoubtedly why Henry Ward Beecher said, “The Bible is God’s chart for you to steer by, to keep you from the bottom of the sea, and to show you where the harbor is, and how to reach it without running on rocks and bars.”

PRAYER: The natural result of studying the Bible is a desire to enjoy fellowship with God through prayer. Prayer is much more than talking to God; it is also listening to what God has to say to us. Talking is always easier than listening, but listening is much more productive – especially if we are listening to God. This is undoubtedly why Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” He listened to what God had to say.

Most of our troubles in life come from the fact that we have so much time on our hands and spend so little time on our knees. Wonderful things happen to us when we live expectantly, believe confidently, and pray affirmatively. If you will hem in both ends of a day with prayer, it will be less likely to unravel in the middle.

WORSHIP: Worship can be either (or both) private and corporate. So, what is worship? Dwight Bradley, in Leaves from a Spiritual Notebook, gives us an excellent definition:

“Worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,
It is a candle in the act of being kindled,
It is a drop in quest of the ocean,
It is a voice in the night calling for help,
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe,
It is time flowing into eternity . . . a person climbing the altar stairs to God.”

Bible study, Prayer and Worship — the three basics of the Christian life. Don’t neglect them!

Southern Baptist churches choose their pastors by electing what is called a “Pulpit Committee.” This committee then gathers the names of potential candidates from many sources, hears each one preach, and enters into serious discussion and prayer with the candidate they are convinced that God would have them select. They then recommend him to their congregation for its vote of approval. To show you the magnitude of this committee’s task, the following is an imaginary sample of the prospective pastors who might be available for their consideration:

ADAM – A good man, but had problems with his wife. Also, one reference told us that he and his wife enjoy walking nude in the woods.

NOAH – He served a former pastorate for 100 years with not even one convert. And he was prone to push unrealistic building projects.

ABRAHAM – An able man, but one reference said he once offered to share his wife with another man.

JOSEPH – Thinks big, believes in dream interpretation, and has a prison record.

MOSES – A modest and meek man, but a poor communicator – even stutters at times. Sometimes blows his stack and acts rashly, and he once murdered a man.

DAVID – A most promising leader – that is, until we discovered the affair he had with his neighbor’s wife, then had her husband killed so he could take her as his own wife.

ELIJAH – Has a strong reputation, but is prone to depression.

ELISHA – Reported to have lived with a single widow while in his former church.

HOSEA – A loving and tender pastor, but our church could never handle his wife’s occupation.

JEREMIAH – Emotionally unstable, alarmist, always lamenting things. He also once took a long trip to bury his underwear on the bank of a foreign river. Strange! Very strange!

ISAIAH – Claims to have seen angels in church. Has trouble with his language.

JONAH – He refused God’s call into the ministry until he was forced to obey. And, if you can believe it, he claims to have been swallowed by a fish.

AMOS – Too backward and unpolished! With some seminary training he might have promise, but he has a hang-up against wealthy people. And his preaching is too blunt.

JOHN – Claims to be a Baptist, but is a very shabby dresser. He has slept outdoors for months on end, and has a weird diet – eating grasshoppers, if you can believe that!

JOHN MARK – Went on a mission trip with Paul as a young preacher, but when the going got tough he threw up his hands, chickened out, and went home.

PETER – Has great ability, but has a bad temper, and has been known to curse.

PAUL – Powerful CEO type leader. However, he is short on tact, unforgiving with young ministers, harsh and has been known to preach all night.

TIMOTHY – Too young!

METHUSELAH – Too old . . . WAY too old!

I knew that God was calling me to become a pastor when I was 14 or 15 years old. I preached my first sermon on the second Sunday of April 1948, five months before my 17th birthday. Needless to say, I knew even at that early age that preparing and delivering two sermons every week would not be easy. But I knew that God would guide me every mile of the way as I launched out on the mission I had been assigned.

Four or five weeks ago the title for my weekly column was “How to Become a Successful Pastor.” It focused on the pastor’s primary mission which is preaching. I said in that article that for sermons to be effective they should focus on: (1) REVELATION (truth based on God’s Word); (2) be RELEVANT; (3) be REALISTIC; (4) be REDEMPTIVE; and (5) invite a RESPONSE.

Choosing at least two sermon topics every single week of the year is a challenge. Some sermons will hit the middle of the bullseye in meeting spiritual needs. Other sermons will be considered to be average – or perhaps less than that. I remember one particular occasion when a sermon on which I had worked hard simply (to use a familiar expression) “didn’t cut the mustard.” I’m sure it was not the only one.

It was in the 1960’s when our nation put our first astronaut into space. I, like every citizen in the United States, was excited. The thought of conquering outer space gave me what I thought was an excellent idea on which I could capitalize. I prepared a sermon with the title: “Conquering Inner Space.” My basic idea was to emphasize the importance of yielding our thoughts, plans, and dreams to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I was impressed with the idea. In fact, I was proud of it, and that was the problem – the sermon blew up on the launching pad. I was focusing too much on my creativity and not enough on God’s leadership.

I suspect that every preacher has chosen at least one sermon topic he wished he had not chosen. Several years ago an edition of The Pulpit Digest contained the story of just such a sermon topic chosen for a particular Sunday by the Rev. Floyd S. Turlington, pastor of Porter’s Chapel Church in Erwin, N.C. He thought he would do something different and use reverse psychology on his parishioners. So, he covered his face with a red mask and dressed in a red suit complete with a forked tail trailing behind. He marched around in the church parking lot with a pitchfork in his hand as he urged each arriving member to skip church that Sunday.

