This Or That (Stories and Songs Series Part 3)

Choices. We all have them laid out in front of us every single day. Hundreds of them. Without even having to think about it. From the moment our alarm clock wakes us up, we are faced with our first choice of the day: do you shut it off and jump out of bed or do you hit the snooze button? Or maybe you turn it off altogether and fall back asleep indefinitely. Unless you’re one of those weirdos that is able to sleep straight through your alarm clock. How do you even do that? How does your sub conscience not pick up on such an irritating, repetitive sound? Unless of course you’re dead inside or completely immune to the responsibilities of life? Like I said…weirdos. 

From what we decide to eat, whether or not we squeeze in that work out, to what we watch and listen to. Every day there are choices that we make in how we spend our time, the relationships we cultivate and even our thought process. All of these seemingly “little” things are apart of a much bigger picture. They eventually lead us through life, down a road that is paved with our choices along the way. Our purpose and our destiny depends on it, although at the time we don’t see the full impact they will have until much later. 

But how do we know we’re choosing the “right” thing? When we’re given a choice between this or that, how do we navigate that choice? Especially when we think we have our life all planned out. When we’re passionate about the direction our life appears to be taking only to have God whisper something completely different to our heart. Do we ignore it or do we surrender? Knowing full well that there are ramifications to both. Surrendering what we thought we wanted for what is needed is never easy. But what if someone else is depending on you to make that choice? 

Take a man by the name of Judson Van DeVenter for example. 

You want to talk about a guy who had his life all figured out? He was that guy. He was born in Michigan in 1855. After graduating from college he became an art teacher, eventually becoming Supervisor of art, for several years. During this time he was also very active in his church and was very involved in the meetings they held. Throughout all of this, his friends noticed his talent for ministry and urged him to give up teaching to become an evangelist. Judson wasn’t so sure. He had dreams of his own that he wanted to pursue. Art was his passion and he already had plans for his future. So, he did what most people with a calling on their life do…he ran.  Whether it was fear, cowardice or pride, he made the choice to follow his original plan and bought a ticket. To Europe. 

In 1885, he took a big leap and toured around Europe to study painting. For any artist, Europe is the Mecca of art. It’s home to some of the worlds most famous, expensive and culturally important pieces of work. It would have been especially exciting to be there when he visited during the height of the Impressionist movement. (Think Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir etc.)  Not to mention, I can only imagine how inspired he must have felt to stand in front of the Mona Lisa at The Louvre! For someone wanting to pursue art, he was in the right place. But for someone who God had something different in mind for, he was as far away as he could get. His intentions were “good”. He was merely following his passion for art. Something that brought him joy. A gift that God Himself had given to him. But it wasn’t meant to be something that his entire life was to be built around. It was “good”, but it wasn’t great! 

Judson wavered back and forth for five whole years on whether or not to pursue art (his passion) or to go into full time ministry (his calling). I’m sure he weighed the pros and cons of each choice over and over again. Walking the streets of London and Paris by day, inspired by all of the culture, architecture and priceless art. Only to go home and lay awake at night, wrestling with this nagging feeling that just wouldn’t let him rest. That there was something else for him. Something more. Something that carried far more significance and weight to it, both on earth and eternally. 

Finally, after five years of running, he surrendered his life to Christian service. It was in this transition period, while having a meeting at the home of another evangelist friend, that he would write the words to one of the most famous hymns, “I Surrender All.” And he did just that. 

During the next chapter of his life he would travel across the United States, England and Scotland doing evangelistic work. He would write over sixty hymns. This former art student was now telling people from different parts of the world how much God loved them. Teaching people how to have a relationship with the ultimate Creator Himself. The One who created “creativity” in the first place. The same God who not only created the universe, but also created them. Something that held far more significance than any priceless painting. 

Later on in his life he moved to Florida where he taught at the Florida Bible Institute. While there, among his many students, there was one who would hold particular significance. A very young Billy Graham. Judson and Billy developed a friendship while he was a student there. Later on, Billy would say that Judson Van De Venter greatly influenced his early preaching. He would even make his song “I Surrender All” even more famous when they sang it at his many crusades over the decades to follow. 

Can you imagine influencing one of the most influential people of the twentieth century?! Not even recognizing that you were doing anything significant at the time! A simple artist, teacher turned preacher having that kind of influence over someone like Billy Graham who single handedly reached more people with the love of Jesus than any other person in history. Judson wouldn’t even live to see Billy grow to be a house hold name. Billy didn’t preach his first large sermon until 1949. Judson would die a decade earlier in 1939. But the impact that Judson had on The Gospel, the millions that were reached by Billy, the cultural and spiritual impact that would take place because of that connection is something that will go unmatched. And all because he made a choice all those years ago. 

When asked about his inspiration for writing his song “I Surrender All”, Judson replied:

“For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life. I became an evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, He caused me to sing. “ 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that everyone needs to drop what they love to become a preacher. That is NOT every person’s calling. This was Judson Van DeVenter’s calling. It was also Billy Graham’s calling. It doesn’t mean it’s yours. It most likely isn’t. My point is this: 

Could you be sacrificing something that has the potential to be great on the alter of mediocrity?

Could you be settling for something that seems “good” instead of going after something GREAT? In any area of your life? 

Believe it or not, our choices are not merely about us. Someone is counting on you. Someone is counting on the choices that you make. Whether it’s the people in your life in this moment or the ones you will impact in the future. Someone else’s future and destiny could be attached to the choices that you make today. And whether or not you realize it, you are influencing everyone you come into contact with. It’s up to you what kind of influence that is. Whether we see the outcome of that influence in our lifetime or not is irrelevant. What matters is that God sees it. What matters is that generations that come after us are impacted by the fact that we were here. I’ve said it so many times but it bares repeating. You’re story matters. Surrender it. Choose it. Trust it. Tell it. Live it. This life isn’t just all about you. It’s about others. Realizing that simple but profound fact is the first step in being able to surrender our lives and our callings for a greater purpose. To trading temporary pleasures for eternal gain. Something greater is waiting for you than what you’ve been settling for. 

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Judson Van DeVenter

I Surrender All

All to Jesus I surrender,

All to him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust him,

In his presence daily live.

Chorus:

I surrender all,

I surrender all,

All to thee, my blessed Saviour,

I surrender all.

 

All to Jesus I surrender,

Humbly at his feet I bow,

Worldly pleasures all forsaken,

Take me, Jesus, take me now.

 

All to Jesus I surrender;

Make me, Saviour, wholly thine;

Let me feel the Holy Spirit,

Truly know that thou art mine.

 

All to Jesus I surrender,

Lord, I give myself to thee,

Fill me with thy love and power,

Let thy blessing fall on me.

 

All to Jesus I surrender;

Now I feel the sacred flame.

Oh, the joy of full salvation!

Glory, glory, to his name!

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