“When all else fails, read the instructions.”
That little, seven-word warning ought to appear on every electric train set, every plastic model, every backyard swing set in a two-ton package, every high-tech gizmo—anything that comes disassembled or requires electricity. Don’t try to pretend this doesn’t apply to you! I have no doubt that, just like me, you have looked at a seemingly harmless kit and tossed the manual aside, convinced that good old common sense would be good enough. Like most intelligent women and men, you thought you could put it together without the help of instructions.
I recall one particular time I looked at a simple swing set kit and thought, Man, a guy with my ability shouldn’t have any problem with that. Yeah, right! So an hour later, after making a complete mess of the project, I looked for the instructions. Obviously a sarcastic sage had prepared the instruction manual, because across the top of the first page in very small, inoffensive type, the opening line read, “Now that you have made a mess of things, please start over and follow these instructions.” For a brief moment, I wondered if the author knew me personally and had written those words just for me! How could he have possibly known what I was going to do?
The fact is, he didn’t know me. Nothing supernatural was going on. The sage simply understood human nature. It is part of our fallen and proud disposition to do things our way, and only when the consequences of failure become overwhelming do we seek help. Therefore, manufacturers have not only accepted this stubborn tendency, they have anticipated our short-sightedness by including a “Quick Start Guide” with the normal instruction manual. This is usually a condensed, need-to-know information pamphlet containing just enough information to keep the user from hurting himself or herself or damaging the product.
Believe it or not, life comes with an owner’s manual. The Creator has written His instructions in the pages of His Word, the sixty-six books of the Bible. Beginning in Genesis and ending with Revelation, He has described our origin, explained our purpose, confronted our need, prescribed our remedy, ordered our steps, and even revealed our future. Moreover, He has presented His instructions in the form of literature—the most engaging, compelling, and profound poetry and prose known to humanity. Nevertheless, we have all cast aside the Owner’s Manual and rushed headlong into life with the assumption that our own common sense would be enough to get us through.
Many of you who read these words can nod with me in humble agreement because, like me, you have fouled up something far more significant than a child’s swing set or an electronic gadget. You’ve fouled up a life . . . your own or perhaps someone else’s . . . or both! So, let me encourage you with a basic truth that has given me hope throughout the years, especially after having made a mess of things: it’s never too late to start doing what is right. It’s never too late to pick up the Owner’s Manual. In fact, after fouling up, it’s the only right move.
As you review your life and assess the results of your time on earth so far, what do you see? Is your life worth emulating, or is it a series of mistakes and messes? Are others better off as a result of the time spent with you, or have your time and energy been focused on possessions that will be sold for pennies after you’re gone? What’s down inside? A growing wisdom . . . or repeated folly? Grace or grumbling? Be honest: do you consider your life good for something?
Bottom-line questions like these are both depressing and challenging. Depressing because we all fall short. Challenging because the Lord promises to accomplish far more than we can think or imagine. We cannot hope to be good for anything on our own; however, if we read and follow the instructions God provided, our lives can become monuments to His glory and models of His goodness. That is His promise (see 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 3:20).
Now, if I may be so bold, let me pass on some sage advice I received at a critical moment in my life: “Now that you have made a mess of things, please start over and follow these instructions.”