But alas, something went wrong. While some of the members were sharp enough to recognize him and his subtle sermon, others did not. They called the sheriff. At that time in North Carolina it was unlawful for masked persons over sixteen to parade in public. This law was aimed at the Ku Klux Klan and other hate organizations. The Harnett County Sheriff’s Department personnel arrived on the scene in full force. One deputy later said: “People were frightened to death. Little kids were crying, and even some grown-ups I saw didn’t look very comfortable.” The deputies immediately surrounded the Devil and removed his mask. They were surprised to find a sheepish looking preacher underneath. After a brief conference, they decided not to arrest Rev. Turlington. After all, he was a pastor on church property.

I have always tried to select a title for the sermons I preached that would fit the content I planned to deliver. But I have never walked out on Sunday morning in a red devil suit wearing a mask and carrying a pitchfork in one hand. Even so, it would have been interesting to have been present at Porters Chapel Church in Erwin, N.C. on that Sunday when the Devil attended church.

By the way, that was not the first time the Devil attended church on Sunday – and it won’t be the last!

No one enjoys being criticized. Even so, criticism is a part of life in today’s world. I’m talking about the uncalled for negative comments that are made about others, whether said behind their back or to their face. There is an old saying that when you point your finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you. This is why the best place to criticize is in front of your mirror.

Of course, constructive criticism is justified, for it is given for the purpose of helping a person correct what can and should be improved. It should always leave a person with the feeling that he or she has been helped. We can welcome criticism when we know it is meant to improve our lives.

It is sad when children grow up in a home where they are constantly criticized in a negative way. They can’t please their mother or father. This makes them feel awkward around others as it continues on into adulthood and becomes hurtful, harmful, and destructive. The end result is that they have low self-esteem, become angry easily, and often feel abandoned. No one wants to be perceived as a failure.

The important thing is that we do not have to be limited by the criticism of others. Faced with the criticism and the discouragement offered by others we have two choices: we can give up, or we can press on. Imagine the difference in the lives of the following people if they had allowed criticism to defeat them:

“As a composer, he is hopeless.” That is what Beethoven’s music teacher said about him.

When Isaac Newton was in elementary school, his work was evaluated as poor.

One of Thomas Edison’s teachers told him that he was unable to learn.

Caruso’s music teacher told him that he did not have a good voice.

Einstein did not speak until he was four, and he could not read until he was seven. He struggled with dyslexia.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he didn’t have any good ideas.”

Louisa May Alcott’s editor told her that her writings would never appeal to anyone.

Someone once evaluated Henry Ford as having “no promise.”

Admiral Richard Byrd was once evaluated as “unfit for service.”

Guess who failed the sixth grade? Winston Churchill.

The Royal College gave Louis Pasteur an evaluation of “mediocre in chemistry.”

Every one of these outstanding leaders in their field pressed on. They did not allow the criticism or lack of faith from others to keep them from succeeding. So did many mentioned in God’s Word who faced obstacles that included other people who did not believe in them. God can take our failures and mistakes and make them learning experiences for a greater level of achievement in the future (see Philippians 4:13).

Those who can – do. Those who can’t – criticize.

Direction is important in life. Where you are going does matter. In fact, it matters a great deal. The greatest danger in life is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it. Your life cannot go as planned if you have no plan.

I became a Christian when I was eight years of age. It is a decision the wisdom of which I have never doubted. I knew that God was calling me to be a Christian minister when I was sixteen. I became a pastor preaching every Sunday morning and evening when I was three months past my eighteenth birthday. The direction that God had chosen for me required that I pursue college and seminary training. The direction God chose for my life I have tried to follow, and my life has been filled with joy and meaning.

You may have heard the story of a man who got up one morning and, as was his custom, scanned through his morning newspaper before going to work. As he passed the obituary page he was stunned to see a column announcing his death. In fact his funeral was scheduled for that very afternoon. Reading in the newspaper an account of your death, if you aren’t already fully awake, will quickly finish the job.

After telling his wife what he had read, he immediately called a neighbor to see if he had yet read the morning newspaper. “In today’s newspaper there is a column on the obituary page,” he said, “that announces my death. In fact, the announcement says that my funeral is scheduled for this afternoon.”

“Yes,” said his neighbor, “I read the morning newspaper. And I saw the announcement about your funeral being scheduled for this afternoon. I had no idea you would be leaving our neighborhood so soon. By the way, where are you calling from?” This is just another example when direction is very important.

Jesus spoke of two ways and two roads. The broad way leads to destruction, and many find this road. The narrow way is often rocky, but it leads to life eternal. In today’s world the pressure is always upon us to travel the broad road, for this is where the crowd can be found. 

Conformity is one of the biggest sins of our age. It is easier to fit in than to be different. Even so, there are times when being different from the way the crowd is traveling is the only way to gain a proper and productive perspective on life. Ask yourself, “Where am I heading? In what direction is my life pointed?” To have a positive direction for your life, like anything else worthwhile, requires planning and forethought. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The rich man in the story of Jesus we call Dives did not realize until it was too late what the proper direction for his life should be. He was clothed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every single day. His major problem was the same as that of many people in our world today — he did not plan ahead. He made the decision to walk with the crowd. When he finally realized his mistake it was too late. Jesus summarized his life this way: “And in hell, where he was in torment, he looked up . . . “(Luke 16:23).

If you wait as long as Dives did to find the proper direction and purpose for your life it will be too late to correct your mistake. To those who wait until it is too late God has said: “Then they will call on me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. . . . . . . Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.” (Proverbs 1:28-31).