“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Eliot

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose or forfeit his very self? (Luke 9:23-25)

There are key moments in our life that God uses to set and confirm the direction for our service to him. The other morning, I was reminded of one. I was listening to gospel music and heard a song I have not heard in 60 years. Tears flowed as I travelled back in time. Some of the lyrics go like this: “If I can help somebody as I travel along. If I can help somebody with a word or song. If can help somebody, from doing wrong, then my living shall not be in vain. (Chorus) Then my living shall not be in vain, then my living shall not be in vain. Then my living shall not be in vain. If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.” 

The last time I heard the song was at the funeral of a very dear college friend. More than that: he was my hero. That song was his song. He sang it on many occasions. It summed up his short, beautiful life.

I was an underclassman when Ross Smith took me under his wings. I was a smart mouth, brash and immature student, but he saw something in me that he wanted to see grow. He took me boating in the Ozarks and took me along on his dates with Wanda, his girlfriend. The last night I saw him we were playing basketball in the college gym. He passed by as I was changing, pinched me on my rear end, and said, “See you, Bud.” It was perhaps his last words on earth. On his way to give his fiancé her engagement ring, he was killed in a car accident not five minutes away. I was devastated. His family was devastated. The school was devastated. And, the thousands that had been ministered to by his life and song, were devastated.

The funeral was held at a large local church. It was packed with over 1500 people. I was one of the pall bearers. When my eyes met the teary eyes of Wanda on the front row, I almost lost it! Unanswered questions had filled my mind and heart. Why him: The best of the best? He was one who by his life, his gifts, his love for Jesus and people, would have been such a powerful testimony to the glory of God. Yet, God took him!

I never could make sense out of Ross’ death. But, when Hubert Morris, a fellow student, sang that song at his funeral, that summed up Ross’ life: I made a decision. I could not discern why the Lord took Ross. But, I could dedicate the rest of my life to try and live like him. The lyrics of that song, in that moment, became my prayer. Somehow, in some way, that only the Lord would fashion, I wanted my life to “help somebody as I travel along, if I could help somebody with a word or a song, if I could show somebody they are doing wrong, then my living would not be in vain.”

I am on the mission field at 81 years of age. As I look back at the many times the Lord moved me and called me from place to place, I am filled with gratitude at the privilege he has granted Barbara and myself. He honored that prayer I uttered 60 years ago as a young man. I could not sing like Ross. Very few could. But, I could do my best to honor his memory and his contribution to my life by serving the God he loved and served. By God’s grace we have been honored to help a lot of “somebodies” along the way. I am overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness that the Lord has enabled me to serve him as a pastor and a missionary. My life has been rich in grace. The Lord used the love of this precious, sweet friend to help this “somebody” so that I could try and help a lot of “somebodies” as I walked along. Someday, and it won’t be long, I will see my friend again. I will be able to thank him face to face for loving me and showing me how to help somebody. Thank you, Lord, for moving Ross to invest in me so that like him, my life would not be in vain.