The song played quietly from the piano. My preacher would lead only this one song. It followed his sermon each week and was labeled in the printed program as the “Hymn of Decision.” Some Churches call it an Invitation Hymn, but I always preferred the idea that it was a time to decide something.
Usually, there were only a few songs that were played during this time. Great hymns like Amazing Grace, Just As I Am, Wherever He Leads I’ll Go and the granddaddy of them all; I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.
After his sermon, my preacher would lead this song, and between each verse, he would hold up his hand and pause the pianist, and he would give another appeal to decide today. This would be repeated through each verse until we reached the end. Some weeks, people went to the front of the Church and talked with the preacher. He would announce that it was a re-dedication, transfer, or baptism. The congregation would be seated, and the program would end with their public decision. Other weeks nothing happened, but that did not deter him as he led us through the song the following Sunday.
For years in my ministry, I tried to emulate what I saw growing up with limited effect. I always knew who was coming up at the end, and if not, I was terrified. Quite often, it was a person who wanted to say something to the congregation, and it drifted into less of decision time and more of a time for people to share “what God was laying on their heart.” After a few years, I abandoned the practice and started standing at the front after worship, making myself available to anyone who wanted to talk. I started teaching a membership class, and the number of people who came to follow Jesus rapidly increased, and I never went back.
I suppose, as with all traditions, something was lost. The drama at the end of the program and the occasional spontaneity of someone coming to Jesus was removed. The biggest thing that may have been lost was that there was no longer any special moment for people to make a decision.
The word decide comes from the root word “cis” and its variants “cid” and “cide.” These originate from Latin and mean to “cut” or “kill.” Think about words like suicide and genocide. Therefore, a decision is a “cutting off” of all possibilities except for one; if you are decisive, you have “killed” all other options. The word is a conscious choice to move forward in one direction.
No longer do I stand at the front of the Church after the sermon and offer a formal decision time. That does not change the fact that each one of us must reach a point where we decide about Jesus. We need to burn our bridges or ships and move forward with only him as our leader.
I know when I preach, teach, and even write, there is someone who is wavering in their commitment. Someone is straddling the fence while trying to move forward. Maybe for you, today is the time to quit trying to walk two paths and finally decide.