Some decades ago in America, a train was travelling west in the depths of winter.
It was freezing cold and snowing heavily, with blizzard conditions.
On board was a young woman with her baby who wanted to leave the train at one of the remote stations along the route. Owing to the region’s remoteness, one of the guardsman’s tasks was to call out the names of stations as they approached, so people would know when to disembark.
The woman was a stranger to the country, so on several occasions she went up to the guardsman and said, ‘Please don’t forget me. I need to get off at Red Rock’. Repeatedly, the guardsman promised he wouldn’t forget her and would tell her when she was to get off.
As time went on, the train slowed to a stop, as though coming into a station, and a fellow-traveller said to the woman, ‘That must be your stop now’.
With gratitude, the woman gathered her things and alighted from the train into the storm. The train moved on again.
Forty-five minutes later, the guardsman came in and called out, ‘Passenger for Redrock! Your station is next!’
Passengers explained to him that she had got off the last time the train had stopped. The guardsman’s face showed his despair. ‘I promised that I would let her know when to get off. We only stopped because of heavy snow on the track. She’s surely got off to her death!’
Sadly, his prediction was all too accurate. Rescuers later found her frozen to death. Amazingly the baby was found still alive, having been protected from the worst of the cold beneath his mother’s coat.
Be careful who you listen to! This story reminds us of the vital importance of listening to correct information and instructions. Sometimes listening to the right person with the right knowledge is quite literally a matter of life and death.
But this also teaches us an important spiritual lesson with profound implications. Every one of us is on the ‘journey of life’. As we travel along, we need to make certain that we are listening to the ‘right person’ and hearing the correct information. Otherwise, we won’t know what we’re doing; where we’re going; what decisions we’re to make; or, indeed, how to prepare for the journey’s end.
Many people today are in a state of confusion regarding a whole range of moral, religious and personal issues. Some are confused what to believe about God and which religion to follow. Others are confused about what is good and what is bad.
Still more are confused about what is happening to the world and uncertain how to deal with personal and relational problems. Often in their confusion, people look to fellow-travellers, thinking they might know the answer, but they too are just as confused and uncertain.
One traveller might say, ‘It’s the next station’; another might say with equal affirmation that the station is already passed, or, indeed, there is no station at all!
Most fellow-travellers don’t really know the answers to the questions of life. The only one who knows the answers is ‘the guardsman’ himself.
If that poor woman had trusted the guardsman rather than a fellow passenger, she would have lived. Instead, she put her faith in a well-meaning passenger, who obviously didn’t know what he was talking about — and it cost her, her life.
In the same way, during our lifetime’s journey, many fellow-travellers will give us the benefit of their views on moral issues, belief systems and personal matters.
For instance, some will say, ‘There is nothing “sinful” about this particular [immoral] behaviour’; others will say, ‘Believe in this [false] religion’; and others may say, ‘Take this job’, ‘Marry that man [or woman]’, etc.
Some might suggest using clairvoyance, horoscopes or New Age practices, showing that they too are clutching at straws, in their own personal confusion.
But, no matter what others say, let us soberly remember that there is only one individual we should listen to. It is ‘The Guardsman’ himself — the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our life depends on it. He alone knows the truth. He alone has the answers to our questions, and it is his instructions we should follow. We should listen to no one else, for Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6).
One big reason why God has provided the human race with Holy Scripture is so everyone can read exactly what he is stating, rather than being misled by fellow-travellers. The Bible is the Word of God. We ignore it at our peril!
In 2 Timothy 4:16, the Bible states: ‘All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness’. We need to trust and obey what the Lord himself says about an issue, lest we are spiritually deceived.
In Proverbs 3:5-6, God gives a reassuring promise about guidance. He says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and rely not on your own understanding. In all your ways obey him and then he will guide and direct your path’.
What this means is that, if we faithfully listen to and obey Scripture’s teaching, then we can be sure we will ‘get off at the right station’. We can be sure we will be shown what path to follow, what to believe and what decisions we should make in life.
Late in the nineteenth century, an acrobat arranged to walk on a wire across the Niagara Falls with another man on his shoulders. Many weeks of training went into preparing for this spectacular event.
As the final moment drew near, the acrobat cautioned his young colleague with the following words: ‘We are about to risk our lives, but we’ll get across safely if you do exactly as I say.
‘I’m the one walking the wire; the whole responsibility for that part is mine; I can do it safely. You have nothing to do but match my movements completely. If I sway to the left, let yourself sway with me. If I sway to the right, do the same.
‘Under no circumstances try to do your own thing. You must match your movements to mine, so as to ensure harmony, because, without perfect unison, we are both lost’.
All went well, until they drew near the opposite side, when the unexpected happened. The wire’s long vibrations suddenly formed into separate, shortened waves. Soon these movements had become so violent that the acrobat could scarcely keep his feet where he placed them.
It was a perilous moment, but the feat was accomplished and it was front page news the next day.
After this, the young man who had played the secondary role on the acrobat’s shoulders settled down to private life and got married. In time, he became an active leader in the church.
He often commented: ‘I learned so much about my relationship with God on that wire. I learned that the only safe way to get through trouble is to keep on fully obeying God. If I stop obeying and following his leading, then all is lost’.
Provided we obey the Lord, he will guide us concerning the many and various decisions we have to make in life. If we do as he says, then we’ll get safely to the other side and disembark at the right station.
The author is vicar of Christ Church, Brockham, in Surrey