In August 2012, a group of fifty tourists were visiting the Eldgja volcanic canyon in southern Iceland when it was discovered that one of the passengers was missing. During a rest stop, a woman described as “Asian, 160cm, in dark clothing, and speaks English well” had not returned to the bus. The passengers formed a search party and worked with local authorities to find the missing woman. The Coast Guard was preparing a helicopter to provide aerial coverage of the terrain. At 3:00 a.m., the search was called off when it became clear the missing woman was, in fact, accounted for and searching for herself. It turns out the woman merely left the bus to change her clothes and freshen up, but when she returned her fellow busmates did not recognize her. Soon, there was word of a missing passenger and the woman did not recognize the description of herself. Wanting to do her part to help, the woman joined the search for signs of the missing woman. Eventually, it occurred to her that she was the person everyone was searching for.
Have you noticed how complicated life has become today? In a world full of details, duties, deadlines, demands, and desires, it is very easy for a person to lose themself in the shuffle. Such was the case with the prodigal son. In the reckless pace of his life, his life became out-of-order and he began acting out-of-character. However, Luke 15:17 records the defining moment in his life, “And when he came to himself…” The idea is he was beside himself and not in his right mind. Like a man awakened from a horrible dream, he was once again grasping the perception of reality. But, the timing of when and where a man regains his senses is never predictable. Losing yourself produces a false sense of security that numbs the desire to shake yourself from the slumber. British novelist H.G. Wells said, “Once you lose yourself, you have two choices: find the person you used to be, or lose that person completely.” Noah is noted for a faith that survived the flood, but once he lost himself, his story abruptly drowns in a storm of disgrace. Lot had an incredible heritage, but once he lost himself, saving his hide was more important than saving his honor. To find oneself requires patience and diligence. Like stirring the dirt as you walk through a stream, if you stand still long enough the dirt will settle and you can clearly see the bottom again. The process may take time, but the results are well worth the wait.
There is a removed sense of progress. As the prodigal son “came to himself”, in those words there is the indication of surprise. Imagine the shock of discovering he was no longer sitting at his father’s table, but rather was eating with the swine. Although there had been movement in his life, it was the illusion of progress and he never realized he was actually walking backwards. The first emotion a man faces when he “comes to himself” is the disappointment of how far he has drifted from where he really wanted to be. That discovery then breeds a fear that questions if a full return is possible. Imagine the surprise of Elijah when the angel found him beneath the juniper tree and asked, “…What doest thou here, Elijah?” Imagine the surprise of Samson when he was startled awake only to find himself in the hands of the Philistines rather than the presence of God. Imagine the surprise of Jonah when we find his first recorded prayer came “out of the fish’s belly.” Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, not drift, nor lie at anchor.” The nature of humanity is prone to frequent drifts and the losing of oneself. But, the good news is, a man can never lose himself so far away that the ear of God cannot hear his cries.
There is a renewed sense of purpose. When Jesus was just hours away from the cross, He predicted the disgrace into which Peter would fall. However, in Luke 22:32, Jesus offered these words of hope and encouragement, “…and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” The word “converted” carries the idea of “bringing yourself back.” It would serve as a gentle reminder to Peter that God was not through with him. Thomas Chalmers wrote, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” A man can find the strength to rise from any adversity when handed the rope of purpose from the hand of God. Although he was blinded, Samson’s strength was renewed with the vision of his purpose to defeat the Philistines. Although he dwelt in days of darkness, Jonah saw the light of purpose to preach salvation to the Ninevites when “the word of the Lord came…the second time.” Although he quit in discouragement and was labeled as unreliable, John Mark rose to faithfulness with a purpose to pen the Gospel story. Man cannot live without meaning, and if his purpose disappears his life becomes marred in a sea of triviality. Yet, God is able to sift through the clutter and make use of those things which we have already relinquished as useless.
There is a released sense of peace. In Acts 12:11, divine intervention has miraculously delivered Peter from prison, and we are told, “…Peter was come to himself…” The idea is he was awakened from sleep-walking. Once the sleep was wiped from his eyes, Peter realized he had just experienced something only God was able to do. When a man loses himself, he becomes as helpless as a turtle on its back. Sheer determination and frenzied activity are not enough to right oneself. Without some type of intervention from God, life becomes miserable and lonely. Oxford Professor H.L. Goudge wrote, “Grace is the free favor of God; peace is the condition which results from its reception.” David had lost himself in sin, but the Lord’s presence restored the joy of his salvation. Hezekiah had lost himself in pride and found death at his door, but the Lord’s presence supplied the assurance of fifteen more years of life. The demoniac of Gadera was unable to think for himself, but the Lord’s presence had him “…sitting at the feet of Jesus…and in his right mind.” Lasting peace can never be secured without the intentional alignment of a man’s life with God’s will. A man in the center of God’s will is never at risk of losing himself because he is always found behind the fingertips of God.
There are few things as frightening as realizing you have lost yourself. It is a process that happens subtly and painlessly without any sense of danger. But once a man “comes to himself,” he is awakened to an urgent reality that action must be taken immediately. Man will search far and wide in the frantic search for himself. However, you should never be surprised to discover that you will find yourself right under your own nose!
Your Most Proud Pastor,
© 2013 Alan Stewart
Alan Stewart: Dr. Alan Stewart has served as Senior Pastor of Rechoboth Baptist since December 1999. He attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Moody Bible Institute, Covington Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Prior to pastoring the Tennessee church, Alan was an evangelist for 15 years. He has preached revivals/pastor’s conferences in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. He also preached crusades/conferences in India, Hungary, and conducted a crusade in South Africa in August of 2009. Pastor Alan is married to Jeanne, and they are blessed with two children – Sierra and Seth.