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The Peril Of Choosing The Second Best

By J. Stuart Holden

    "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106:15).

    The Gospel sets before us Christ and His Kingdom, against the world and its attractions. It urges us to choose. Indeed, all its pressure is directed toward making clear that choice is unavoidable. But after the will making the eternal choice has opened up life to the reign and rule of the Saviour, only the first step in the Christian life has been taken. There lies before us the entire pilgrim pathway along which we must patiently plod in the comradeship of our Lord.

    And along that pathway lurks the peril of a lesser best. For life is one long series of choices, choices that must be made daily between the supreme and the secondary, between self-pleasing and God-pleasing.

    The most common danger is not what many think: turning aside into sin. It is, rather, the temptation that comes with startling frequency to choose the better instead of the best; to choose that which may have a great deal to commend, but which is not the precise will of God for us.

    By committing ourselves to any course than that of absolute fidelity to the highest, we put ourselves distressingly out of touch with the reality of God, who sometimes gives us our desire but sends leanness also into our souls.

    Israel, to whom the reference in Psalms originally refers, is a powerful example. God’s purpose for the Israelites was that they should have no earthly sovereign; He Himself purposed to be their Lord and King. Israel was to be the world’s object lesson. But Israel rebelled. They wanted to be like, not unlike, other nations, so they asked for a king who would lead them to battle; they wanted a monarchy with all its trappings and splendor. God, however, did not leave them to their own devices or cast them off. God said in effect: "Very well; make them a king; they are not choosing the best; but I will let them have their self-chosen lesser best. It is the only way of teaching them their folly." That nation’s subsequent history shows the peril of a lesser best. Israel was situated geographically so that it was more important to her than to any other nation that she should be God-protected. But she chose otherwise, and with what result? Disastrous war came upon her. The land was distracted with internal dissensions and unrest, and eventually Israel was marched into captivity.

    If these illustrations of a principle of action have any value at all for us, it surely is in their emphasis on necessity for choice of the highest in every moral and spiritual crisis. It is commonplace to say that our choices attest our character, and that the things to which a man’s mind involuntarily turns show what kind of man he is. The seriousness of life is that every day we live we are tested concerning the vital foundations and inspirations of life.

    There are times when we are tempted to take courses in which material gain and advantage are uppermost. We are tempted to secure for ourselves present advantage, and to make ease, comfort, and prosperity our chief end. We ask: May we not make the best of both worlds? Our peril is that in this endeavor we may make a choice of a lesser best. And if we should, God does not leave us; for He never does that. But He does allow the lesser choice to correct our self-will, and to lead us back to the place of wholehearted obedience to Himself.

    Choice of a lesser best may involve the silencing of our best instincts, the forfeiture of close fellowship with God, and the loss of that divine partnership of power in which God reinforces and uses men to His glory.

    It often is a sharp challenge of faith to understand what is God’s best, but when recognition comes, it brings the immediate requirement of response. Always to follow the guiding light, always to submit every judgment to the will of God, is one of the most severe tests that life holds. But happy indeed is the man whose courage does not falter, whose ideals are not dethroned, in the hour of his trial.

    All of our present life and training is but preparation for eternal service. The choice of a lesser best always brings impoverishment of present influence; for if a man would wield highest influence he must live for the highest things. One knows of professedly Christian parents whose choice of a lesser best is witnessed in the unsatisfactory lives of their children. Instead of seeking first the Kingdom of God, their home-life in its outlook has been largely influenced by the world, by the conventions of society, not by the convictions of the heart. And their children have taken their measure of God from the distorted reflection of Him that the parents have mirrored.

Our Lord’s Example

    All is not gloom, however. In relief against these warnings is the ever-present inspiration of our Lord’s own life--the strongest appeal to our hearts to choose the highest. For as we read the record of His life in the days of His flesh, we see Him as the one who always consistently chose God’s best: I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me (John 6:38)...I came not to be ministered unto but to minister (Matthew 20:28).

    And at the end of His life, when the cup was heavy and bitter and full, we hear Him in the Garden, still true to the governing purpose of His redeeming life: Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt (Mark 14:36). And, choosing God’s best, He drank the cup to the last dregs.

    For men today, God’s best is expressed in Christ’s call: Follow thou Me. To consistently, loyally and courageously follow Him is to choose the highest in all of life’s alternatives.

    – Taken from Sunday School Times.