One of the most serious deterrents to any success is that we spend too much time practicing those things that we don’t want to be. We might learn a great many important lessons from the story told many years ago by Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick entitled “On the Wrong Bus.” It tells of a man who got on a bus with the intention and desire of going to Detroit. But when he arrived at the end of a long trip, he found himself in Kansas City. At first he would not believe it. When he asked for Woodward Avenue and was told there was no Woodward Avenue, he was indignant—he knew there was. It was some time before he could face the fact that in spite of his good intentions and his earnest desire, he was not in Detroit at all but in Kansas City. Everything was fine except for one little detail; he had just caught the wrong bus.
Isn’t it interesting that so many human beings arrive at some port in life where they never intended to go. We pick out goals of honor and success and happiness, and then we sometimes get on the buses that take us to destinations loaded with dishonor, failure, and unpleasantness. A primary purpose of our mortal existence is to prepare for the life that lies beyond. And our possible destination has been separated into three great subdivisions, which Paul compares in desirability to the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Paul says, “One star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:41–42).
By far the most desirable of these glories is the one referred to as the glory of the sun, which lies at the end of that strait and narrow way which leadeth to life. But unfortunately for us who do the traveling, as Jesus pointed out, only a few would arrive at this greatest of all locations. Everyone should desire to arrive at the celestial kingdom. That is the heaven of heavens. That is where God and Christ are. That is the family heaven. But many people, while talking about the highest heaven, are getting on those buses that will take them to the lowest hell.
The least desirable of these three kingdoms is the telestial, which is as far below the celestial as the twinkle of a tiny star is below the blaze of the noonday sun. We are told in the scriptures that those who arrive at the telestial will be as numerous as the sands upon the seashore or as the stars in the firmament. And even these, before reaching their destination, must be purged of their sins by the punishments of hell. This great concourse of people will all arrive at that place where they least wanted to go.
Even Satan got on the wrong bus. We know now of his final destination, as his fate has already been spelled out for him by God, the final judge. But Satan never planned on this degradation. He was once known as Lucifer, the light bearer, the brilliant son of the morning, and stood close to God. He had very high ambitions. He said, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. … I will be like the most High” (Isa. 14:13–14). But in the very face of this wonderful objective, he got on that bus of rebellion which is destined to land him in that bottomless pit.
Many people have experienced ending up where they didn’t want to go in some area of their lives. For example, no one seeks a good education and invests a lot of money in his business with the hope or expectation of going bankrupt. A person does not select someone to be his marriage partner with the idea of ending up in some miserable, unhappy divorce proceeding. Even the vast number of people who become murderers, suicides, dope addicts, and alcoholics did not deliberately start out with any such destiny in mind. Those who commit crime and immorality or find themselves in reform school, prisons, or mental institutions were not thinking of those places when they were charting their original courses.
It is likely that the most worthwhile skill that anyone ever develops is the ability to identify the bus that will take him to the place that he wants to go.
I once talked with a young woman who was very belligerent against her parents. She felt that she was unloved and unwanted. She was trying to make up for that lack of love by improper associations with sinful people, and she felt that churchgoing and proper attitudes would be giving in to her parents. Her life was being filled with bitterness. She was forming attitudes and habits that would put her on the wrong bus, where she would associate with and be one of the wrong people. Unless some kind of miracle is performed, she will find herself in Kansas City, when all of her life she wanted to go to Detroit.
I suppose that no one ever starts out with the deliberate goal of having a nervous breakdown or breaking up his marriage or being sentenced to the penitentiary. But sometimes the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. Tragedy sometimes overwhelms us because we permitted the seeds of death to be implanted in our characters. We sow our wild oats and then pray for a crop failure, which usually does not materialize, as those seeds of death are very hardy and are very difficult to stop once they get their roots into our lives.
We may have the highest objectives in our hearts, but when we get on that bus that takes us to the wrong destination, we can’t very well change our situation merely by pointing out to ourselves that we had the best of intentions. It will then be the facts that will be important. We are going to be judged by our works, not by our intentions, and it may seem pretty empty then to hear the old cliche that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Too frequently we don’t let the left hand of intention know what the right hand of activity is actually doing. We plant a great ideal in our minds and then make so many deviations that the exception tends to become the rule. We want to be a great person sometime, but not today. We frequently say in substance, “Don’t judge me by my grooming, or how I dress, or what I say. Judge me by how I feel inside.” That is a pretty dangerous procedure and frequently is the cause of our downfall. And why should one spend so much time trying to look like and act like and think like the person that he doesn’t want to be?
We need to destroy all evidences of the uniform of rebellion. If we march in the parade dressed as a clown, we will probably not think like and act like the king. We should not do a few good things and then make a lot of exceptions. We should not spend time on that broad road that leads to death when we plan to arrive at eternal life, which is located at the end of the strait and narrow way.
It might be helpful for us to remember that every criminal and every weakling and every sinner has some great ideals and ambitions inside of him by which he judges himself. I once attended a meeting at the state penitentiary where expressions were made in a religious meeting by many of the inmates. Without exception they said, “Some of the best people in the world are in this penitentiary.” I am sure that in many ways that is the truth. Some people in the penitentiary are more sympathetic, more kind, and more humble than some of those on the outside may be. Some of them are so generous that they would give the shirt off their back to a friend in need. Some of them pray wonderful prayers and have fine testimonies of the truth. But they made a few little mistakes—like killing someone, or robbing a bank, or getting drunk at the wrong time, or taking a few liberties with righteousness. They were practicing going someplace that they did not want to be. We ought to remember that we ourselves frequently have some blind spots so that we don’t see ourselves as we actually are.
Many people think that they are merely experiencing life when they take a few liberties with morality, and many people have done worse things than committing a little vandalism or setting the school on fire. A little sloth and a few untruths are not so bad if we don’t care whether we arrive at Detroit or Kansas City.
It is a pretty good idea to get definitely in our minds where we want to go and then set our compass directly on the target. We ought to remember that exceptions are pretty dangerous. Exceptions can tear down a success habit much faster than the good deeds can build it up. One may resist a temptation a thousand times and then lose everything by one indulgence. It has been said that it may be a thousand steps from hell to heaven but only one from heaven to hell.
Even ideals don’t help us very much if we don’t hang on to them solidly enough. The old sectarian idea that one can be saved once and for all by one declaration of faith or one set of circumstances may be pretty disastrous. That is, one cannot meet the foe, fight the battle, and overcome all enemies once and for all in a single encounter. The battle must be continuously won. Many people have borne their testimonies to the truth of the gospel and then got on the bus with a destination of shame and degradation. The seeds of death don’t have to be very big. A great tree of evil can also grow from a small mustard seed of sin. And if we don’t want the tree to develop, we had better not let it get started.
And so we come back again to this great idea which is one of the most important in the world: first, that we know where we want to go; and second, that we get on the bus that will take us there.