The Crossing Guard

During the Great Depression, one out of four people were out of work. The unemployment rate hovered around the 25% mark for a number of years. Needless to say, jobs were scarce and when a person was able to find work, it was a blessing.

There was this one particular individual who lived somewhere in the Midwest during the Depression and he was one of the lucky few who managed to find work during those difficult times. He went to work for the railroad as a highway crossing guard. In those days, there were no automated signals or flashing lights or bells at highway railroad crossings. The railroads simply stationed crossing guards at the busiest highway/railroad intersections. The guards had a little shack that protected them from the elements, and they’d sit in their shack until they heard the whistle of an approaching train. By day, they had a flag that they would wave back and forth to alert oncoming cars that a train was coming. At night, they used a kerosene lantern that they would swing back and forth to get motorists’ attention.

This gentleman was hired and was put on the night shift at a crossing not far from where he lived. Times were tough and he was happy to finally find work. He was sitting in the shack one night thinking about his good fortune, and he recalled all the hard times he and his family had faced the previous few years. It was relief to be able to provide for his family again and for just a few moments, he was lost in his thoughts. Those thoughts were interrupted when he heard the sound of the train whistle. He had only been working for the railroad a few days and he was very eager to do a good job. He grabbed the lantern and went to the crossing and was waving it back and forth as he had been told to do. He saw the headlights of the approaching automobile and noticed that it wasn’t slowing down. He didn’t give it much thought at first, so he waved the lantern a little faster. The car still wasn’t slowing so he waved the lantern frantically trying to get the driver’s attention. When it became obvious the car wasn’t going to stop, all he could do was run for cover.

There was a terrible collision. People were killed. The surviving family members sued the railroad and the crossing guard was called to testify. The railroad’s attorney asked him to describe his job, which he did. He told the court how he would sit in his shack and listen for the train and when he heard it approaching, he would step out of the shack and wave the lantern back and forth in the middle of the crossing to get the attention of oncoming cars. At that point, the railroad attorney took his seat and the plaintiff’s attorney cross examined him.

The plaintiff’s lawyers grilled him. They tried to pressure him into saying he had fallen asleep. They asked if he had been drinking. They accused him of slipping away from his post to go home to be with his family when he should have been working. They made him describe his job duties step by step numerous times. They tried every way in the world to trip him up. They questioned his character, his intelligence, and education. They questioned every move he made right up until the moment of the accident. Finally, when it was obvious they could not find a crack in his testimony, the attorneys for the plaintiffs took their seats. The jury believed that the crossing guard had done his job and based on his testimony, they found in favor of the railroad.

After the trial was over, the company’s lawyers took the crossing guard aside and all shook hands with him. Then the president of the railroad shook the crossing guard’s hand and said, “I have to admit, I thought their lawyers were going to break you. The way they were coming at you, I was afraid you weren’t going to hold up. But you did very well and I want you to know that the company won’t forget what you did today”

At that point, the crossing guard looked up replied, “All I could do was tell the truth. And to be honest, I wasn’t worried about the questions they were asking me. I was worried about the one question they DIDN”T ask, the one I was afraid they were GOING to ask, but didn’t.” Puzzled, one of the railroad’s attorneys looked at him and said, “I’ve been an attorney for a long time. They asked you everything I would have asked. I’m curious, what is the question that you were so afraid of?”

The crossing guard’s reply: ……“I was afraid they were going to ask me….if I had remembered to light the lantern.”

Fellow Christians, all too often we’re just like that lantern. We go about their daily lives with the best of intentions. We believe in our hearts that we’re doing all the things God wants us to be doing. We go to church; we put money in the plate and listen to the sermon on Sunday. But just like that lantern, sometimes there’s no fire on the inside. We go back to living the same old lives on Monday morning thinking all is well. But our passion for Christ is not evident because there’s no fire on the inside.

Jesus said, “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.

If the fire isn’t lit, if our hearts aren’t burning with love for Jesus Christ, then just like that lantern, all we’re doing is just going through the motions. We might say all the right things, but without the fire, we’re just like that lantern. No one sees the light of Christ living in us.

Pray today and ask God to let the light of Christ shine in your life!

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