I’ve always liked Billy Sunday. He was a former baseball player, and he used his pulpit as a pitcher’s mound, winding up and letting go of his fastball, screwball, and knuckleball sermons night after night in his huge revival tents. He would also slide down across the stage as if he was sliding into home.
Sunday was the quintessential American mass evangelist. He crisscrossed North America 100 years ago with his flamboyant revival showmanship, which attracted enormous crowds.
One of the features of these tents was the sawdust trail. The wide aisle leading from the entrance of the tent down to the elevated pulpit from which Sunday preached was layered with a couple of inches of sawdust. It kept down the dust in dry times and moderated the mud in wet times.
But it also marked the trail from row after row of folding chairs to the altar at the front of the tent, just below the pulpit.
As Sunday would wind up his sermon, he would give his famous “altar call,” calling men and women who had come to the tent that night to step out of their seats, walk down the sawdust trail to the altar, and, kneeling there, invite Jesus to be their Savior.
“Hitting the sawdust trail” entered the North American vocabulary as a synonym for repentance and conversion. Sunday’s often-repeated formula for the Christian life was: “Hit the sawdust trail, fall on your knees, and receive Jesus as your Savior. Then walk out of this tent, go out into the street, get hit by a big old truck, and go straight to heaven.”
You must admit, I think, that it’s a wonderful formula for getting to heaven the quickest and easiest way. And it is virtually foolproof.
There is no time to backslide, no temptations to bother with, no doubts to wrestle with, no spouse to have to honor, no kids to put up with, no enemies to love, no more sorrow, no more tears. Instant eternity.
Sunday is an extreme case of what is more or less typical of the North American approach to these matters: “Get it right, but then get it done as quickly as possible.”
Again and again, as we pursue our spiritual life, we must do battle with things like easy, lazy, and apathy. We must fight against being careless and looking to arrive at our necessary destination too quickly.
We need to be intentional about investing the proper amount of time and effort into knowing Jesus and growing in our intimacy and relationship with Him. You can’t fully have faith, fully express hope, or fully grow in love unless you are willing to go the distance.
For many of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted, rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.
We suffer from what has come to be known as “busy sickness.” One of the great illusions of our day is that running full speed ahead will buy us more time.
I pulled into a restaurant recently where the advertising slogan read, “We help you eat faster.” But what if my primary need is not eating faster?
What if I actually enjoyed a meal and not just inhaled it? What if the Lord doesn’t want us to skim over the strategic moments of our every day? What if we allowed our bodies to be truly in tune with where we are right now rather than consumed by where we will be tomorrow?
Advertisers know that we will buy anything that promises to help us hurry. The bestselling shampoo in America rose to the top because it combines shampoo and conditioner in one step, eliminating the need for that all-time-consuming rinsing people used to have to do.
Domino’s became the number one name in pizza, not because they serve delicious pizza but because the company promised to deliver in 30 minutes or less. “We don’t sell pizza, we sell convenience,” said their CEO.
"Taking a cue from Domino’s Pizza, a Detroit hospital guarantees that emergency-room patients will be seen within 20 minutes or treatment is free." The paper notes that since the offer was made, business has been up 30 percent at the hospital. That may be true in quantity but something tells me that the quality of care isn’t as top notch as it should be.
Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart. You can’t do Christianity by skimming the surface.
Resurrection is not just what Jesus did but what He has made possible for us. The grave we should conquer is not just the one at the end of the journey, but the one that wants to rob you of living today. Jesus didn’t just come to do a job, but He showed us how to live a life.
Believers today have largely traded wisdom for information, depth for breadth. We want to microwave maturity. And as I told you before, you can’t do that. Even God won’t allow sloppy short cuts on the journey to intimacy and reverence.
As we teach about Christianity, we correctly emphasize the redemptive work of Jesus, that through His death on the cross we have been restored to God. But we don't focus as often on why Jesus lived.
He didn't become a human and then live among humans for 33 years just to explain His death. Rather, I think His life was a message: "When you figure out why I died, here's how you should live in your 33 years."
The Bible says, "Whoever claims to be in Him must walk as Jesus walked." The more fully we grasp the significance of Jesus' life, the better we understand how His earthly ministry is a demonstration of God's mission for His people: to put God on display in every way.
The Word became flesh and healed and fed and taught the crowds. The Word showed love and grace to sinners without compromising truth. The Word was a servant to all. Most of all, God's Word in flesh showed us how we can showcase the Word through our daily walk and talk.
Jesus did not just understand and explain God's Word, but He also became the Word. Too many believers today think by just talking a good game, this makes them an all-star. This is a grave mistake.
Real Christianity consists of what goes on between the moment we receive and fully realize and accept our identity as Christians and the time when we sit down to “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). It deals with the way we live in the time being; the time that intervenes between kneeling at the altar and getting hit by that proverbial mack truck.
Does your sawdust trail include your footprints that prove you are actively following the Savior? Are you willing to make all the moves that are necessary to get us to the place that God is calling us to? It’s your move.
ED. NOTE: The author is the senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church, 1248 Route 9 South, Court House.