John Hay and John Nicolay, Abraham Lincoln’s dual biographers, commented negatively on Stonewall Jackson: Hay called him “a howling crank.” Being aware of Jackson’s eccentricities, one can pardon Hay’s characterization. In fact, until his brilliance in the Civil War, Jackson had a far-less than splendid reputation as a teacher or military genius. When first nominated to take charge of Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley, Senators questioned his qualifications. Lincoln’s Boys, 274.
Hay and Nicolay may have correctly evaluated Jackson sans the Civil War. However, since the Civil War occurred, and since Jackson proved a brilliant tactician planning and a ruthless commander fighting, we cannot evaluate him isolated from the War. It provided Jackson with his opportunity for personal and martial glory, and he seized it.
That’s the point for all of us. Regardless of our limitations or eccentricities, if we seize the opportunity that sets us apart as significant—or even as merely useful to God—we’ll be remembered for our success, not for whatever would otherwise hide us in anonymity. Whether or not we seize our opportunities, Jesus expects us to persevere in discipleship. We don’t want to add to our mistake of failing to seize opportunity the sin of not persevering in our responsibility.
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By 1787 the opportune time had come for the united colonies of America to create a nation of states. Since the end of the Revolution each colony had governed itself, loosely overseen by the Articles of Confederation. The effort had proved a glaring failure, and the leaders gladly received the call for a Constitutional Convention for the summer of 1787. Five years earlier the colonies wouldn’t have been ready, since they still jealously guarded their own privileges. Five years later the violence and bloodshed of the French Revolution would have divided the colonies into separate ideological camps.
As John 7:30 stressed, the “right time” figured prominently in our Lord’s ministry. Foes repeatedly threatened his life. But he never feared he would die prematurely. He knew he would live until just the right day in the right week in world history. Until that time came, his enemies could bluster and threaten all they pleased. He paid no attention and continued to devote himself to his work and ministry.
For us there continues to be a right time for everything—to build a building, to hire added staff in a church, to accept a new career opportunity, to buy or sell in the stock market, to speak to someone about Christ. Passed by, that particular best time might not come again. Other opportunities may, for they come fresh each day. But the “best” time may never come again, at the time when a thing can be done easiest at least expense for the maximum benefit of the largest number of people. We should think about that when we want to procrastinate in starting a Bible study, making a call, coming to church or accepting Christ as Savior. For do we want to live in remorse for having missed the one best chance for serving God?