by Richard Pelfrey
I went to a high school graduation at Zion Christian Academy in Columbia, TN last weekend. My own graduation was in Detroit, MI in 1998 – it was another life, and I barely remember it. There was so much self-created chaos in my world back then, and I was completely absorbed in it. At that age I’d resolved to live absurdly in an absurd world, to “open my heart up to the benign indifference of the universe” as one of my favorite authors at that time -Albert Camus- put it.
The speaker was a youth pastor from a local church, and he delivered one of the most concise and practical speeches I’ve heard. He addressed the small group of twenty-nine bright-eyed eighteen year-olds, but man, he was speaking right into my heart. The speech was under ten minutes – a little intro, an anecdote, and then some advice which he said would save the graduates from countless amounts of pain and stress; three words: “MAKE…WISE…CHOICES”.
I was dumbstruck. This is what it all boils down to. Just about all of the pain and tribulation in my life thus far has been of my own making, the consequence of some bad decision or series of wrong actions. I was left thinking “where was this guy when I graduated?”. Truth be told though, he may have been there delivering the exact same message and I would not have received it. I just wasn’t ready, I was still happily reveling in my own folly.
All this got me thinking about what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 —
Life is a journey. From Birth to Death we are on this long, windy road. It takes us through times of joy and pain, sunny days and rain. God decrees where our road begins and ends, so to some extent our journey is mapped for us. But in between we’ve got millions of decisions to make, so that it’s a path with myriad forks. Seemingly infinite routes to the end of our time in this existence, but one right way. At every one of these forks in my life I have free will, the option to choose the broad road of destruction or that narrow and arduous road that leads to life. I can do what I feel like doing at the moment or I can do the next right thing, which, as we all know, can be very difficult. Every decision matters, and I can see this when I stop on the path to look back. All things work together…
God knows I’m gonna mess up. Paul reassures us that “all have sinned sin and fall short of the Glory of God…” but “we are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. So there is one choice that should matter to us above all others: the choice to accept the grace and redemption of Christ. I must first resolve to live for Him before anything else, and then when I do mess up, He brings me back from the broad road, redeemed. I like the way the prophet Isaiah puts it: “whether you turn to the right or to the left, you ears will hear a voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way;walk in it’ ”(Isaiah 30:21). When we are living for Him we get vision, we know how to stay on the narrow road; but we still must choose it.
Every day I must do as Joshua commanded Israel, “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15). This needs to be my highest priority, and when it is I have a chance at being one of the few travelers on the narrow road. When I choose God, He shows me which fork to take.
I still miss the chaos of the broad road at times. The old life of reckless abandon still calls every now and then. But God reminds me of one of the scariest scriptures He’s shown me so far – Proverbs 29:1 – “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy.” I don’t want to push it anymore. I don’t want to find out how many chances I’ve got left. Dylan echoed Joshua back in 1979 when he sang “it might be the devil, it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody”. Today I choose to serve the Lord.