I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: ‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?’Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds (Psalm 77:5-12).”
Commitment. Loyalty. In this day and age these words seem obsolete.
My students and I are reading the autobiography of Homer Hickam. In “October Sky”, he and his high school friends are engaged in building rockets in an out of the way coal mining town in West Virginia.
In 1950s Coalwood, the miners, the company and the town are all joined at the hip. The houses are all owned by the mining company and are provided rent free to the miners.
Then, along about 1959 the head office in Ohio starts to change things in Coalwood. They tell the employees that they are selling the houses. If the miners want to live in them, they’re going to have to buy them. They company even owned the church, and they are selling that, too!
This is indicative of the change in American culture which made employees expendable and workers less committed to their companies which took full hold in the later part of the 20th century. In the old days, a person might work for a company their whole life, cradle to crave almost, and retire with a gold watch and a nice pension. No more.
David Clayton Thomas was a homeless teenager in the 1950s and 60s who became the front man for the jazz/rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears, popular during the Vietnam Era. He wrote the song “Spinning Wheel”, which became a big hit and is a Hall of Fame piece of music in Canada. Here are some of the lyrics:
What goes up must come down
spinning wheel got to go round
Talking about your troubles it’s a crying sin
Ride a painted pony
Let the spinning wheel spin
You got no money, and you, you got no home
Spinning wheel all alone
Talking about your troubles and you, you never learn
Ride a painted pony
let the spinning wheel turn
Did you find a directing sign
on the straight and narrow highway?
Would you mind a reflecting sign
Just let it shine within your mind
And show you the colours that are real.
Thomas himself interpreted the lyrics in an interview with the magazine “NeoAmericanist”. In discussing the need for musicians at the time of the Vietnam War to maintain a counterculture image, he said this to his questioner:
“If you listen to the lyrics of “Spinning Wheel” it deals basically with that. That what goes up must come down, it’s all going to come ‘round. Today’s radical is tomorrow’s politician. Today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s president. The guys who founded the state of Israel were terrorists who went to become great heads of state, iconic heads of states.
That’s what the song deals with; it’s about blind commitment to a cause without considering that history is cyclical. Spinning Wheel: it’s all gonna come ‘round. “Did you find a directing sign on the straight and narrow highway?” No, you didn’t. It’s all going to change, folks. And probably it was easy to write that song because [culture] was changing at that point.
When the Vietnam War was over, what reason did they have to be counterculture anymore? There was no cause anymore, it evaporated. And they moved uptown to Club Forty-Seven [Studio 54] and started shoving cocaine up their noses. With the cause gone, the guts were ripped out. The center was ripped out of the movement.”
Many folks in the 60s and early 70s were committed to change until their purpose disentegrated. Without it, they went back to the old traditional American way of doing things. Call it maturity, or perhaps disillusionment. Without an internal foundation for being “counterculture”, the hippies went to Wall Street.
Many Christians have done the same thing as the misguided and idealistic youth of mid-century America. They have committed themselves to following Jesus Christ without having an inner understanding of why they are doing so. Furthermore, they haven’t counted the cost of loyalty to Jesus.
Count me as one of them. I recall driving home from a conference when I was a college student in an angry mood when I learned there that Jesus wanted 100 percent commitment from me.
When I “prayed a prayer” and “received Christ” in high school, it was because I thought Jesus would give me a purpose in life. I didn’t get a message that this purpose involved full loyalty to Him and letting Him steer my ship, even if it was on to the shoals.
Indeed, I have been struggling with full commitment to Jesus my entire adult life. I think part of the reason is that I balk at obedience to Him when my purposes and His don’t mesh.
My goals have even been godly and spiritual; they just apparently weren’t what He had in mind for me. When He wanted to take my boat into dangerous and stormy waters, I didn’t want to go. I preferred the blue lagoon.
Now, in middle age, I think I am starting to get it. I believe I am now starting to understand what God is trying to do in my life. Unfortunately, getting that comprehension has involved my own “blood, sweat and tears”.
In middle age I am now sure the Bible is truth. I see it coming true every day in my life.
Sadly, the truths which are being revealed involve the negative consequences which the Scriptures predict when a person doesn’t follow what the Good Book says. I definitely have been reaping what I have sown: a lot of bad seed is flowering now.
Oh, I have sought to follow Jesus fully all my life. Yet, I haven’t paid full attention to the Bible’s guidance, nor have I implemented it completely.
I am just amazed now at how true the Scriptures really are. For example, the Psalmist’s forecast made eons ago is like a slap in the face to me now:
He who is pregnant with evil
and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment.
He who digs a hole and scoops it out
falls into the pit he has made.
The trouble he causes recoils on himself;
his violence comes down on his own head (Psalm 6:14-16).
There were directing signs on the straight and narrow highway I have been trying to follow all my life. I just have failed to totally heed them. They were right there in the Bible. The Scriptures have been there all along to show me what is true and real.
Thankfully, I don’t have to keep being disillusioned at this stage in my life because I have blown it. I don’t need to run off and start doing drugs are become an alchoholic as the 1060s rockers did.
The rest of David Clayton Thomas’s lyrics tell me that I can get off the spinning wheel of disappointment with my life:
“Someone is waiting just for you
spinning wheel is spinning true
Drop all your troubles, by the river side
Catch a painted pony
On the spinning wheel ride
Jesus is waiting for me to come back to His pony ride and stay there. He wants me to quit switching merry go rounds and stick with His.
I suppose my musing over the failures in my life is somewhat fruitless. At least that’s what Solomon intimates:
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
Dor it is not wise to ask such questions (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
My life was better before — before I had knowledge of the havoc I have wreaked on others due to my ignorance and sinful ways, caused by ignoring the teaching of the Scriptures and godly men and women. Now there’s a lot of pain as a result of what I know now.
However, Solomon’s directive makes me think I shouldn’t stay in the morass of regret. I should move on.
He wrote, ” The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride (Ecclesiastes 7:8).” Sure, it’s taken me a lifetime to learn some things. I don’t have to dwell on the failure. I can be patient with myself and God, and let Him finish His work.
Despite a somewhat failed life, Jesus has done a lot for me. I can remember those things, and expect the same miracles in the future. Not only that, I can stick with Jesus and His Word for the rest of my life instead of riding a spinning merry go round of my own making.
If I look on the good things He has done all these years, and stay fully loyal to Him, then I can finish well. What more could I want for the rest of my life?