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Jun10FriGod's call on our lives is still real. And this calling presents each of us with a choice. June 10, 2011 by Major Fred Ash
Those who know me best know that I am a poet at heart. Not that I am capable of writing good poetry. I am, however, one of the few people who actually have bought a book of poetry—several in fact. Two of my favourite poems are by the same poet, an American by the name of Robert Frost.
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
The first is one called The Road Not Taken, a curious title because the poem focuses on the road he actually took, the road less travelled.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other …
Each time I read those lines I am taken back to the spring of 1967 when as an 18-year-old I made a life-changing decision. I had been teaching elementary school for a year and loved every minute of it. But I felt called to be a Salvation Army officer. In the same week, three letters arrived for me in the mail. One was an acceptance letter from the university where I had taken my teacher training the year before. I was invited back to complete my degree. The other was from the school board where I was teaching, inviting me back to teach another year. The third letter was from the Salvation Army headquarters, accepting me as a candidate for officership.
I spread the letters out on the dining room table in the house where I was boarding and pondered them, looking from letter to letter. Which one should I choose? Which path should I follow?
Robert Frost finished his poem with these words:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
For better or worse I chose the Army. Not because of any pressure from a recruiting campaign or a candidates' secretary. Not because I thought I had anything particular to give. I made the choice because of a sense of calling―that this was something God wanted me to do.
One of the interesting things about my making that choice is that God gave me the other two choices as a bonus. My early years in ministry were spent as an officer-teacher, instructing elementary and high-school students in Newfoundland. Over the years I have taught seminars, workshops and Bible classes and also spent two years on the training college staff. Along the way God gave me three university degrees in place of the one I gave up for him. We cannot out-give God. His gifts far outweigh any sacrifices we make.
The other Frost poem that I love is titled Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The last stanza of the poem says:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Over the years, these lines have always reminded me of my current situation, whether it was 10 years into my officership, 20 years, 30 years or as it is now with only weeks to my retirement. The woods, which represent my place of ministry, are and often have been “lonely, dark and deep.” It has been those promises couched in an Officer's Covenant that have kept me (and my wife) going—a covenant that only by God's grace we have been able to keep.
By the time some of you read this, I shall be counted among the “retireds.” Retirement does not mark the end of the covenant. The ongoing ministry of the hundreds of retired officers in this territory is ample evidence of that. I will still have “promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
It is now up to the new generation of Salvationists coming out of high school and university to ponder the road ahead. God's call is still real. His anointing still waits for the called. The Bible says, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6 NKJV).
Concerning the paths ahead of him, Frost wrote:
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Career choices and ministry choices are many and varied. Those choices need to be made carefully and prayerfully. Officership is a “road less travelled.” But once chosen it is with the intention of a lifetime commitment and only with a sense of God's calling.
Major Fred Ash is the corps officer at Burlington Community Church, Ont.