Have You Settled for Second Best?
We don’t go very far along life’s pathway before we face the universal question—a question that not only spans the ages of time, but also the continents and cultures of this entire world. The question is, “What about eternity?”
One time a young man who was concerned about this topic came to Jesus. This man was a ruler. He had an education, he had great possessions, and seemingly he was a moral man as well. He had a lot of things going his way. But as he came to the Lord, he brought a question that was acutely troubling his heart. He asked, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).
The Lord responded by saying, “Keep the commandments.” In other words, obey the Ten Commandments, which are right and good. The young man replied, “All these have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”
The man was trying. He was interested. He had obviously made an effort to follow the requirements of the Law. We might say he was halfway there. Way down inside his heart, though, there was something that was missing. The question had come to him: What about eternal life?
At some point we begin to realize that our existence consists of more than just the routine of everyday life. We realize that there is something beyond this. What about death? What about our souls?
That question comes to all of us, for the Bible says that God enlightens every one who comes into the world (see John 1:9). At some point we begin to realize that our existence consists of more than just the routine of everyday life. We realize that there is something beyond this. What about death? What about our souls? Somehow we know or want to know that there is more to life than just living out our days on earth and then returning to dust. When people begin to look for answers to questions about life after death, they eventually confront the concept of God. At that point, a critically important decision must be made. Will they continue to seek for answers, realizing that doing so may lead them to serve God? Or will they give up on their search?
There is a place in the Alps that caters to people who have no training but want to experience climbing a mountain. It is a small mountain, one that can be conquered in a day. If you have a mind to try climbing, you can go to this small village and join a group of other inexperienced people, rent equipment, hire a guide for the day, and go out and climb this mountain.
Halfway up the mountain is a place they call the Halfway House. As people come to enjoy the experience of climbing a mountain, they stop at this place to have lunch and rest for a while before they continue on up to the summit.
The proprietor of this establishment says that he watches the faces of the people who come into this place, and he has noticed a very peculiar phenomenon. Halfway up the mountain, these people come in and begin to relax for a few moments. He says, “After a little while, an almost glazed expression comes over them. They are enjoying where they are. They look out the windows at the scenery and enjoy the warmth of the fire and eat lunch. And then about half of them begin to say to the others, ‘You know, I think I’ll just wait here. This is such a wonderful place, and I am enjoying myself. You go and climb to the top of the mountain. When you come back, we’ll go back down to the village together.’”
“The atmosphere turns almost somber as they watch those they were with reach their goal. They begin to realize that they have settled for second best, and their goals are yet unfulfilled.”
As the others put on their equipment and head on up the mountain, the proprietor says there is almost a party atmosphere among the people who remain. Some begin to play the games that are around on the tables. Others may gather around the piano and sing songs. And oh, what a wonderful time they have! They are enjoying themselves so much. Even so, as the afternoon wears on, things start to get a little quiet. And the people begin to gather around the big windows that look out toward the mountain where they can see their companions nearing the top. He says, “The atmosphere turns almost somber as they watch those they were with reach their goal. They begin to realize that they have settled for second best, and their goals are yet unfulfilled.”
As we look at this man who came to Jesus, we can see that he had a goal in mind. As he came to the Lord, he was aware of his need for an assurance of salvation. He was interested, he was trying. He wanted to know. Then the Lord spoke these words of instruction to him: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” What was the young man’s reaction to this instruction? We read, “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:21-22).
I believe this man came to the “Halfway House.” When the Lord told him what was lacking in his life, he faced a decision. Should he give up the comforts he was used to? Now we don’t know what kind of home he had, what type of clothing he wore, or how many servants he had. However, he was in a place that was comfortable. He was a ruler, well thought of—a success, we might say. But the Lord challenged him to give up that comfort and take up a cross. And he went away sorrowful. We never read in Scripture that this young man reversed his decision. We can only conclude that he traded his eternal destiny for temporary comfort. The “Halfway House” had robbed him of his eternal goal.
The Old Testament provides an example of a man who refused to stop halfway. In the account of Elijah and Elisha, we read, “. . . when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind . . . Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal” (2 Kings 2:1).
Elisha had a purpose in mind when he realized that Elijah was going to be taken. He had walked with this man of God, and had seen many mighty miracles done in the name of the Lord. And there was something in his heart that said, “I want that same spirit.” Elisha didn’t say, “I wish I could have a little bit of that.” He said, “I want a double portion of that spirit.”
As Elijah and Elisha went down the road to Gilgal, to Bethel, and then on to Jericho, Elisha heard many suggestions that he should turn back. These suggestions came both from the sons of the prophets and Elijah himself. However, each time Elisha came to one of these halfway houses—to a point of decision—he determined to press on.
He had seen the power of God. As they walked up to the Jordan River, he watched the Prophet Elijah take his mantle and smite the waters. He saw the waters part. He knew that this power was available if he would remain with the prophet Elijah until he was taken to Heaven. And Elisha said, “I want it. I need it and I will do whatever it takes to receive it.” He could have been discouraged. He could have relaxed. He could have said, “I don’t know if I can face seeing my mentor taken away.” Instead, he would not be sidetracked. He said, “I’m going to go all the way. I am committed.”
There are people all around us who are settling down in the place of comfort, relaxed and complacent about where they are in their spiritual lives.
What are we going to do when we come to the spiritual halfway house in our lives? What choice will we make—a choice of comfort or one of commitment? There are people all around us who are settling down in the place of comfort, relaxed and complacent about where they are in their spiritual lives. Oh, maybe from time to time they fleetingly think they would like to be a little further along in their Christian walk. They’d like to have a bit more of God’s blessing on their lives. However, they aren’t concerned enough about their need to do much about it.
Where are you today; how is it with your soul? If you have not been born again, now is the time to step out of that comfort zone and give your life to God. That is a beginning. Say, “God, I am willing. I am going to repent of my sins, turn my back on my past, and commit my life to You. I am going to answer Your call upon my life.”
To those of you who have already begun your spiritual journey, the challenge is to continue pressing on. Perhaps you have been saved a long time. Don’t become comfortable where you are. Instead, be determined to actively seek God’s will for your life. Follow on to receive the experience of sanctification and don’t be satisfied without it. Continue further until you have received God’s power in your life enabling you to be an effective witness. You need it to fulfill God’s purpose for your life.
Have you kept on climbing, or have you stopped short? If you find yourself at a standstill, it’s time to get out of the halfway house, put on your climbing gear, and start moving up the mountain in front of you. When it comes to striving for spiritual goals, God help us not to be satisfied with second best!