Lost Opportunities

1 Kings 20: 35-43

Israel had just won a great victory over Benhadad, king of Syria.
Because of their previous defeat in the hill country, the Syrians had thought that a battle in the valleys
would bring them victory, for they had said,
"Their god is a god of the hills, therefore they were stronger than we."

But the battle in the plains proved even more disastrous than the battle in the hills.
One hundred thousand of their soldiers were killed in the combat,
and the remaining twenty thousand were killed in an earthquake.
Their army had been beaten, but they still wanted to fight, believing that they could be victorious.

There are some causes and some armies that are never beaten until their leader is beaten.
From his secret hiding place, Benhadad sent his messengers to Ahab.
They found Ahab being joyous over his victory.
As he surveyed the field where so many Syrians had been killed and so few Israelites,
he was tempted with a foolish desire to be generous.

So, instead of destroying Benhadad, or at least taking precautions to prevent his further outbreaks,
he gave him a ride in his chariot, and sent him off to Syria with a treaty of peace
which Benhadad preceded to violate.

"But a certain man of the sons of the prophets!"
One of God's nameless, ambassadors was on hand to rebuke the foolish king
and to pronounce his judgment.
The plan was to have the king condemn himself by passing judgment on an imaginary case.

In the disguise of a wounded soldier, the man of God sat lamenting by the roadside.
As the chariot of the king rolled by, he sprang up with his tale of woe.
"Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside
and brought a man unto me, and said, 'Keep this man: if by any means he be missing,
then shall thy life be for his life.'
And as thy servant was busy here and there, behold, he was gone
."

And the king of Israel said to him, "So shall thy judgment be; thyself hath decided it."

Then, the man unwound the bandage about his head, and the king of Israel saw
that he was one of the prophets.
With his head bowed and his heart heavy, he listened to the word of doom:
"Because thou hast let go out of thy hand, them and whom I devoted to destruction,
therefore thy life be for his life, and thy people for his people
."
And the king of Israel went to his house very disturbed.

How many nameless monitors sit by the roadside, and wait for us as we return from the fields of desire.
They turn the sweets of victory into bitterness.
They make the ivory palace of our pride seem stale and unprofitable.
Who can penetrate the disguise?

Some years ago at a Resort Area along the East Coast, a small community was having
an open town meeting about some financial problems that they were facing.

Among the two dozen or so people was one man no one seemed to know who was apparently visiting
in that area, and had just dropped in on the meeting.
He started to make a comment once as various projects were considered,
but he was interrupted; so for the rest of the time, he kept still, and he left early.

Just as he went out someone arriving late came in, and said breathlessly,
"What was he doing here? Is he going to help us?"

The rest of them said, "Who are you talking about? Who was that man?"
The person who had just arrived said, "You mean you don't know?
That was John D. Rockefeller.
His yacht is in our harbour.
Didn't you get his help
?"

In despair, someone said, "No, we didn't get his help; we didn't know who he was!"

Who can avoid the hiding place and the waiting place of our conscience
which is God's unrelenting prophet?
Whether it be a king who passes in his chariot fresh from victory in war, or a lonely peasant,
or our conscience that waits to tell us of our folly and to name our judgment.

It is not enough that the battle has been won, and the army has been beaten.
Conscience does not come to praise us for what we have done,
but to rebuke us for what we have left undone;
and to tell us that one hundred thousand slain foes will not compensate
for one king of evil which we have dismissed in peace.
Our conscience has come to tell us that a hundred prayers and deeds cannot atone
for one act of disobedience, or hold back the approaching hand of judgment.

It is not the main lesson, but it is one of the byproducts of this parable in the manner
in which it illustrates the danger of halfway measures with evil and sin.
Three years after Ahab let Benhadad go free, and sent him back to his own country,
Ahab and Jehoshaphat are at war with Benhadad before the walls of Ramoth Gilead.

Remembering the words of the man of God, that the king whom he had let go would one day take his life,
Ahab went into battle, disguised as a common soldier.
But one of the enemies shot an arrow at Ahab killing him.
His life was for the life of the man he let go.
The conduct of Ahab, in view of the past and the present and the future, was a stupendous blunder.

There are national problems which now and then confront the leaders of the nation
and the tendency will always be to employ halfway measures of compromise.
When it becomes plain that a thing is devoted to destruction by God,
then we had better line up on the side of God.

