Thursday, April 3, 2008


My late father liked to sing. He wasn’t particularly good at it. He also read not a note of music. Still, for many years he was the “song leader” at my rural home church.

He sang very few solos. That was for the best. One song that he did sing more than once went like this:

I traveled on a lonely road and no one seemed to care.
The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair;
I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me,
And then I heard Him say so tenderly,
"My feet were also weary, upon the Calvary road;
The cross became so heavy, I fell beneath the load,
Be faithful weary pilgrim the morning I can see,
Just lift your cross and follow close to me."

"I work so hard for Jesus" I often boast and say
"I've sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way,
I gave up fame and fortune, I'm worth a lot to Thee"
And then I hear Him gently say to me,
"I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss,
My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross,
But now we'll make the journey
with your hand safe in mine,
So lift your cross and follow close to me.

Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign field someday,
'Twould be no more than love demands,
no less could I repay,
"No greater love hath mortal man
than for a friend to die"
These are the words He gently spoke to me,
"If just a cup of water I place within your hand
Then just a cup of water is all that I demand.”
But if by death to living they can Thy glory see,
I'll take my cross and follow close to Thee.

Looking back, I realize that he sang it like he meant it. I wish I could ask him what was on his heart and mind when he sang those words. “I traveled on a lonely road and no one seemed to care. The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair; I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me….” Was it my mother’s cancer (she died at age 53)? Was it his leadership role in that sometimes very tough church? Was it his work? Was it me, his only child?

My father was 57 and I was 20 when he died. I never got around to asking him much at all about what was on his heart and mind at any time in his life. I regret that now.

I know that he was burdened. I know that things were tough. I know that he had a lot on him.

I also know that his life mattered. He mattered. Even now, almost thirty years after his death, the eyes of the people who knew and loved him light up when they talk about him and reminisce about him. I think that is because of the effect that Christ had on his life. I think it is because the Holy Spirit worked in his life to make him into a witness for Christ through his actions and through his words.

I want to matter, too.

I think that this is on my mind because, if the Lord wills, I will wake up on September 24 of this year a 50 year old man. I sometimes say, and I mean it in a humorous way but, of course, humor usually has something of truth behind it, that I figure I’ll be greatly blessed if I make it to 60, given that neither of my parents did.

The truth is, though, that the genes in my father’s family tend toward longevity. He has nine brothers and sisters and until 18 months ago they were all still living. My oldest aunt is 95 and my youngest uncle will soon turn 70. I may have a chance for a long life.

But that’s not what’s important.

What’s important is that the life that I live, regardless of its length, matters.

What constitutes a life that matters? When I close my eyes for the last time, if I have the liberty to be reflective, how will I know that my life mattered?

It will have to do, I think, with my relationships with Jesus and with other people. Oh, my actions and my words, both spoken and written, will figure in to it, too, but perhaps my words and actions that matter most will be those that built up, encouraged, nurtured, and helped other people in the name of Jesus.

In my heart, I want to matter. If I matter, it will all be worth it.


Drew Hill said...

Mike- Thanks for such a poignant, personal post. The old song has played a role in my life and family as well. I'm plugging along close behind at 48 and my father was 60 when he died of cancer. So, your thoughts and questions strike home with me.

How can we know if our lives really count for anything? Is it the churches we have served or the people we have reached or the sermons we have preached? I used to think so. These days I am more inclined to find my sense of significance in the woman I have loved and the children we have raised. And in the end it may all come down to the one relationship that is deeper and richer still - I count just because I belong to Him.

Real Live Preacher said...

Thank you for these honest, very personal thoughts. 57 is so very young to die.