PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE; “The Mastery of That One Essential Thing”.
By: Ron Woodrum
Maybe you have seen the movie City Slickers starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Billy Crystal plays a white-collar guy named Mitch. He is married with children and is questioning whether anything in his life really matters! He and his two friends take a vacation out West in order to take part in a cattle drive. Jack Palance plays a mysterious and intimidating cowboy named Curly, who wears a black hat and a red bandana. He leads this bunch of city slickers with gruff reluctance. In one scene Mitch and Curly are riding together. Mitch, having occasionally stood up to Curly, has caused Curly to warm up to him. Curly says, ‘A cowboy leads a different kind of life…when there were cowboys. We are a dying breed. A couple of days we will lead this herd across the river, through the valley…there’s nothing like bringing in the herd!” Mitch responds, “That’s great-your life makes sense to you!” Curly laughs. Mitch asks, “What’s so funny?” Curly looks right into Mitch’s eyes and says, ‘You city folk…worry about a lot of stuff! How old are you? Thirty-eight?” (Mitch answers “thirty-nine!”). “Yeah, you all come out here the same age with the same problems” Curly tells him. “You spend a whole year getting knots in your rope, and you think two weeks out here will untie them for you! None of you get it! Do you know what the secret of life is?” Mitch shakes his head “no”. “This” Curly says, raising up his index finger. Mitch jokes, ‘Your finger?” Curly clearly states, “One thing-just one thing! You stick to it, and everything else don’t mean squat!” Mitch says, “That’s great! What is the one thing?” Curly smiles, riding away, says “that’s what you’ve got to figure out!” Most Christians need to head Curly’s advice. They need to figure out the one thing that is the secret of life!
In his book Mr. Bridge, novelist Evan Cornell describes a moment in the life of a Kansas City lawyer in the 1930’s. Outwardly he is seen as the epitome of success. He is wealthy; his family seems strong; he is highly respected. That’s life, we say, above the waterline. At soul level-below the waterline-Mr. Bridge is a bundle of fears. Awake at night staring out the window of his bedroom, he watches a storm, as he ponders the direction of his life. Cornell writes: “A leaf flattens against the window beside his head. Then it suddenly vanishes away into the darkness! Suddenly a feeling of profound despair overwhelms him because everything he has done in his life seems useless. All that he attempted seemed meager, and his life seemed wasted!” There are a lot of Mr. Bridges struggling with those feeling of futility in their Christian lives…perhaps for good reason. They are missing that “one thing that is the secret to life!” How do we lose that direction? In his landmark book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Serge quotes Bill O’Brien, CEO of Hanoever Insurance: “People enter business as bright well-educated, high energy people and desire to make a difference. By the time they reach 30, a few are on the fast track, and the rest put in their time and do what matters to them in the weekend. They lose the commitment, their sense of mission, and the excitement with which they started their careers. We get…little of their energy, and almost none of their spirit.” You would think he was describing the loss of mission many Christians have today…and their loss of energy to the Church. Serge goes on to say: “Surprisingly few adults work rigorously to develop their own personal mastery. When you ask them what they want from life-they talk about what they would get rid of…not the disciplines of personal mastery. The things that really matter have been lost. They are not living lives of highest aspirations any longer!” He is talking about us Church! E. Stanley Jones speaks relevantly about that same issue...”Man needs nothing so much as he needs something to bring life together in total meaning and total good…instead of his fragmented life. He is confused-the most confused yet intelligent person that has ever existed. He knows everything about life-except HOW TO LIVE!” Even the agnostic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche recognized this. He wrote in Beyond Good and Evil: “The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living”. That is what we are missing!
That one thing…that secret of life…that discipline of personal mastery…that life of highest aspirations…that long obedience in the same direction that makes life worth living…is having a passionate grateful love for our Living Lord, and continued commitment to put Him first in our lives come what may. Seeking first the Kingdom and God, and singing the old song “I shall not be moved!” That kind of link of love to our Lord opens us up to His presence and power to Incarnate Him into our lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Helmut Thielicke illustrates that beautifully in his book I Believe, I Believe. He writes: “Many churches have stained glass windows. Those windows recount the mighty acts of God by means of pictures. The venerable figures of the prophets and apostles look down on us, and perhaps there are scenes from the life of Jesus or symbols of the Holy Trinity. These windows are not intended-or at least not primarily-to provide an ornamental border for the place of worship, nor to generate a meditative atmosphere. They are meant to deliver a message. They are the Word illustrated, and they preach through pictures the way the organ preaches through music. Now if I see the Church from the outside, If I just walk around it, these windows appear as lifeless gray-on-gray. They are mute and have nothing to say. However, as soon as I go on the inside, (with the sun shining brightly through them) all the colors blaze out, and the pictures come to life, and begin to speak the message!” So it is with our lives. The presence and power of the Light of the World illuminating our lives with His glory will show and share the message with those that most of time only see us as gray on gray! Seeking His Presence, Power, and Glory should be the all-consuming Passion of our lives. Everything else should pale in light of that one thing! Then we will live the secret of the Christian life.
T.S. Eliot, one of the great figures of English literature, expressed that truth in his poetry, after he became a Christian. In the fourth poem, of his Christian writing Four Quartets, entitled Little Gidding, he addresses the need for that very Passionate Fire. He writes:
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
What fire is going to consume you? How about a passionate fire that burns deep inside to light up your life with the glory of the Lord as you give your all to glorify Him with all you say or do. That is the one thing…that one essential thing…the secret to life that reaches the highest of aspirations. That kind of life crowns Him with many Crowns.