What is true of man collectively is true of man as an individual.
The time to destroy sin and crush evil habits is when you have them in your power.
If you have had some encounter with a besetting sin, or evil habit, don't be content
to let it go with compromise.

When we spare sin and treat it likely, it will come back to us one day
and find us weak, and will show us no mercy.

"As thy servant was busy here and there, behold he was gone."
The prisoner escaped from him because he was busy with other things.
The most important business of that man's day was to guard that prisoner.
But he went here and there, to do this and that, and the prisoner escaped.

Every period of life has its irrevocable moments of opportunities.
The farmer who doesn't do his plowing in March and April and turn up the soil
and sow the seed will starve when December comes.
There is a time to plant and a time to reap.
There are things to be done in March that cannot be done in December.

I read a story of a young man who wished to marry the farmer's beautiful daughter.
He went to the farmer to ask his permission.
The farmer looked him over, and said to him, "Son, go stand out in that field,
and I'm going to release three bulls, one at a time.
If you can catch the tail of any one of the three bulls, you can marry my daughter
."

The young man stood in the pasture waiting for the first bull.
The barn door opened, and out ran the biggest, meanest-looking bull he had ever seen.
He decided that one of the next bulls had to be a better choice than this one,
so he ran over to the side and let the bull pass through the pasture and out the back gate.

The barn door opened again.
Unbelievable.
He had never seen anything so big and fierce in his life.
It stood - pawing the ground, grunting, slinging slobber -- as it eyed him.
Whatever the next bull would be, it had to be a better choice than this one.
He ran to the fence, and let the bull pass through the pasture, and out the back gate.

The door opened a third time.
A smile came across his face.
This was the weakest, scrawniest little bull he had ever seen.
This one was his bull.

As the bull came running by, he positioned himself just right, and jumped at just the exact moment.
He grabbed for the tail ... but the bull had no tail!

Life is full of opportunities.
Some will be easy to take advantage of, and some will be difficult.
But once we let them pass (often, in hopes of something better),
those opportunities may never again be available.

The same thing is also true of opportunities to serve Christ.
God often opens doors -- opportunities to speak up for Him, opportunities to minister
to someone who is hurting or in need, opportunities to make an influence on the world around us.
If we allow them to pass by (perhaps, because we are waiting for something easier to come along),
we may miss out on them, altogether.

Youth is a prisoner committed to our keeping for only one day.
If we neglect to do some things in youth, such as exercise the body, educate the mind,
we will pay for it later.
Rejoice, young man.
Rejoice, young woman in your youth.
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.
Have a fit body, mind, and soul in the days of your youth.
One day you will wake up and find that your youth is gone -- gone, and gone forever.

"Break, break, break, at the foot of thy crags,
O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me
."

Life is unpredictable when it comes to things that are really important.
Seldom does life come to us when we are idle, sitting by with folded hands,
and would fill our hands with an urgent task.
No, it comes when we are already in the thick of things, in the thick of battle,
when everything is moving so fast we can hardly keep up.
It is then that the voice comes saying, "Here is something of great importance;
take it, preserve it, and guard it for your very life's sake
."

And we fully intended to guard it, to protect this special gift of life, but we find ourselves so busy,
so caught up in life, in making a living, caring for the family, struggling for identity,
doing "our thing" – from being a retired pastor, a professional volunteer, a mission enabler,
a golfer, a tennis or bridge player, a church worker, a care provider – that while we are busy here and there,
this special gift, this rare captive, is gone.

Opportunity for doing good comes to all of us, but its day is brief.
Remember for the moment how the little kindnesses and courtesies and thoughtfulness brought us
that bit of human happiness.
That power lies within the reach of us all, but it does not stay there forever,
for the simple reason that those to whom we might do good will not always be with us.

Therefore, we must redeemed the time.
See Jesus kneeling in agony in prayer in Gethsemane, and see the three disciples
-- Peter, James, and John whom He had asked to watch with Him, and yet, went to sleep.
Jesus asked, " Could ye not watch with me one hour."
Just one hour!

The opportunity to serve Jesus in that way lasted just one hour.
They failed to use the hour to watch with Jesus, and now the hour was passed,
and Jesus came to them and found them still sleeping, and said sadly,
" Sleep on now and take your rest!
Whether you wake or sleep makes no difference now.
Your hour of service to me and faithfulness is passed. Sleep on now
!"

Do we treat our friends and our loved ones as these disciples treated Jesus?
Do we sleep as if we could have the same chance tomorrow?

The one with whom you ought to have been watching, and by whose side you ought to be standing,
is kneeling in his garden of agony while you sleep, careless, and indifferent.
You are busy here and there, and while you are busy, the precious prisoner is gone,
and all eternity can never bring him back.

Please, do not live, and do not work, and do not love as though you are fixed in your present state
and relationship for eternity.
Whatsoever is in your heart and mind to do, and to say, and to be, do it, say it, now!

Tomorrow, you may read in the morning paper that your friend is gone and that your chance is gone.
Tomorrow, you may call, and no one will answer.
Tomorrow, you will not see the face of your friend -- you will see a vacant place,
an unfinished letter will speak to you with a rebuke that your troubled soul will not be able to bear.

" Sleep on now! Sleep, sleep forever!
You had it in your heart, you meant to do it, you meant to say it,
'But as thy servant was busy here and there, behold, he was gone
!"

" I did not know how short your day would be!
I had you safe, and words could wait awhile --
E'en when your eyes begged tenderness of me,
Behind their smile.

And now for you, so dark, so long, is night!
I speak, but on my knees, unheard, alone --
What words were these to make a short day bright.
-- If I had known!
Ah, love -- if I had known
!"

We can be so busy here and there, that the pearl of life escapes us,
as it did the soldier in the prophet's message, as it did the young art student in the class
of William H. Hunt, famous artist of the last century

Hunt was teaching by the lake as the sun was setting.
Hunt noticed that his young art student was using all his strokes painting an old red barn,
covered with shingles, and had not gotten to the glories of the evening sky.

And this wise teacher standing over the shoulder of his student, said finally, and quietly,
"Son, it won't be light for long.
You must choose between shingles or sunsets.
There is only time for one or the other
."

When life becomes so busy, we have to choose between shingles and sunsets.
There is time for only one or the other.
As for me, I choose Christ of the sunsets.
What about you?

The final application of this parable is realizing that this life is a probation for the next.
Time is a trial for eternity.
That is the teaching of Christianity.

No one can deny this, but if it isn't so, then, worship, prayers and sermons are just a farce.
When you read through the teachings of Jesus Christ, you will find that He is always teaching us
that this life is a probation for the next.

If I could show you that your period of probation would come to an end tonight at seven o'clock,
and when I came back to this pulpit for the evening service that you would be in eternity,
then, what would be your thoughts?

You, like all others, would think of things done that you would either do differently or not at all.
You would think of things not done that you would do.
You would think of friends from home that you have been alienated, and you would seek to be reconciled.
You would think of little debts of love and kindness that would make you want to repay.

There is so much good that we could do in a year.
But how much have we done?
There is so much good that we could do in a day
As you think back on the last few days, how much good have you done?

We've all heard the words of the poet who wrote,
"The saddest words of tongue or pen are simply these,
It might have been
."
How often we miss opportunities to witness for Christ …we miss opportunities for service
…we miss opportunities to worship Him?

"Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last
."

But the most important thing that should trouble your mind is this:
"How do you stand in regard to the offer of salvation and eternal life
which God has made to you through Jesus Christ
?"

Then, you would not be too busy here and there to neglect to do what Christ said
every wise man ought to do and that is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Of course, no one knows when your day will end, and the chance to receive Jesus is gone.

So, if I am speaking to some who have been busy here and there, and carelessly neglecting
the most important matter of your life for time and eternity -- remember, that between you and eternity
there is nothing but time, and you have no idea how much time you have left.

The Touch of the Master's Hand
" 'Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good folks," he cried,
"Who'll start the bidding for me?
A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who'll make it three?"
"Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going now for three
..." But no,

From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: "What am I bid for the old violin?"
And he held it up with the bow.

"A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two?
Two thousand! And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone
," said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
"We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth
?" Swift came the reply:
"The touch of the Master's hand."

And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.

A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine,
A game—and he travels on.
He is "going" once, and "going" twice,
He's "going" and almost "gone."

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand."
— Myra Brooks Welch

Seek the Lord while He may be found.
Call upon Him while He is near.

Sermon adapted from many sources by Dr. Harold L. White